Tagged: MLS Playoffs

MLS Playoffs – Predictions with Purpose (Updated)

To the chase…  my PWP Predictability Index leveraging my Possession with Purpose Analysis.  Click here for my latest revision or click here to read the initial revision.

NOTE:  Updates for the Red Bulls v DC United and Sounders v Dallas match are at the end of the article.

The Predictability Index itself is the CPWP Index data minus Goals Scored / Goals Against and is split into two diagrams – Home Predictability versus Away Predictability.

Here’s the CPWP Strategic Predictability Index for teams at Home:

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 HOME

Here’s the CPWP Strategic Predictability Index for teams Away from Home.

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 AWAY

Note the significant differences in how the teams are predicted to perform at home versus on the road; four teams really sucked at home this year, while four teams were expected to perform quite well on the road.  

Here’s how it works; I will compare the two digit number of the home team with the two digit number of the away team.

Whichever number is higher it’s that team which is predicted to win… again… based upon their history of team performance in overall attacking and defending, exclusive of goals scored; this year.

And now the PWP Predictions:

FC Dallas versus Vancouver Whitecaps matchup.  FC Dallas at Home (0.00) while Vancouver on the Road (-.11)  FC Dallas wins.

FC Dallas key indicators are ceding possession and creating quick counter-attacking scenarios that use time and space created by Vancouver being too aggressive in attack.

Vancouver key indicators are maintaining patience in possession and not losing position in defending – they are one of the top defending teams in MLS; they will need to be at their best to beat Dallas.

Next up; New York Red Bulls versus Sporting Kansas City.  New York at Home (0.10) while Sporting Kansas City on the Road (0.05) New York wins.

New York key indicators are their attack from a number of different angles.  They are simply one of the top attacking teams in all of MLS – they need to attack, attack, attack, and hope, with all their hope, that they can keep Sporting KC from scoring a goal.

Sporting KC key indicators are their ability to defend; they are still one of the best defending teams in MLS.  If they can control the wide open attack, I’d expect from New York, and their propensity for fouling in their own defending final third, I can see some individual talent from Zusi or some set-pieces giving them the edge to win.

Columbus Crew versus New England Revolution.  Columbus Crew at Home (0.06)  while New England on the Road (-0.08).  Columbus wins game 1.  Columbus Crew on the Road (0.06) while New England at Home (0.23) -> New England wins game 2.  I offer Columbus advances over New England on away goal difference.

Columbus key indicators include being one of the most consistent teams in overall attacking and defending team performance in MLS – with this being a two game set I’d imagine consistency in attacking and penetration as well as consistency in defending the danger spaces will see them through.

New England key indicators are slightly changed with Jones on the pitch – his leadership may give the edge to a Revolution team who are, in my opinion, outgunned in almost every other category.  They are a big under-dog in my opinion but not everybody rates Columbus as strongly as I do…

Real Salt Lake versus LA Galaxy.   Salt Lake at Home (0.33)  while LA Galaxy on the Road (0.12).  RSL wins game 1.   LA Galaxy at Home (0.19)  while Salt Lake on the Road (-0.01).  LA Galaxy wins game 2.  I offer LA Galaxy advance over Real Salt Lake on away goals difference.  

Salt Lake key indicators include, as noted, a stingy defense at home and a propensity to win in Rio Tinto.  They also have pedigree not unlike LA Galaxy, and perhaps an even more veteran line-up when it comes to big games.  Lest we forget Salt Lake could have done much better last year and didn’t – they will have added energy that might surpass the emotions LA bring with them in pushing to help Donovan raise the Cup once more.

LA Galaxy key indicators are pace, possession, penetration and all around purpose that operated at peak performance for almost the entire year.  It should be noted that they didn’t collect the silverware last week and in all likelihood they could stumble here as well as they may look past Real and consider the Cup is theirs…  So arrogance is an enemy as is the continued lack of mental awareness by Gonzalez…

More to follow after the games midweek after seeing who qualifies to play Seattle and DC United…

As for my own personal predictions I can see New York advancing as well as FC Dallas but the Vancouver defense is very good as is the Sporting KC defense.

I will go with Sporting over New York and Vancouver over FC Dallas because I think those team defenses are better – and for me it’s all about defense.

With respect to Columbus – I agree with my PWP Prediction model for that game as well as the game between LA and RSL…  and in this case I also happen to think the defenses for Columbus and LA are better.

More to follow:…

Seattle Sounders at Home (.22) while Dallas on the Road (-.20).  Seattle wins when playing at Home.  FC Dallas at Home (.00) while  Seattle on the Road (-.04).  FC Dallas wins at home.  Seattle advances on away goals difference.

For me, I can see Seattle beating FC Dallas at home and on the road.  Dallas may be a bit tired for game 1 and the Predictability Index hasn’t been built to address ‘tired legs’…

At the end of the day this should be a clean sweep for the Sounders…

DC United at Home (.03) while New York on the Road (-.03).  DC United wins at Home.  New York at Home (.10) while DC United on the Road (-.08).  New York wins at Home.  New York advances on away goals difference.

For me I can see a clean sweep here as well – it may be surprising but I can see New York, riding the wave of Phillips and, most likely, the last season for Thierry Henry, all the way into the Finals.  This is not intended to diss DC United.

They are a very good team but somehow I don’t see the ‘tired legs’ syndrome impacting the Red Bulls as much as Dallas… too much at stake for a team that has invested huge money in their players and program.

Best, Chris

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Ride on! Timbers play for the MLS Championship Cup

Opening March

In all walks of life there are few things that transcend the passion that both players and their supporters feel about football!

Simply the best supporter group in all of MLS

If you happen to be a Portland Timbers supporter you know what I mean… if not suggest you start.

So how bout those Timbers?

In this game, and for the better part of the last stretch of games starting with the away win in Real Salt Lake, the two players that have stood out the most are…

Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara play the double pivot in a singular way

Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe.

No better duo plays the double pivot in such a singular way.

Make no mistake in what I mean – what has occurred this year is the full-blown maturity of Darlington Nagbe as a box-to-box midfielder.  And with that progression his presence in the midfield, on both ends of the pitch, has opened up a whole new look for Portland.

Advantages working off this move have included:

  • Adding a true winger, Dairon Asprilla, to the right side of attack; who also shows good grist in defending.
  • Expanding Adi’s time and space to control and possess/move the ball atop the 18 yard box – the increase in goals should speak for itself.
  • Enhancing the value of Rodney Wallace, earlier this year Rodney struggled with lack of space – with Darlington moving central he’s gotten more time and space – hence an increase in assists.
  • Diego – oh Diego Valeri – you only had to watch this last game to see the value of Diego getting more time and space on the ball – more assists.

So for a team who struggled, heavily, with scoring goals the regular season they now lead everyone as the Championship final looms…

That offered, what’s in store for this weekend and the Championship Cup game?

Critical Match-ups:

Diego Chara – Federico Higuain

Darlington Nagbe – Tony Tchani

Diego Valeri – Wil Trapp

What a threesome of pairs…

I don’t like to lay a game on the line where just one player can make a difference in team performance but the match-up I see as being the most critical is Darlington Nagbe v Tony Tchani; sure hope there’s plenty of camera work on that match-up.

Two comments on this match-up; Nagbe is Mr. calm-cool-and-collected; Tchani showed a bit of edge in the game against New York where Kamara had to jump in and give him an ear-full.

Leading to two critical questions:

Will the sublime ability of Darlington Nagbe and his patented dribble penetrations be to much for Tchani to handle?

And just how many times does Tchani have to foul Nagbe to try and mitigate his talent?

Top targets:  

Fenando Adi – Kei Kamara

As play has developed for the Timbers Adi is as much a target to turn and strike the ball as he is to control and pass the ball.  For Kamara figure his greatest strength is in the air while also offering slashing runs that split defenders.

Wing Play: 

Jorge Villafana – Ethan Finlay

Alvas Powell – Justin Meram

Rodney Wallace – Harrison Afful

Dairon Asprilla – Waylon Francis

The match-ups here are more about sustaining balance in attack versus over-committing in attack. With both teams having great strength in counter-attacking how these individual battles finish could well determine the game.

Defenders and Set-Pieces:

Nat Borchers & Liam Ridgewell

Michael Parkhurst & Gaston Sauro

If there was an odds-on favorite Center-back to score a goal on a set-piece this game I’m swinging my axe in favor of Nat Borchers!  Note, this isn’t to preclude someone like Kamara or Adi getting their head on the ball either – it is what it is…

Goal Keepers:

Adam Kwarasey – Steve Clark

Again the edge goes to Portland – it should be noted that Adam just recieved the award for MLS Save of the Year ; click on his name to see that award winning save.

Off the bench:

Lucas Melano Cedrick Mabwati

If you didn’t get a chance to see how both these guys came off the bench and injected their respective teams with sublime ball movement and a superb final touch I suggest you click on their names to see for yourself. For Cedrick’s magic scroll to the 3:50 mark on the video clip.

Head Coaches:

Caleb Porter – Gregg Berhalter

For me, it’s not only a great match-up on the pitch it’s a great match-up off the pitch.  In store for this Sunday are two tactical and technical masters of the American way in soccer.

It’s not all about money and the individual stars this year – it’s all about setting the right conditions, tactically, that enable their respective teams to technically execute.

Each team has their style – Columbus – a possession based team who is just as likely to play the counter; and Portland?  Oddly enough, or is it, a possession based team who is just as likely to play the counter.

Both organizations have shown that you need a solid midfield who can possess and penetrate, as much in attack, as in defending with the ball.  Neither team blows the doors off the possession percentage statistics but both teams averaged greater than 50% while both also averaged greater than 78% in passing accuracy. Both in the top seven of each category.

Each also finished in the top six for goals scored from shots on goal and both finished in the top 5 for attacking possession with purpose.  Finally, it should also be noted that both teams finished in the top six for defending possession with purpose.  Fair to say both teams played well on both sides of the ball.

Given that, it only seems reasonable to think the game will be won by the team that best executes in the middle of the pitch – kinda like chess – win the middle and win the game.

That doesn’t mean we won’t see some direct play – we will – it’d be rude not to.

That said it also doesn’t mean set-pieces won’t play a part – they will too.

Any coach knows that every opportunity to create a shot on goal is an opportunity to win – in this game there is no other bottom line than that!

Who wins?

Portland…

#RCTID

Best, Chris

PS:  My thanks to David Chaffin and Steven Lenhart for some great pictures!

 

 

 

The Ride Continues – Timbers MLS Championship Run

TIFO

“The atmosphere in Providence Park is the best atmosphere in MLS” – attributed to Brad Freidel

Wow – what a game and what a season so far!

We’ve seen some pretty remarkable events this last year – suffering an all time low with a crushing 5-nil loss to LA Galaxy in June and then a diametrically opposed (perhaps best ever) 5-2 victory against the very same LA Galaxy not four months later…   parity anyone?

So where do we stand today?

Just one game, one tactically sound game, from advancing to the MLS Championship…

Asprilla

It’s worth a look again!  Dairon Asprilla’s rope.

Okay, that said, it’s time to move on…

There’s a job to do and it isn’t finished; cinch the ropes a bit tighter and go for another ride.

In mounting that bull recall this one word that has best described MLS this year – parity…

Yes, the very same word that applied to the Timbers getting into this position is the very same word we should consider as this weekend approaches.

Don’t be misled by that 3-1 win… FC Dallas are a dangerous team, a very dangerous team.

And in understanding that, Caleb Porter has much to consider in how he sets the tone and tenor of his team this week.

I’d offer there are some very tough questions he and his staff will be asking themselves as they prepare.

Diego Valeri

Does Diego Valeri start?  

While many, if not most, probably don’t think this is a worthy question I do.

If Diego Valeri doesn’t start Caleb probably runs with the same eleven that got him the three goals and the win this past weekend (relying on the old adage that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it).

On the other hand Diego Valeri is… well… one of the best players in a Timbers uniform.  So – to be realistic – it’s likely Diego Valeri starts.

Caleb Porter

In considering that, how does that change the midfield with respect to running a single pivot versus double pivot?

This is a tricky question because the maturity of Darlington Nagbe (in playing box-to-box) kinda means the addition of Diego Valeri doesn’t mean Caleb is overtly committing to 5 attackers.  For me it really means Darlington Nagbe kinda takes on a quasi Jack Jewsbury/Will Johnson/Diego Valeri role.

Nagbe Bags a Whale of a Goal

In other words he leverages his skills as a great passer, with a great first touch, plus he uses his innate ability to turn and make space for himself (as well as others) while also showing improved recovery capabilities in addition to better vision from a deeper position; recall those through-balls he offered to Lucas Melano in the first 15-20 minutes.

What the change to a single pivot really means, for me, is a slightly different workload for Diego Chara.

Chara

How is it different?

I’m not sure I can completely scratch the itch on this one given I don’t know the in-depth tactics but it appeared to me that both Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury had a rotating leadership role in closing down the wings when Dallas penetrated the final third.

Who lead that initial response looked to me to depend on which player was best situated.  In other words if Jack was deeper and closer to the area being penetrated he closed down first; if Diego was closest he responded first.

Whoever was second took the role of managing the space around the corners or middle of the 18 yard box as well as providing direct support if the other player got beaten.

With Jewsbury off the pitch, and Darlington Nagbe usually working a little bit further up the pitch, it means Diego Chara will probably have the lead on closing down no matter which side of the pitch is penetrated.

This, in turn, probably means Diego will have more of a sustain and contain role as opposed to trying to regain possession at the earliest opportunity.

That sustain and contain role then allows Wallace/Melano/Asprilla/Nagbe to then take on the secondary response role that Jewsbury would normally be asked to do.

So in going back to try and answer the question on running a single pivot versus double pivot it gets even more complicated as the wingers are likely to have a different role as well.

Which leads to this question.

Lucas Melano

Does Lucas Melano start in lieu of Rodney Wallace?

Before answering the question I think it’s worthy to note the value Melano added in attacking and defending without knowing his prescribed role last game.

All told he made some superb penetrating runs and provided good support in defending behind the ball – not a bad game even though he had another great opportunity to score.

Bottom line is Lucas used his strengths to create and make space for others while also adding value in applying some forward pressure that lead to a poor pass by Dallas, which in turn led to that golazo by Asprilla; sometimes the success of a player is not measured by goals but by how he helps create and make space for others to score goals.

That said we still need to try and answer the question… 

For me, if Caleb runs the single pivot Rodney Wallace gets the head nod – if Jack Jewsbury starts in lieu of Diego Valeri then Lucas Melano gets the head nod.

Is it as simple as that?   Probably not, but with Asprilla/Nagbe/Wallace/Melano all having increased defensive responsibilities with the single pivot, and Diego comes in to add a player who is more attack minded than defensive minded, it really kinda means Wallace is more likely to start given he shows a bit more grist in defending.

Said another way – Caleb needs to sustain a balance in attacking and defending; that balance is more attack minded with both Melano and Valeri on the pitch; so…..  Rodney should get the call as it’s likely Diego Valeri starts.

Liam Ridgewell

Is Liam Ridgewell injured and can he play?

I don’t have the answer to that but here’s what I would offer.

If Ridgewell is slightly injured, and there is a chance he might have to be subbed given a recurrence of that injury, I’d offer serious consideration is given that he doesn’t start.

That may not be the popular move but if you, as a Head Coach, can save a substitution for a game state not intended, then going with the known is usually better than going with the unknown.

In closing:

In circling back to FC Dallas – they remain a dangerous team.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oscar Pareja flip which sides Castillo and Barrios attack from to show a different look in attack.

Dallas love to penetrate the wings and create opportunities for cut-back passes into open space atop or around the corners of the 18 yard box or penalty spot.

And if they weren’t successful in doing that with Barrios on the left side last game it seems reasonable they’ll try him on the right side this game.

Bottom line here, for the Timbers, it’s all about managing the space and time when FC Dallas have the ball – figure defense first with a tangible attack that creates solid opportunities to score goals.

Have a great thanksgiving weekend and get ready to ride the bull again!

If interested here’s some additional thoughts on the Timbers match against Dallas as part of the Yellowcarded Podcast.

Finally, here’s more thoughts on this game from myself, Kip Kesgard, and Will Conwell and our Rose City Soccer Show.

Best, Chris

Vancouver and beyond???

While the result, and how that result was achieved, will certainly not be lost on the soccer world I do feel and think there is a cause for concern to consider as the Timbers prepare for Vancouver, and beyond, this Sunday.

Lucas Melano

The decision to replace Lucas Melano with George Fochive in the 85th minute.

As a caveat, this view is not intended to be a player-specific critic – but more about the general team performance (reaction) given the substitution, what might be drawn from it, and how the impact of that substitution might influence decisions made as the playoff run continues.

And no – no heat maps or passing charts – you need video analysis for this assessment.

In watching the overall tenor of the game (before and after the 85th minute) I’d say the ability of Sporting to possess and penetrate was better, not worse, after George Fochive came on.

George Fochive

And for most of us this shouldn’t be  a surprise.

Throughout the course of this season the Timbers have played somewhat deeper (ceding possession) in working a double-pivot tactical strategy that plays more to counter-attacking than possession-based attacking.

This approach has been a two-edged sword; usually the opponent comes away without scoring a goal, but alas, so it also goes for the Timbers.

That said, unfortunately, we have seen some teams win – and win big – (Philadelphia, FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy come to mind).

So should we really be surprised that Sporting got the equalizer near stoppage time and a second goal in extra time?

I don’t think so, and that remains a cause of concern for me as the Timbers move forward against Vancouver, and beyond.

First off – I sense it is reasonable to expect that over the course of a season, when playing one basic tactical approach, players will develop patterns of behavior (on field habits) that they’ll play to, regardless of some finite, tactical adjustments made by the head coach during the game.

In addition, it’s my belief that the tactical move to replace Melano had a negative impact on Darlington Nagbe’s ability to influence the game – if the Timbers are working towards more attacking, and possession-based ball movement with five attackers, then it stands to reason they’ll be doing less of that with four attackers.

Meaning Sporting is going to have more of the ball.

So, when you’re up one goal with less than 15 minutes to go, at home, do you really want to set the conditions for the opponent to tactically, by default, and through general pattern of behaviour, have more of the ball?  Not really…

In thinking about this game it brings to mind an example of what I mean.

Recall the devastating draw the US Men’s National Team had with Portugal in the 2014 World Cup.

Jurgen Klinsmann made (in my view) a decision that was also cause for concern, that many missed.

He pulled Graham Zusi and replaced him with Omar Gonzalez – in other words he pulled an attacking midfield player, on the left side, and replaced him with a central defender.

This decision meant (tactically) the US Men’s National Team had no-one occupying, and therefore defending, the same exact zone where Ronaldo delivered the cross that got Portugal the equalizer.

Almost the exact same thing happened last night…

Melano got pulled and replaced with Fochive.

In turn, after the initial corner ball was cleared (to the zone one might expect Melano to patrol after a defensive clearance) Zusi delivered an equalizing cross where he was under absolutely no pressure – he had clear time and space to deliver his cross just like Ronaldo had against the US Men’s National Team!

But the real issue here isn’t that specific example, it’s bigger than that and also cause for concern; especially if this (up one goal) scenario occurs again.

So while all the hoopla goes towards the stunning, and heart stopping result, of yesterday Caleb Porter has much to consider.

For me, I think it’s worthy that the Timbers will be conducting some in-depth video analysis to better understand (throughout the entire game) how the impact (and influence) that Melano had on the game compared and contrasted with the impact (and influence) Fochive had on the game.

And I don’t mean with respect to the individual player’s and their execution but with respect to the overall tenor of team performance, in attacking and defending, for both Portland and Kansas City.

Bottom line here:

The game had a great scoreline, with the players and tactics used up to the 85th minute.  Did the change in tactics (with that player substitution) alter the construct of the game enough to create a condition where Sporting may have been more likely to score a goal?

I think it did but my view isn’t the one that matters.  So as an analyst – I would submit that question needs to be asked – and I sense Caleb will do that.

In closing:

Perhaps another, less talked about decision, was Caleb Porter’s decision to open in a single-pivot.

For me, that sets the stage on his intent to continue with that approach, as a first choice option; others may view that differently.

And while I think and feel that is a very reasonable path forward, in battling the teams who like to counter-attack, I also think it’s sets the stage for future player decisions.

By that I mean, if you run (by choice) a single-pivot, do you really need five central defending midfielders on your roster?

And can you sustain a reasonable attacking path forward with just two players (Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri) who can command the attacking responsibilities associated with that approach?

I’d say no…

So all the while the playoffs are happening there oughta be someone in the front office looking at attacking central midfielders to shore up what appears to be a very good tactical shift on the part of Caleb Porter.

Best, Chris