A superb run with five wins and a draw in six games; by most standards that is a compelling argument for consistency. I agree and their overall Composite Possession with Purpose Index rating continues to climb.
They’ve (New England) climbed from 17th in PWP (week 5) to 7th after week 11; a superb shift of 10 full places in 6 weeks.
So in considering this giant push forward I’d like to take a different approach in how the data points from PWP can be viewed.
This is new so please bear with me for a minute or two as I set the context.
Below are a number of diagrams referencing my PWP indicators for a few teams; the diagram being used this time is the ‘doughnut’ diagram from Microsoft Powerpoint.
The interesting thing about this diagram is that it allows me to offer up a view on my PWP data points that isn’t relative to the exponential relationship (a line). Instead, it allows me to picture the overall tenor of PWP data points in relationship to themselves as being a part of a ‘whole’; with the ‘whole’ being PWP.
I feel confident I can take this approach since my Expected Wins 2 correlation for my data points is ~.97 (R2) — as near to rock solid as you can get.
Other context points include:
- The teams used in this analysis are Seattle, New England, Montreal, Portland and last years’ Supporters Shield winner (New York) plus last years bottom dweller (DC United)
- Reminder in case my explanation was a bit wordy above – the percentages indicated in the doughnut are not the percentages of those activities relative to the game; they are the percentage of those activities relative to each other with 100% being all those activities added together.
- Source – as usual the MLS Chalkboard and the MLS Statistics Sheets
- Gold Stars on the diagrams are intended to show you where differences occur.
- The team name on the outside of the doughnut is the outer ring of data and the team name on the inside of the doughnut is the inner ring of data.
The volume of Final Third passes successfully completed by New England (29%) is 3% points higher than Montreal (26%). Note also that Montreal has a greater percentage of PWP outside the Final Third (30%) than New England (28%). Both of these indicate to me that New England is more focused on penetrating and creating than Montreal.
For the future I will check into these three areas when looking to see if a ‘direct attacking approach’ can be better differentiated from a ‘ground-based’ (short passing scheme) approach.
The actual volume of penetration is higher for New England as well (11%) versus (7%). And like my regular PWP analysis the data here also supports the fact that teams who are more patient in creating shots taken (6% for NER versus 11% for MIFC) end up with more goals scored.
I did ask Matthias Kullowatz about the specific shot data for New England and Montreal; ~60% of Montreal’s shots on target have come outside the prime scoring zones 1 & 2 while ~68% of the Revolution shots on target have also come outside of zones 1 & 2. So what’s different?
I think it’s down to time and space again; though it could be the Revolution have better strikers – but when you see the DC United doughnut diagram a bit later I think it’s back to time and space; and with fewer shots taken and more patience in the final third that seems reasonable to me.
Now for a contrast that might be better at explaining individual mistakes and bad fortune more than a bad ‘style/system’…
Notice no ‘gold stars’; why? Because there really isn’t that much difference between how these two teams execute the six steps of PWP.
What separates these two teams in the league table are individual mental mistakes in defense – Portland sit on ten points while Seattle have 25. Through the course of this year the Timbers have dropped 7 points due to red cards and penalties – they did both against Columbus Saturday night!
In considering the ‘sameness’ of the data I expect as time passes an output similar to this could highlight ‘individual mistakes’ and perhaps ‘good/bad luck’ when it comes to rebounds and deflections – again recall Saturday night when Futty Danso deflected a shot and notched an ‘own-goal’
All told things went pretty well for Columbus, a red card by their opponent, a foul in the penalty box by their opponent for a PK and a deflected own-goal by their opponent. If I were a Columbus fan I’d be pretty pissed they didn’t win – bad luck for the Crew!
However viewed I’ll revisit this diagram later when the Cascadia Cup battle heats up.
So here’s the doughnut view of New York compared to DC United last year and then a bit further down how they look compared to each other this year.
First off – let’s not forget Ben Olsen was not fired and perhaps this doughnut diagram can also help explain why given the overall poor performance in results last year for DC United.
Notice that the team does exceedingly well in comparison to New York with respect to Passing, penetration and creation; they actually exceed New York in the first two categories and only fall off when it comes to goals scored (7% for DC United versus 15% for New York).
So I’d offer that the system Ben Olsen ran last year worked – what he lacked was a pair of good strikers. And if you recall the Montreal doughnut earlier the outputs from DC United do not mirror those of the Impact!
They added Espindola and Johnson and shored up their defense a bit; that also included adding Amos Magee to the staff. Remember him as the Defensive Coordinator for Portland last year (I think – others can confirm or deny that I’m sure)
Bottom line here – the system didn’t change and the Head Coach didn’t change and I’d offer that was appropriate… now for the same diagram this year:
Note the increase for DC United in the final category – goals scored versus shots on goal – pretty compelling information to reinforce that the system used last year is the same system used this year and the difference – major difference – is the addition of two quality strikers.
I’m just in the learning stages on how this new doughnut diagram will take shape – I’m pretty sure it will have at least one hole in it – I’m hopeful there aren’t a lot more.
Some changes afoot with OPTA and MLS – I see OPTA incorporated the Final Third Passing Accuracy suggestion – just need to find out if crosses are included in that metric???
As for the new MLS Chalkboard – I’m not sure how that will work if the ‘numbers’ of activities are not available to count when it comes to defensive activities and ‘touches’ for players…
And yes, the old Chalkboard still appears to exist given a separate link within previous articles but it’s unclear if this change will be a permanent change for next year – or even the World Cup for that matter…
As for This Week in PWP; if you saw my tweets yesterday you know the top Attacking and Defending PWP teams of the week; New England in attack and Toronto in Defense with the Reds taking the Composite PWP Index top spot for Week 11.
Sporting KC, along with LA Galaxy remain atop the Composite PWP through Week 11 while the Revolution moved to 7th and Columbus dropped to 4th as Real Salt Lake are now in a comfortable position of 3rd best overall.
Finally, this view also gives you and idea of what percentage each team gleans from each of the PWP Six Steps data points in the calculation for the overall Index number.
If you’ve read my previous article on Expected Wins 4 (Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer) you’ll know that there are teams out there who can, and do win, ‘without’ exceeding 50% possession.
In my next evolution of analysis, using the Family of Possession with Purpose Indicators on Major League Soccer, here’s some more granularity to go with that observation.
The filters set up for this effort are pretty simple – five of them to be exact:
- Teams who won games in MLS last year with less than 50% Possession,
- Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in overall Passing Accuracy (77%) and,
- Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in Passing Accuracy within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (66.8%),
- Teams whose volume of Pass Attempts fall below the League Average (428.01), and
- Teams whose volume of Pass Attempts, into the Opponents Defending Final Third, fall below the League Average (117.54).
Why this approach?
To highlight what teams, and what volume of games those teams won, where ‘CONTROL’ of the game would most likely be interpretted as ‘minimized’ given a poorer ‘team performance’.
In addition, I also sense it may be a good way to differentiate between teams who use a Counter-Attacking “tactic” as part of their Possession-based game versus a team more inclined to play a Direct Attacking style/system.
The really hard part here is I’m not using video and I don’t have access to X,Y coordinate data – this is all put together using public data.
However viewed I hope you find this interpretation beneficial.
In setting the stage for the teams who did best getting more from less here’s the raw data to consider:
There were 234 games last year where a team won in MLS.
Of those 234 games, 122 of them the winning team had lower than 50% Possession.
In other words, 52.14% of all games won last year saw the winning team possess the ball less than 50% of the time.
Of those 234 games, 70 of them the winning team had less than 50% Possession and less than 77% Passing Accuracy.
In other words, only 29.92% of all games won last year had the winning team performance fall below League average in Possession and Passing Accuracy.
Of those 234 games, 53 of them the winning team had less than 50% Possession, less than 77% Passing Accuracy (across the entire pitch) and less than 66.8% Passing Accuracy in the Opponent’s Defending Final Third.
In other words, only 22.65% of all games won last year had the winning team performance fall below League average in Possession and Passing Accuracy (both within and outside the Opponents Defending Final Third).
By the way, for those curious, in only 19.66% of all games lost this year (234) did the losing team EXCEED the League Average in Possession and Passing Accuracy (both within and outside the Opponent’s Defending Final Third).
So more teams got more from less than teams who got more from more…
Here’s the teams who got more with less, and how many times they were successful in that effort:
The Red Bars signify Eastern Conference Teams while the Blue Bars show Western Conference Teams (last year).
For now it should be noted that DC United took 24 of 59 Points where they performed far below league average in passing.
In addition, New England also took 21 of their 55 Points in games where they performed far below league average – and six of those seven wins came after Game 25 – in other words after they signed Jermaine Jones!
With respect to Philadelphia – five of their six wins, using this filter, came after Jim Curtin replaced John Hackworth.
In looking at Toronto – all of their five wins, in this fashion, came in the first 11 Games of the season – two things perhaps to consider from this:
- Other teams in MLS figured out the counter-attacking/direct attacking nature of the team and changed their defending habits accordingly, or
- They had an injury or two that impacted this style of play and, under Nelsen, were unable to recover from a key attacker being missed.
Of note – Chicago recently brought in two DP Strikers – is that a signal to the rest of MLS that Frank Yallop really intends to go all out in this type of attacking approach?
Finally, FC Dallas appeared to be the more counter-attacking/direct attacking team in the Western Conference – and this data appears to substantiate that.
Oscar Pareja’s approach was good enough to make the Playoffs last year – but with Houston (under Owen Coyle) and Sporting, another possession-based team, set to join the Western Conference, might we expect to see Pareja take a different approach next year?
East meeting West:
Pretty telling if you ask me…
A marked difference in volume of teams that got more with less in the Eastern Conference.
This provides some pretty good evidence to support those having the belief or feeling that the two conferences played different styles…
Well, for me, over the past few years I’ve found it pretty hard to differentiate between a team that works towards Direct Attacking, as a style, as opposed to Counter-Attacking.
And to be honest I’m not sure what the difference is; at least up until now.
Here’s my draft definition on how to define a team that Counter Attacks (as a tactic) as opposed to using Direct Attacking (as ‘the’ tactical system/style/approach).
- The league average for passes attempted across the entire pitch is 428.01.
- So for the purposes of this effort all teams that fall below that average will be viewed as Counter-Attacking teams until I see that their volume of passes attempted in the Opponent’s Defending Final Third also falls below that League average of 117.54.
- My rationale is this – a consistent trend of low volume in passes attempted both within and outside the final third indicates to me that the team is attempting to play longer or quicker balls into the final third – that have less chance of being completed – in other words looking to penetrate with less overall control of the ball.
- I welcome any additional thoughts on this…
In looking at these 52 games:
- Only one game did the volume of Pass Attempts exceed the League Average of 428.
- In that one game the volume of Pass Attempts within the Opponents Defending Final Third did not exceed the League Average.
- DC United had that game.
- Only 11 games saw the volume of Pass Attempts in the Opponents Defending Final Third exceed the League Average of 117.
- New England had five of those games, Seattle had one, DC United one, Vancouver one, and Philadelphia three.
- Therefore in 40 of the 52 games played, using this filter, it would appear that the team that won played Direct Attacking Football.
- Meaning the teams that performed best in Direct Attacking football were DC United (7), Toronto (5 under Nelsen), Dallas (5), and Chicago (3).
Gut-Check on my Direct Attacking hypothesis – a pretty well known/attributed Direct Attacking team in the English Premier League is West Ham.
Of their 19 games this year every single game saw their total Pass Attempts fall below the League Average of 426.73.
In 11 of those games their Pass Attempts, within the Opponents Final Third, fell below the League Average of 131.82.
They won seven of those 11 games.
In conclusion, the gut-check pans out – it appears that the outputs from West Ham match those developed based upon what is seen in MLS.
The data also confirms that Sam Allardyce, and his Hammers, are doing a pretty good job of executing that system as well.
Doing more with less had a significant advantage for DC United, New England, Philadelphia, and Toronto – all those teams, tops in this filter, are in the Eastern Conference.
This information also supports the views, by many, that the two Conferences are different; the Eastern Conference has more teams that were successful in doing ‘more with less’ and more teams, who were more successful, in their Direct Attacking style/system.
It seems reasonable to me that this is a way for me to better quantify the difference between a team that counter-attacks as a ‘tactic’ versus a team that prefers to play more direct.
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It’s no secret that the New England Revolution have been on a seven game slide – nil pwa has become the routine where three points used to be the norm.
In their first 12 weeks of Major League Soccer the New England Revolution had won seven times, drawn twice and lost just three games; included in that stretch was a five game winning streak just before the skid began.
In their last seven games they’ve lost four games (three at home), to Eastern Conference teams, and three away games to Western Conference teams.
In considering that significant difference in results is there a corresponding difference in my Possession with Purpose Key Team Indicators in attack and defense?
I think so; but before offering thoughts on that here’s the Attacking PWP diagram for the Revolution in three categories: (Weeks 1-12, Weeks 13-19, and Total – Week 1-19)
Some thoughts based upon the Key Team Attacking Indicators:
Pretty clearly the amount of average possession has changed (in attack) for New England, in the last seven weeks, compared to the first 12 weeks; an increase in average overall possession by 7%.
What’s even more intriguing is that New England simply don’t win games when they out possess their opponent.
In the 19 games played New England have exceeded 51% possession seven times – and in each of those games they’ve lost!
Put another way – counter-attacking seems to suit this team when it comes to ‘results’ – or – the team has been behind, to begin with, too often and that game state has driven an increase in possession – indicating they are chasing the game.
Another interesting output has been their overall passing accuracy.
In the last seven games their passing accuracy has increased by almost 8%.
For me that indicates they are playing shorter passes more frequently – again reinforcing the increase in possession percentage (a function of passing).
To continue, as the differences mount.
In this losing streak the Revolution have also increased their volume of passes in the opponent final third.
All told the average, in the seven straight losses, is 165 per game with a 32% completion rate versus 113 passes at 29% completion rate.
For me that indicates they might be playing too patient at times – looking for that perfect pass; when, with fewer passes and a lower completion rate they were scoring more goals. A good indicator they were catching their opponent off-guard/out of position.
How about shots on goal per shots taken?
The Revolution are putting shots on goal, ~42% of the time, compared to just 27%, when having less possession and less penetration.
Again reinforcing that counter-attacking style of hitting the opponent on a quick attack after a change of possession.
Bottom line here is the Revolution goals scored average is .43 during this losing streak compare to 1.75 during the first twelve weeks.
Therefore it’s pretty clear to me that the Team Attacking PWP Key Indicators add value in isolating what might be happening during this losing streak.
With respect to Team Defending PWP Key Indicators; using the same three categories:
Most should know that the ‘goal not scored’ has more value than the ‘goal scored’; defense is critical to winning games. So while the Revolution have issues in attack they also have issues in defense.
If New England possess the ball more, when they lose, then it would appear the opponent might be the one playing the counter-attacking style.
In other words, that increase in passing volume, and penetration volume, (by New England) is influencing how often their fullbacks and perhaps central midfielders are over-committing in attack.
And the most telling team indicator to me, in that, is the significant increase in the opponents putting shots taken – on goal.
Nothing speaks more clearly to having ‘open space’ than a huge increase in shots on goal… the percentage increase in the opponents shots taken being on goal goes from 26% to 46% – a whopping increase of 20%!
And that huge increase in shots on goal, has, clearly generated an increase in goals against.
During their losing streak the Revolution have averaged 2.43 goals against per game – while in the first 12 weeks they averaged just 1.17 goals against per game!
Clearly the New England Revolution team performance indicators HAVE changed between Weeks 1-12 and Weeks 13-19.
Now I don’t focus on individual players – each team has a roster and it’s up to the coach to build that roster based upon the style of play they want to employ.
All I will offer here is that whoever is playing, on a regular basis, simply isn’t getting the job done.
And when I look at the overwhelming differences in team performance from weeks 1-12 to weeks 13-19 it is clearly… not just one player…
So is their an easy solution to right the ship?
Hard to say – but based upon these team indicators (while not actually watching New England play) I’d offer they need to be less aggressive in normal attack and look to counter as the opportunity presents itself – while… also playing a very strong defensive game.
None of that should require significant time in training between games…
Finally, I mentioned earlier that New England had lost three straight away games to Western Conference teams… that got my interest peaked on which conference might be strong or weaker at this point in the season. So with that here’s some fun facts…
- Western Conference Teams have taken 102 points against the East while Eastern Conference Teams have taken just 69 points against the West…
- In basic math that pretty much translates to the Western Conference taking points from their Eastern Conference counterparts 60% of the time… not even by any stretch.
- And, by the way, guess what one Eastern Conference team is doing very well against Western Conference teams this year – aye – Sporting Kansas City. They are tops with 14 points against the west while DC United are 2nd best with nine points againt the West.
- Might that explain why those two teams that are so high up the table in the Eastern Conference…!!!???
What, if anything, did Philadelphia Union do that was different from their historical averages so far this year?
If you’re reading this article first – you may want to check out this article on Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP) Predictability Index, results for Week 16 in Major League Soccer, first to see why I am offering it.
There are many supplemental data points to PWP – here’s a few general observations / potential difference makers I see after reviewing the data I collect:
When Philadelpia has won, in the past, their opponent possesses the ball slightly more.
Philadelphia defeated Sporting KC on the road where SKC had ~66% of the ball and in this last game New England had ~57% of the ball.
The only home win Philadelphia have is against New England where the Union dominated possession (~60%).
The other road game was against Chivas USA and, like everybody else in MLS, the Union dominated possession (~64%). – Hence that ‘slightly more’ percentage is deceptive.
In the Union victory over New England, this past weekend, the Revolution had 103 unsuccessful passes across the Entire Pitch; ~64% of those unusccessful passes came in the Union defending Final Third.
In other words the Union gave up possession and gave additional space and time to New England outside the defending Final Third.
Their average number of Tackles Won supports that as well.
When the Union lose they average 15 Tackles Won per game.
When they draw they average 20 Tackles Won per game.
In this game they had seven Tackles Won – supporting the idea that they applied less pressure and relied more on defending Final Third spatial and time control than physical control.
Their average number of Clearances also support that view as well.
When the Union lose they average 20 Clearances per game; when they draw they average 24 Clearances per game.
In this game against New England they had 42 Clearances – by far their largest single game output in Defensive Clearances.
For me this also indicates that they gave away some space and time outside the 18 yard box.
Additional information for consideration…
In games where the Union have lost, their opponents have averaged 17 crosses per game with a 26% success rate.
In games where they draw the Union opponents average 17 crosses per game with a 30% success rate.
In this game, against New England, the Revolution offered up 25 crosses (fourth most of all Union opponents this year) with a 32% success rate (also fourth best this year).
But with the higher than average number of clearances, success in those crosses is deceptive – the space was made available for the cross but the crosses were less effective and the higher than average number of Clearances would support that.
Finally, when looking at Shots Taken, the Revolution took 22 shots that game with only 8 on goal – that is the most shots taken against the Union this year.
Basically, that nuance about teams that take more shots have a lower percentage chance of scoring a goal paid off.
That analysis probably doesn’t touch on every nuance that was different about this game and perhaps explain why the Union won – bottom line is they scored 3 goals and New England didn’t – but it does paint an interesting picture that supports how the predictability of each game doesn’t account for different tactical changes a Head Coach might make.
If you’ve been following my Possession with Purpose and Expected Wins articles/streaming research you should know by now that the data had a pretty strong correlation to the MLS League Tables last year.
So how do things look for PWP at this stage in the MLS this year?
A few thoughts….
- It’s early days but the two teams lowest in the League Table (Western and Eastern Conference) also happen to be the lowest teams in the PWP Composite Index this year.
- Caveat – the amount of data for this Index is not ideal; ideal would be how the Index begins to take shape from Week 17 on-wards. I am, however, providing you this information so we can all watch how this Index takes shape for the entire year.
- As noted, last year the final Index was compelling in its relationship to the League Table; I have no idea if that will be the case this year.
- However viewed I don’t advocate that this Index represents a substitute for the League Table but those teams performing well in scoring points also seem to be those teams performing well in Possession with Purpose; or is it vice versa???
- I’ll dig into an update on my PWP approach in my next article, for now I readily acknowledge that this Index is influenced by passing accuracy – but it’s also influenced by shooting accuracy too.
- In looking at the Eastern Conference; the exception last year was Houston and it remains so again this year. This time Houston, with 14 games played, are in fourth in the League Table but 17th overall in PWP; if that 4th place is to continue I’d offer that their PWP Indices will improve compared to other teams.
- As for Montreal, Chicago, Toronto (with 3-5 games in hand), Philadelphia and New York are in the bottom half while Columbus, Sporting, New England and DC United are in the top half for both.
- Bottom line – with a few exceptions the Index looks reasonable – can it be a predictor at or near the 17 game point for all teams? I’m not sure but watching this Index change from week to week is intriguing.
Given that interesting output, I decided to take a look at how teams sit in the Index relative to games played at home versus on the road.
The team who appears to be performing the best on the road, relative to their own Index ratings, is Chivas – their differential is -.39. In looking at the total goals scored at home they have six, on the road they have 7. Chivas have taken six points away from home and four points at home.
Chicago Fire also appear to do better on the road than at home – they have 11 goals on the road and eight goals at home. Indeed they also have taken six points away from home and six points at home.
In looking at the upper end of the Index differences, New England leads PWP in team performance at home versus on the road. Their own Index difference is .68; with 13 points at home and ten points on the road going with 11 home goals and 10 road goals.
Next up is San Jose at .49 – they have scored 11 goals at home and just two on the road. Taking 12 points at home and just one point on the road.
In looking at the six steps of PWP for New England (home and away) they have about the same possession (~47% each) and overall passing accuracy (72.7% each). The biggest difference comes in penetration completion; at home the Revolution complete ~33% of all their overall passes within the Final Third; while on the road that figure is ~26% – a full 7% points difference. So it appears they are more willing to possess with the “intent to possess” more on the road.
In addition, the number of shots taken versus passes completed in the Final Third is ~17% at home while ~15% on the road. Again, more patience in attack on the road…
Finally, while their Shots taken versus shots on goal are slightly higher on the road (42% to 40%) their ability to score goals versus shots on goal is 33% at home versus 23% on the road. In other words they are more accurate in their goals scored at home.
As for San Jose the wide difference in goals scored at home versus on the road should be pretty obvious but in case you were wondering – in the four games San Jose have played on the road their overall penetration into the final third is 3% less than at home.
Their shots taken versus completed passes in the Final Third is 9% less, Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken is 14% less and their Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal is 19% less. In the case of San Jose it’s “less means less” in almost every category…
In considering Chivas…
To date they have played 5 games at home. At home their possession is 4% higher, passing accuracy is 6% higher, penetration is 1% higher, their shots per penetration is higher by 2% but their shots on goal per shot taken is 7% lower and their goals scored versus shots on goal is 17% lower.
In other words, at home, they appear to have more quantity in their overall passing to penetrate but they have less quality when it comes to scoring goals.
I’m not sure how this will play out for the year but at this stage the data is interesting. Is it compelling one way or the other? Hard to tell, but we don’t know what we don’t know unless we at least throw it out there to take a look…
For now I think it is compelling enough to re-look later this year on how team performance in PWP takes shape at home and away…