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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Most should know, by now, that the top teams in MLS are queueing up for the final playoff push while others sit in dispair and wonder what’s gone wrong…
I’ll dig into that, in detail, in a few weeks – for now let’s take a look at those teams on the cusp (a whole bunch I might add) and see what we can see…
In the tradition of my analyses here’s the latest Possession with Purpose Strategic Composite Index (CPWP):
Figure the West is down to two teams unless Portland completely folds with four games to go; for some perhaps not as unlikely as they’d like to admit given Will Johnson is out and Diego Valeri misses the next game against San Jose.
In the East it’s not quiet as simple – this conference has been plagued with bad team performances throughout the year – and it’s almost sickening to sense that Sporting Kansas City, a year in and year out top performer, will move to the Western Conference next year… wow – that sucks!
Be that as it may, Toronto, Philadelphia, Houston, and New York are battling for the 5th Playoff spot.
That doesn’t mean Columbus is in the clear but if ever a team deserved to make the Playoffs, in the East, it would be Columbus – one of the MOST consistent teams this year…
And that consistency of purpose has also translated to results in the league table – Caleb Porter did that with the Portland Timbers last year and Gregg Berhalter is doing that with Columbus this year…
Team performance AND results, combined, matter!
In my opinion Gregg Berhalter, hands down, is Manager of the Year!
I get it that Ben Olsen has turned his team around – but Berhalter has rebuilt his team – all Olsen has done is really find two new strikers and upgraded some defensive players – he has not rebuilt and redirected a new philosophical approach like Berhalter has.
Of course Columbus still need to make the playoffs to etch in stone that results oriented improvement matches team attacking and defending performance improvement.
Anyhow, I digress… statistically speaking the CPWP Strategic Index correlation (R2) to average points in the league table is (.83) – the highest yet this year.
Before moving on to APWP, some additional thoughts on Toronto, Philadelphia and Houston…
I watched that Toronto victory over Portland the other day and I can’t help but think how horrid that team is in overall, run of play, performance.
If the Timbers had any inkling of a defensive minded bench, and starting squad, the Reds would have been blown away – wow… but it’s about results in this league and when it came to set-pieces they got results.
As for Philadelphia – my hat is off to Jim Curtin – he’s taken the same squad, made a defensive tweak and brought them back – other than that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed between he and John Hackworth; er… other than the results – which of course stems from that defensive change — more here.
Both solid guys, both wanting to win, one took one path and it didn’t pay off – so the other took a slightly different path and it paid off…
Houston – well – they’ve been on the far side of great team performances this year more than most – what started as a good run might end as a good run – who knows – it’s a funny conference and poor performances in the East don’t mean you lose… fancy that!
Now on to Attacking PWP – here’s how they stand after Week 29:
A shiny example of how simply being a great attacking team ISN’T the answer in this league – too much focus by New York and Portland in attack as opposed to defending has cost them – BIG TIME… Cameron Knowles is the Defensive Coordinator for the Timbers and it’s clear, to me, he needs to go.
I’d imagine whoever the defensive coordinator for the Red Bulls is should be moved too…
Caleb Porter is a brilliant leader – and when you have brilliant leaders you don’t need ‘yes-men’ to work with them.
You need assistanct coaches with vision that looks in different areas – asks tough questions – pushes their own defensive agenda to make others in the organization to think even more, all the while stretching/pushing the added research and analysis you need to outperform the opponent on both sides of the ball…
I don’t personally know Cameron – have never even talked with him; he’s proabably a really good guy…
But it is clear, given the consistently bad defending nature/statistics/results of this team (goals against are 4th worst in MLS) the internal organizational structure to build a strong – defensive minded – thinking team – isn’t there…
If they make the Playoffs they will be lucky – very lucky; and that’s hard to say for me #RCTID!
New York – if New York gets edged out by any of those Eastern Conference teams I’d imagine Mike Petke gets sacked… the Red Bulls, like Portland, have been dodgy in defending all season long…
Sidenote: With respect to Thierry Henry – he’s such a classy guy – I met him in the elevator at the MLS All Star game and he’s a normal guy, who respects his Head Coach, whoever that might be, and he simply plays great attacking football.
While he’s offered no indication he might retire I think he does; and unlike Landon Donovan I think Thierry is OKAY with not having his retirement, here, being made a big deal.
I’d offer a simple testamonial with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is good enough for Henry – and rightly so – as his best footballing years came in London town!
Now about those fringe teams… Toronto, Houston, Philadelphia, and New York in the East…
- Toronto – one of the worst passing teams in Major League Soccer – 75% across the entire pitch (5th worst in the league). What makes this team work is Michael Bradley’s vision – a superb acquisition for MLS but is it good enough to stop the playoff-missing rot?
- As for technical things that might have changed with Vanney taking over after Nelson got booted – I’m not seeing any… maybe things will show better at the end of the season – for now I think that bust up was about ego more than anything else…
- Philadelphia – as noted, this team has tactically changed with John Hackworth being replaced by Jim Curtin. Like Toronto, Philadelphia is a poor passing team – what is getting them where they are now is better defending – take note Portland!
- Houston – on the trailing edge of good attacking and defending performances all season long.
- As noted though – the tenor of Houston hasn’t been about leading, against teams, in attack – it’s more of a grinding team that works hard in defending and tries to take advantage of opponent weak spots when attacking.
- Adding Garido and Beasley has helped that and you’ll see below in DPWP they are 7th worst after Week 29; yet after Week 19 they were 2nd worst – a move up the Index a full five places…
- I’d imgine it’s that tenor that has lead to discussion about Kinnear moving to San Jose – hmmm… there’s more to that than meets the eye…
- Anyhow, Bruin has flopped this year, and it’s likely he gets moved – and with Davis spending time with the USMNT that may have cost this team a whole bunch in leadership.
- At the end of the day – Houston have a possible 15 points with five game remaining – all against Eastern Conference foes.
- While it’s a long shot, if they get past New York this next weekend, I can see the dominoes fall in a favorable direction for the dynamic Dynamo – if the defense holds… (my sleeper to push New York out…)
Moving on to Defending PWP:
By the way – there’s Columbus at the top of the Defending PWP Strategic Index – and they were 5th best in APWP – for a combined 2nd best in CPWP…
Defense wins, so hopefully we see that consistent team performance carry on to the Playoffs and through to the finals!
As for the three teams (plus New York) in the East?
Team performance wise – there’s Houston sitting above New York, Philadelphia and Toronto – and six of the bottom seven teams in all of MLS (for team defending performance) are teams from the Eastern Conference – only the embarrassing, pathetic, Chivas USA are worse…
And with them taking a two year hiatus (you might as well say ‘relegated’) it’s about time that poorly organized team was dumped and replaced – hopefully they move as well! I wonder how that impacts the Expansion Draft?
Anyhow – in the West, note that Vancouver has edged back into the higher echelon of team defending – they have FC Dallas, at home, with Seattle away, San Jose away and Colorado at home.
In Week 19, Vancouver were 9th best in DPWP – even with those two recent losses to Portland, they have now climbed to 5th best in DPWP; you don’t need to beat everybody to make the playoffs…
I can see Vancouver taking six of 12 points here. Can the Timbers take nine of 12 points with two matches against San Jose, one against Real Salt Lake, and the final one away to FC Dallas (who will most certainly not want to finish 4th)?
Hard to say but if Gaston Fernandez can step in for Diego Valeri who knows?
For now, and I’ve not offered this before, I think playing both Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, on the pitch, hurts the tenor of team defending on this team.
It’s almost like those two guys are too dynamic in attack and less able to motor and provide a more box-to-box support this team probably needs in defending…
If they stay together then the upgrade at both fullback spots – plus another center-back – is really needed to keep the defense sound. I digress…
All that said means San Jose are a likely doormat the last five games.
If Watson is elementary in coaching the last four games he is surely gone for next year – I’d imagine he and Wondolowski and others will not want to finish the season with just six points – and that’s opining that they can beat Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto as well as take the expected three points against Chivas?
Unlikely – I’d offer Watson sees HIS team as being one that can pull 12 points out of their remaining five games – especially since their last one is against Chivas USA…
All to play for – regardless of how things go this year – these same teams will not have these same players next year.
One thing about MLS is that variation in team composition is consistent – the expansion draft is likely to see a few teams lose at least two players – making the academy and (individual) team scouting all the more important than a ‘composite’ MLS scouting approach.
To think that this franchise driven league relies more on an overall ‘collective scouting system to get players for the league’ flies in the face of the very economic and competitive structure of this country where individual thinking, individual feeling, and individual analysis suits individual companies better to make them individually more competitive.
It’s not about the “league” anymore in my opinion – and Chivas USA, coupled with New York City FC and all that the Manchester City pedigree brings with it, has shown that.
From here on (MLSNext???) it should be about the individual team within the larger franchise.
I think it’s time for poker to go up… MLS has arrived as a competitive league – now individual teams, and individual owners, should go out there and bloody compete on a team to team footing and may the best organization win!
And yes, Gregg Berhalter should be the MLS Coach of the Year!
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Twenty eight games in – the screws are tightening and the pucker factor hit the Vancouver Whitecaps big time; see here: Valeri’s vicious volley from Villafana vanquishes Vancouver.
For me though, the real story is how the tables have turned in Philadelphia – I’ll get to that in just a wee bit – for now here’s my usual Possession with Purpose Family of Indices:
At this stage the top ten teams above the red line are the top ten teams in the Index. Good; the End State of trying to match the league table without points seems to be holding steady and the correlation this week (R2) remains a steady and strong .82.
There are at least two key issues this week – who continues to push up the table to make the Playoffs and who continues to push for the Supporter’s Shield – Seattle took a hit this week – but – then again they won the US Open Cup – winning silver is never a bad thing.
In terms of making the Playoffs – tight races for sure. Some teams have a possible 18 points to get while some others have 15 points to get – with that many points available Vancouver, Philadelphia, Colorado, Toronto, Houston, and even San Jose are still in the hunt.
Moving on to the APWP Strategic Index and peeling back changes to the Philadelphia Union:
LA Galaxy continue to be attack mad – and some familiar faces appear up near the top as well – remember Portland and New York from last year? Well… they are still here and still dangerous.
But this isn’t about those three teams – today’s focus is about Philadelphia and how the Union have come together. In order to see that let’s peel back how they differ from earlier this year with John Hackworth leading the cause.
Here’s the statistical details – do they show any changes?
- The average number of total passes with John was 454 per game; under Jim it’s 367 per game – a HUGE difference!
- The average amount of possession with John was 50.85%; under Jim it’s 44.04% – a HUGE difference!
- The average penetration per possession under John was 22.04%; under Jim it’s 26.14% – in terms of volume that also represents a HUGE difference!
- The average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 20.11%; under Jim it’s 19.06% – not big but worthy…
- The average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 29.83%; under Jim it’s 38.30% – a HUGE difference!
- The average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.78%; under Jim it’s 41.14% – a HUGE difference!
- The average Goals Scored under John was 1.17; under Jim it’s 1.93 – a HUGE difference!
In all, there are considerable differences in team attacking performances under the direction of John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin.
This isn’t offering that one coach is better than the other; what it does offer – however – is that with a slightly different playing style – the output of a team, with the same players, can change.
Top be precise, the volume of passes, and percentages of possession, penetration, shots on goal, and goals scored are considerably different; and those differences do lead to an increase in goals scored and total points.
Said a different way – the Union are possessing the ball less – which in turn means the opponent is possessing the ball more, which, in turn, means there is more time and space in the opponent’s own Defending Final Third if the opponent loses the ball and the Union can capitalize on that open space.
Might the Union Defending team performance indicators support that? Let’s see; here’s the DPWP Strategic Index:
In looking specifically at the Union; here’s the breakdown on the Union Defending team performance outputs under John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin:
- The opponent average number of total passes with John was 440 per game; under Jim it’s 468 per game – a big difference!
- The opponent average amount of possession with John was 48.90%; under Jim it’s 55.96% – a HUGE difference!
- The opponent average penetration per possession under John was 21.26%; under Jim it’s 21.25% – no difference!
- The opponent average volume of passes in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 101.50; under Jim it’s 126.27 – a large increase in volume of penetration.
- The opponent average volume of passes completed in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 69.07; under Jim it’s 81.05 – an increase in volume of completed passes in the Union Defending Final Third.
- The opponent average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 19.49%; under Jim it’s 13.95% – a worthy difference…
- The opponent average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 39.61%; under Jim it’s 37.78% – a worthy difference…
- The opponent average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.90%; under Jim it’s 34.12% – a worthy difference…
- The opponent average Goals Scored under John was 1.71; under Jim it’s 1.25 – a HUGE difference!
In all, there are worthy differences in team defending performance between John and Jim.
In answering the leading question into DPWP – the answer is yes…
- The volume of penetration has increased markedly under the leadership of Jim Curtin in comparison to John Hackworth – it’s that difference that leads many to believe that the defensive line of the back-four has dropped deeper…
- In addition, with dropping deeper, it’s expected that the space will get tighter – with less space, and time, opponent shots taken and shots on goal volume should decrease.
- Under John, the opponents volume of shots taken was 12.36 per game with 4.79 shots on goal per game – under Jim, shots taken is 11.40 per game while shots on goal is 4.00 per game.
- So they not only decrease in volume, they also decrease in percentage as noted in the bullets above.
- Finally, under John Hackworth, Goals Against were 1.70 per game; under Jim Curtin they are 1.36.
Bottom line here – the Union are simply better in defending, and in turn, their deeper drop, in defending, has led to an improved attack.
For those only interested in Total Points – under John Hackworth – the Philadelphia Union had earned 11 points in 14 games; under the guidance of Jim Curtin (now) the team has 27 points from 15 games.
If that pattern continues (1.8 points per game) the Union could finish with 47 points – and in an Eastern Conference – that just may be enough to make the Playoffs.
All for now …
Later this week, my run down on the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, and a special review on Expected Wins looking at all four leagues together…
Looking to answer this question – is comparing individual players on Barcelona to FC Koln, to Southampton, to LA Galaxy worthy given that the four leagues all have different patterns to winning – or do they?
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A different view on Possession with Purpose in Major League Soccer this week…. this time around I’ll be offering up my Indices using just that last ten weeks of the MLS Regular season to look for any trends in who’s better or worse compared to the season as a whole.
For those not familiar with Possession with Purpose yet here’s a link to the Introduction and Explanations on how it works.
After Week 19 here’s how the teams stand in Attacking PWP (APWP):
Now here’s how these teams have performed in Attack the last 10 Weeks:
The first team in the queue for the last ten weeks is Portland; I wonder what their Defending PWP looks like.
For most, Portland being this high shouldn’t be a surprise – they continue to remain one of the best attacking teams in MLS.
Also up top are LA Galaxy, New York, and Philadelphia.
In taking a closer look at Philadelphia, for the whole season, they are 7th best in team attack but 4th best here – the change in leadership has certainly generated a positive impact on the teams ability to attack.
On the bottom half of this Index we see Houston, San Jose, Chivas USA, Montreal, and Chicago.
No change here in the last ten weeks compared to the whole season so far… might there be another mid-to-late season change in Head Coaches or will things get better after the transfer season ends?
The biggest mover, when viewing the whole season versus the last ten weeks, is Toronto – their APWP sits 8th best in the last ten weeks compared to 14th best for the whole season – quite a remarkable jump.
The biggest mover, on the negative side, has been FC Dallas; mired in that winless streak they dropped from 3rd best (as a whole) down to 13th best in the last 10 weeks.
That win this past weekend was really a huge boost – perhaps more than Pareja might have been willing to admit!
So it’s fair to say that as time has passed Portland and Toronto have got stronger while FC Dallas regressed (like last year).
Montreal, San Jose, Chicago, Houston, and Chivas (even with their little win streak) are simply not firing on all cylinders. As a reminder from last year, five of the six teams to finish in the bottom of the Composite PWP Index had their Head Coaches sacked or let go prior to the season ending.
Might we see that same pattern emerge again this year?
So how about on the Defending side of PWP (DPWP)? Here’s the Index as the season stands today:
And here is the DPWP Index for the last 10 weeks:
In looking at the Defending side this might explain why some teams simply aren’t further up the League Table than other teams.
Great examples include New England, New York, Portland, and Philadelphia.
In returning to Portland, and their surge in team attacking performance the last ten weeks, a review of the DPWP Index indicates they have dropped one place. Not a big change but considering their were the best in DPWP for almost the entire year last year that drop in team performance really has impacted their position in the League Table.
Philadelphia – so while the Curtin change has made a difference in attacking team performance the defending side of the game has suffered; the Union are now 3rd worst in the last ten weeks compared to 5th worst overall.
New York have also taken a hit in DPWP. In the last ten weeks they have the worst team defensive performance of anyone.
So that slide down from 6th worst in MLS to worst in MLS has probably outweighed that individual attacking performance seen with Bradley Wright-Phillips… kinda reinforces again… that this game isn’t all about scoring goals – preventing goals adds value too.
I’ve often wondered if the viability of Mike Petke as a defensive-minded Head Coach has been over-rated somewhat given the individual attacking influence Thierry Henry brings to the team?
But the worst drop, in the last ten weeks, belongs to New England. Throughout the entire season they are 10th best in DPWP; but in the last ten weeks that 10th best has eroded to 2nd worst – a drop of 8 places. The defensive woes are piling up – I might have to take a special look at New England in the next few weeks.
As for the most improved in DPWP the last ten weeks…
The biggest mover looks to me like Chivas USA.
For the season, as a whole, they sit 4th worst but in the last ten weeks the Goats have improved to 7th best in MLS; a shift of nine places in the last ten weeks.
My thoughts, on that improvement, center on the defensive unit dropping deeper to allow the opponent slightly more penetration.
In doing that the open spaces, in and around the 18 yard box, are naturally smaller. Western Conference foes should take heed of the apparent defensive tactical change!
The Indices are not prone to teams making quick moves up or down the ladder – time passes and the changes are usually subtle and go unnoticed unless a team goes on a viral winning or losing spree.
If I were going to watch a few teams more closely in these last 14 or so games it’d be how well the DPWP shows for Portland, Philadelphia, Chivas, New England, and New York play and how well the APWP shows for San Jose, FC Dallas, Columbus, and Toronto Attack.
Over a year has passed since my first broad strokes about Possession with Purpose were applied to Major League Soccer; since then we’ve had one full year to look at it and how things have played out.
So how do things stack up today versus Week 17 last year, and, is something going on with DC United (besides the new strikers) that is different this year?
To begin; here’s a look at the teams after 17 weeks in 2013:
The top five Western Conference teams were Portland, Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, Vancouver and Seattle; the only team not to make the Playoffs last year was Vancouver.
Upon reflection, it was their defense that let them down, and the most probable reason why Martin Rennie got sacked.
In looking at the top five Eastern Conference teams they were Sporting KC, New England, New York, Montreal, and Houston – the same top five teams that eventually made the Playoffs.
So how about this year?
In looking at the Eastern Conference teams, the top five are Sporting KC, Columbus Crew, DC United, New England and New York – the odd one out, at the moment, is Toronto vice Columbus.
It should be noted that Toronto also have at least two, and no less than four, games in hand – so it’s not exactly “apples to apples yet” but should be in about 3 weeks time. As for the Western Conference, the top five so far are LA Galaxy, Seattle, Colorado, Portland, and FC Dallas.
Again the games in hand vary somewhat.
The HUGE, if not inordinately large question here is… Can the Portland Timbers turn their defensive nightmare of a season around with a healthy Norberto Paparatto, Pa Madou Kah and newly signed Liam Ridgewell, for three solid center-backs? And, if so, does that fix the defensive issues?
Now an even tougher question…
Is the level of accuracy, last year, to be expected this year (nine for ten in teams last year making the Playoffs, based upon 17 games of data)?
I’m not so sure… And a good reason for that is the emerging clarity on how effective some teams have become (this year) in winning or drawing games with less possession…
In other words, playing to a counterattacking style, that sees some teams offering the opponent higher levels of possession, penetration, and shots taken.
So is there another way to try and answer the question about accuracy in the CPWP Index?
How about the CPWP Predictability Index – what does that offer after Week 17?
In looking at the CPWP PI, the numbers seem to indicate that Sporting KC, Columbus, New England, New York and Philadelphia have the best chances of winning, given historical team performances this year.
So the PI sees Philadelphia with an edge over Toronto… (reminder – TFC have four games in hand though)…
And does that Head Coach change, where Curtin is now in charge over Hackworth, reflect the Hackworth predictability of Philadelphia or the Curtin predictability of Philadelphia? More to follow on that in a later article for sure…
As for the Western Conference; LA leads with Colorado, Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland – that sees FC Dallas dropping out with a smaller chance of winning and Vancouver sliding in…
And yet, neither Index has Real Salt Lake in the top five – could that be? Has the loss of Saborio, Beckerman and Rimando impacted RSL that much in such a short time span; and what does that say for the second half of the season? Lots of questions with no answers yet…
Now… take a look how far down DC United are in the Predictability Index (5th worst predictability in winning) – might that indicate how fortunate they have been in scoring goals or is that a reflection of something else going on?
DC United have the second best Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal of all the teams in MLS (42.12%); FC Dallas lead MLS in that category with 44.26%. Clearly the addition of Espindola and Johnson (even if they don’t play together) has added extreme value to this team.
Especially when their percentage for this same statistic, last year, was just 16.66% I wonder what the Expected Goals look like for DC United and how their shot locations may have changed this year compared to last year? Perhaps one or two folks who specialize in Expected Goals can help answer that one?
I did check to see if they have been awarded more PK’s than other teams – no – only 2 PK’s awarded so far this year.
As for Opponent Red Cards?
Perhaps that has created a positive influence in Goals Scored? Their opponents have had 5 Red Cards this year (two by FC Dallas in one game) – that is tied for 3rd highest (best/most advantageous) in MLS.
Has that helped? I think so…
DC United have 10 points in the four games where their opponent has been red-carded and nine of their 24 Goals Scored have come from those games.
So, in retrospect – if the opponent’s for DC United “play-fair” it is (likely?) that will negatively impact DC United in the League Table.
That’s one advantage of the CPWP PI – it is not ‘doubly’ influenced by opponents being Red or Yellow Carded – it’s strictly five of the six primary data points of PWP.
Still plenty to play for and any team, and I mean any team, can get on a winning streak – just look at Chivas USA their last three games.
How all the ‘defensive bunkering’ folds into the PWP Indices and Predictability outcomes has yet to play out. When every team reaches 17 games I’ll regenerate this article with updated information.
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.
While I didn’t venture any predictions for this past weekend in Major League Soccer I thought it would be fun to see how the overall Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP) Index fared compared to the results in Week 16.
As a reminder here is the CPWP Predictability Index from Week 15:
Vancouver at home to Montreal; result (draw) – CPWP PI predicted a win to Vancouver.
New York at home to Toronto; result (draw) – CPWP PI predicted a win to New York.
Portland at home to Sporting KC; result (Sporting KC win) – CPWP PI predicted a win to Sporting.
DC United at home to Seattle; result (Seattle win) – CPWP PI predicted a win to Seattle.
New England at home to Philadelphia; result (Philadelphia win) – CPWP PI predicted a win to New England.
Colorado at home to Vancouver; result (Colorado win) – CPWP PI predicted a win to Colorado.
Chivas at home to Real Salt Lake; result (Chivas win) – CPWP PI predicted a win to Real Salt Lake.
San Jose at home to LA Galaxy; result (Galaxy win) – CPWP PI predicted a win to LA Galaxy.
Columbus at home to FC Dallas; result (draw) – CPWP PI predicted a win to Columbus.
Montreal at home to Houston; result (Montreal win) – CPWP PI predicted a win to Montreal.
Excluding draws – which the CPWP PI does not predict – where there were winners and losers the CPWP PI was five out of six in indicating who might win versus lose.
So where New England lost to Philadelphia – what, if anything, did Philadelphia Union do that was different from their historical averages so far this year?
Here’s my article freshly pressed to try and offer some answers to that question…
I’m not sure how well the CPWP PI will play out this year – I won’t offer predictions prior to games using it – I still think and feel more games (data) is needed.
But I will look back each week and see how the CPWP PI plays out and look to see what was different, in a team performance way, that led to a result that didn’t fit the picture.
Been a really busy past two weeks for me and it’s good to nestle back into a routine offering for your consideration. That being said I should appropriately note that I met some really superb people this past week at the World Conference on Science and Soccer.
It’s a small world when you meet someone who knows where Thetford, England is – and – has been there before!
Anyhow, I digress, back to American Major League Soccer and the results of Week 14.
There were plenty of surprises again this week, parity gone wild I suppose and none greater for most than Chivas, of all teams, drawing at home, erh, on the road, erh, at home on the road, against LA Galaxy; I’ll bet Arena was pretty upset with that result!
Not to be outdone, New York took three points from New England while Portland finally got a win in Rio Tinto (their third straight road win!) and Sporting spanked spurting Houston.
So who, exactly, after all those games, was the best of the best in attack?
Vancouver – aye – three goals on the road in Philadelphia saw them just edge out Portland by less than a hundredth of a point – the final difference really came down to having fewer shots on goal while scoring the same amount of goals.
It’s interesting to see that both teams actually had less than 50% of the possession.
In a side discussion, at the WCSS last week, we talked whether or not the Index had a bias towards possession; most seemed to agree that the bias in PWP is towards ‘accuracy’ and perhaps ‘goals scored versus shots on goal’; not possession.
On the bottom end was San Jose, the prototypical direct attacking team, who scored no goals even though 18% of their 11 shots taken were on goal. Of course that shouldn’t be a surprise though – San Jose are not very good on the road this year – taking just 4 points out of their current 16. More later on their passing accuracy as well…
So how did things go on the defending side of the ball?
The top defending team this week was DC United; holding a very powerful possession based team, Columbus, who had just 10 shots taken with only 2 testing Bill Hamid; bottom line here is that draw for Columbus saw both Toronto and New York leap-frog them into the top five; it probably didn’t help not having Higuain running the attack.
However viewed the real difference maker between Toronto and DC United really came down to DC United playing against a more possession based team who is routinely very accurate in their passing; averaging 79.99%; the best in MLS at this time. Well done DC United!
Another view is that Toronto was playing against San Jose who was, this week, 3rd worst in overall passing accuracy this week and 2nd worst in passing accuracy after penetrating the Toronto Final Third.
And since we know that Toronto yields the greatest volume of opponent passes in their own defending third it’s a pretty pathetic performance when converting just 53.08% of those passes.
As for the worst in defending this past week; Philadelphia takes the honors.
Vancouver had just 42.11% of the possession while being 5th worst in Final Third Passing Accuracy but they were completely dominating when it came to putting shots on goal and goals scored; 67% and 75% respectively.
In looking at the Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP) Index….
For the first time this year Portland has taken those honors – how did they do it? A good article to read that peels that back a bit is here… some other thoughts not included are…
They had less possession yet were 2nd best this week in passing accuracy across the entire pitch and 3rd best in passing accuracy within the attacking final third.
In addition, Portland put 82% of their shots on goal and scored on 33% of those.
Bottom line on this effort was taking advantage of space and leveraging an increasingly dangerous Fenando Adi; a true target #9 with nous and deceptively brilliant foot/heading skills!
Saying that is not to diminish the value of Sporting and New York also taking 3 points on the road; it was incredible to see New York defeat a very strong home side in New England.
No-one this year has been better at home compared to on the road – and all that without Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill; while also nursing a much-maligned Red Bull back-four. I wonder if we see Ibrahim Sakagya play central defending midfielder again this year?
As for Sporting KC hadn’t won a game since May 10th against Montreal – so that 2-nil win at BBVA Compass Stadium had great value.
That being Houston is not the team some might think they are. Their current points total is deceptive; they have played 16 games and have taken just 17 points. Montreal might be at the bottom of the league standings – but when it comes to the overall CPWP through Week 14 they are higher and they have four games in hand against both Philadelphia and Houston…
Might Frank Klopas be getting things better organized as the mid-point in the season draws near? I imagine he needs to; it can’t be easy replacing the Head Coach who actually got the Impact into the Playoffs, last year, at the expense of the team you just got fired from.
We are nearing the mid-season point and the overall Composite PWP continues to take shape.
For me, it’s still too early to try and leverage PWP as a predictive model (need at least 17 games for each team really) – that being said I might have to purge Goals Scored from the Index to really put it to test – I’ll do that after week 20 and see what the Expected Wins relationship looks like…
Next Up – MLS Soccer – PWP through Week 14 – Tomorrow…