Tagged: Portland

MLS – Week 29 – Gregg Berhalter – Manager of the Year? I think so…

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):

CPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

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:

APWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

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:

DPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

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…

In closing:

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!

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

 

 

 

Consistency of Purpose – MLS Through Week 26

Before digging into a different view on Major League Soccer team performance, this week, I’ll offer up my Possession with Purpose Index for consideration.

A few changes after this week see Columbus jumping past Sporting (rightly so given the Crew won and Sporting didn’t).

In addition, Portland was passed by FC Dallas while a few other teams swapped places.

I wonder if Will Johnson really knows how odd it looks to see him run willy-nilly across the pitch at times, wasting energy, and then offering up an emotional blow-out like he did on Sunday, that simply won’t do as a leader…

The team that had the biggest gain was Philadelphia Union – moving up three spaces and right into the Playoff race – taking six points from a demoralized Toronto side certainly helped.

CPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 26

A reminder – the two yellow stars indicate mid-season coaching changes.

Now for a different view:

In preparation for my analysis on Consistency of Purpose a few details to set the stage up front:

  1. This approach takes a look at Attacking only.
  2. The statistical analysis will measure Standard Deviation.
  3. Standard Deviation – A low standard deviation indicates that the data points tend to be very close to the mean (also called expected value); a high standard deviation indicates that the data points are spread out over a large range of values.
  4. In other words I will look at team Passing Accuracy (for each game – for each team) and identify the standard deviation (variation) that team has in being (regularly) near their average versus not being near their average.
  5. For example, a team averages 75% passing accuracy – a lower standard deviation would mean that the team regularly comes close to hitting that average (a close pattern say +/-4%).  A higher standard deviation would mean the team could have a high difference (say +/- 20-25%) on creating that average.
  6. What this translates to – is consistency of purpose.  Are you consistently near your target on a regular basis or are you sporadic and “disorganized” in hitting your target on a regular basis.
  7. The lower the better when it comes to viewing this as a measure of consistency.
  8. Areas evaluated include Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch, Passing Accuracy within the Final Third, Penetration percentage into the Final Third based upon overall possession, Shots taken per penetration percentage, Shots on Goal per Shots Taken and Goals Scored per Shots on Goal.

To begin:  Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Passing Accuracy.

Consistency of Purpose Passing Accuracy Week 26

The team with the most consistency (least variation) in Passing Accuracy through Week 26 is Columbus – on the other end of the scale there’s Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

Columbus Crew also have the best overall passing accuracy of any team in Major League Soccer – so they are not only the best in accuracy (81.40%)  – there are also consistently performing the best, week in and week out.

Toronto recently sacked Ryan Nelson – in overall Passing Accuracy Toronto are third worst in average (74.35%) – in addition they are also the 2nd worst team in consistently hitting their expected value – i.e. no consistency and very poor performance compared to others.

Perhaps some might see that as useful information in understanding why the Toronto Front Office sacked Ryan?

Vancouver – for now Vancouver average 79.49% Passing Accuracy per game (4th best in MLS) but they are 10th worst in consistency of hitting their expected value (mean).   So while they are pretty good when it comes to average Passing Accuracy – they lack consistency in hitting that expected value on a regular basis.

 Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Passing Accuracy Final Third.

Consistency of Purpose Passing Accuracy Final Third Week 26

The team with the most consistent level of Passing Accuracy within the Final Third is New York; their variation is less than 5% with what is expected, given how they’ve performed this year.  

The worst team in this category, for consistency, is Sporting KC (>9% variation from game to game).  In total their overall average is 64.67% – so through the course of the season Sporting have had a very large variation in the in creating that average.

Interesting here, again, is Toronto – they are 7th most consistent in hitting their expected Final Third Passing Accuracy percentage – the problem is that better level of consistency is based upon an average that’s just 62.73%; the 5th worst in MLS.

Again a pattern of consistency – but consistency with respect to poor performance – another nail in the Nelson coffin?

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Penetration Percentage Per Possession.

Consistency of Purpose Penetration Percentage Per Possession Week 26

Atop the queue, again, is New York – they lead MLS in the consistency when it comes to in penetrating the opponents final third per possession.

In other words New York expects to hit a target of ~ 22% per game – and their variation in hitting that target is quite small; especially when compared to Portland.

For Portland they’ve been as high as 44% (yesterday against San Jose) and as low as 8.69% against Houston, game 8.

Given that wide disparity, it’s no wonder their standard deviation hovers near 9%.  Put in other words they are not really that consistent, game to game, in hitting an expected value like New York is.

Might a large  variation here mean the opponent is controlling more of how much Portland penetrates than Portland themselves?

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Shots Taken Per Penetration.

Consistency of Purpose Shots Taken Per Penetrating Possession Week 26The team most consistent in this category is Real Salt Lake (just over 4% variation for the season so far).   Note that New York are up here again.

In considering how consistent New York has been in hitting their expected values might this mean they are more predictable in what outcomes they might generate?

I’m not sure at this stage but I’ll look into that after the season is over.

For now know that Vancouver are on the bottom end of this scale – and given their results of late perhaps this high amount of variation means one of two things.

Either they aren’t getting the appropriate free space and time to take a shot – or – the players are looking to take a more perfect shot than is reasonable?

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Shots on Goal Per Shots Taken.

Consistency of Purpose Shots on Goal Per Shots Taken Week 26

Ah… at last, Toronto makes it to the front of the queue.  An interesting note here – quality usually beats quantity in this league and when it comes to the bottom line – a critical piece of that puzzle is putting shots taken on goal.

So this is a good thing for Toronto… or is it?

At this time Toronto are third worst in putting shots on goal from shots taken (34.51%).

So what this really means is that they, again, are consistent in being consistently poor compared to other teams in MLS.

Is this another nail in the coffin on why Ryan Nelson may have been sacked?

As for the others near the top – note again New York is right there; as are Sporting, Portland, and Seattle.

On the other end is San Jose – by a large margin.

Perhaps a reasonable view here is that the teams on the lower end are simply taking harder, or more frequent shots that don’t hit the target… might more patience change that?

I think so but that might be pretty hard to prove…

As for DC United and New England being on the lower end… it would appear these two teams might have some tendencies that vary given home and away games; when the season ends I’ll look into these attacking Standard Deviations again.

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Goals Scored Per Shots on Goal.

Consistency of Purpose Goals Scored Per Shots on Goal Week 26

Real Salt Lake lead the league in consistency here – but when it actually comes to scoring those goals they are 7th worst in MLS.

That being said, if predictability were specifically focused on goal scoring only; it seems pretty likely Real Salt Lake would be the most predictable.

On the flip side that means the team with the greatest variation in expected goals is FC Dallas; given their high volume of Red Cards this year perhaps that makes sense?  Others may have a different view…

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Ranking.

Consistency of Purpose Attacking the Opponent Least Combined Deviation Ranking Week 26

In case you are interested the team who has the most, combined, overall consistency in hitting expected values is New York; the team that has the most variation in hitting expected values is New England.

As noted – this could mean that a team with greater variation, while winning, is harder to defend against than a team who is consistent in hitting expected values.

I’ll leave that for others to decide.

For now I’d simply offer that New York is pretty predictable in what they will do when they play a game – as is Real Salt Lake…

In Closing:

If you had to choose which team statistic you’d like to have as the most consistent, which would it be?

For next week I will include a look at Defending Consistency of Purpose.

In the following week I’ll chart MLS, as a whole; the intent there will be to use that information as a comparison when viewing the same outputs for the English Premier League, Bundesliga, and La Liga.

For me, the greater the variation in Passing Accuracy across all those leagues might help create a more realistic ‘apples to apples’ comparison between the leagues…

Best, Chris

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Major League Soccer – Week 25 – Portland finally show up…

While most were probably focused on some other battles this past weekend – and rightly so in some cases – the Timbers might just have shaken the Western Conference a wee bit to reinforce, that when they get their defense right, they will be a team to reckon with.

Before diving in though; here’s a link to my pre-match thoughts on all the games this weekend; some thoughts are smack on – while some are way off target; so it goes.

Back to the Timbers.

I don’t offer this lightly, for almost 80% of this season the Timbers defense has been downright deplorable (just three clean sheets) last year they had 10 clean sheets after 25 games.

Only now – with a major shakeup in the back-four, after that resounding Sounders smack-down, have the Timbers acknowledged that defense is first and played like it!

The star of the match, and I don’t do this often since team is always first, was a young lad by the name of Alvas Powell – here’s a great picture of him post game with the ever present, and highly entertaining Pa Madou Kah, in the background – picture courtesy of Little Imp (@stretchiegirl)

So before digging into some specific statistics about the Timbers here’s a link to my post-match article, about that game, and then the Composite PWP Strategic Index for Major League Soccer after 25 weeks:

CPWP INDEX MLS AS OF WEEK 25To begin, for the statistical types, the relationship and correlation of this Strategic Index to Points in the League Table (R2) is .80; pretty good.

One other technical detail that’s probably new for many – the yellow stars indicate which teams have already sacked their manager this year.

I’ll offer up a reminder a bit later on all the stars present at the end of last year.

And if you are interested in some details about why Toronto FC sacked Ryan Nelson – I’ve included this article published by MLSSoccer.com for your reading pleasure.  

To summarize, based upon what I took away from the article, Ryan Nelson was sacked due to poor team performance.  I’m not sure what that means to the Toronto front office but it’s meaning (could?) be intuited based upon this Index.  I’ll leave that for others to decide.

So now on to overall team performance:

LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Sporting KC continue to lead the overall CPWP Index – others moving up or staying put in the top half include Columbus, DC United, Portland Timbers, FC Dallas, New England, Real Salt Lake; while New York, Colorado, and Vancouver took slight dips this week.

On the outside, looking in, the list is much shorter.  Of note to me, is that only two of those teams performing on the trailing end are Western Conference teams.

Can some conclusions be drawn from that?  Perhaps – but I’ll save those thoughts for when the season is completed.

Attacking PWP Strategic Index:  

APWP INDEX MLS AS OF WEEK 25

For the statistical types; the R2 between the APWP Strategic Index and Points in the League Table is .74 – that’s also pretty good.

Leading the league are the LA Galaxy (no surprise I’d expect).  On the tail end there’s Chivas and the ever shocking Dynamo, especially for some, after beating Sporting KC this weekend.  Somehow I don’t think Houston is entirely out of the Playoff picture.

With respect to Portland they are sixth best in possession percentage, passing accuracy within the final third, and goals scored per shots on goal – pretty consistent in three critical attacking indicators.

With regards to overall passing accuracy they are in the top ten at 8th best.  When converting possession to penetration they are also 8th best – and in shots on goal per shots taken they are 7th best.

In looking at shots taken, per penetrating possession, (a percentage number usually better when lower than higher to infer patience) they are 11th best.

So all told, in attack, they are very consistent, and good, compared to others.

Their downfall has come in Defending PWP – here’s how the teams stack in that Strategic Index after Week 25:

DPWP INDEX MLS AS OF WEEK 25

For the statistical folks the DPWP Strategic Index R2 is -.66 – again pretty good but there is a tricky quirk about defending.

There remains a challenge in measuring what doesn’t happen (for the attacking team) based upon how the defense plays.

In other words some positional activities that the defense executes are never measured – what gets measured are actual events as opposed to non-events; i.e tackles, interceptions, clearances, etc…

One of my recent articles was published with the intent to push professional soccer statistical companies to begin tracking and differentiating between Open Passes and Hindered Passes, as well as Open Shots and Hindered Shots, to help measure what doesn’t happen.

How?  

“Well an attacking player decides he can’t make a pass to a player in a forward position because the defender has the passing lane closed (hindered) – so the attacker passes elsewhere (an open pass that is unopposed).

In counting the number of Open Passes versus Hindered Passes statistical types can begin to plot maps on what areas the defense is inclined to leave open (cede) versus what areas they are inclined to hinder (defend against).

When graphing those Open Passes versus Hindered Passes you can now infer (statistically measure) what doesn’t happen; i.e the ball is “not being passed successfully here”…

Put another way – if a player has the ability to make an Open Cross – that is completed.  What didn’t happen is the fullback didn’t close on the winger and the center-back didn’t clear the ball.

If the Cross was a hindered cross then the value of defending can be determined even more.  If it was a Hindered Pass that results in a shot taken then the fullback was not positioned properly to block the cross – nor was the center-back positioned correctly to clear the cross…  Again – a statistical measurement of what doesn’t happen…

As a Youth Head Coach that type of information would be extremely critical to know when developing training plans between games…  in considering how much money is involved at the professional level I would have thought the value would be even greater.   Perhaps others may have a different view on that?

I’m not sure how clear that is but I’ll try to provide a few more examples as time passes… for now my early thoughts also include differentiating between an Open Throw-In and Open Cross versus Hindered Throw-In and Hindered Cross.”

Moving on…

In looking specifically at the Portland Timbers this year – they 10th (mid-table) in the DPWP Strategic Index – not bad by all accounts.

In peeling back the Defending Indicators they are 4th best in limiting their opponents passing accuracy (75.73%); they are 6th worst in preventing their opponents from completing passes in their defending final third (66.75%).

In terms of Possession percentage; teams average 47.38% – 6th lowest in MLS.

When looking at opponent shots taken per penetrating possession it’s 8th worst (18.85%)- and the percentage of opponents shots taken being on goal is 9th worst (36.72%).

Most critical (the weakest link it appears) is that the percentage of opponent possession leading to penetration is 26.48% (the worst in MLS).  What this means is that over 25% of the time that the opponent has the ball they penetrate the Timbers final third…  All told the final indicator (goals scored per game) is 3rd worst (1.65).

So how about the game against Vancouver?

  • Vancouver had 45.57% possession – lower than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver passing accuracy across the entire pitch was 82% – higher than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 73% passing accuracy within the Timbers final third – higher than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 28.49% of their overall possession result in penetrating the Timbers final third – higher than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 10.27% of their shots taken per penetrating possession – lower than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 33.33% of their shots taken being shot on goal – lower than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 0% of their shots on goal result in a goal scored – lower than the Timbers average.

In conclusion:  Here’s what happened in simple terms.  

Portland ceded some space outside and slightly higher, within their defending third, in order to minimize the time and space Vancouver had in having their shots taken end up in the back of the net.

So while Portland didn’t park the bus they did get behind the ball, as much as possible, in an attempt to minimize risk… not rocket science – just good defensive team management.

In Closing:

Every game, for almost every team, is a ‘must win’ at this stage of the season – the ironic thing is that phrase has really been an accurate phrase for every game this season.

The earlier you consistently win games the less ‘must-ful’ they become as the season ends.

The exceptions to this, at this time, are probably Chivas USA and Montreal Impact.

Neither have a credible chance of making the playoffs – so those early season and mid-season games they lost were really their MUST win games – and of course, they didn’t win them.

As promised a reminder on coaching changes from last year; here’s the End of Season CPWP Strategic Index showing all the teams (stars) that had changes in Head Coaches during or after the season:

 End of Season 2013 CPWP Strategic Index

Note that five out of the six worst teams in PWP team performance saw coaching changes – and seven out of the bottom ten.  Will we see that sort of house-cleaning again this year?

Best, Chris

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The MLS Playoff chase heats up – here’s my Quick Thoughts for this Weekend

The playoff races really begin at this stage of the year – it’s pucker time for most to even include those battling for the Wooden Spoon.

Here’s my lay down on who falls down or rises to the occasion.

First up:

Sporting KC versus Houston Dynamo – I’m not really sure anyone needs an education in team performance this year to figure out that a win here for Houston is highly unlikely. And with dropping three points to DC United last weekend Sporting are probably set to go full steam this game.

That, in and of itself, might be the exact thing Houston is hoping for.  Dominic Kinnear is a crafty guy and he likes his team to have grit and play physical.

I don’t imagine there will be a lot of free and open space in this game – given that a set-piece goal could win it if the Houston back-four can cover the wings.

Sounds like a load of bollocks, I suppose, but there is no love loss between these two teams and, Houston, as silly as it sounds, still have a shot at the playoffs; especially considering that the Eastern Conference is such a mess.

I’m not sure why I like Houston in this game but I do…  there…

Seattle versus Colorado – The Sounders should be riding a huge wave of positive emotion after that smashing victory against Portland last weekend – will there be an emotional let-down?  Perhaps – but I think Seattle want to make the best of every remaining home game knowing that they still have two games to go against LA Galaxy…

A win here for Seattle means just as much as that win last weekend in Portland – I don’t look for them to take their foot of the pedal at all…

Besides, Colorado are not part of the Cascadia trio – and if Seattle is really going to want the chance to rub salt in the wounds of Vancouver or Portland – I’m sure they’d prefer to try and beat one of those two teams in a playoff match as opposed to boring old Colorado.

Not really a reasonable thought for a Head Coach to have – but perhaps it’s a reasonable, cynical, thought for an Emerald City Supporter to have?  Others will know better than me about that.

Toronto versus New England – Another classic match-up on who possesses the ball more.

With both teams playing a somewhat counter-attacking style I suppose this game could end up being really boring unless one team gets an early goal and the other looks to press forward to draw even; making the counter-attacking approach even deadlier.

For now, with Defoe out injured, I can see New England winning; they don’t HAVE to win given how pear-shaped the Eastern Conference is but three points would do the Revolution well…

Montreal versus Columbus – One of the most boring games on the slate this weekend in the MLS – will Montreal have a larger home crowd than Chivas this weekend?  Probably – but does that team deserve it?  Probably not.  If not for Chivas USA and the complete collapse of their ownership this year Montreal would be the out-right ‘organizational laughing-stock of this League…

If Columbus lose – wow!  What a nightmare loss of three points that will be for Berhalter, Inc…

Chicago versus Dallas – An interesting match-up in betting who possesses the ball more.   Neither team really likes to enjoy possession and I’d figure this game might resemble a ping-pong match more than anything.

The challenge, again, for Chicago, will be to shut down an opponent with a defensive set-up that simply isn’t that good.

Even worse for Chicago is the speed that Dallas will bring.  As much as I’d like to believe Chicago will look to possess the ball this game it’s almost like they really can’t afford to do that given the strength of the Dallas counter-attack.

At the end of the day this game could be pretty boring – a long ball affair for Chicago looking to get second chance balls and an attempt by Dallas to possess with the slow intent to penetrate and score.  All told I would offer Dallas wins this by virtue of having greater speed…

Vancouver and Portland – Both teams need three points and both teams have a long history of playing each other.  The two things are mutually exclusive.

I look for Caleb to play a tighter game out of the back and no… I don’t honestly think he runs that tantalizing formation (never did) – it was more to prove a point that significant (player/performance) changes need to be made in the back-four to have this team compete at the highest level.

All said and done who wins this game probably comes down to who controls their emotion and discipline the best.

Who lacks it probably loses and who controls it probably wins.  In that, if history has any bearing, it is likely Vancouver who wins.

San Jose versus Real Salt Lake – Here’s the game where San Jose really need to take stock and win.  Their defense is pretty strong and if their attack can manage to put at least one past Nick Rimando then the Earthquakes could win…

DC United against New York Red Bulls – For me the biggest challenge here is how well the DC United defense can shut down a resurgent Bulls.  Too much power in attack versus a cerebral United that plays smart and handled Sporting KC quite easily last week.

If this game was simply a match between Olsen and Petke it’s an easy pick, for me, with DC United.

But Thierry Henry is really – really good and  New York does have a habit of making mincemeat pies against other Eastern Conference competition.  All said and done my gut instinct screams New York but my heart hopes for DC United.

Chivas USA and LA Galaxy – Is a pre-game prediction really needed for this one?  I’m sure Cabrera will do everything he can to prepare his team for the Galaxy – and these games have been known to be pretty tight at times.

All that said can Arena, Donovan, and the Galaxy really afford to throw away missing three points in this match-up?  I don’t see it… Galaxy should win but I don’t see the Galaxy looking to run the score up.

All for now – looking forward to the Sporting kickoff here in an hour or so…

Best, Chris

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LA Galaxy takes Supporters Shield? Chivas or Montreal with the Wooden Spoon? MLS After Week 24

The plot thickens as the weeks begin to shed away in Major League Soccer this year.  A number of teams have consistently been at or near the top of my Composite PWP Index as much as a number of teams have consistently been near the bottom as well.

So two things this week: 

  1. Checking the pulse on which teams are performing best so far, and
  2. What teams might decide to change managers and which might not.

To begin…  The CPWP Index after Week 24:

CPWP Index  MLS Through WEEK 24

Checking the pulse for the Playoffs:

Overall performance shows that the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, Seattle, Columbus, DC United and FC Dallas lead the pack – the only team not named in the top 3 of either conference is Toronto – noted.

For me that’s okay – at this stage they have two games in hand and they also have a -1 in goal differential – it would be reasonable to offer that Ryan Nelson is doing a superb job managing a team that averages just 63.51% on completion of passes in the Final Third and only 73.92% on completion of passes across the entire pitch.

If the complete success of FC Dallas and Toronto have gone unnoticed, even with their poor passing characteristics, recognize it now – whether or not that catches up to them a bit later I guess we will see.  However viewed, counter-attacking and playing for a quick transition against teams that like to possess the ball is working (getting results) – > whatever it takes!

For now the top tier teams (LA, Sporting, Seattle, Columbus, and DC United) all average > 77% passing accuracy.  This lone statistic, at this time, is a more accurate soundbite than the percentage of possession…

In the middle of the pack (out west) there are three teams (Colorado, Vancouver, and Portland) most likely competing for the final spot in the Playoffs; the differences in the Indices are marginal – another four goals against this weekend at Vancouver is likely to see Portland drop below the raging Whitecaps.

With respect to Colorado – I’m not sure – Mastroeni has done a good job so far this year but their goal differential is no different than Portland’s (- 2).

If I had to offer a guess at this stage I’d offer either Portland (if they can learn to defend) or Vancouver have the better chance of making the Playoffs given the schedules of those three teams.

Then again – a dark horse remains in San Jose – they have some injuries but a pretty solid defense, like Vancouver (really?) – so who knows – especially since San Jose have six games against those three teams (plus) one against Chivas and one against Montreal…

At this stage I’m seeing LA Galaxy taking the Supporters Shield.

Potential Head Coach Movement?

If you recall last year 10teams either had their coach leave or get sacked – here’s the diagram as a reminder on how that played out last year.

End of Season 2013 MLS Coaching Changes

So in considering potential changes this year:

Philadelphia Union – For this year we already know John Hackworth got sacked and Jim Curtin has been working as his temporary replacement – as noted by the Philadelphia Union front office earlier this year – it is likely they hire a brand new coach with extensive MLS experience.

Houston and Dominic Kinnear –  I think there is simply too much front office support for this guy – and rightly so.  To see him leave or get the sack has as much of a chance as Ben Olsen getting the sack last year.

He didn’t and it’s not likely Kinnear does either.  Like DC United, Houston already know and are working to fix their weaknesses (the defensive back-four and a quality striker to replace Will Bruin).  Yeh… sorry – some may disagree with that?

In looking at Montreal – what a complete balls-up that organization is.   They probably sacked the wrong guy already and have already made a commitment to allow Frank Klopas to stay put at least one more year…

To improve they will certainly need to spend money on defenders as well as an upgrade in the midfield and in attack.  I guess what that means is they probably need at least 10 new players… cleaning house in this case is probably not a bad idea since there probably isn’t any locker-room chemistry to damage with wholesale changes.

Chivas USA – or whatever their name will be.  A complete embarrassment not only to LA but to MLS as a whole – what better example to exemplify the need exhume this team and excommunicate them from LA.

Move – for the sake of soccer in the United States of America —> move!  Not only was the front office pathetic – the home crowds were not even crowds – at best they were sporadic gatherings.

Why on earth anyone would follow a group (note I don’t say organization) like Chivas USA is beyond belief when there is such a well organized team already in that city.

Anyhow – back to Wilmer Cabrera – hey I like the guy and he’s doing the best he can with what he has – no need to sack Wilmer.  Besides it would be rude given a real soccer organization probably doesn’t have enough information to make a judgment that he should stay or go.

I don’t know how he finds the motivation to lead Chivas – what a great example for other Head Coaches to learn from when it comes to leading without having other leaders to support you!  Bless him – don’t sack him…

San Jose – it’s unlikely Mark Watson gets the sack – San Jose is a pretty good defensive team and some player changes this year have improved things in attack – with a new stadium they could make a managerial change but I think and sense the San Jose front office continues to support Mark Watson.

Chicago Fire – what’s up with that team?  Why on earth they would want to add Jermaine Jones to a team that already has four central midfielders I don’t know.  But perhaps it reinforces just how little Frank Yallop recognizes what he actually needs to do to improve this team.

Defense!  Their back four has been horrible for most of the season – adding Jones only makes sense if he changes his role and plays as a centerback as well as a fullback as well as a central midfielder; granted Jones is talented but can he really be ‘the’ answer when so many other gaps exist on this team?  Not likely.

All told this team probably needs four Jermaine Jones clones to have any chance of competing.  As for sacking Yallop?  Probably won’t happen but I offer it should; if anything to appease the large supporter base, like Philadelphia did in sacking John Hackworth – a move I didn’t really agree with – but that’s just me.

At this stage I’m seeing Montreal taking the Wooden Spoon…

In Closing…

It’s getting near pucker time – when a team needs to win and take three points they really need to win…

Twenty seven points for the taking is a lot – with about half of each teams’ games probably coming at home it’s likely a more reasonable target is 15-18 points for those in the Playoff chase and perhaps 18-21 points for those in the Supporters Shield chase…

All set for this weekend?

Hope so… I’ll be taking in the Sporting match against Houston as well as the locally televised match between Vancouver and Portland; that one should be a knees-up, tight one, as both teams really need three points!

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

Possession with Purpose – Who’s hot and who’s not in the last ten weeks?

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.

Here goes…

After Week 19 here’s how the teams stand in Attacking PWP (APWP):

APWP INDEX WEEK 19 MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

APWP INDEX WEEK 19 MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

Now here’s how these teams have performed in Attack the last 10 Weeks:

APWP INDEX WEEK 10 TO 19 MLS

APWP INDEX WEEK 10 TO 19 MLS

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:

DPWP INDEX WEEK 19 MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

DPWP INDEX WEEK 19 MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

And here is the DPWP Index for the last 10 weeks:

DPWP INDEX WEEK 10 TO 19 MLS

DPWP INDEX WEEK 10 TO 19 MLS

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!

In Closing…

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.

Best, Chris

MLS Soccer – Week 14 – The best and worst in Possession with Purpose

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?

APWP Index Week 14 MLS

APWP Index Week 14 MLS

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?

DPWP Index Week 14 MLS

DPWP Index Week 14 MLS

 

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….

 

CPWP Index Week 14 MLS

CPWP Index Week 14 MLS

 

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.

In closing…

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…

Best, Chris

Next Up – MLS Soccer – PWP through Week 14 – Tomorrow…