Tagged: Real Salt Lake

Gluck: Forward into the Past: Dealing without Darlington

I’m sure many feel the Timbers were unlucky this weekend – perhaps rightly so. 

For now, at least, I’m not convinced.

In the post-game press conference Caleb Porter offered these thoughts about missing Darlington Nagbe; they struck a chord with me, perhaps they will with you too?

Porter: “And I think today missing Darlington you could see that we just aren’t quite as good in possession. Sometimes you don’t know his impact until he’s gone. It’s not always the goals, but his ability to float around and find pockets and help us keep the ball and get out of tight spaces. In the attack I think we’ve been missing a little bit of chemistry in there and it’s because we haven’t had the group together.”

Well… I would agree the general public might not know his impact but I’d offer most Timbers Army supporters do. 

I’d also offer the entire coaching staff, front office, and physio folks know what Nagbe brings to the pitch.



So why the mystery on setting up the team for success without Nagbe?

I’m not sure, but to try and scratch the itch let’s review a team statistic the Timbers pay attention to (possession percentage) on a regular basis to see if that helps crack the nut.

In the two most recent games the Timbers had ~ 45% possession (at San Jose) and ~30% possession (at home to Atlanta).  In those two games I’d submit it’s a reasonable conclusion there was intent to cede possession.

The starting lineups, in both games, included two wingers.

  • Darren Mattocks and Dairon Asprilla against San Jose with Sebastian Blanco and Dairon Asprilla against Atlanta.
  • Substitutions in San Jose included Jack Barmby (a connecting midfielder) and Victor Arboleda (a winger).  In Atlanta the only substitution was Darren Mattocks (a winger) for Dairon Asprilla.
  • In the post game press conference against San Jose Porter acknowledge the possession and connection between the midfield and defense as well as Adi was better after Barmby entered the game.
  • In the Atlanta game Blanco did drift central, as did Asprilla.  Asprilla had minimal success in penetrating the center and Blanco, while offering some good penetrating/attacking passes from the center didn’t provide connection nor drift into pockets of space to create space for others.

In other words, with the exception of adding Barmby the last 35 minutes against San Jose Porter didn’t have players, on the pitch, who could emulate (at any level) what Nagbe brings to the pitch.

Forward into the past:

When trying to figure what right looks like sometimes there’s value in looking at history.

2016 was not a successful year for the Portland Timbers, they failed to win on the road and they failed to make the playoffs; but… was the entire season a failure?



At no point, in 2016, did the Timbers ever lose, or even draw, at home, when ceding 55% possession (or greater) to the opponent. 

(Six games played – Six games won  ///   12 goals scored – three goals against)

To be glib that’s pretty successful.

Perhaps more appropriate is “stunningly successful”…

Of note, two of those home games were against San Jose… the others were against Columbus, Sporting KC, Toronto, and Real Salt Lake.

A blend of teams who play possession-based, direct, as well as counter-attacking – in other words a pretty good sample to draw on for comparison.

Was there any pattern of players selected that stands out as being different than the last two games the Timbers have played?


In everyone of those games, even in the game Nagbe didn’t start, the Timbers starting line-up consisted of two midfield connecting players, either Nagbe and Valeri or Grabavoy and Valeri.

Pretty much confirming the player selection against San Jose and Atlanta ignored the Timbers pattern of stunning perfection in 2016.

What’s disappointing from all this is the Timbers coaching staff (collectively) – quite possibly ignored their “chemistry” successes of 2016 and didn’t start two ‘connectors’ or at least have one of the wingers play deeper/more narrow.

Even more perplexing is the organizational mid-week decision to play the one player, who could add connecting capability, a full 90 minutes in a USL T2 game.  Pretty much meaning the coaching staff had reached a conclusion that Barmby’s added value for the weekend was minimal.

Moving forward.

I don’t see Jack Barmby in training, but I do see him play, on occasion, and he adds value as a connector – why he isn’t getting more meaningful minutes is a decision the coaching staff have made.

If he’s not worthy to slot in as a starter to connect with others in a team role then I’d expect the Timbers to be shopping for a midfielder who can… to date all we’ve heard about is the anticipated arrival of a new center-back.

Darlington Nagbe is expected to return to the starting lineup against Montreal this weekend.  That’s probably a good thing.

It gives Caleb Porter and his entire staff more time to evaluate the historical, individual player and team performances, with and without Darlington Nagbe in order to better prepare for his absence again.

Finally, an observation for your consideration.

In the Timbers first seven games, without Liam Ridgewell on the pitch, the team gave up nine goals (1.28 goals against per game).

With Liam Ridgwell on the pitch, the last four games, the Timbers have given up seven goals (1.75 goals against per game).

Is it fair to say the Timbers have been less effective in defending with Ridgewell leading the defense?

With the Timbers shopping for a new center-back is it reasonable to consider that the player replaced is not Lawrence Olum or Roy Miller?

Best, Chris



Consistency of Purpose – Defending – Major League Soccer

Consistency of Purpose – as a business analyst I know that organizations usually strive for consistency in performance.  The general idea behind this is that before you can really begin to assess what improvements need to be made you first need to have some sort of ‘control’ over the effort.

In laymen’s ‘statistical’ terms – the lower the standard devation of an activity the more control there is in the effort – and therefore a better opportunity to actually improve the output.

For me, this approach should also apply in soccer team performance – the less standard deviation you have (from the mean/norm/average) the better; the worse the variance the more ‘out of control’.

So in keeping with my previous article on Consistency of Purpose (In Attack) I’m offering up the standard deviations for teams as they defend against their opponents.

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 Defending 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 how consistent the opponents are in my six primary PWP measurements (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’s opponent averages 75% passing accuracy against them – 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 would have a high difference (say +/- 20-25%) on creating that average.
  6. At this stage, the variation will not address home versus away games – nor will it filter volume of passes the opponent offers – I’ll do that at the end of the season.
  7. What this translates to – is consistency of purpose.  Are you consistently near a target on a regular basis or are you sporadic and “disorganized” in hitting your target on a regular basis.
  8. The lower the better when it comes to viewing this as a measure of consistency.
  9. Areas evaluated in how the opponent performs against you 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, Goals Scored per Shots on Goal, and Goals Against.

Before kickoff here’s how all the teams line up against each other in Composite PWP through Week 27:

CPWP MLS Through Week 27

LA Galaxy remain atop the CPWP Index – statistically speaking the R2 is .817 – the highest correlation so far this year to Points in the League Table.  And from what I have seen, in other statistical analyses approaches, this Index continues to remain the most relevant independent (publicly generated) Index in Soccer…

Of note; my next article to be published, following this one, will againt take a different look with this Index – what I will do is split the Index into two parts – the first CPWP Index will look at how well the teams perform that:

  • Exceed 425 Passes per game (the league average) versus
  • Fall below 425 Passes per game

The intent will be to look and see what teams perform better or worse given their general volume of passes; the results may surprise some folks…

Anyhow – I digress – here’s the first of seven diagrams plotting the Standard Deviations of team’s as they defend against their opponent with respect to Passing Accuracy:

Consistency of Purpose Opponent Passing Accuracy Week 27

Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch:

The team with the lowest (best) standard deviation is Houston – as noted earlier in the year Houston made two defensive acquisitions – Garrido and Beasley – in case you missed it I think they have taken seven out of nine points since those players were added.

Chivas USA are next up for consistency – like Houston, consistency here relates to being poor in team defending against opponents passing accuracy – as such it should be pretty easy to point out all the weak links if that level of consistency, in being poor – with respect to final results – continues.

Near the top are both Columbus and LA Galaxy – if you recall from the Consistency of Purpose, in attacking, Columbus were pretty consistent in their own Passing Accuracy (most consistent) – and likewise they are up top again.

As noted in that article, a ‘beat’ writer had labeled them as ‘over-achievers’ – that’s not only complete bollocks when looking at their consistency in attack – it’s also complete bollocks when looking at their consistency in defending…

What’s scary here is that LA Galaxy are 4th best – so with a superb record – they are also superb in consistently managing the opponents passing accuracy… can you say MLS Champion?

At the opposite end is Colorado, and oddly enough, Real Salt Lake – why is that?

For Real Salt Lake, I’d offer that this may relate to the different styles their opponents take when either playing them at home or on the road – more to follow when the season ends on this one.

As for Colorado – they’ve had a number of injuries this year and they will, at times, cede possession to gain better effect on their counter-attack / direct attack – with that I’d expect their team to vary greatly in how well the opponent passes against them.

What to look for is more consistency as the data points narrow down to shot taken, shots on goal, and goals scored.  More to follow here…

On the other hand, Portland don’t really look to cede possession to often, so what might be impacting this level of inconsistency in managing the opponents passing accuracy – knowing that their Goals Against is one of the worst in MLS?

Are they more or less consistent in defending as the pitch gets smaller?  And might that level of consistency help or hinder their chances of making the playoffs?  More to follow…

Opponent Passing Accuracy in the Final Third:

Consistency of Purpose Opponent Passing Accuracy Final Third Week 27
The one that stands out the most is Colorado – so the hope that the variation decreases isn’t occuring with Colorado; they have an even greater deviation, from the norm here, than they do with Passing Accuracy (7% versus 12% here).  Is that a surprise?

For me, no.  And here’s why…

Also trailing at the end is San Jose – like Colorado they try to play for counterattacking – and since they are also a direct attacking team it’s reasonable that these two teams would be here.

As for Vancouver – hmmm… I’m not sure – perhaps at the end of the season this will take better shape when viewing home and away tactics/outputs a bit more?

In looking again at Columbus – more consistency of purpose – and what makes this even better for the Crew is that where they have one or two players who aren’t performing, it will make it easier to “see” who they are…  a much stronger and more reliable way to help the team ‘fix’ what’s not working…

Percentage of Penetration versus Possession:

Consistency of Purpose Opponent Penetration Per Possession Week 27

In looking to understand New England – the most consistent team here – figure the more consistent this team is in defending against penetration the easier it may be for them to plan on what defending tactics they will execute game in and game out.

The more predictable the opponent is in how frequent they penetrate the easier (in theory) it should be to defend against them…

On the other end of the scale we see New York – I suppose, for many, a high variation is no surprise here.

Many would not consider Petke a defensive minded coach – and the tougher it is to manage the midfield, prior to penetration, the tougher it may be to sustain consistency as the opponent looks to score goals.

For me, as a defensive minded guy, it would be this primary statistic I’d look at first.  But not until filtering out the differences between home and away as well as volume of passes faced; as noted earlier – I’ll do that at the end of the season.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

Consistency of Purpose Opponent Shots Taken Per Penetration Possession Week 27

Here’s where the real rubber begins to meet the road…

In my view teams that have a wide variance here gets down to what inconsistency that team has in rgularly limiting time and space for shots to be taken – OR – it’s a reflection of how impatient some teams may be against that team in taking shots given more or less opportunity.

In looking at San Jose being the most consistent here I’d offer this gets back to how effective they are in managing the zone defense they have – recall that both San Jose and Colorado were pretty inconsistent when it comes to opponent passing accuracy within and outside the final third – here those numbers translate to more consistency of purpose in managing the opponent as they actually penetrate with the intent to score.

On the flip side Columbus were pretty consistent in managing the opponents passing within and outside the final third – yet that consistency begins to translate to more varation as the opponent looks to take shots.

Do they get better or worse in their variation?  More to follow…

Opponent Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken:

Consistency of Purpose Opponent Shots on Goal Per Shots Taken Week 27

Sadly, for Colorado, that consistency seen in looking to manage Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession doesn’t translate to a matching level of consistency in Shots on Goal per Shots Taken.

In other words Colorado is more likely to yield more time and space to the opponent as they take their shots – hence more of their opponents shots are on goal than San Jose – who’s above average in consistency.

The most telling level of consistency here is Portland – and what’s really sad about this is that they are consistently bad – I can say that because their Goals Against is one of the highest in the League.

If there was ever a compelling piece of evidence – given goals against – I’m not sure.  Others may have a different view on this.

The flip side to this is that it should make it easier to analyze where the consistency in weakness comes from – therefore menaing it should be easier to correct for the future.

With respect to LA Galaxy, and being the most inconsistent – I’m not sure why that is and perhaps it will show better when I split the analysis up based upon opponent’s passing volume or their home versus away variations.

In considering Philadelphia – a likely impact  here is the change in leadership – as Hackworth was replaced perhaps the team  made some intergral changes in their defensive approach?  Like LA, I’ll look for that when the season ends.

Opponent Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal:

Consistency of Purpose Opponent Goals Scored Per Shots on Goal Week 27

Up near the top, again, in consistency for this indicator is Portland.

Really reinforcing, for me, that their consistency in being bad in defending (poor positional play in ceding time and space) continues… some might even offer that this translates to the need of bringing in a new goal keeper as well???

For me, it also supports the volume of individual mistakes made, consistently, at the wrong time… given their high Goals Against.

There’s San Jose, again near the best when it comes to consistency.

So that consistency in yielding time and space, for the opponent to pass and penetrate, also translates back to consistency in what goals the opponent scores versus Shots on Goal.

I’d offer this should give Watson, and the front office, pretty good background statistical information to fix what defensive issues they may have as the season closes and/or in preparation for next year.

Colorado, on the other hand, who was consistent in yielding time and space for the opponent to move the ball, continues to show how poor they are in managing that opponent consistency as they enter and create/generate shots that score goals.

Perhaps that is down to injuries?  I’m not so sure – I’d offer it may be down to an imbalance they have across the back-four; along with support from their midfield.

On the tail end is Real Salt Lake – with the World Cup and injuries I suppose this isn’t too much of a surprise.

But with the fourth lowest Goals Against (35) in MLS, that variation is probably not too much to worry about.

And with Jeff Attinella having over 700 minutes of playing time, compared to Nick Rimando’s 1800 minutes, perhaps that variation is more a reflection of good goal keeping versus great goal keeping?

Note how low Sporting KC is here – perhaps that is more about the volume of red and yellow cards they’ve recieved more than anything else???  As the season ends I’ll peel this back a bit more too…

Opponent Goals Against:

Consistency of Purpose Opponent Goals Scored Against Week 27

Although Ryan Nelson was sacked, it would appear that his overall approach in managing a consistent level of defending was best in MLS (with respect to results), at this time.

What that means is that – going into most every game – Ryan Nelson could expect, with some level of consistency, how many goals the opponent might score.

That, in turn, should help him devise what attacking approach he might use to maximize points.

Indeed – he was third in the Eastern Conference league table when he got sacked – now Toronto is seventh…

In considering Colorado – things just go from bad to worse – consistency in ceding possession and penetration has not resulted in consistency when it comes to managing the bottom line.

While perhaps somewhat cynical, I’d offer this inconsistency, as the pitch gets smaller, will make it very hard for them to piece together a final playoff push – as in the bottom line – they really can’t rely on a consistent performance from their defense.

In retrospect – with the Timbers being much more consistent in their defensive weaknesses it may actually be easier for Caleb Porter to manage what expectations he has going in… thereby easing the stress; it is what it is…

In closing:

NOTE:  A compelling issue here with respect to ‘standard deviations’ is that there is the potential for the variations to be a FUNCTION of which conference a team is in.

It should be noted that a number of teams play counter-attacking and direct versus those that play possession-based soccer; that is why I will be filtering this data, at the end of the season, by volume of passes.

No doubt the consistency of purpose will look different when teams have completed the season and additional filters are in place (i.e volume of passes faced or home versus away).

But there are patterns and some sense can be made based upon what is seen that is normally unseen…

The screws tighten even more…

Best, Chris

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Is staying afloat in the Western Conference Real for Salt Lake? Depends… MLS after Week 21

Of late I’ve been focusing on some teams that are doing really-really well or really-really poor.

These next few weeks will be slightly different.

I’m going to take a peak at some teams that may be sleepers or may end up snoozing and losing.

To set the stage here’s the latest CPWP Index for MLS after Week 21… CPWP INDEX WEEK 21 So let’s throw the net over Real Salt Lake this time.

RSL are 2nd in the Western Conference League Table and 6th in the Western Conference CPWP Index (12th overall).

What’s happening that is driving down their overall team performance but not yet impacting their results?

And might this information be an indicator of something to worry about if you’re a Salt Lake supporter?

If you watched the 1-1 draw against New York it is likely you noticed Alvaro Saborio is missing.

While I don’t like to dig into individual performances too much there also needs to be a recognition, up front, that Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Alvaro Saborio, Joao Plata, and Chris Schuler have all missed at least 200 – 900 minutes of play so far this year.

No other thoughts here on missing players and the impacts from that other than their combined total minutes missed hovers around 3000 minutes – I’ll talk more to that a bit later…

For now know these critical attacking team performance indicators for your consideration… APWP INDEX WEEK 21 The APWP Index for Real Salt Lake is 11th best in MLS at 2.3661.

In attack Real Salt Lake still have the 4th most accurate team in passing (78.79%) across the Entire Pitch and the 2nd most accurate team in passing (70.56%) within the attacking Final Third.

Consistency of purpose – and all that with some of their top players missing.

Never let it be said that RSL are not a possession based team who has pedigree in passing!

On the scary side… Real Salt Lake have been awarded and scored 6 PK’s and won four of those five games (drawing the other) amounting to 13 points coming in games when awarded PK’s.

Now it’s not really fair to say that if they didn’t get those PK’s they would have dropped points.

But in the five games where they’ve had six PK’s RSL could have ended up with one win, two draws and two losses – for a total of five points as opposed to 13 points.

Minus eight points puts them on 25 Points, not 33 – and that total puts them behind Portland and in 7th place in the Western Conference!

And when losing what do the passing statistics look like?

When losing their overall passing accuracy across the Entire Pitch doesn’t drop – it increases to 79.73%. A surprise perhaps – but given their volume of passes exceeds 450 per game it’s not hard to envision an increase.

What about narrowing the scope to just the attacking Final Third?

Their passing accuracy, here, takes a nose dive; moving from 70.56% down to 65.61%. Clearly this team thrives on passing.

So what about penetration and creation of goal scoring opportunities?

When winning, they average 16.78% shots taken per penetrating possession.

When losing that percentage drops down to 10.82%.  That corresponding drop in passing accuracy, within the Final Third, translates to the frequency of their Shots Taken as well.

And in finishing, when losing, their goals scored, per shots on goal, drops all the way down to 5% – compared to 38.41% when winning.

So where is their overall attacking team performance not matching some other top performing teams in MLS?

The single biggest difference comes in Goal Scored per Shots on Goal.

RSL sit at an overall average of 26.75%; that is 5% points less than the closest team to them in attacking (Columbus).

And a full 10% less than the overall average for the top ten teams in APWP.

If you add that 10% difference, from the average, to the RSL APWP, that shoots then all the way up to being the best (2.4661).

Bottom line here: The loss of Alvaro Saborio has been significant – and with that much of an impact, it is likely their overall consistency of purpose in possession based attacking may see them either:

  1. Drop further in the table or,
  2. Fall a wee bit short of making the MLS Championship game.

Moving on to defending team performance indicators…

I’ve already gone on about the missing players but it should be noted that Beckerman, Schuler and Rimando are huge pieces to their defensive puzzle… especially if their overall possession percentage remains at 55% – defending with the ball is a reasonable and legitimate tactical strategy.

In my view there should be concern that their DPWP is not that great even though they have a large majority of possession (55% to 45% for their opponents).DPWP INDEX WEEK 21 For now know that RSL are 12th worst in overall team Defending PWP (2.3839).

When peeling back the comparisons the biggest differences in team performance, compared to the better defending teams, comes down to a few things:

  1. They yield the 2nd highest amount of penetration per possession in MLS (24.36%) – which means the opponent is spending nearly 25% of their time in possession within the RSL Defending Final Third.
  2. That can happen for a number of reasons, to include an attacking scheme that permits penetration, to some extent, in order to try and create a quick transitional counter-attack where the opponent are out of position.
  3. The hard part is if that strategy backfires.  And while it may not be backfiring on all cylinders RSL are also worst in MLS in allowing their opponents to take shots more frequently based upon those penetrations – all told 22.20% of their opponents Final Third penetration generates a Shot Taken.
  4. And if you read my latest analyses, Separating winners from losers in MLS, you’ll know that winning teams are now averaging more shots per game than losing teams.
  5. And that resultant increase in frequency has led to the opponent scoring 38.84% of the time they put a Shot on Goal; the 2nd highest opponent success rate in MLS.  The highest rate belongs to Chicago Fire.
  6. So when they cede penetration it does come back to haunt them – albeit that impact hasn’t seen its way clear to influencing their Points totals – yet… but recall that RSL have an eight point edge in winning games when getting PK’s.

All told, this should give due cause to hope that the defending team performances get better as it’s likely their ratio of PK’s awarded per game will smooth out to the MLS average of .2 per game.

With only 13 games remaining that equates to about 2 – whereas they’ve garnered 6 in 21 games.

Some other supplemental defensive team performance information for your consideration:

  1. RSL are 7th worst in conceding fouls within their own defending Final Third.  Can you say giving away free-kicks/set-pieces?
  2. They concede the second most corners per game, in MLS, to their opponent (5.7 per game).  Can you say giving away set-pieces?
  3. Opponents are successful in delivering crosses ~26% of the time… average in MLS.
  4. They average roughly 25 defensive clearances per game – 6th best in MLS.

In looking at this information it does paint a picture (excluding defensive clearances) where their opponents are showing tendencies to have set-piece/dead ball situations in the final third.

Any opportunity to load the 18 yard box with players is a good thing for the attacker and a bad thing for the defender.

The saving grace here is the volume/percentage of defensive clearances the back-four/set-piece markers are getting during those dead ball situations/crosses.

In Closing…

Any team missing as many as five regular players for over 3000 minutes is going to take a hit in overall team performance.

This league simply isn’t designed to facilitate carrying 18 “strong” players like most leagues in Europe.

In looking at the defending team performance indicators, given the high volume of crosses, corners and free kicks, RSL could have some significant issues if either Chris Schuler or Nat Borchers got injured.

Indeed, on the other side of the ball there does appear to be a gap in scoring – magnified even more given their overall passing accuracy is right where it was last year… (first class).

For now, only Saborio remains out – but in watching that game against New York they do miss his presence in the air.

Do they find a short term solution?  I think they do.

Is that someone like Robbie Findley, Olmes Garcia or Devon Sandavol I’m not sure…

Perhaps others who follow Real Salt Lake more closely might have some thoughts to add on that?

Best, Chris

Retweets Appreciated

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Week 17 in MLS (2013 versus 2014) PWP; And what about DC United this year?

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?

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

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?

CPWP Predictability Index Week 17

CPWP Predictability Index 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.

In closing…

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.

Best, Chris

Reflections of MLS Week 16; Predictable or not??? And what about Chivas USA these last three games… anything there in PWP to see?

As you know I’ve attempted to create a Predictability Index (PI) from my Possession with Purpose (PWP) analysis.  Here’s a link in case you missed the first article on PWP Predictability.

Before looking at the overall results here’s a reminder on where all the teams stand after 17 weeks:

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

Not every team has played 18 games yet so the Index is not equal – just like the MLS Table; Toronto have four games in hand over some teams in the Eastern Conference and the LA Galaxy have as many as five games in hand over some teams in the Western Conference.

When looking at the Western Conference CPWP (where all teams have played 14 games) the Index has LA atop (.2380); with Seattle 2nd (.2008); Colorado 3rd (.1578); Portland 4th (.0616) and Vancouver 5th (.0470).

All told that’s 3 of the top five teams in the Western Conference – not ideal but pretty close.

When looking at the Eastern Conference CPWP (where all teams have played 14 games) the Index has Sporting FC atop (.2219); with Columbus 2nd (.1578); DC United 3rd (.0807); New England 4th (.0347) and New York 5th (-.0416).

All told that’s four of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference – again not ideal but pretty close.

How does last year compare to this year after Week 17?  I’ll cover that in my next article…  For now since most teams have eclipsed the 17 game barrier I use the separate Home and Away CPWP Predictability Indices…

A reminder, of sorts, the CPWP PI is not intended to predict draws; it’s strictly an attempt to “test” how well it can/could predict wins.

The diagrams (along with individual Team Index numbers)  are provided at the end of this article.

Before kick-off; a reminder that last weekend’s games saw the CPWP PI had relevance in five out of six games where a team won/lost versus drew.

So for teams that won on the road this week we have:

Chivas USA defeating San Jose and DC United defeating Toronto FC.

The away CPWP PI for Chivas USA is -0.19; the home CPWP PI for San Jose is -0.04; the PI indicates Chivas should have lost – they won (inaccurate).

The away CPWP PI for DC United is -0.16; the home CPWP PI for Toronto FC is +0.09; the PI indicates DC United should have lost – they won (inaccurate).

So for teams that won at home this week we have:

FC Dallas defeating Philadelphia Union; Real Salt Lake defeating New England Revolution, Vancouver Whitecaps defeating Seattle Sounders and Chivas USA defeating Montreal.

The home CPWP PI for Dallas is +0.07; the Away CPWP PI for Philadelphia is -0.02; the PI indicates Dallas should have won – they won (accurate).

The home CPWP PI for Real Salt Lake is +0.04; the Away CPWP PI for New England is 0.00; the PI indicates Real Salt Lake should have won – they won (accurate).

The home CPWP PI for Vancouver is +0.18; the away CPWP PI for Seattle is -0.06; the PI indicates Vancouver should have won – they won (accurate).

The home CPWP PI for Chivas USA is -0.28; the away CPWP PI for Montreal is -0.11; the PI indicates Montreal should have won – they lost (inaccurate).

In closing… and that promised look at Chivas USA.

All told where there weren’t draws the CPWP PI was three out of six games.

Excluding draws that’s two weeks of (5 for 6) and (3 for 6); (8 for 12) = 66% accurate.

Clearly betting against Chivas USA at this time is not a worthy endeavor.

Here’s the differences in their Possession with Purpose indicators in the first 14 weeks compared to the last three weeks:

  • First 14 Weeks (APWP = 2.1425 / 2nd worst in MLS)
  • First 14 Weeks (DPWP = 2.5341 / 2nd worst in MLS)
  • First 14 Weeks (CPWP = -0.3915 / worst in MLS)
  • Last three Weeks (APWP = 2.2217 / 5th worst in MLS)
  • Last three Weeks (DPWP = 1.9502 / BEST in MLS)
  • Last three Weeks (CPWP = 0.2715 / BEST in MLS)

With that significant change in Defending PWP it’s worth a quick look to see what’s what in the first 14 Weeks versus the last three weeks…

  • First 14 Weeks Opponent (Possession 57.14%, Passing Accuracy 79.73%; Penetration 15.84%; Shots Taken per Penetration 19.34%; Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken 38.15%; Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal 43.21%)
  • Last three Weeks Opponent (Possession 57.96%; Passing Accuracy 79.67%; Penetration 19.21%; Shots Taken per Penetration 15.27%; Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken 22.92%; Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal 0.00%)
  • The differences?  Opponent penetration has increased while the number of opponent shots taken and shots on goal and goals scored have decreased.
  • Without having seen any of their games I would offer that Chivas has decided to open up the opponent opportunities in penetrating in order to tighten the screws a bit deeper inside the 18 yard box…
  • In other words they are not running two banks of four players atop and outside the final third – they have dropped a bit deeper and are now running their banks of four more within and around the 18 yard box.
  • Perhaps others who follow Chivas USA more closely could offer visual information to determine if that is an accurate assessment?

 As promised the CPWP PI Home Index:



As promised the CPWP PI Away Index:



Best, Chris

Next up Week 17 PWP in review…

Headline match-up in Week 13 – Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders

Pedigree and consistency of purpose are two words/phrases that come to mind when I consider these teams.  Both are currently doing very well and in my Composite PWP Index, after 12 weeks, they sit in positions four and five.

In considering this early-to-mid-season marquee match-up I’ve put together a few diagrams that might help paint a picture on how effective these two teams are.

My approach will consider how well Real Salt Lake has performed on the road this year versus how well Seattle have performed at home this year; I hope you enjoy it.

But before starting the Capt. Obvious — both teams have some players missing.  With this being Week 13 RSL have used 15 different field players this year while Seattle have used 18.

So although key-players are missing I don’t really think it matters that much – what matters for me, is the beginning words; pedigree and consistency of purpose through the course of this season so far.

And given RSL are unbeaten while Seattle have 26 points with 13 games played the ‘key-player-missing-theme’ just doesn’t work for me.

Given that here’s my latest Doughnut Diagrams for Real Salt Lake versus Seattle; first one up is showing the weighted averages on how each team has attacked their opponent this year (RSL in away games) and (SSFC in home games).

PWP A different Angle RSL v SSFC in Attack

PWP A different Angle RSL v SSFC in Attack



Not much separates the two teams when looking at what percentage each of the activities in PWP amounts to in relationship to each other – the only one showing any real difference is the amount of Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken for Real Salt Lake.

Given the same rough volume of Shots Taken per penetration (7%) for both teams, RSL are more effective in converting those Shots Taken to Shots on Goal.

In viewing the next percentage – converting those Shots on Goal to Goals Scored there is a slight edge to Seattle.

In total though, both teams are +5 in their Goal Differential (RSL on the road) and (SSFC at home).

Early indications are this should be a very tight game.

The next diagram offers up how each team performs in defense against their opponents attack:

PWP A different Angle RSL v SSFC in Defense

PWP A different Angle RSL v SSFC in Defense


While some may disagree with this view I would submit this diagram helps speak to how these two teams defend differently yet they end up with the same result.

Note that RSL opponents have yielded less volume in their opponent passing accuracy within and outside the final third but greater volume in penetrating and creating shots.

For me that indicates RSL have a tendency to apply pressure higher up the pitch.

On the other hand the Seattle opponent percentages seem to indicate to me that their defense tucks in a bit more in the final third with the intent of giving their opponent a wee bit more possession outside the final third.

However viewed both teams appear matched evenly when it comes to preventing Shots on Goal and Goals Scored.

An interesting thing to watch for in this game might be how high up the pitch Alonso ventures versus Grossman (the likely replacement for Beckerman).

I would offer the more Alonso commits himself outside the final third the more likely RSL are to score.

On to the standard team performance percentages from the six steps in Possession with Purpose:

Below is the diagram showing the percentages of RSL and how they defend on the road, versus SSFC and how they attack at home.

PWP RSL attacking v SSFC defending

PWP RSL attacking v SSFC defending


I’ve highlighted two areas; the Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken and the Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal; note that when Seattle attacks 40% of their Shots Taken end up on Goal with roughly 28% of those hitting the back of the net.

Conversely, when RSL defends on the road they are pretty stingy when it comes to yielding Shots on Goal; ~30%, but when the opponent does put that Shot on Goal about ~37% of those shots hit the back of the net.

All told the other indicators seem to support a high level of passing accuracy and possession; if the opponent (dark blue bar for SSFC is 46% then SSFC averages 54% at home in attack.

Next up the view on how RSL attacks on the road versus how SSFC defends at home.

PWP RSL defending v SSFC attacking

PWP RSL defending v SSFC attacking


Again the highlighted area for RSL is Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken – clearly (given the lower amount of Shots Taken per penetration) (light blue bar – ~18%) RSL takes its time in setting up shots that are more likely to be on target – and scoring is not a problem given their +5 goal differential on the road.

As for Seattle, they yield, on average, about the same amount of Shots Taken per penetration but the resultant indicates they are more successful in preventing that Shot Taken from becoming a Shot on Goal < ~30%.

Another indicator reinforcing that they appear to work towards closing down their opponents more tightly within their defending third.

In closing…

I’m not sure we see a tight game here – it’s mid-season and both teams might want to test each others’ weaknesses at full speed.

If I had to take a choice on which defense is stronger I would go with Real – on the other side if I had to choose if momentum were going to influence this game I reckon the strong supporter base of Seattle will pull them through.

If individual players are going to impact this game for Real Salt Lake I’d like to think it would be Ned Grabavoy or Joao Plata.

On the other hand if individual players are going to provide a positive impact to Seattle I can see Cooper or Martins taking that leadership; both can be dangerous goal scorers in different ways.

If I were in Seattle I would go to this game… just to watch two strong teams go head-to-head!

Best, Chris