Tagged: San Jose Earthquakes

Gluck: Is it Too Early for a “Must Win”?

Mathematically, yes…  psychologically… probably not.

The Portland Timbers have two wins, three draws, and five losses in their last ten games with a season goals against average of 1.66; that’s higher than last years’ record setting 1.55.

  • Last year (after just four games) the Timbers showed some early season trends  “Is it too Early to Worry? that are surfacing again this year.
  • Last week  Delicate Decisions in Defending” I touched on the need for Caleb Porter to make some defensive changes.
  • He did.  Zarek Valentin ‘a more possession-based player’ was inserted into the lineup for Alvas Powell.  In all, not a bad performance.
  • The result, however, saw the Timbers lose and cede a set piece goal just four minutes into the game.
  • Question – was that one defensive change enough before Larrys Mabiala, a center-back (signed from Kayserispor, Turkey) arrives?

I’m not sure.

Porter was accurate in offering the attack created chances and the run of play in defending, was solid.

But frustration can breed cynicism, and while I do believe the Timbers upped their game last weekend the cynic in me wonders if the close game was more a reflection of better defending or of an opponent who simply isn’t good at scoring goals?

Seattle average just 1.3 goals per game this year and have four multiple goal scoring games – none of them in their last five.

You decide.

Set-up:

Coming into this game the Timbers will be without the services of Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman; here’s a link on how successful they were without Darlington earlier this season: Dealing without Darlington“.

The two-wing attack didn’t work.

That said, a positive reminder on some successes from last year.

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)

Their opponent Friday night, San Jose; is a team who fell victim to that success twice last year.

That being said – there’s two teams who play, not one.  And it’s likely Dom Kinnear, and his Earthquakes, have the same statistics and video to learn from as Portland.

In other words…

Motivation for San Jose, to fix what went pear-shaped last year, will be at its maximum.

Finishing touches:

The Timbers will most likely cede some possession – can’t be helped really with both Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman off the pitch.

  • This statistic is subjective though.
  • The Timbers track possession but more as a formality not as target that must be reached.
  • If Jack Barmby starts, along Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, and Lawrence Olum it is likely some form of holding midfield possession will occur in the San Jose defending half.

  • And the less time the Timbers keep possession of the ball in their defending half (if San Jose applies pressure in that area) the better.
  • BREAKING NEWS – JACK BARMBY UNAVAILABLE

Wing play – leveraged in trying to set up success down the middle with both Adi and Valeri being the key players to strike and score.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zarek Valentin as the starting right full-back but Powell offers great speed and San Jose have some quick players.  Whoever starts I’d venture they don’t extend themselves to far forward.

A passionate Diego Chara who’s slightly more controlled than previously.

A tight back four relying on support from the midfield; especially in closing down the wings as San Jose will look to cross the ball.

Supreme mental focus in defending without the ball; a draw this game will not bode well with many; especially a high scoring draw…

Best, Chris

Re-tweets are welcomed @chrisgluckpwp

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?

No…

 

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?

Yes…

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

@chrisgluckpwp

Earthquakes, Shake, Rattle and Roll-Over

Not the best of seasons for San Jose this year – what started as a renewed vision for Mark Watson, this season, has now turned to a renewed vision for Dominic Kinnear next season.

Like Chicago Fire (Candle Burned at Both Ends) and Houston Dynamo (Dynamic Dynamo Demagnatized as Dominic Departs) I’ll be peeling back the good, bad and ugly for San Jose this season with the intent of identifying what positional changes might be needed to help this team get better.

As usual, to set the stage, here’s my Composite PWP Strategic Index for the end of 2014.  

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

There’s San Jose (SJFC), sandwiched near bottom in-between Houston and Montreal.

Before digging into the what’s and why’s of my Possession with Purpose Family of Indices here’s the breakdown on the regular statistics that most people pay attention to; at least those who only focus on results:

All told just .88 Points Per Game (PPG); with Goals Per Game (GPG) at 1.03 and Goals Against Per Game (GAPG) at 1.47.

Not enough goals scored and clearly too many goals scored against.  All told their Goal Differential (GD) was -.44 – 5th worst in MLS.

In Away games PPG was .53, GPG .82, GAPG 1.71 and GD -.88 (5th worst in MLS).

For Home games PPG was 1.24 (2nd worst), GPG 1.24, GAPG was 1.24 and GD was 0.00 (2nd worst in MLS).

All told San Jose were near bottom in every basic results driven statistic this year with the Away record (1-6-10) even worse than their paltry Home  record (5-6-6).

And they are bringing in Dominic Kinnear?  Well I suppose (3-2-12) in Away games and (8-4-5) is better for Home games, from a results perspective.

But how about overall team attacking and defending performance?  And is there a light already shining that many may have missed?

Team Attacking (both home and away):

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Notice that San Jose fall even lower in overall team attacking than either Chicago or Houston, two teams already evaluated.  

If you read those reports you’ll know both were pretty poor in overall attacking.  So if you’re a San Jose supporter brace yourself for some pretty ugly numbers.

Possession Percentage:

Overall 48.81% – almost middle of the road and on its own an indicator that won’t offer much given Playoff teams like FC Dallas, Vancouver, DC United, and New England all slid under 50%.

Is there a difference between away games and home games?  In away games it was 47.40% vs at home 50.22%.

So IF any early conclusions might be drawn it’s this – they had a better record at home and they averaged more possession at home – is it reasonable to offer that the more possession this team has the better they are?  We’ll see…

Passing Accuracy:

Overall 76.86% – dead on average (10th) compared to everyone else.  Again, teams like FC Dallas, DC United, and New England fell below that number and they all made the playoffs.

In looking at away versus home games; away games 75.94% vs at home 77.78%; a bit higher at home than away – again the same question – does increased possession and increased passing accuracy help plot where San Jose is more successful?

Penetrating Possession:

Overall 21.92% – below average (7th worst).  Only FC Dallas and DC United fell lower than San Jose.

In looking at away versus home games; in away games 21.93% vs at home 21.91%.

Here’s where the rubber begins to meet the road…  notice that with less possession, and less passing accuracy in away games, the Earthquakes actually penetrated more into the opponents Defending Final Third.

This sort of pattern has shown itself with other teams – more often than not it leads to these observations – a more direct attacking style (get in as quickly as you can) and a less impatient approach as the team begins to work towards scoring goals.

In other words their shooting accuracy drops off, as does their goals scored.

Let’s see if this is the case with San Jose.

Shots Taken per penetrating possession:

Overall 16.46% – well below average (4th worst) (or best) depending on a few things – teams with higher passing accuracy usually have lower percentages here, in this case San Jose is on the cusp, if you will.

Their overall percentage seems to indicate more patience when it comes to taking shots – which in turn should mean a higher percentage of shots taken being on goal. That’s not the case though – they are 3rd worst in MLS when it comes to shots taken being on goal (33.93%).

So without knowing the exact locations of the shots taken I’d offer they need a stronger attacking system to generate more time and space to increase their shots on goal and goals scored.

As for away games; their percentage dropped down to 12.81% while at home it was 20.11%.  That is a marked difference in percentage of shots taken per penetrating possession.  It’s almost like Jekyll and Hyde.

Perhaps that is a big enough difference to say that their attack was so basic (simple) in away games, this past year, that they simply didn’t get that many shots off because they telegraphed what they were trying to do?

In other words they didn’t have enough creativity to generate better chances.

An indicator here may be their passing accuracy.

In the opponents Defending Final Third it was 60.72% for away games – 5th worst.  So even though they offered 107 passes per game (10th best in MLS) they could only complete 65 of those passes.

And of those 65 passes completed, only eight of them ended up creating a shot taken!  For me speaking to no time, no space, and/or simply no-one willing to take a shot even if a marginal amount of time and space did become available.

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

Overall 33.93% (3rd worst).

So not only did they take fewer shots per penetration (far fewer in away games) they were also less accurate than most when it came to putting those shots on goal.

Again, speaking to lack of time and space, and perhaps location too?

In away games 33.05% versus at home 34.81%.

In going back to the ‘more means more’ aspect of San Jose.  More possession and better passing accuracy does mean more shots taken and it also means more shots on goal.

In looking at away games less means less – in other words less possession, less passing accuracy, means less shots taken per penetration and less shots on goal.

Not every team behaves like that – some do better with less than more.  In considering this output pattern it’s not the same as Houston or Chicago – it’s different – which means the tactical approach is probably different as well.  More to follow…

Goal Scored per Shots on Goal:

Overall 22.50% (2nd worst).

In tracking the ‘more means more and less means less’ the percentages for this indicator should be lower in away games and higher in home games.

It is – in away games it’s 20.88% (2nd worst) and for home games it’s 24.12% (still 2nd worst) but a better 2nd worst than the away game outputs!

Attacking summary:

More meant more for San Jose when at home and less meant less when on the road – but in both cases neither approach provided consistency in getting results.  

In other words they didn’t have enough “more” to generate “more” and their less meant less…

All told I submit these attacking issues not only speak to San Jose needing better strikers – they also need better midfielders – those with greater vision, greater patience, but at the same time a wee bit more risk.

With all that offered about Attack – here’s the view from how well the opponents did against them in the same categories:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

If there is a good news story here it should be defending – overall their team performance sees them as 9th best in DPWP.

Opponent Possession Percentage:

Overall 51.19% – as noted, possession alone is not an indicator of value without better understanding all the other key indicators to go with it.

In this case it’s pretty clear San Jose is not a possession based team away from home (52.60%) but they are at home – or at least they don’t cede possession (49.78%) for opponents when playing at home.

Opponent Passing Accuracy:

Overall 77.95% – opponents average accuracy is 8th best, against San Jose, in MLS.

In away games opponents average 79.81% (4th highest) and 76.10% when playing in San Jose (8th lowest).

So the Earthquakes cede possession on the road and they also cede a higher opponent passing accuracy – that higher possession and passing accuracy outside the Defending Final Third also translates to having the 5th highest opponent passing accuracy (67.83%) within and into the Defending Final Third.

For home games that opponent passing accuracy drops to 65.40%.

Before moving on – the volumes ceded are quite high as well.

Overall, San Jose opponents average 435 passes per game (9th highest) with 442 by the opponent in road games and 427 for opponents in home game.

As the opponent penetrates that volume equals 124 passes attempted (2nd highest) by opponents visiting San Jose and 124 when facing opponents on the road (5th highest).

So even though passing accuracy for the opponent isn’t that high – the volume, after finally gaining penetration is 2nd and 5th highest in MLS.  More to follow on that…

Opponent Penetrating Possession:

Overall 24.60% (5th highest) with that percentage being 24.15% (7th highest) for opponents on the road and 25.05% (2nd highest) for opponents facing San Jose at home.

With that high percentage of penetration better defending teams will begin to show a higher number of shots taken against percentage but in turn a lower shots on goal percentage and, ultimately, a lower goals against percentage.

In other words the better defending teams leverage the reduced space to influence and reduce time and space for the opponent to strike the ball, put it on target and score the goals.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

Overall 19.71% (5th highest) with that percentage being 21.01% (3rd highest) for opponents on the road and 18.41% (8th highest) for opponents facing San Jose at home.

The pattern holds true so far… how about percentages of Shots on Goal per Shots Taken?

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

Overall 35.53% (9th lowest) – the trend continues – while on the road opponents average 36.12% (9th lowest) and 34.93% (8th lowest) when opponents face San Jose at home.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

Overall 24.92% (2nd lowest in MLS) – again, the positive defending team performance continues to follow the pattern.  In away games it’s 26.11% (3rd lowest) and at home it’s 23.73% (3rd lowest).

Bottom line here (the more to follow from earlier) is that the pattern of strong defending team performance matches that of some of the better teams in MLS – what hurts San Jose are not the overall percentages in execution – it’s the volume that they face in execution.

All told they face the most opponent shots per game (away) at 17.35, the 2nd most shots on goal (away) at 6.24 per game – but only the 9th highest goals against per game.

And when looking at how opponents do in San Jose, it’s 14.65 (highest) shots taken, 5.06 shots on goal (highest) but just 1.24 goals against (9th highest).

Defending summary:

The team percentages are indicative of a healthy defending tactical approach – in other words the performance indicators all point to a solid defending approach with one BIG exception.

Volume – while the percentages are good the volume of opponent activity is high – in other words – more volume up front against San Jose results in more volume at the back end…

BUT not as much volume as might be expected; especially when looking at the volume of shots taken and shots on goal – compared to the volume of goals scored.  What that indicates to me is that the central part of the defending corps is strong – as is their goal keeper.

In Closing:

More means more is a trend and tendency of teams like Barcelona, FC Bayern, Real Madrid, Chelsea FC, LA Galaxy, and others – but that more is usually where the volumes exceed (in attack) 600 passes per game, 200 passes per game in the opponents defending final third, 16 shots per game, with 6-10 on goal and at least 2 goals scored.

More does not mean “more” when total passes hits just 400, penetrating passes hits just 100, shots taken hits 8 per game with 3-4 on goal and less than a goal scored!

The attacking tactical approach for San Jose was the wrong approach and had the wrong players – will Dominic Kinnear fix that?

Probably – but it may take at least five to six new starters with almost all of them being on the attacking side of the pitch.

On the defending side of the pitch – all indicators seem to point to a healthy relationship.

What is missing, however, is a solution that includes reducing the overall volume of attack by their opponents.

A reasonable way to reduce the volume of attack by your opponents is to increase your own volume of attack; i.e. reduce their possession by increasing your own possession.

But that’s tricky and it’s not always a sure-thing.

We’ve seen that ceding possession can be effective ways of improving defending team performance; perhaps that is the case when the overall technical ability of the defenders lacks compared to a group of four like San Jose have?

I’m not sure but it seems reasonable Dominic Kinnear will shape his team to his style – what will be intriguing is to see if ‘his’ style changes next year compared to how he worked his style this year.

Best, Chris

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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

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Do they know the way? – San Jose – MLS After Week 22

While many might consider the Portland Timbers a sleeper in the Western Conference this year, there may be indications that San Jose might fit that title as well.

But before considering a potential answer to that question let’s take a look at some of their team performance indicators.

First in… San Jose have three games in hand on some teams in the Western Conference – that alone is very compelling information as the simple calculation might lead some to believe that three games in hand could equal nine points in the League Table.

And that nine additional points would actually see San Jose sitting above the red-line at 32 points – slightly ahead of Colorado.

But is it that easy?

I’m not so sure…

Here’s how San Jose (SJFC) and all the other teams compare against each other in the Composite PWP after Week 22:

CPWP INDEX THROUGH WEEK 22 MLS

CPWP INDEX THROUGH WEEK 22 MLS

At first glance San Jose looks a bit low on the totem pole; a worthy view but that difference, in composite team performance, only amounts to 4% points different (on average – per game) than Vancouver.

And as we’ve seen about two weeks ago (Separating Winners from Losers in MLS), a good run or bad run will influence this Index.  And, as a reminder this Index excludes Points in the League Table – that data is qualitative – the PWP Indices are quantitative.

So a push forward is not unlikely; especially when the team is missing three games worth of performance data compared to some other teams.

So how do things look when peeling back the Defending Possession with Purpose (DPWP) and Attacking (APWP) Indices?

DPWP Index After Week 22

DPWP Index After Week 22

Not bad; fourth most effective team in DPWP performance.

Here’s the grist behind that Index number…

Opponent Possession – almost dead even – Opponents average 50.32% possession…

Opponent Passing Accuracy – 63.78%; 12 lowest in MLS – put another way the opponents are unsuccessful in their overall passing 36.22% of the time…  here’s how that compares to others:

Percentage of Opponent Unsuccessful Passes Entire Pitch

Percentage of Opponent Unsuccessful Passes Entire Pitch

Pretty tight margin after the defensive dominance of Sporting KC; the significant drop off doesn’t occur until you reach Montreal and Chivas.

So, from an ‘unsuccessful passing standpoint’; opponents of San Jose are unsuccessful in their passes 23.72% of the time.

Opponent Penetration Percentage into the San Jose defending third, based upon Passing, equals 22.87%; that is 9th worst in MLS.

What that offers is the impression that San Jose will play slightly deeper in their defending half – sometimes indicating that they look to cede possession and try to trap their opponents by playing for quicker transitions and counterattacking opportunities.

We’ve seen other teams with far less possession, and higher percentages in this category, that do take that approach.

Opponent percentage of Shots Taken per percentage of final third penetration is 19.05% – ninth highest in MLS; again confirming that the higher end of the 18 yard box is somewhat ceded in order to try and clog the 18 yard box a wee bit more…

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shot Taken – 35.83% – average – dead middle – tenth best or tenth worst depending upon your point of view – glass half full?  glass half empty?

As for the finl step Opponent Shots on Goal that score Goals; San Jose have the lowest percentage (21.32%) in all of MLS!

This helps reinforce that even when the opponent does get a bit of time and space Jon Busch is usually in a very good position to keep the shot out of goal.

Overall, I’d offer San Jose are very solid in team defending – and very solid in goal keeping; San Jose needs to sustain this strong team performance in defending; especially in the final third of this season.

Given that defensive pedigree (so far this year) let’s take a look at some of the supporting team statistics – those irritating things (one-offs) that can ruin a good game…

Penalty Kicks conceded – .26 per game; that’s 5th worst in MLS.

Not near as bad Portland (.45 per game) but a far cry less effective than Colorado (.09 per game); a team who leads the league in fewest PK’s conceded (AND) a team they will have to pass as they chase for a place in the Playoffs.

Fouls in the defending third – 8th worst – 2.79 fouls in their own defending third per game.

Now that might not have been too much of an issue, so far, but it’s good to remember that there are more games to be played against some top attacking teams in MLS (more later on that).

Bottom line here – it would be worthy for San Jose to see those PK and Fouls conceded drop off as the season winds down…

Opponent Unsuccessful Passes in their San Jose defending Final Third:

Percentage of Opponent Unsuccessful Passes Final Third

Percentage of Opponent Unsuccessful Passes Final Third

San Jose are going pretty good in this category – overall they are 5th best in MLS in clogging the passing lanes within their own defending third.

Corners conceded – San Jose concede the 6th most corners per game in MLS = 5.26; another set-piece danger given their remaining schedule.

Opponents complete 23.60% of their crosses – that is the 4th best percentage in MLS and what may help here (as well as in defending corners) is that San Jose are 8th best in defensive clearances.

All told it doesn’t look like they have detrimental team statistics in these areas (like Houston or Portland) but yielding set-pieces could be an issue, as could the accumulation of yellow cards if the frequency of fouls continues.

Flipping the coin and looking at their Attacking PWP (APWP):

First off – San Jose have added two players, one recently, that (could???) change their attacking output as the season continues.

The first player is Yannick Djalo – who has already shown pedigree in attack.

The second player, (another Argentine midfielder in MLS) is Matias Perez Garcia – it will be interesting to see how he fits and what playing time he gets.

But for now – here’s how things look for San Jose…

APWP Index After Week 22

APWP Index After Week 22

They don’t exactly shine as a bright star in attack – bottom line here – the addition of Garcia should help – but soon enough to help San Jose get better in attack?

I don’t know… but a worrying issue for management and supporters might be figuring out how his ‘attacking’ addition to the pitch will impact defending team performance.

As for San Jose’s performance in the six steps of APWP:

Their own Possession percentage is 49.68% about dead middle…

Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch:

Percentage of Successful Passes Entire Pitch

Percentage of Successful Passes Entire Pitch

Ninth worst in MLS; again, adding an attacking midfielder to the mix might see these numbers improve – but at what risk to the defending side of the pitch?

Passing Accuracy in the Attacking Final Third:

Percentage of Successful Passes Final Third

Percentage of Successful Passes Final Third

Not the best here either; 6th worst to be exact.

Part of the reason for lower numbers, in these two areas, might have to do with the type/length of passes that may be occurring within and into the final third.

As a direct attacking team it is likely longer balls and more frequent use of crosses might drive these numbers down – if Mark Watson is considering adding an attacking midfielder to the mix maybe these numbers will improve.

Shots Taken per penetrating possession – 19.11% – middle of the pack no better or worse than the average.

Shots on Goal per Shot Taken – 32.82% – 5th worst in MLS.

Here’s what I mean about what you don’t want to see teams do… go from middle of the pack in Shots Taken to being far worse in Shots on Goal per Shot Taken.

Basically this means that they not only don’t get off many shots per penetration – the shots they do get off have a far less chance of being on goal than the rest of MLS.

This isn’t due to location, in my view, it is due to the poor amount of time and space they make for themselves given their less than patient form of penetration.

As for putting the ball into the back of the net???

San Jose are 2nd worst in MLS when it comes to scoring goals per shot on goal – 22.87%; the MLS average is 32.04% – they are 10% points below the average…

If their team performance, in defending, doesn’t hold up well through the final third of this season these lower attacking indicators could be a real issue; especially when it comes to scoring goals.

In closing…

What has been left unsaid so far is this… San Jose have two games remaining against LA Galaxy, one game remaining against FC Dallas, one game remaining against Seattle, two games remaining against Real Salt Lake, two games remaining against Vancouver, and three games remaining against Portland.

So while their DPWP ranks extremely high, compared to other teams in MLS, their remaining schedule sees them playing 11 games against six of the top 11 teams in APWP!

The only doormats they go up against are Chivas USA, once, and Montreal, once… so the test for this team is only just beginning.

Can their team defensive chemistry, built up so well in the first 22 weeks, carry them to the playoffs?

Will the addition of their new central attacking midfielder alter the balance, towards attack, and negatively impact their team defense?

Will the addition of Garcia give them the lift they need?

Hard to say.

I’d offer team defending is critical – Sporting KC and many other teams (through good or bad defending) reinforce that view in MLS time and again.

At the end of the day you need goals scored in order to win.

And one point, per game, in the final third of the season, will not see San Jose reach the Playoffs…

Any additional thoughts/comments are welcomed/encouraged – especially from those who follow the San Jose Earthquakes…

Best, Chris

Retweets appreciated.

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