Tagged: Toronto FC

Gluck: Tea Leaves on Timbers Traveling to Toronto

Is this a likely pre-cursor to the MLS Championship Game?

I’m not sure, but given the wild west, and more predictable east, it isn’t beyond reason to think so.  In preparing my information for your consideration here’s a link to my Total Soccer Index: 

The Science (Attacking): 

Toronto at home compared with Portland on the road.

The part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first is ‘penetration’.

  • Out of an equal amount of possession and passing accuracy for both teams Toronto shows a greater (much greater) edge in penetration; the difference is striking; almost 20% more penetration per total possession than Portland.
  • That considerable advantage in increased penetration leads to a 10% increase in the precision (putting shots on goal) followed by another 10% increase in finishing.
  • Twenty six goals scored at home for Toronto vs seventeen goals scored on the road for Portland.  Not only is Toronto’s quality better; their quantity is too…

The Art:

It is likely Toronto will penetrate more often and offer up more shots than Portland – meaning a reasonable game plan for Portland will be to cede some space up top (maybe after the first 15 minutes) and then look to clog the middle and defensive third of the pitch.. relying solely on the counter-attack to get a goal, or two…

The Science (Defending):

Like the attacking side of the equation; the part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first on how opponents attack against these two teams is penetration.

  • Out of equal amounts of possession and passing accuracy by opponents Portland shows opponents have greater amounts of penetration.
  • Opponents of Portland see a 10% increase in precision (shots on goal) and a 20% increase in finishing (goals scored against) than Toronto opponents.
  • All told opponents have scored 23 goals against Portland, versus just seven for Toronto.
  • Portland opponents see an increase in quality as well as quantity; matching exactly the characteristics of how Toronto attacks at home!

The Art:

It would appear penetration is the key for both teams… therefore, trying to regain possession of the ball in the attacking and middle third will be crucial in order to disable a quick counter-attack when the ball is lost.

As much as it pains me to offer this – Bradley is known for coughing up the ball in the middle third of the pitch – I’d expect both David Guzman or Diego Chara to pressure Bradley whenever he has the ball.

Bottom line:  If Portland scores (at all) they will REALLY need to protect that lead and that includes protecting the wings from overload by Toronto.

Total Soccer Index:  Final Thoughts

If you’re a betting person – it’s likely Toronto win by at least one goal – if not two… but as we’ve seen this year “parity” rules in this league.

And even though the eastern conference seems to show greater strength in possession with purpose competitive conditions of the wild west may better suit Portland in a game like this.

Questions:  It’s the fantastic four of both teams that will make the difference in the run of play.

  • How well will Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez, and Michael Bradley work against a healthy Timbers defense?
  • Can Toronto’s defense control the attacking nous of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Sebastian Blanco along with the physically brutal aspect Fenando Adi brings as a true #9?

Set pieces win games…

The magic of one player, with one touch, that leads to one strike, and one brilliant goal awaits… as Diego Valeri, like set pieces, wins games too…

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Re-tweets are not rude… 🙂

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

Can Jozy Altidore bring Toronto to the Playoffs?

I’ll try to offer some thoughts on this a bit later but to first understand a possible answer to this question I felt it worthy to conduct a compare and contrast between two teams –  (LA Galaxy and Toronto FC).

To begin; here’s a reminder on how these two teams finished in the Composite Possession with Purpose Index last year – remembering also that LA ended up with 61 points and Toronto had 41 points:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

If Possession with Purpose is new to you I suggest you read here: Possession with Purpose.  For statistical purposes the R2 (R squared) for the Index compared to points earned was .85.

Next up – the Big Picture:

The Big Picture

Reading from left to right:

  • Average PWP Composite Index – the numbers here represent the difference between the subtracting the PWP Defending Index (grouping 3) from the PWP Attacking Index (grouping 2) for each team; LA being the dark blue bar and Toronto being the red bar.
  • In other words 2.31 from 2.53 = .21 for LA and 2.42 from 2.33 = -.09 for Toronto. (a difference of .30)
  • The 4th grouping – Composite PWP Predictability is the Composite PWP Index (minus) all statistical data associated with a goal scored/goal against – in other words it’s a pure representation of the primary team activities occuring on the pitch exclusive of goals scored.  The R2 for the Predictability Index is .69.
  • Next over is average Goals Scored for each team throughout the year for each game.
  • This is followed by the average Goals Scored by the Opponent against each team throughout the year.
  • Second from last is the average Goal Differential – the same logic applies here that is used to create the Composite PWP Index – subtract Goals Scored by the Opponent Goals Scored against that team.
  • Last and most important – the average points earned for each team for each game.
  • In every case LA exceeded Toronto.

So why were LA better – was it just down to goals scored, higher accuracy in goals scored, or something else?

A way to answer that is by peeling back some differences in team performance.

For example…  In the diagram above the difference between LA and TFC, in APWP (grouping 2), is 2.52 – 2.33  = .19.  Meaning the overall difference in collective team performance of those two teams is 19%.

So where do those percentage point differences occur in looking at the six quality measurements of APWP?

Here’s the APWP diagram that peels back the six primary categories used to create the Index:

Quality Attacking PWP

I’ve highlighted two areas and included a smaller area where the word ‘wash’ appears.

“Wash” simply means those two areas balance each other out – the real differences come from looking at the ligh green shaded areas.  Those areas were:

  • Possession percentage – LA exceeded Toronto by ~6%
  • Passing accuracy – LA exceeded Toronto by ~5%
  • Penetrating the opponents defending final third – LA exceeded Toronto by ~3%
  • Goals scored per shots on goal – LA exceeded Toronto by ~6%

All told roughly 1/4 of the overall difference in team performance (quality) came from goals scored per shots on goal…

Meaning LA performed better in scoring goals but they also performed far better in three other areas, possession, passing accuracy and penetration.

That, alone, may be able to help answer the question about Jozy Altidore but attacking is only one part of the game – how about Defending PWP?

Quality Defending PWP

Toronto were worse than LA by 11% points 2.31 – 2.42 (lower is better)

In looking at the DPWP diagram (above) I’ve taken the same approach – the light green shaded areas show differences while the ‘Wash’ area shows where the teams percentages roughly balance each other out.

The difference in LA team performance, again, comes in preventing their opponents from having more control over the game leading up to (and) preventing goals scored against.

In other words LA simply had better overall team defending performances where goals scored was a wash.

In Closing:

Before offering my final thoughts on Jozy Altidore another quick example.

FC Dallas, who made the Playoffs last year, had similar team performances in quality to Toronto – with one exception.

FC Dallas had a 43.87% accuracy rating in converting shots on goal to goals scored compared to Toronto’s 31.21%.

But FC Dallas didn’t reach the pinnacle.

Bottom line at the Bottom:

My view is this: The addition of Jozy Altidore might help Toronto reach the Playoffs but it is unlikely it will lead to Toronto winning the Championship – if they do the Reds will probably play to the style of FC Dallas – and so far that style of attack has not led to a Championship – at least not in the last four years.

What do you think?

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark.

Seeing Red!!! Toronto FC

The Toronto Front Office made a decision to sack Ryan Nelsen, on 31 August 2014, after winning just three of his last 13 matches.  I don’t know the rationale for that – other than what was offered on the surface – the team wasn’t getting results.  

That’s a clear enough reason for most but not for me…  I’m a firm believer there is more to this game than just scoring goals; for me it’s about the opponent not scoring goals as much as it is about scoring goals yourself.

To be sure – this isn’t me taking the position that playing negative football is ‘the’ solution – on the contrary – I love attacking football; but part of attacking means great defending.

However viewed I will continue to let the statistics tell me what they offer and not the other way around.

Before digging into Toronto here’s links to my other End of Season Analyses and what Possession with Purpose is all about:

Chicago Fire – Candle Burned at Both Ends

Houston Dynamo – Dynamic Dynamo De-Magnetized as Dominic Departs

San Jose Earthquakes – Earthquakes, Shake, Rattle, and Roll-Over

Montreal Impact – What went Wrong in Montreal?

Colorado Rapids – The Loss of Drew Moor was More or Less?

My Revised Introduction to Possession with Purpose

For statistical purposes, Ryan Nelsen was sacked on 31 August – that means Games 1-24 were under Nelsen and Games 25-34 were under Craig Vanney.

I’ll include how the team did using those two filters as well as an overall picture on where Toronto finished compared to the rest of MLS.

In closing, I’ll offer up final thoughts on team performance under the leadership of Nelsen versus Vanney – some opinions on that and then opine what positional upgrades may need to be made in order for Toronto to make the Playoffs next year.

To begin, as usual, the CPWP Strategic Index:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINEDThere’s TFC; 7th worst in the CPWP Index (between the Union – PUFC and Colorado – CRFC).

Bottom line here they weren’t that good; from Games 1-24 they earned 1.38 Points Per Game (PPG); from Games 25-34 they earned .80 PPG.

In terms of Goals Scored, under Nelson they averaged 1.46 Goals Per Game (GPG) – under Vanney that number dropped to .90 GPG.

From a Defending viewpoint their Opponent GPG went from 1.63 under Nelsen to 1.50 under Vanney.

So while the Vanney led Reds did see a slight decrease in Goals Against – that didn’t make up for the significant decrease in GPG produced in Attack and clearly played a huge role in them dropping more than .5 PPG under Vanney – compared to Nelsen.

From a purely statistical (results) standpoint the sacking of Ryan Nelsen did not appear to give the Reds what they needed to make the Playoffs!

As noted, my viewpoint there is more to soccer than Goals Scored and Goals Against – given that here’s my Family of Possession with Purpose Indicators to see what else is available to consider.

Attacking PWP:

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

All told, 8th worst in overall Attacking PWP – note that the R2 is .79 – not nearly as high as the overall CPWP Index (.85) but still very strong.  Meaning, for me, the parts that comprise this Index have value.  So on to the pieces… 

An explanation about the following new diagrams below — each PWP Indicator is offered in a Game to Game view with a different colored ‘trend line’; the trend line is offered so that you can see how the team changed, from start to finish, in each area of evaluation.

For the statistical folks I have also included the slope.  I won’t reference the slope but some folks have used the slope to predict future expectations.

Possession Percentage:

TORONTO APWP POSSESSION PERCENTAGE 2014

Clearly Toronto changed their pattern of possession as the season progressed.

Under Vanney their average Possession was 55.84% – with Nelsen it was 46.08%.

Overall they were 10th in MLS – if they had stuck with Nelson the entire season it is likely they would have been 4th or 5th lowest overall – with Vanney at the helm for a full year chances are they would have finished 4th or 5th highest.

I’m not sure a more diametrically opposed tactical approach could be seen given this information – it will be intriguing to see what impacts there are as we dig deeper into team performance.

Passing Accuracy:

TORONTO APWP PASSING ACCURACY PERCENTAGE 2014Passing Accuracy increased as Possession increased.

And when looking specifically into the Attacking Final Third Passing Accuracy increased by almost 2%.

Overall, their volume of passes, per game, also increased from 382 under Nelsen to 463 with Vanney.

Finally, team Passing Accuracy increased from 74% to 81% under Vanney.

Recall that under Nelsen they had a higher GPG and PPG than with Vanney.

So… while they increased possession and accuracy they didn’t increase control of the game in attack.

Penetrating Possession and Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

TORONTO APWP PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

TORONTO APWP SHOTS TAKEN PER PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

Perhaps two of the more difficult PWP Indicators to interpret.

For the Barcley’s Premier League, La Liga, and the UEFA Champions League we already know that Less means Less and More means More.

In other words the less you possess – the less likely you are to take shots, score goals and get points – and the more you possess the more likely you are to take shots, scored goals and take points.

That is not the case, at least for now, in MLS nor in the Bundesliga.

In these two Leagues the less you possess and less effective you are in passing the more likely you are to win.  Read here if not convinced.

So bottom line here – these two indicators can be very tricky – for now I’ll just offer that an increase in possession and passing accuracy only led to a very marginal increase in penetration but a marked decrease in shots taken.

Under Nelsen, Penetration Percentage was 22.03% and with Vanney it was 22.96%.

Overall they were 12th highest for the year compared to the rest of MLS.

Under Nelsen, Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession was 21.96%, with Vanney it was 16.09%.

Overall they were fourth highest in MLS at 20.23%.

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

TORONTO APWP SHOTS ON GOAL PER SHOTS TAKEN PERCENTAGE 2014So the ugly picture takes shape – as Possession, Passing Accuracy, and Penetration increased, the percentage of Shots Taken and Shots on Goal decreased.

So the publicized bottom line, by the Front Office, was all about Points won or lost (results) hmmm……..

Under Nelsen their team percentage was 35.64% – under Vanney it was 30.98%.

To put that in perspective – that percentage (under Vanney) was worse than Chivas USA for all of 2014 – and Chivas USA had the worst Shots on Goal per Shots Taken of any team in MLS…

Is it stating the obvious that under Craig Vanney, the Reds were worse, in finishing, than Chivas?  Let’s check again their Goals Scored per Shots on Goal.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

TORONTO APWP GOALS SCORED PER SHOTS ON GOAL PERCENTAGE 2014Last and surely the least…

With Nelsen their Goals Scored per Shots on Goal was 34.35% – with Vanney it was 23.67%.

To put this one in perspective – that 23.67% is 8% worse than Chivas USA were the whole year – and yes Chivas USA were worst in all of MLS.

All told they scored just nine goals under Vanney – three of them against Portland in the wild come from behind meltdown by Portland (3 goals in the second half) and three goals against Chivas USA.

Attacking Summary:

Recall the very first diagram on Possession Percentage – bottom line here is while the team itself appeared to control the game more under Vanney – they didn’t.

They actually possessed the ball more but failed to execute that possession with purpose.

In rounding out what positional upgrades may be needed, for me, is pretty clear.

They need an upgrade in strikers and supporting attacking midfielders so that Bradley actually has some talent to work with.

And yes, I got it – the tactical attacking system changed and the new Head Coach will want to bring in ‘his players’ to play ‘his style’; thought Toronto had already been down that road a few times already.

For me, players are players – some are gifted in some areas while others are even more gifted in other areas.  But any Head Coach knows that if the intent is to WIN – then the intent should be to develop an attacking tactical system that will help the team win.

In this case Craig Vanney didn’t…  so how about Defending – did Craig get it right on the defending side of the pitch?

Defending PWP: 

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Fifth worst, overall, in MLS… so were things better or worse under Vanney, versus Nelsen?

Not a great place to start but we already know their Goals Against per Game was lower under Vanney’s leadership than Nelsen’s – so it can’t all be bad.

But 5th worst in MLS does give the indication that although Vanney’s approach helped the team get better they still ceded 1.50 goals per game and that single statistic is still 4th worst across MLS.

Opponent Possession Percentage:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT POSSESSION PERCENTAGE 2014

Since we saw that the Possession Percentage of Toronto increased as the season wore on it’s only reasonable to see that the Opponent Possession Percentage declined.

As a reminder – team possession for Opponents under Nelsen was 55.84% while under Vanney it was 46.08%…

So for some that means the opponent had less control over the game than Toronto – but we already know the goals against only dropped marginally – leading me to sense that major upgrades are needed almost across the entire back-four.

Opponent Passing Accuracy:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT PASSING ACCURACY PERCENTAGE 2014Through the course of the season the one, pretty consistent statistic for Toronto, was Opponent Passing Accuracy.

Under Nelsen it was 77.06% – while under Vanney it was 74.80%.

Overall the opponent’s were 5th worst in completing passes against Toronto – their opponents averaged 76.39%.

Of note is Opponent Passing Accuracy, within their Defending Final Third, was 63.07% under Nelsen and 64.90% under Vanney.

Put another way – Nelsen ceded possession and passing accuracy to the opponent ‘outside’ the Defending Final Third.

Opponent Penetrating Possession and Shots Taken per Penetration:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT SHOTS TAKEN PER PENETRATION PERCENTAGE 2014

Like in attack these two indicators can be the hardest to interpret – as such I’ll just offer the statistics with one caveat.

Under Nelsen, Toronto ceded their opponents 25.02% penetrating possession while with Vanney it was 25.06%.

Not much difference here between Nelsen and Vanney led teams – overall they ceded the 2nd highest percentage of penetration in MLS.

With respect to Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession, the Nelsen led team had opponents execute this step at 15.25% – while opponents with the team led by Vanney saw that number increase up to 20.02%.

Overall, their opponents had a success rate of 16.65% – 4th lowest in MLS.

I should add an observation here – low does not mean good sometimes.

What I have found over my two years of analysis is that when the opponent is a bit more patient, in taking their shots, they have a tendency to be more accurate (regardless of location).

This is amplified even more if the defending team plays higher up the pitch – meaning, even with less patience, the opponent is still getting more time and space (given midfielders are caught out of position on quick transitions) – thereby leading to more effective shots on goal.

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT SHOTS ON GOAL PER SHOTS TAKEN PERCENTAGE 2014

What’s interesting here is that under Vanney the opponent percentage was 42.82% – while under Nelsen it was 32.52%.

One would think that the Goals Against would be lower under Nelsen.

Perhaps, in time, it may have been but for that stretch it wasn’t.

In looking at volume; the number of Shots on Goal also increased (Vanney – 5.20 SOG/Game versus 4.17 SOG/Game under Nelsen)!

Yet Goals Against decreased?

Well I ask that a bit tongue in cheek since they were 10th best/worst in this category at 35.55%; meaning however viewed they have plenty of room for improvement.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

TORONTO DPWP OPPONENT GOALS SCORED PER SHOTS ON GOAL PERCENTAGE 2014So… when it came to the bottom line – with Nelsen, at the helm, Toronto’s opponents averaged 40.71% when it came to Goals Scored per Shots on Goal; with Vanney that bottom line was 29.33%; a clear difference.

That could be heartening for Toronto supporters – if viewed as a glass half-full – that 29% (over the course of a season) would have been 7th best in MLS.

With a glass half-empty the volume and accuracy of the opponents was very high – leading to an overall 1.59 goals against – worst in MLS.

Defending Summary:

I think it’s reasonable to offer that the overall team performance in defending was not up to scratch under either Head Coach.

While Craig Vanney got the team to reduce the opponents possession – the opponents were still blindingly successful in taking points from Toronto.

Bottom line is the Goals Against got better but the points didn’t…

In Closing:

If the intent is to make the Playoffs, as it has been for over five years now, then I think the Front Office probably needs to suck it up just as much as the team does on the pitch.

Inconsistency, across all facets of Football Operations, is what I see and hear.

And to be brutally honest I think this team probably needs at least 6-7 new starters – three defenders, two midfielders and at least one striker.

Hindsight has some value in soccer – as reviewing video’s to not repeat mistakes on the pitch is an everyday thing…

As such, I submit the Toronto Front Office should review their own decision-making videos, over the course of five seasons, and LEARN from their mistakes too…

If this was an independent club, in a purely capitalistic business model, (promotion/relegation) this team would be down in Division 3 by now… wow!

By the way…  in all the games managed by Ryan Nelsen (Games 1-24) Toronto won five games in their first 11 games where they did not exceed 50% Possession, they did not exceed the average Passing Accuracy of 77% and they did not exceed the average Passing Accuracy within the Opponents Defending Final Third by 67%.

Between Games 12 and 24 the other teams in MLS had figured out their approach – and Toronto won zero games, with those same ‘ceding time and space tactics’…

So another view in hindsight might suggest that it really didn’t take too long for the opponent’s to figure out Nelsen’s strategy and beat it…

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

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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