The Playoffs are all but settled barring the final team to advance out of the Great Northwest… is it Vancouver or Portland?
Given that I’ll spend a few minutes on each team offering up some strengths and weaknesses but first; as usual the Possession with Purpose Family of Indices beginning with the Composite Index:
Note that like last year the teams with a positive CPWP Index rating are all in the Playoffs.
In addition – the correlation (R2) of this Index to Average Points in the League Table remains .85… better than last year’s .77.
The pear-shaped anomaly is Portland versus Vancouver, at this time…
If Portland squeak in then the Index is ten for ten… that’s two reasons why I think Portland still advances; the other is I just simply love following and watching the Timbers play… apart from when their defense melts.
Anyhow – I digress… the main reason why Portland is so high in this Index comes down to one thing – Attack – and like last week and for the better part of this season they are third best in their overall attack as seen below:
The most obvious reason for this high rating is down to Goals Scored – but:
They are also 6th best in overall possession (52.12%) compared to Vancouver who are 7th worst.
That is deceiving though – worst is probably the incorrect word and here’s why.
Paul Robinson plays to a different style than Caleb Porter… Paul likes to run counter-attacking a bit more and is willing to cede possession in order to generate time and space based upon the opponent making mistakes.
On the other hand Caleb is more willing to let his more aggressive attacking scheme generate that needed time and space a bit more…
With respect to passing accuracy – not much between these two teams… Portland averages 67.35% while Vancouver averages 67.00% – that’s after 33 games and 6513 passes for Portland and 6534 passes for Vancouver…
In looking at Possession with the intent to Penetrate – Portland sits at 23.80% while Vancouver sits at 23.47% – so that pretty much means – with two different styles both teams penetrate roughly the same amount based upon almost exactly the same amount of passes.
And the differences aren’t that much as the teams look to score either; Portland takes shots 37.66% of the time they penetrate while Vancouver takes shots 35.15% of the time they penetrate. And if you read this article you may see why the Timbers didn’t score against Real Salt Lake last Friday.
So here’s where the big difference takes shape – and the real attacking talent of the Timbers separates itself from Vancouver.
Portland average 36.33% of their Shots Taken being on Goal – while Vancouver average just 26.32%.
That difference, in overall shooting accuracy, sees Portland averaging 1.79 goals per game while Vancouver averages just 1.24 goals per game.
Yet… Vancouver are on the leading edge of making the Playoffs – why is that? Defense. And here’s the DPWP Strategic Index to begin to highlight the difference:
So what are the details?
We already know that opponents of the Timbers possess the ball less than opponents of the Whitecaps – so volume of possession is not the issue here.
In terms of passing accuracy, opponents of the Timbers average 76.09% passing accuracy while opponents of Vancouver average 77.48% passing accuracy.
What’s that mean?
Well one view, my view, is that with added possession, the opponent for the Whitecaps is seeing an increase in their own passing accuracy because they have more time and space outside the Vancouver Defending Final Third. Those passes are easier and perhaps more frequent than those inside the Whitecaps Defending Final Third.
What about penetration?
Opponents of Vancouver penetrate 23.33% of the time they possess the ball while opponents of Portland penetrate 26.95% of the time they possess the ball.
Realistically what this is indicating is the Whitecaps yield possession outside their Defending Final Third (FAR) better than Portland.
Portland opponents have less possession, by almost 4% points compared to Vancouver opponent’s, and yet the Timbers also cede penetration by as much as 3% more…
In other words Portland’s line is probably playing too high… or their defenders are too exposed given their higher rate of attack?
There may be other reasons but those two are usually worthy ones to consider… perhaps others have a different view?
As an example… on altering the defensive line and how it can alter Goals Against can be found here: Philadelphia Union.
So how about Shots Taken per penetrating possession?
Opponents of Portland also generate more shots taken per penetration (18.16%) versus Vancouver opponent’s at 16.97%. So, again not only is the volume higher the percentage is higher…
In addition, the opponent’s are more accurate against Portland (35.32%) in putting those shots on goal.
Whereas Whitecaps opponents put just 32.10% on goal. And likewise here – not only is the percentage higher but the volume is higher – a lose-lose situation for Portland in comparison to Vancouver.
Finally, the Timbers opponent’s end up with 29.32% of those Shots on Goal scoring, for a Goals Against of 1.58. While the Whitecaps are again lower with an opponent success rate of 26.17% with a Goals Against of 1.21.
I’m not sure the picture can be any more clear than that…
Sadly, or happily, depending on who you follow – the Vancouver Whitecaps, at this time, reinforce that a team who defends better will go further in a Championship run than a team who attacks better.
And given that complete dominance in defensive difference it’s highly unlikely that just one or two players have fixed the defense compared to how bad it was last year.
However viewed, Rosenstadt Til I Die!
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Most should know, by now, that the top teams in MLS are queueing up for the final playoff push while others sit in dispair and wonder what’s gone wrong…
I’ll dig into that, in detail, in a few weeks – for now let’s take a look at those teams on the cusp (a whole bunch I might add) and see what we can see…
In the tradition of my analyses here’s the latest Possession with Purpose Strategic Composite Index (CPWP):
Figure the West is down to two teams unless Portland completely folds with four games to go; for some perhaps not as unlikely as they’d like to admit given Will Johnson is out and Diego Valeri misses the next game against San Jose.
In the East it’s not quiet as simple – this conference has been plagued with bad team performances throughout the year – and it’s almost sickening to sense that Sporting Kansas City, a year in and year out top performer, will move to the Western Conference next year… wow – that sucks!
Be that as it may, Toronto, Philadelphia, Houston, and New York are battling for the 5th Playoff spot.
That doesn’t mean Columbus is in the clear but if ever a team deserved to make the Playoffs, in the East, it would be Columbus – one of the MOST consistent teams this year…
And that consistency of purpose has also translated to results in the league table – Caleb Porter did that with the Portland Timbers last year and Gregg Berhalter is doing that with Columbus this year…
Team performance AND results, combined, matter!
In my opinion Gregg Berhalter, hands down, is Manager of the Year!
I get it that Ben Olsen has turned his team around – but Berhalter has rebuilt his team – all Olsen has done is really find two new strikers and upgraded some defensive players – he has not rebuilt and redirected a new philosophical approach like Berhalter has.
Of course Columbus still need to make the playoffs to etch in stone that results oriented improvement matches team attacking and defending performance improvement.
Anyhow, I digress… statistically speaking the CPWP Strategic Index correlation (R2) to average points in the league table is (.83) – the highest yet this year.
Before moving on to APWP, some additional thoughts on Toronto, Philadelphia and Houston…
I watched that Toronto victory over Portland the other day and I can’t help but think how horrid that team is in overall, run of play, performance.
If the Timbers had any inkling of a defensive minded bench, and starting squad, the Reds would have been blown away – wow… but it’s about results in this league and when it came to set-pieces they got results.
As for Philadelphia – my hat is off to Jim Curtin – he’s taken the same squad, made a defensive tweak and brought them back – other than that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed between he and John Hackworth; er… other than the results – which of course stems from that defensive change — more here.
Both solid guys, both wanting to win, one took one path and it didn’t pay off – so the other took a slightly different path and it paid off…
Houston – well – they’ve been on the far side of great team performances this year more than most – what started as a good run might end as a good run – who knows – it’s a funny conference and poor performances in the East don’t mean you lose… fancy that!
Now on to Attacking PWP – here’s how they stand after Week 29:
A shiny example of how simply being a great attacking team ISN’T the answer in this league – too much focus by New York and Portland in attack as opposed to defending has cost them – BIG TIME… Cameron Knowles is the Defensive Coordinator for the Timbers and it’s clear, to me, he needs to go.
I’d imagine whoever the defensive coordinator for the Red Bulls is should be moved too…
Caleb Porter is a brilliant leader – and when you have brilliant leaders you don’t need ‘yes-men’ to work with them.
You need assistanct coaches with vision that looks in different areas – asks tough questions – pushes their own defensive agenda to make others in the organization to think even more, all the while stretching/pushing the added research and analysis you need to outperform the opponent on both sides of the ball…
I don’t personally know Cameron – have never even talked with him; he’s proabably a really good guy…
But it is clear, given the consistently bad defending nature/statistics/results of this team (goals against are 4th worst in MLS) the internal organizational structure to build a strong – defensive minded – thinking team – isn’t there…
If they make the Playoffs they will be lucky – very lucky; and that’s hard to say for me #RCTID!
New York – if New York gets edged out by any of those Eastern Conference teams I’d imagine Mike Petke gets sacked… the Red Bulls, like Portland, have been dodgy in defending all season long…
Sidenote: With respect to Thierry Henry – he’s such a classy guy – I met him in the elevator at the MLS All Star game and he’s a normal guy, who respects his Head Coach, whoever that might be, and he simply plays great attacking football.
While he’s offered no indication he might retire I think he does; and unlike Landon Donovan I think Thierry is OKAY with not having his retirement, here, being made a big deal.
I’d offer a simple testamonial with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is good enough for Henry – and rightly so – as his best footballing years came in London town!
Now about those fringe teams… Toronto, Houston, Philadelphia, and New York in the East…
- Toronto – one of the worst passing teams in Major League Soccer – 75% across the entire pitch (5th worst in the league). What makes this team work is Michael Bradley’s vision – a superb acquisition for MLS but is it good enough to stop the playoff-missing rot?
- As for technical things that might have changed with Vanney taking over after Nelson got booted – I’m not seeing any… maybe things will show better at the end of the season – for now I think that bust up was about ego more than anything else…
- Philadelphia – as noted, this team has tactically changed with John Hackworth being replaced by Jim Curtin. Like Toronto, Philadelphia is a poor passing team – what is getting them where they are now is better defending – take note Portland!
- Houston – on the trailing edge of good attacking and defending performances all season long.
- As noted though – the tenor of Houston hasn’t been about leading, against teams, in attack – it’s more of a grinding team that works hard in defending and tries to take advantage of opponent weak spots when attacking.
- Adding Garido and Beasley has helped that and you’ll see below in DPWP they are 7th worst after Week 29; yet after Week 19 they were 2nd worst – a move up the Index a full five places…
- I’d imgine it’s that tenor that has lead to discussion about Kinnear moving to San Jose – hmmm… there’s more to that than meets the eye…
- Anyhow, Bruin has flopped this year, and it’s likely he gets moved – and with Davis spending time with the USMNT that may have cost this team a whole bunch in leadership.
- At the end of the day – Houston have a possible 15 points with five game remaining – all against Eastern Conference foes.
- While it’s a long shot, if they get past New York this next weekend, I can see the dominoes fall in a favorable direction for the dynamic Dynamo – if the defense holds… (my sleeper to push New York out…)
Moving on to Defending PWP:
By the way – there’s Columbus at the top of the Defending PWP Strategic Index – and they were 5th best in APWP – for a combined 2nd best in CPWP…
Defense wins, so hopefully we see that consistent team performance carry on to the Playoffs and through to the finals!
As for the three teams (plus New York) in the East?
Team performance wise – there’s Houston sitting above New York, Philadelphia and Toronto – and six of the bottom seven teams in all of MLS (for team defending performance) are teams from the Eastern Conference – only the embarrassing, pathetic, Chivas USA are worse…
And with them taking a two year hiatus (you might as well say ‘relegated’) it’s about time that poorly organized team was dumped and replaced – hopefully they move as well! I wonder how that impacts the Expansion Draft?
Anyhow – in the West, note that Vancouver has edged back into the higher echelon of team defending – they have FC Dallas, at home, with Seattle away, San Jose away and Colorado at home.
In Week 19, Vancouver were 9th best in DPWP – even with those two recent losses to Portland, they have now climbed to 5th best in DPWP; you don’t need to beat everybody to make the playoffs…
I can see Vancouver taking six of 12 points here. Can the Timbers take nine of 12 points with two matches against San Jose, one against Real Salt Lake, and the final one away to FC Dallas (who will most certainly not want to finish 4th)?
Hard to say but if Gaston Fernandez can step in for Diego Valeri who knows?
For now, and I’ve not offered this before, I think playing both Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, on the pitch, hurts the tenor of team defending on this team.
It’s almost like those two guys are too dynamic in attack and less able to motor and provide a more box-to-box support this team probably needs in defending…
If they stay together then the upgrade at both fullback spots – plus another center-back – is really needed to keep the defense sound. I digress…
All that said means San Jose are a likely doormat the last five games.
If Watson is elementary in coaching the last four games he is surely gone for next year – I’d imagine he and Wondolowski and others will not want to finish the season with just six points – and that’s opining that they can beat Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto as well as take the expected three points against Chivas?
Unlikely – I’d offer Watson sees HIS team as being one that can pull 12 points out of their remaining five games – especially since their last one is against Chivas USA…
All to play for – regardless of how things go this year – these same teams will not have these same players next year.
One thing about MLS is that variation in team composition is consistent – the expansion draft is likely to see a few teams lose at least two players – making the academy and (individual) team scouting all the more important than a ‘composite’ MLS scouting approach.
To think that this franchise driven league relies more on an overall ‘collective scouting system to get players for the league’ flies in the face of the very economic and competitive structure of this country where individual thinking, individual feeling, and individual analysis suits individual companies better to make them individually more competitive.
It’s not about the “league” anymore in my opinion – and Chivas USA, coupled with New York City FC and all that the Manchester City pedigree brings with it, has shown that.
From here on (MLSNext???) it should be about the individual team within the larger franchise.
I think it’s time for poker to go up… MLS has arrived as a competitive league – now individual teams, and individual owners, should go out there and bloody compete on a team to team footing and may the best organization win!
And yes, Gregg Berhalter should be the MLS Coach of the Year!
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Twenty eight games in – the screws are tightening and the pucker factor hit the Vancouver Whitecaps big time; see here: Valeri’s vicious volley from Villafana vanquishes Vancouver.
For me though, the real story is how the tables have turned in Philadelphia – I’ll get to that in just a wee bit – for now here’s my usual Possession with Purpose Family of Indices:
At this stage the top ten teams above the red line are the top ten teams in the Index. Good; the End State of trying to match the league table without points seems to be holding steady and the correlation this week (R2) remains a steady and strong .82.
There are at least two key issues this week – who continues to push up the table to make the Playoffs and who continues to push for the Supporter’s Shield – Seattle took a hit this week – but – then again they won the US Open Cup – winning silver is never a bad thing.
In terms of making the Playoffs – tight races for sure. Some teams have a possible 18 points to get while some others have 15 points to get – with that many points available Vancouver, Philadelphia, Colorado, Toronto, Houston, and even San Jose are still in the hunt.
Moving on to the APWP Strategic Index and peeling back changes to the Philadelphia Union:
LA Galaxy continue to be attack mad – and some familiar faces appear up near the top as well – remember Portland and New York from last year? Well… they are still here and still dangerous.
But this isn’t about those three teams – today’s focus is about Philadelphia and how the Union have come together. In order to see that let’s peel back how they differ from earlier this year with John Hackworth leading the cause.
Here’s the statistical details – do they show any changes?
- The average number of total passes with John was 454 per game; under Jim it’s 367 per game – a HUGE difference!
- The average amount of possession with John was 50.85%; under Jim it’s 44.04% – a HUGE difference!
- The average penetration per possession under John was 22.04%; under Jim it’s 26.14% – in terms of volume that also represents a HUGE difference!
- The average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 20.11%; under Jim it’s 19.06% – not big but worthy…
- The average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 29.83%; under Jim it’s 38.30% – a HUGE difference!
- The average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.78%; under Jim it’s 41.14% – a HUGE difference!
- The average Goals Scored under John was 1.17; under Jim it’s 1.93 – a HUGE difference!
In all, there are considerable differences in team attacking performances under the direction of John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin.
This isn’t offering that one coach is better than the other; what it does offer – however – is that with a slightly different playing style – the output of a team, with the same players, can change.
Top be precise, the volume of passes, and percentages of possession, penetration, shots on goal, and goals scored are considerably different; and those differences do lead to an increase in goals scored and total points.
Said a different way – the Union are possessing the ball less – which in turn means the opponent is possessing the ball more, which, in turn, means there is more time and space in the opponent’s own Defending Final Third if the opponent loses the ball and the Union can capitalize on that open space.
Might the Union Defending team performance indicators support that? Let’s see; here’s the DPWP Strategic Index:
In looking specifically at the Union; here’s the breakdown on the Union Defending team performance outputs under John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin:
- The opponent average number of total passes with John was 440 per game; under Jim it’s 468 per game – a big difference!
- The opponent average amount of possession with John was 48.90%; under Jim it’s 55.96% – a HUGE difference!
- The opponent average penetration per possession under John was 21.26%; under Jim it’s 21.25% – no difference!
- The opponent average volume of passes in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 101.50; under Jim it’s 126.27 – a large increase in volume of penetration.
- The opponent average volume of passes completed in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 69.07; under Jim it’s 81.05 – an increase in volume of completed passes in the Union Defending Final Third.
- The opponent average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 19.49%; under Jim it’s 13.95% – a worthy difference…
- The opponent average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 39.61%; under Jim it’s 37.78% – a worthy difference…
- The opponent average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.90%; under Jim it’s 34.12% – a worthy difference…
- The opponent average Goals Scored under John was 1.71; under Jim it’s 1.25 – a HUGE difference!
In all, there are worthy differences in team defending performance between John and Jim.
In answering the leading question into DPWP – the answer is yes…
- The volume of penetration has increased markedly under the leadership of Jim Curtin in comparison to John Hackworth – it’s that difference that leads many to believe that the defensive line of the back-four has dropped deeper…
- In addition, with dropping deeper, it’s expected that the space will get tighter – with less space, and time, opponent shots taken and shots on goal volume should decrease.
- Under John, the opponents volume of shots taken was 12.36 per game with 4.79 shots on goal per game – under Jim, shots taken is 11.40 per game while shots on goal is 4.00 per game.
- So they not only decrease in volume, they also decrease in percentage as noted in the bullets above.
- Finally, under John Hackworth, Goals Against were 1.70 per game; under Jim Curtin they are 1.36.
Bottom line here – the Union are simply better in defending, and in turn, their deeper drop, in defending, has led to an improved attack.
For those only interested in Total Points – under John Hackworth – the Philadelphia Union had earned 11 points in 14 games; under the guidance of Jim Curtin (now) the team has 27 points from 15 games.
If that pattern continues (1.8 points per game) the Union could finish with 47 points – and in an Eastern Conference – that just may be enough to make the Playoffs.
All for now …
Later this week, my run down on the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, and a special review on Expected Wins looking at all four leagues together…
Looking to answer this question – is comparing individual players on Barcelona to FC Koln, to Southampton, to LA Galaxy worthy given that the four leagues all have different patterns to winning – or do they?
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