Game Of The Week Recap: New England Revolution vs. Philadaelphia Union

It’s Monday morning! Hope you’ve had your coffee, been to your morning meetings and are ready to catch up on the MLS weekend. We’re not probably at the point to where we’re going to review games or teams on a consistent basis. That’s not really our thing… at least, not yet. But Saturday on the most recent podcast, Matty and I talked about our game of the week, featuring the New England Revolution at home versus a high powered Philadelphia attack.

The Union boys are a club that, in general, doesn’t keep possession long, nor win it back. But they rely specifically on creating as many chances as possible and finishing the ones they are supposed too. It’s partially why they are an improved club this year and one that has a legit chance to get into the playoffs and do some damage in the East. They were coming up against a New England team that averaged less ball possession, won the ball back less and took a whole lot less shots—and the Revolution was even allowing its opponents twice as many opportunities as it earned for itself.

What it came down to was that Philly was a borderline good team that sat near mid-table, and New England was arguably one of the worst-seeded among those in the bottom. The surprising thing, and partly what made us choose this game as our game of the week, was simply how split the analysts were at Two were for a draw, two for a Union win, and two had the Rev’s with a win. All the way around it was kind of an interesting match-up of a slumping team against a club that seemed to be on it’s way up.

If you didn’t hear the podcast, I had the Union 2-1, and Matty went even further with a 2-0 Union beating on the road in Foxborough. Both of us look a little silly this morning with the Revolution pulling out the win. So, how exactly did this band of struggling MLS misfits steal 3-points? Simple, they finally took and finished shots.

The first capture below is the Revs and their chances created in the attacking third. This is shots, key passes and corner kicks and successful free-kicks leading to attempts.


The next shot is clearances, interceptions, recoveries, tackles, blocks, saves and punches made by the the keeper/back defensive four of the Union inside their own box… it’s kind of a mess.


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Montreal’s Paradox

If you have listened to our podcasts or read through our stuff, you will have heard us talk about shot ratios a lot. That’s how many shots a team gets divided by how many shots its allows its opponents. A shot ratio of 1.5, for example, means that a team gets one-and-a-half times as many shots as its opponents. When soccer teams create extra opportunities for themselves, it generally leads to more goals and more points in the standings. And then there’s Montreal.

The Montreal Impact has been something of a Cinderella story this season, at least statistically. Leading up to its matchup with the Chicago Fire on Saturday, the Impact had recorded the second-worst shot attempt ratio in the entire league. Montreal had earned just 61 shot attempts with 28 on target to its opponents’ 95 shot attempts with 32 on target.  Yet somehow, the Impact had maintained a positive goal differential (+2) and the second-most points per match right behind FC Dallas.

Against Chicago, Montreal not only won on the scoreboard two-nil, it also won the shooting and possession battles. But that is a rare feat this year for the Impact, and it’s worth posing the question: Has Montreal been lucky this season, or does it do things that shot ratios and possession just can’t explain?

Using just shots on goal for now, I regressed goal scoring ratios against shot ratios to see how teams “should do,” as if shots on goal were the only thing that matter. Even this early in the season, the regression was not all that bad (R2 = 0.4). It also said that Montreal’s 0.94 shot ratio should lead to about the same goal ratio.* Well that makes sense. If you generate roughly the same number of shots on target as your opponents, you should score about the same number of goals. The Impact, however, have scored nine goals to its opponents’ five—a 1.8 ratio, or +4 differential, if you prefer.

An obvious thing to consider is finishing rate. Despite being outshot, the Impact players finish their attempts with goals more than twice as efficiently as opponents do. That ratio is the best in the league. My first instinct is that the Impact has been somewhat lucky, and that opponents will start to finish with more frequency. But there are two possible explanations I want to explore first before waving the cliché luck flag: the quality of opportunities for Montreal and the quality of opportunities for its opponents.

Harrison talked a little bit about Montreal’s counter-attacking style during a recent podcast, and there’s a possibility that the Impact’s style allows low-quality opportunities to its opponents, leading to higher-percentage opportunities for itself on the counter attack. (Before we investigate, it should be noted that Montreal’s schedule has featured teams that average out to be, well, league-average when it comes to finishing.)

Let’s take Saturday’s match against the Fire as an example of the tools I’m using. Check out the Opta chalkboard for yourself here, and you can see from where teams are shooting and scoring by clicking the appropriate boxes for team and statistic of interest. During this particular game, I have Montreal down for 16 scoring attempts, nine from outside the box, six inside, and one from right on the edge. Both its goals were scored from inside the box (though you could argue one was one the edge). Chicago, on the other hand, earned 11 attempts, ripping seven of those from outside the box, just two from inside, and two from the edge of the box. Chicago did not score. I did this for each of Montreal’s seven games this season.

Obviously things like angle matter, too, but I’m not going to pull out my protractor for this one. Here’s the breakdown for Montreal and its opponents on the season:

Attempts Goals Finishing
Stat Montreal Opponents Montreal Opponents Montreal Opponents
Inside Box







Outside Box







On Edge















Montreal earns more shots inside the box than outside, and that might very well be a product of its system and players, rather than just dumb luck. While the Impact is being outshot in total, perhaps that stat is skewed slightly by shot selection. Montreal’s system seems to create a greater proportion of opportunities in the box. I would still expect some regression from Montreal this season back toward the middle of the standings—as its shot ratios are not favorable even after adjusting for quality—but perhaps not as far as a simple shot model would suggest.

*One might note that Montreal’s attempts ratio is quite a bit worse than its shots-on-goal ratio, which isn’t even that good to begin with. It is apparently too early in the season for attempts ratios to explain much of anything with certainty, but shots models from past seasons suggests Montreal’s goal scoring ratio should probably be even worse than even-ish. That is, if shots aren’t broken down by quality.

ASA Podcast: Episode IV

It’s Saturday and thus time to drop yet another American Soccer Analysis Podcast on you all. As we’ve been previewing this past week, we’re going to talk a bit about some of the up-and-coming MLS rookies that have played a big role on their teams to this point in the season. We’ll add in our thoughts on using a Plus-minus statistic for measuring individual performance, as well as our selections for game of the week.

Hope you enjoy.

Individual Plus-minus system ideas

It’s late and I have no intention of staying up past midnight for another night only to be woken by my darling, love-of-my-life, three year old at 6 o’clock wanting to play angry birds.

That all said, I have been messing around with collecting various Opta data on Deshorn Brown and DeAndre Yedlin for our upcoming Saturday podcast that is going to talk specifically about limited data analysis and cross positional rankings. Without giving away too much, it gave me an idea for a plus-minus system that could potentially work if balanced correctly.

There are basic good things and bad things that occur on the pitch during the 90. Most of those things, those that involve the ball, are recorded by Opta. If you could somehow weight those events and come up with a system that associates a value to them, then you could potentially have a system that inherently grades players for how they perform on the ball across the board.

What if you associated a key pass being worth a one-third what a goal is worth, being that a third of key passes lead to goals. Maybe a clearance or block is worth—whatever that associated average is with preventing goals from being scored.

Somewhere there could be a point scale that is attributed based upon how many times those events occur on average between goal scoring events and in game states.

Matty has a nice little utility that he’ll be presenting soon in regards game states. It should, to undersell it a bit, be grand and possibly allow for these events to be contextualized and valued in a more meaningful capacity.

I don’t know–maybe I’m drunk with coffee and in need of sleep.

Big and Small Data

We talk and we talk about the need for more information to solve some of the problems and general questions that we have as a collective community within Soccer Analytics. Today I ran across a general post about Big Data, and the revolution of really small data. It led me back to thinking about some of the discussions that Matthias (apparently he has a real name), Keith (the missing guy in the podcasts), and I have had outside of the podcasting realms. It’s not always about waiting to develop thoughts or theories until you have data, but making do with what you have at your current disposal and developing theories that later–with further advances–you can prove or disprove.

Just as we now find it ludicrous to talk of “big software” – as if size in itself were a measure of value – we should, and will one day, find it equally odd to talk of “big data”. Size in itself doesn’t matter – what matters is having the data, of whatever size, that helps us solve a problem or address the question we have.  – Rufus Pollock

I’m not saying that anyone is or is not doing this… it just seemed really profound after a cup a coffee and two shots of espresso, so I thought I’d mention it.

Opta loosens the chains a bit


Look, it’s late, you’ll have to forgive the hack job JPEG above. I have no idea why I’m up besides the fact that I don’t have to go to work in the morning. But with the upswing of free time, I’m just perusing the internet and generally reviewing information that I often don’t find time to cruise through. While sifting through data and spending my time nodding off to sleep at my keyboard, I came across Opta’s playground site where they are “opening up the database.”

I’m not sure how new this is or if it is just something I missed. But I know it wasn’t available the last time I was around. It’s a basic request for people nerds like me (and possibly you…) to submit data requests.

An understatement would be to call this development “cool.”

A lot of data within Soccer is closed off and generally leaves a lot to be desired. Being a guy that used to write a lot about baseball, it would be awful–strictly speaking from my perspective–to write about a player if the lack of overall information that was provide is akin to that of modern day soccer data.

It’s safeguarded and looked after as if it was top secret defense information. To be fair, I actually think that some of that information is kept more secure than defense information. But that’s not really the subject. Having the ability to submit an e-mail request for specific data is exciting. It’s a marked improved over the current status quo.

Sure, you could complain about the fact that they only accept one application in all categories per email address, but who cares? It’s an improvement, and here at ASA, that’s what we’re all about. Improvement. And soccer. And beer. So that’s not what we’re all about. But it’s part of what we’re about.

A Post about Possession Stats

First of all, I had intended to have this up this past weekend and not on Thursday, my apologies.

Secondly, I hope you all went out and looked at the stat table that Matty put together. Some great accumulation of data and in a nice little format. Great information and some stuff that isn’t readily available anywhere else. Consume this, stat heads.

This past weekend during our recording session we talked about possession. This has been discussed time, and time again by people much smarter than myself. I won’t waste a lot of my own words except to kind of bring things together.

Get more (much more) after the jump

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ASA Podcast: Episode III

Hello, there, you fine traveler. If you are of a west coast bias, you’ll love today’s show.

First I have to say I’m really saddened by the fact that neither myself nor Matty worked in a “Third” joke with as much as we like to talk about cutting the field into thirds, and with this being our third podcast. *sigh* it didn’t happen, maybe we’ll save the jokes for Episode XXXIII. Anyway… we have the following for you.

We chronicle the life and times of your’s truly, me, Harrison Crow, and little background as to why I created the site.

We talk a bit about possession stats: why they’re important, why they are not, and how they are sometimes misleading. I referenced a blog post from Opta during this conversation. Please take a look, as it has a lot of really good information. I’m trying to come up with a bunch of material for a post later on today. I hope you all check it out.

We do mention Montreal and their Italian-influenced defense/counter-attack system and how it’s helped them to a second-place start in the Eastern Conference.

Next, we chronicle the poor start for the Sounders, and perhaps why they have produced no goals despite an excellent possession percentage. We also mention Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy, as well as the Portland Timbers and their dominance in possession.

We use the segue of the Portland Timbers to talk a little bit about Will Johnson. He’s an underrated pick-up who has scored some amazing goals, and his ability to troll Alan Gordon is exceptional. Yep, he’s gone for 3 games. Gordon, not Johnson…

And for those of you who didn’t catch his brilliant goal at home, which effectively gave the Timbers 3 points, check it out below:

Lastly we talked about our Game of the Week, the matchup between Sporting Kansas City and the Los Angeles Galaxy. While separated by 7 points in the table–with two games in hand for LA–Tempo Free Soccer’s rankings has them 1 and 2 overall in MLS. We make our picks for who we like, why, and a few little facts to back it up.

We hope you enjoy the podcast!

ASA Podcast: Episode II

Hope that you all enjoyed your weekend! We’re back with Episode II, where Matthias and I discuss a bit about crosses and open-field play in the midfield, and what value they can add to a club. If you care to have a deeper look at some of the numbers, Matty was nice enough to put a piece together should you care to take a look.

If not, tune in to the podcast below. Hopefully we’ll start producing some more content by May, and there will be a reason to check back with the site more than once a week!

Also make sure to check out the YouTube video,linked below, to the SSAC13 Soccer Analytics panel. A lot of good stuff there.