ASA Podcast Episode XXIII: The One Where We Talk TFC Reconstruction and RSL Playoffs

Our most recent episode finds Drew and I doing a review of the MLS table, a US Open Cup preview and a short look at the weeks Champion League results. We transition to a discussion about the rebuilding of Toronto FC and then a playoff preview of Real Salt Lake. I hope you enjoy it.

 

How Much Difference Did Kei Kamara Make To Sporting Kansas City?

I spent some time this week riding a few planes and doing my cross-country travel thing with the family. That means a lot of distractions, which in turn leads to time reading nerdy books and listening to podcasts. I’m not sure if it was just that the Sporting KC machine was on full crisis mode or what. I happened to catch 4 different podcasts (including our own…btw what a job Drew & Matty did without me, huh? Proves I’m expendable…)  talking about Sporting and their lack of ability to facilitate a goal in the Champions League at home. Obviously that’s a big deal, in part because they look to be one of the teams that will proceed on to the quarter finals next spring and continue to represent MLS.

But despite them sitting pretty in the CCL and third (using points per game) in the table for the Supporter Shield, a couple of podcasts basically forecasted that they would fall a part without a “proven scorer” now that Kei Kamara has departed. Now, I have to say that I’ve been mildly impressed with them as a team, and their pack of forwards—featuring Claudio Bieler, Soony Saad, CJ Sapong and the recently returned Dominic Dwyer—make for an interesting four-some. That isn’t including Teal Bunbury who made his return to the club after being out for a year-long rehab with a torn ACL.

My immediate reaction two weeks ago was to question the transfer the deadline deal and transfer of Kamara three weeks ago. I spent a day putting some thoughts together and then second-guessed myself that I was maybe naive. They’ve got quite a few weapons, and the added play of Benny Feilhaber—who admittedly I’ve never been a fan of—stepping into the void left by the departure of a six-foot, three-inch winger from Sierra Leone has been big. Their string of results (9 points in 3 games) made me think I was being silly.

Then today, while on the road from Atlanta, a thought crossed my mind and I decided that I would take a closer look at the numbers. I collected shot data for the matches Kamara participated in (and to the minute he was subbed in) as well as the games Sporting played without him, and I built myself a nifty little spreadsheet.

Now, before I throw these numbers at you, there is the need for a little asterisk to all this work. I’m sure it’s already understood, but if not, let me make it clear: these numbers are very vague and there is still quiet a bit of noise involved. How much, I’m not sure. It’s just important to recognize the difficulty of trying to measure what a team does with and without a single player, and extract the difference. I would love to quantify everything, but everything is currently unavailable. This is a very simple method in a very small sample size of a context.

To the numbers!

With Kei Kamara…

Total Minutes 1026
SHOT RATIO 2.171
KP RATIO 1.940
Goals per 90 1.930
Goals Allowed per 90 1.316
Points Per Match 1.67

And then again… only without him.

without Kamara
Total Minutes 1584
SHOT RATIO 1.527
KP RATIO 1.793
Goals per 90 1.193
Goals Allowed per 90 0.739
Points Per Match 1.63

You can see pretty the numbers plainly that the are overwhelmingly in the favor of Sporting being a better team with Kamara. And I don’t think anyone would argue against it. However, the difference between the two teams should be questioned as it’s possible the numbers are a result of the different system in which coach Peter Vermes implements with Kamara opposed to how he configures the team without his former star forward. I think the big stat that stands out to me is the number of goals allowed per 90 without Kamara in the starting XI. Which is pretty crazy, considering that the club actually surrenders less shots with Kamara in the line-up: 6.7 with vs. 7.4 without. This is what leads me to believe that A) the team plays a different style without him and B) that it may not be sustainable.

I wasn’t on the crazy train with thinking that Sporting has all these problems and is going to eventually fall apart. I’m still cautious enough that I’m still waiting to see if they’ll make a move towards the Supporters Shield with their remaining 5 matches in the season. Their shot ratio, even without Kamara, would still be best in all of MLS. So it’s hard to simply throw crazy statements that this team is that much worse without him.

The bigger issue at hand for me is that Sporting was a force with Kamara. Without him, they’re simply another good team in league filled with good teams. Both are sets of clubs (with and without Kamara) that are capable of winning silverware. That said, this really leads you to question why Vermes would sell off such a significant difference-maker overseas with a real shot at making a run for multiple cups at this point in the season.

Analysis Evolved Podcast: Episode XXI The One Where We Reflect On Costa Rica and Mexico

This was suppose to be a quick 15-to-20-minute podcast that turned into an almost 52-minute single segment ramble about all things US in the past week. It was just Drew and I, covering just about everything conceivable over the course of the loss to Costa Rica on the road to the win in Columbus against Mexico. No spoilers; just have a listen.

*Editors note:

Matthias to Drew by text after CR’s second goal: [Howard didn’t look ready for that one. I think he could have done more.]

Matthias to Drew by text after CR’s third goal: [The defender definitely got beat, but the Costa Rican player didn’t even get to the ball until it was 23 yards out. That’s Howard’s ball. 

Drew on Podcast: “…and Matthias was texting me…Matthias was like ‘what’s he doing in there? These goals are all his fault.’ “

In a private interview with the Matthias, the editor was assured that Matthias never thought the goals were 100% Howard’s fault, as Matthias—a student of probability—rarely believes anything is 100%.

Oh, and Drew is a poophead. 

 

**Editors note part 2:

Matthias edited is the editor of the site, just in case you didn’t realize that.

Colorado’s Playoff Chances.

A few short months ago, we recorded a podcast in which we discussed the teams likely to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. At the time, we did not think Colorado would get in, but now—after a surprising win in Los Angeles—the Rapids find themselves very much in the thick of the playoff race.

As of May 31st, Colorado had earned 19 points from 13 games and sat in 5th place out west. Additionally, the Rapids’ 1.03 attempts ratio was 6th in the conference, while our shot locations data suggested an expected goal differential essentially tied for 4th. Perhaps we shouldn’t have discarded them so quickly.

Now with more information, we’ve seen how shot ratios help to predict the future as well as anything in soccer. The predictions aren’t awesome, but better than if we were to use goal differential or standings. Colorado has found itself still in playoff contention, and I think it is worth revisiting the playoff chances for the Western Conference’s mile-high team.

Now, 28 weeks into the season, Colorado has improved its shots ratios and expected goal differential to second in the conference, just behind the Galaxy on both accounts. But while Colorado could very well be one of the top teams in the West, its remaining schedule is pretty brutal. Of its last six matches, five of them come against Dallas, Portland, San Jose and Vancouver (twice). Those are the four teams fighting along with the Rapids for the final two playoff spots. The other game on their schedule just so happens to be Seattle, the current favorite to win the Supporters’ Shield. There is not a single cupcake on the schedule, and losses will be far more costly than if they were against Eastern Conference foes.

While the best predictions using shots data still leaves much to be desired, that data would in fact pick Colorado as the second best team in the West. However, playing a tough schedule against opponents shooting for the same playoff spot, there is so much weight on just a few games. I’d pick Colorado to be one of those top five in the tables at the end, but it’s not a gimme pick.

Let’s say, ooooh, 55%.

A Short Exercise in the Power of a Player: Mike Magee and Juan Agudelo Observed

I asked the question on Twitter, “how many teams have been better than Chicago since the arrival of Mike Magee?” Let’s take a look at the results of games played since the acquisition of Magee on May 24th.

PPG-sinceMay24

I think we knew that the Fire have been good since the arrival of Magee, but just how good is pretty surprising. Adding to the surprise are both the Whitecaps and Revolution with 1.6 points per game.  Looking to the bottom of the table we see how far FC Dallas has dropped since their hot start to the season.

I know that we all like to think that the results in March and April are vital, and to a degree they are—there is no way that FC Dallas is even considering a run at the playoffs if it wasn’t for how they performed in Mar/Apr—however, the season is long; there are nearly 8 months and 34 games.

For now anyway…

I’ve long been of the belief that one player in soccer doesn’t make that big of a difference on an entire season and it’s table location. Sure, maybe Clint Dempsey takes Seattle from being an injury prone playoff-ish team to a contender for the Supporters Shield. But Chicago was, and is now, much better. Along with Chicago, New England’s performance needs mention too.

Currently, the minute men have 17 points through 8 matches with Juan Agudelo in the line-up. Something pointed out to me by the folks over at Deep in the Fort.  It’s also a conclusion that makes me question how much that’s true and how much a really good player can impact a season for a club.

Obviously it needs a much closer observance than a single table of points over a time period. There are other factors to consider with both clubs. Regression, sample size, ect. But there is enough there to at least consider further research into the thought that some players can mean big things for the right club.

Analysis Evolved Episode XX: The One Where We Talk About MLS Front Offices

We moved days! We’ll be getting the podcast to you Thursday night/Friday morning from here on out. You know, rather than getting it to you on Sunday after all the weekends games have been played. If nothing else, it should give you something great* to hear on your way to the match.

This episode, we devote our second segment to talking about the MLS Front offices and geeks vs. nerds, and then we also touch on women in the front office as well as in the coaches’ boxes. Among other things we play a couple of silly games and then, of course, talk random news and notes for the past week. Hope you enjoy!

Editor’s note: Great?

The General Manager Position in MLS

During tonight’s podcast we will be talking a bit about the constructs of MLS offices. It’s easy to question the thinking behind transactions and player dealings. Each person has a specific idea behind the move and their own end game and plan that they wish to execute.  Personnel decision making is an important skill. We can find out more about some of the these skills if we actually know the individuals behind the desk of their respective clubs.

This list is far from exhaustive. The effort is to give a single point of reference for front office types in each MLS club. The problem behind this little pilot study is that not all them are singularly responsible for the decision making as there are others: CEOs, CFOs, Presidents and a myriad of others that help influence these decisions.

That said this is a good start to getting an idea as to who is pulling some of the strings when it comes to putting together the 30-man roster and dealing with the salary cap. The list is sorted according to the current (9/4) Supporter Shield standings.

LA Galaxy – Jovan Kirovski, Technical Director
Seattle Sounders – Adrian Hanauer, General Manager
Impact – Nick De Santis, Sporting Director/General Manager
NYRB – Andy Roxburgh, Sporting Director
Sporting KC – Peter Vermes, Team Manager & Technical Director
Philadelphia Union – Rob Vartughian, Coach & Technical Director
Colorado Rapids – Paul Bravo, Technical Director
Timbers – Gavin Wilkinson, General Manager
Whitecaps – Bob Lenarduzzi, General Manager & Team President
New Endgland Revs – Michael Burns, General Manager
Houston Dynamo – Nick Kowba, Director of Soccer Operations
FC Dallas – Fernando Clavijo, Technical Director
Chicago Fire – Javier Leon, President Soccer Operations
San Jose – John Doyle, General Manager of Soccer Operations
Columbus Crew – Brian Bliss, Technical Director
Chivas USA – Juan Francisco Palencia, Technical Director
Toronto – (formerly) Kevin Payne, General Manager & Team President 
DC United – Dave Kasper. General Manager
Personally, the three names that stand out to me are (maybe, unsurprisingly) Adrian HanauerRob Vartughian and Javier Leon (though admittedly there isn’t much on him). The three men are the only three to not have played professionally at any level. Something to think about and consider with these hirings.