MLS Possession with Purpose Week 4: The best (and worst) performances

The beauty and maybe the curse of Possession with Purpose (the weekly update) is that it completely ignores past performance and only gives you a view on how things went this weekend.

For me, I like that, as it helps point out how well a team performs against their counterparts as a snapshot in time. The value in seeing that weekly effort then has more grist when viewing those positive and negatives in a cumulative effort week to week.

So without further ado here’s how the teams stood toe to toe in Week 4:

PWP COMPOSITE STRATEGIC INDEX FOR WEEK 4

Observations:
Considering the complete blowout that Real Salt Lake had against a supposed “elite” Toronto team, it’s no wonder those guys headed the composite Index this week.

Like many things, there is a tendency to over-embellish on occasion when things look really good for a team early in the season, and those reminders on how far FC Dallas fell last year – from first to eighth in about 3 months – you just can never tell how good a team is until they go up against the likes of a team like Real Salt Lake.

Last year we saw Salt Lake lose out on both the Open Cup and the MLS Championship Cup – they have been consistent in their consistency for a consistently long time; Toronto may have done well in the first couple of games but as noted in an editorial of mine the other day, the word ‘elite’ really doesn’t belong to a team like this just yet.

In taking a further look at this Index, note again how far down the rung Portland is; it indeed was a close match and there were many chances for the Timbers, but an Index like this points out that the weaknesses in defending far outweigh their strengths in attack. If the Timbers are to turn this around (quickly) then a run of clean sheets is in order. No better way to test that than in their next game when they host the Sounders at Providence Park. If their blood doesn’t boil up for this game, it may be a very long season indeed for Portland.

So after seeing the Composite winner, who actually took top honors in the overall team attacking department? You may be surprised that it wasn’t Real Salt Lake—lest it’s forgotten, the Index above points out the overall difference between Attacking PWP and Defending PWP.

Here’s the PWP Attacking Index:

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 4

Observations:

First out of the blocks this week is Sporting Kansas City – and yes; they did pull a Lazurus this week by scoring the late winner in stoppage time. When they scored their goals doesn’t matter to this Index, as it is context neutral in that respect. The fact that they came from behind to defeat a worthy Rapids team speaks more to the overall outcome and all the compelling work that went with it.

And yes – their defense gave up two goals. So, no – you won’t find them in the top ten in the PWP Defending Index.

Other teams doing well in attack this week were FC Dallas, Columbus (also with a late winner) and Chivas USA (who lost 2 points by giving up a late equalizer to New York).

By the way – that’s a pretty good run so far for Dallas and Columbus; Higuain should probably be on your fantasy team, as should Diaz; as a Timbers supporter it was hard to acknowledge that it was a blindingly good ‘turn and strike’ Diaz had against Portland yesterday.  It’s like Diaz turned on a dime and struck it home – unfortunately it appeared that dime was in Pa Modou Kah’s pocket.

As for Real Salt Lake – no surprise they are in the top three given their 3-nil win against Toronto.

Perhaps another surprise for some is DC United being in the top 5 – if you watched the game, like me, there were moments where DC really looked good in attack. A 2-2 draw was worthy and should give Olsen some breathing room for a wee bit longer; note – having a passing accuracy of 93.50% in that game ‘will’ influence the Index just a wee bit.

On to the internal process data for Sporting and the PWP Attacking Player of the Week:

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING PROCESS WEEK 4

Observations:

Critical data in the PWP analysis hinges on (but doesn’t solely rely upon) Possession percentage, passing accuracy and the ability to leverage those two primary statistics in ‘creating and scoring goals’; Sporting were 4th best in accuracy, 2nd best in possession, and 2nd best in scoring goals based upon shots on goal.

Those outputs had strong influence in them being top of the Index this week.

The individual team leader in Possession percentage this week was Columbus (shaded somewhat given the red card to Traore) – Passing accuracy was tops with DC United at a whopping 93.50% while Chivas USA made the best of their chances by scoring one goal from one shot on goal while the other five were blocked…

Graham Zusi is my top PWP Attacking Player of the Week #4:

PWP ATTACKING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 4

Observations:

If you had Graham Zusi in your Fantasy team you should have gotten some pretty good points from him – I don’t, so I have no clue how well he really did.

It’s not hard to see how outputs like that correlated to a big three points in Colorado.

And even more compelling was his motor – he had two interceptions, one clearance and two recoveries in the defending half – some good evidence that he played on both sides of the pitch today.  Saborio will probably get all the notoriety this week – so be it. Sometimes things work out that way…

On to the defending part of this game. Recall RSL were top in the overall Composite Index – here’s why:

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING INDEX WEEK 4

Observations:

A clean sheet is a clean sheet is a clean sheet – and when you can go a whole game without conceding one foul in your own defending third, it’s no wonder Toronto were held scoreless. Even more so when considering how many PK’s have already been awarded this year (16) {is that a record already?}.

Bottom line here is the bottom line: Toronto, a team not known for liking to possess the ball, did not really possess the ball, and indeed had just 3 shots on goal with 15 shots taken. Playing counter against Real simply doesn’t work – just ask the Timbers of 2013.

Here’s how Real Salt Lake scored in the PWP Defending Process:

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING PROCESS WEEK 4

Observations:

Pretty compelling – but what stands out most to me is not the Real Salt Lake defense as a whole, but rather that Toronto have yet to break the 70% Passing accuracy percentage total this year – they had 67% accuracy in Seattle, 59% accuracy against DC United and 54% accuracy against RSL. If anything, perhaps those first two wins for Toronto were more of an oddity than a trend of things to come? Guess we’ll have to wait and see about that.

One other, more devious consideration, is that Toronto are simply refusing to make attempts at engaging a possession-based approach. Instead one might offer that, if the conditions aren’t right for a counter-attack, they simply just push it back into the opposing teams’ half any way they can, and then ‘wait’ for the right moment to engage an attack when the opponent is a bit more disorganized.

I’ll have to watch for that a bit more closely – and given Nelson has been in Europe for a while, he may have picked up a few things that are a wee bit different, tactical wise, than how things have been played here in the States.

The PWP Defending Player of the Week was Kyle Beckerman – and here’s why:

PWP DEFENDING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 4

Observations:

Gotta love that picture – anyhow – some very compelling information here with Kyle on both sides of the pitch – he’s in the central defending midfield role with perhaps the most responsibility of anyone on RSL, and here he is with 2 key passes, 80% accuracy in passing, with 6 interceptions and 14 recoveries.

Bottom line this week is that Kyle Beckerman basically ate Toronto for lunch.

All that said, there is always next week, Toronto; for now this game and others already played this year by Beckerman do him well in his opportunities to continue to play for the USMNT.

In closing…

In about a day or two I’ll be offering up the Cumulative PWP Composite Index and all that goes with it.

All the best,
Chris

ASA Podcast XLII: Expected Goals 2.0

I apologize for putting this up so late. I intended it to be up yesterday, and things just happened this way. The audio quality for my mic the first half was not good, but that was fine because Matty filled us in about Expected Goals 2.0 or something like that. Then, Drew and I do a rundown of Week Three’s games, packed with some of our typical witty commentary. We hope you enjoy it!

 

Introducing Expected Goals 2.0 and its Byproducts

Many of the features listed below from our shot-by-shot data for 2013 and 2014 can be found above by hovering over the “Expected Goals 2.0” link.

Last month, I wrote an article explaining our method for calculating Expected Goals 1.0, based only on the six shot locations. Now, we have updated our methods with the cool, new, sleek Expected Goals 2.0.

Recall that in calculating expected goals, the point is to use shot data to effectively suggest how many goals a team or player “should have scored.” This gives us an idea of how typical teams and players finish, given certain types of opportunities, and then allows us to predict how they might do in the future. Using shot locations, if teams are getting a lot of shots from, say, zone 2 (the area around the penalty spot), then they should be scoring a lot of goals.

Expected Goals 2.0 for Teams

Now, in the 2.0 version, it’s not only about shot location. It’s also about whether or not shots are being taken with the head or the foot, and whether or not they come from corner kicks. Data from the 2013 season suggest that not only are header and corner kick shot totals predictive of themselves (stable metrics), but they also lead to lower finishing rates. Thus, teams that fare exceptionally well or poorly in these categories will now see changes in their Expected Goals metrics.

Example: In 2013, Portland took a low percentage of its total shots as headers (15.4%), as well as a low percentage of its total shots from corner kicks (12.3%). Conversely, it allowed higher percentages of those types of shots to its opponents (19.2% and 15.0%, respectively). Presumably, the Timbers’ style of play encourages this behavior, and this is why the 2.0 version of Expected Goal Differential (xGD) liked the Timbers more so than the 1.0 version

We also calculate Expected Goals 2.0 contextually–specifically during times periods of an even score (even gamestate)–for your loin-tickling pleasure.

Expected Goals 2.0 for Players

Another addition from the new data we have is that we can assess players’ finishing ability while controlling for the various types of shots. Players’ goal totals can be compared to their Expected Goals totals in an attempt to quantify their finishing ability. Finishing is still a controversial topic, but it’s this type of data that will help us to separate out good and bad finishers, if those distinctions even exist. Even if finishing is not a repeatable skill, players with consistently high Expected Goals totals may be seen as players that get themselves into dangerous positions on the pitch–perhaps a skill in its own right.

The other primary player influencing any shot is the main guy trying to stop it, the goalkeeper. This data will someday soon be used to assess goalkeepers’ saving abilities, based on the types of shot taken (location, run of play, body part), how well the shot was placed in the goal mouth, and whether the keeper gave up a dangerous rebound. Thus for keepers we will have goals allowed versus expected goals allowed.

Win Expectancy

Win Expectancy is something that exists for both Major League Baseball and the National Football League, and we are now introducing it here for Major League Soccer. When the away team takes the lead in the first 15 minutes, what does that mean for their chances of winning? These are the questions that can be answered by looking at past games in which a similar scenario unfolded. We will keep Win Expectancy charts updated based on 2013 and 2014 data.

A couple thoughts on MLS Fantasy Football

I won’t be so bold as to suggest what players you want on your team(s) this year, but I will offer up some interesting statistical data for your consideration.

In looking at Defenders, there has been some guidance offered that talks about going with a ‘team’ of defenders versus some individual defenders. If you consider looking at a team of defenders, here’s a look at how some teams compare to others for Bonus Points…

Defender Blocks, Interceptions and Clearances:

Oddly enough the Chicago Fire have a total score of 9.50 bonus points per game while Toronto (8.67) Real Salt Lake (8.44) and FC Dallas (8.22) follow somewhat close behind.

How I got there: I took the total defender blocks, interceptions and clearances per game (added them up) and then divided by 6 (actions per bonus point).

For the Recoveries bonus points I took the same approach and here’s the top teams on recoveries after three weeks:

The Columbus Crew lead with 5.92 bonus points per game in recoveries, followed by New York at 5.06, Toronto FC at 4.92, and Seattle at 4.83 bonus points per game.

Reminder: these are team averages, not individual averages added collectively. Matty confirms that adding up a bunch of individual averages won’t necessarily lead to the same as the team average.

Next up are negative points for goals against (roughly). In looking at the team defenses in that Category the best teams (that don’t yield negative points) are Houston (0); with Columbus, Colorado and Toronto all yielding just -1 point.

All told the top five defending teams with respect to bonus points are:

1) Toronto (averaging 13 per game)

2) Columbus (averaging 12 per game)

3) Houston (averaging 10 per game)

4/5) Seattle and Chicago (averaging 9 per game)

What this is offering is that if you run a flat back four with just one team–say, Houston–you could have averaged 10 bonus points per game with your players.

This does not take into account all the other ways to capture points in Fantasy Football but perhaps it may help locate some cheaper defenders that will get you a better-than-average point total per game.

With the defending side of the pitch offered up for bonus points here’s a look at which teams offer up more crosses than average and how successful they are in that effort.

The team that averages the most crosses per game is San Jose with 30.5. Montreal follows with 28.3 per game, while the LA Galaxy offer up 24.5 per game.

The team that averages the most successful crosses per game is also San Jose, with 10 per game hitting their target. Montreal is again second with 8.7 successful crosses per game while Sporting Kansas city leapfrogs LA with 7 successful crosses per game. Of note is that LA drops down to 5.5 successful crosses per game (sixth best).

In considering that information, perhaps a way to capture some additional bonus points for crossing would be to pick out at least one midfielder/forward for San Jose and perhaps one from Montreal or Kansas City.

All told, that may give you better chances of getting points week-to-week with somewhat less money invested than just buying the stars. 

All the best,
Chris

How it Happened: Week Three

In the three games I watched this week, five goals were scored. Two were from penalty kicks, and two were off corner kicks. Needless to say, offenses around the league are in early-season form, i.e. not exactly clicking in front of the net. On the bright side, there was a decent amount of combination play leading to chances….it’s just that whole putting them away thing that MLS teams are still working on. Onto the main attraction:

Chicago Fire 1 – 1 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for New York: 350 completed passes; 68% of which were on the left side of the field*

nyrb3

It’s hardly inspiring for the Supporters’ Shield holders to sneak away from Chicago with a draw, but I actually thought they played pretty well on Sunday. Like I said above about the league as a whole, quality was missing on the final ball/shot, but New York fans shouldn’t be too worried about the team’s winless start. In this one there was quite a bit of good linking-up, particularly on the left flank. Given that midfielder Matt Watson was starting in a pinch as a nominal right back for the Fire, it seemed like a concerted effort from RBNY to expose a weakness on that side of the field. Between Roy Miller, Jonny Steele and Thierry Henry, there were some encouraging sequences down that side in particular; unfortunately for New York it didn’t lead to any actual goals.

*This stat/image is blatantly stolen from the Twitter account of MLS Fantasy Insider Ben Jata, @Ben_Jata. After seeing it this weekend, I was unable to think of anything better to include, so thanks, Ben!

Stat that told the story for Chicago: 24 total shots + key passes, only 2 of which were from Mike Magee

I’m not sure if this one is a good stat for Chicago fans or a bad one, but Mike Magee was conspicuously absent from a lot of the action this weekend (unless you count yelling incessantly and childishly at the ref as your definition of ‘action’). But seriously: last year Chicago had 377 shots the entire season, and Magee either took or assisted on 116 of them (31%)*. Oh, and he only played 22 of their 34 games. The fact that he was involved in only 2 of the team’s 24 shots (both of his shots were blocked, for what it’s worth) could certainly be viewed as concerning for Chicago fans expecting another MVP-caliber season out of Magee. But on the other hand, it’s easy to chalk up the struggles to the fact that this was his first game of the season after a maybe-contract-hold-out related hiatus. Also, the fact that Chicago managed to create 22 shots without Magee’s direct influence (or Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka, both also out this weekend) has to be a good sign for a team that was often a one-man show last season: youngsters Harrison Shipp and Benji Joya in particular both seem capable of lightening the load.

*Numbers from Squawka.

 

Toronto FC 1 – 0 DC United

Stat that told the story for Toronto: 38% possession, 3 points won

tfc3

TFC captain Michael Bradley made headlines this week saying something along the lines of how possession was an overrated stat, and his team certainly appears to be trying to prove his point so far this season. The Reds didn’t see a ton of the ball in their home opener, instead preferring to let DC knock the ball around with minimal penetration in the final third. And then when Toronto did win the ball, well, check out the Opta image that led to the game’s lone goal for Jermain Defoe (or watch the video). It started with a hopeful ball from keeper Julio Cesar. The second ball was recovered by Steven Caldwell, who fed Jonathan Osorio. Osorio found his midfield partner Bradley, who lofted a brilliant 7-iron to fellow DP Gilberto. The Brazilian’s shot was saved but stabbed home by the sequence’s final Designated Player, Defoe. Balls like that one were played multiple times throughout the game by both Bradley and Osorio, as TFC has shown no aversion to going vertical quickly upon winning the ball. And with passes like that, speedy wingers, and quality strikers, it’s certainly a strategy that may continue to pay off.

Stat that told the story for DC: 1/21 completed crosses

This stat goes along a bit with what I wrote about Toronto above: they made themselves hard to penetrate in the final third, leading to plenty of incomplete crosses. Some of this high number of aimless crosses also comes from the fact that DC was chasing an equalizer and just lumping balls into the box late in the match. Still, less than 5% on completing crosses is a bit of a red flag when you look at the stat sheet. Particularly when your biggest attacking threat is Eddie Johnson, who tends to be at his best when attacking balls in the air. You’d think Ben Olsen would expect a better crossing percentage. To be fair to United though, I thought they were much better in this game than they were on opening day against Columbus. They looked about 4 times more organized than two weeks ago, and about 786 times more organized than last season, and their possession and link-up play showed signs of improvement too. Still a ways to go, but at least things are trending upward for the Black and Red.

 

Colorado Rapids 2 – 0 Portland Timbers

Stat that told the story for Portland: 1 Donovan Ricketts karate kick

por3

I admit that I’m cheating here and not using a stat or an Opta Chalkboard image. But the above grainy screenshot of my TV that I took is too hilarious and impactful not to include. Colorado and Portland played a game on Saturday that some might call turgid, or testy, or any number of adjectives that are really stand-ins for the word boring. The most interesting parts of most of the game were Ricketts’ adventures in goal, which ranged from dropping floated long balls to tipping shots straight in the air to himself. In the 71st minute it appeared Ricketts had had enough and essentially dropped the mic. Flying out of his net, he leapt into the air with both feet, apparently hoping that if he looked crazy enough the ref would look away in horror instead of red carding him for the obvious kick to Deshorn Brown‘s chest. The Rapids converted the penalty and then added another one a few minutes later, and that was all she wrote.

Stat that told the story for Colorado: 59 total interceptions/recoveries/tackles won; 27 in the game’s first 30 minutes

Alright, I was silly with the Portland section so I feel like I need to do a little serious analysis for this paragraph. The truth is that this game was fairly sloppy on both sides, which is particularly surprising considering how technically proficient Portland was for most of last season. But cold weather combined with early season chemistry issues makes teams play sloppily sometimes, and it didn’t help that Colorado came out and looked very good to start this game. Their defensive shape was very compact when the Timbers had the ball, and the Rapids were very proficient in closing down passing lanes and taking possession back. The momentum swung back to Portland’s side and back a couple of times throughout the match, but Colorado’s strong start set the tone that Donovan Ricketts helped carry to the final whistle.

 

Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? I always enjoy feedback. Contact me on twitter @MLSAtheist or by email at MLSAtheist@gmail.com

MLS Week 3: Expected Goals and Attacking Passes

In the coming days, Matthias will be releasing our Expected Goals 2.0 statistics for 2014. You can find the 2013 version already uploaded here. I would imagine that basically everything I’ve been tweeting out from our @AnalysisEvolved twitter handle about expected goals up to this point will be certainly less cool, but he informs me it won’t be entirely obsolete. He’ll explain when he presents it, but the concept behind the new metrics are familiar, and there is a reason why I use xGF to describe how teams performed in their attempt to win a game. It’s important to understand that there is a difference between actual results and expected goals, as one yields the game points and the other indicates possible future performances.

However, this post isn’t about expected goal differential anyway–it’s about expected goals for. Offense. This obviously omits what the team did defensively (and that’s why xGD is so ideal in quantifying a team performance), but I’m not all about the team right now. These posts are about clubs’ ability to create goals through the quality of their shots. It’s a different method of measurement than that of PWP, and really it’s a measuring something completely different.

Take for instance the game which featured Columbus beating Philadelphia on a couple of goals from Bernardo Anor, who aside from those goals turned in a great game overall and was named Chris Gluck’s attacking player of the week. That said, know that the goals that Anor scored are not goals that can be consistently counted upon in the future. That’s not to diminish the quality or the fact that they happened. It took talent to make both happen. They’re events—a wide open header off a corner and a screamer from over 25 yards out—that I wouldn’t expect him to replicate week in and week out.

Obviously Columbus got some shots and in good locations which they capitalized on, but looking at the xGF metric tells us that while they scored two goals and won the match, the average shot taker would have produced just a little more than one expected goal. Their opponents took a cumulative eleven shots inside the 18 yard box, which we consider to be a dangerous location. Those shots, plus the six from long range, add up to nearly two goals worth of xGF. What this can tell us is two pretty basic things 1) Columbus scored a lucky goal somewhere (maybe the 25 yard screamer?) and then 2) They allowed a lot of shots in inopportune locations and were probably lucky to come out with the full 3 points.

Again, if you are a Columbus Crew fan and you think I’m criticizing your team’s play, I’m not doing that. I’m merely looking at how many shots they produced versus how many goals they scored and telling you what would probably happen the majority of the time with those specific rates.

 

 Team shot1 shot2 shot3 shot4 shot5 shot6 Shot-total xGF
Chicago 1 3 3 3 3 0 13 1.283
Chivas 0 3 2 2 3 0 10 0.848
Colorado 1 4 4 2 1 1 13 1.467
Columbus 0 5 1 2 1 0 9 1.085
DC 0 0 1 1 4 0 6 0.216
FC Dallas 0 6 2 0 1 1 10 1.368
LAG 0 0 4 2 3 0 9 0.459
Montreal 2 4 5 8 7 0 26 2.27
New England 1 2 1 8 5 0 17 1.275
New York 2 4 2 0 2 0 10 1.518
Philadelphia 2 5 6 2 4 0 19 2.131
Portland 0 0 2 2 2 1 7 0.329
RSL 0 4 3 0 3 0 10 0.99
San Jose 0 2 0 0 3 0 5 0.423
Seattle 1 4 0 2 2 0 9 1.171
Sporting 2 6 2 2 3 2 17 2.071
Toronto 0 6 4 2 2 0 14 1.498
Vancouver 0 1 1 3 3 0 8 0.476
 Team shot1 shot2 shot3 shot4 shot5 shot6 Shot-total xGF

Now we’ve talked about this before, and one thing that xGF, or xGD for that matter, doesn’t take into account is Game States—when the shot was taken and what the score was. This is something that we want to adjust for in future versions, as that sort of thing has a huge impact on the team strategy and the value of each shot taken and allowed. Looking around at other instances of games like that of Columbus, Seattle scored an early goal in their match against Montreal, and as mentioned, it changed their tactics. Yet despite that, and the fact that the Sounders only had 52 total touches in the attacking third, they were still able to average a shot per every 5.8 touches in the attacking third over the course of the match.

It could imply a few different things. Such as it tells me that Seattle took advantage of their opportunities in taking shots and even with allowing of so many shots they turned those into opportunities for themselves. They probably weren’t as over matched it might seem just because the advantage that Montreal had in shots (26) and final third touches (114). Going back to Columbus, it seems Philadelphia was similar to Montreal in the fact that both clubs had a good amount of touches, but it seems like the real difference in the matches is that Seattle responded with a good ratio of touches to shots (5.77), and Columbus did not (9.33).

These numbers don’t contradict PWP. Columbus did a lot of things right, looked extremely good, and dare I say they make me look rather brilliant for picking them at the start of the season as a possible playoff contender. That said their shot numbers are underwhelming and if they want to score more goals they are going to need to grow a set and take some shots.

 Team att passes C att passes I att passes Total Shot perAT Att% KP
Chicago 26 17 43 3.308 60.47% 7
Chivas 32 29 61 6.100 52.46% 2
Colorado 58 27 85 6.538 68.24% 7
Columbus 53 31 84 9.333 63.10% 5
DC 61 45 106 17.667 57.55% 3
FC Dallas 34 26 60 6.000 56.67% 2
LAG 43 23 66 7.333 65.15% 6
Montreal 63 51 114 4.385 55.26% 11
New England 41 29 70 4.118 58.57% 7
New York 57 41 98 9.800 58.16% 6
Philadelphia 56 29 85 4.474 65.88% 10
Portland 10 9 19 2.714 52.63% 3
RSL 54 32 86 8.600 62.79% 3
San Jose 37 20 57 11.400 64.91% 3
Seattle 33 19 52 5.778 63.46% 5
Sporting 47 29 76 4.471 61.84% 7
Toronto 30 24 54 3.857 55.56% 6
Vancouver 21 20 41 5.125 51.22% 2
 Team att passes C att passes I att passes Total ShotpT Att% KP

There is a lot more to comment on than just Columbus/Philadelphia and Montreal/Seattle (Hi Portland and your 19 touches in the final third!). But these are the games that stood out to me as being analytically awkward when it comes to the numbers that we produce with xGF, and I thought they were good examples of how we’re trying to better quantify the the game. It’s not that we do it perfect—and the metric is far from perfect—instead it’s about trying to get better and move forward with this type of analysis, opposed to just using some dried up cliché to describe a defense, like “that defense is made of warriors with steel plated testicles” or some other garbage.

This is NUUUUUuuuuummmmmbbbbbbeeerrrs. Numbers!

MLS PWP: Team Performance Index through Week 3

I hope all are enjoying my PWP series here at American Soccer Analysis. With Week 3 completed, I have at least two games worth of data for every team in MLS, and now it’s time to begin offering up the cumulative PWP Strategic Index and all that goes with it.

Wasting no time, here’s the initial diagram on how things look after at least two games:

PWP COMPOSITE CUMULATIVE STRATEGIC INDEX 2014

Observations:

Given what happened the first few weeks, it should be no surprise that Columbus lead the pack early on with Houston second, and (like last year) a strong early start for FC Dallas.

What may be surprising to some is where Toronto falls in this Index; it should be noted that in both games played this year, Toronto have had just 32.46% possession (Seattle) and 37.68% possession (D.C. United).

What this indicator helps point out is how different Toronto is playing compared to others while still taking points – in both cases Toronto have opted to sit back and cede possession in order to capitalize on opponents losing their shape. How well that continues to work for them remains to be seen, but for now Bradley has been absolutely correct in his analysis/offering to MLS: you don’t need to have a majority of possession to win a game.

As for the bottom dweller, note the familiar spot for D.C. United. It would seem those off-season transactions have yet to bear fruit, and it might not be t0o long before coach Ben Olsen sees the door if United don’t start turning things around.

How about some of the other teams in the middle? Well New York and Portland have both opened up exactly like they did last year with two points in three games. What may be most troubling for both is a lack of scoring. We’ll see how that unfolds, as it is likely that Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill will score sooner rather than later.

With respect to LA Galaxy, I watched their game this weekend against Real Salt Lake, and it appeared to me that it was all about Robbie Keane and his single-handed goal (with Donovan lurking) versus a solid Real Salt Lake team effort. If Joao Plata doesn’t go off injured in that game, I’d have been a betting man that RSL would have taken three points from LA.

Other lurkers here are Seattle, Colorado and Vancouver. Recall last year that the defense of Vancouver kept them from the Playoffs (45 goals against). This year things are starting a wee bit different, as they had a great defensive battle with New England this past weekend.

All those thoughts being said here’s how the teams stack up in the PWP Strategic Attacking Index:

PWP CUMULATIVE STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX 2014

Observations:

Columbus Crew, FC Dallas and Houston are the new guys on the block this year–as compared to last year–with RSL, LA Galaxy, Seattle, Colorado, New York and Vancouver returnees to the top spots.

Missing from the potent attack side so far this year (foremost) are Sporting Kansas City and Portland. One may recall that Chivas USA had a good start last year, but then the Goats seemed to wander off and join D.C. United as the season wore on.

Of note is where Toronto sits. In playing a counterattacking style, parts of their PWP will naturally fall lower down the list than other more possession-based teams. It will be fun to track how they progress in PWP this year.

For the defensive side of PWP here’s how things stand today:

PWP CUMULATIVE STRATEGIC DEFENDING INDEX 2014

Observations:

With Columbus doing so well in attack it’s no surprise that their opponents aren’t… so here’s where the real grist begins when peeling back defending activities.

Note that Houston, Seattle, Colorado, and Sporting Kansas City are in the top five, while FC Dallas, high up in attack, isn’t quite so high in defending. Will that gap create issues again this year? Pareja was noted as having a pretty tight defense in Colorado. Will there be personnel changes in Dallas?

Oddly enough, a top defender in my view for Portland was David Horst. I’m still not sure why he was moved to Houston, but given their early season success, his big presence in the back has certainly improved that team. Can David remain healthy? Hard to say, but continued presence by the big guy should garner some interest, I hope, in some USMNT training after the World Cup is completed this year. It’s never too early to plan for the future.

As for the bottom dwellers, note again that Chivas USA are the bottemost. They may have improved their attack this off-season, but if they can’t stop the goals against, that attack will mean nothing when it comes to Playoff crunch time.

In closing…

It remains early, and I’ve every belief that this table will adjust itself a bit more as time passes and points are won and lost. The intent is not necessarily to match the League Tables, but to offer up a different perspective on teams’ abilities that are reasonable when viewing team performance.

Check out my PWP Week 3 Analysis, as well as my New York Red Bulls-centric PWP weekly analysis for New York Sports Hub. If time permits please join me on twitter as I offer up thoughts during nationally-televised matches this year.

All the best,
Chris