Sporting KC still has edge in the capital

If you come in from a certain angle, you can hype this evening’s DC United-Sporting KC game as the Eastern Conference’s clash of the week. The two teams enter this game tied for the second seed with two of the best goal differentials in the conference. With DCU playing at home, and Sporting missing half its team, the edge would appear to go to United. But not so fast.

Despite being inseparable by points, DCU and Sporting are about as far apart as two teams can be by Expected Goal Differential. Sporting sits atop the league at +0.62 per game,* while DCU is ahead of only San Jose with -0.33. If we look to even gamestates—during only those times when the score was tied and the teams were playing 11-on-11—the chasm between them grows even wider. Sporting’s advantage over DCU in Even xGD is more than 1.5 goals per game.*

To this point, as early as it is in the season, I have found that winners are best predicted by Even xGD, rather than overall goal differential. Though the sample size of shots is smaller for each team in these scenarios, the information is less clouded by the various tactics that are employed when one team goes ahead, or when one team loses a player.

Of course, Sporting will be missing the likes of Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, and Lawrence Olum, as they have for the past three games. The loss of those key players has mostly coincided with their current four-game winless stretch, and it would be tempting to argue that they are not in form. However, over those last three games, Sporting overall xGD is +0.27 per game,* and its Even xGD is +0.68.*

Making predictions in sports is generally just setting oneself up for failure—especially in a sport where there are three outcomes—but I will say this. Sporting is likely better than the +180 betting line I’m seeing this morning.

*I use the phrase “per game” for simplicity, but xGD is actually calculated on a per-minute basis in our season charts. Per game implies per 96 minutes, which is the average length of an MLS game.

Player Acquisition: The Tweeners

There is a thing that constantly steals my interest when it comes Major League Soccer. It’s how teams choose to scout and evaluate talent that is already in the league. One thing that has been made quite clear with the financial constraints is that it is difficult to hold on to those players that hover around the $200,000 salary threshold, and yet aren’t stars or obviously consistent difference makers.

Player makers such as Chris Rolfe, Mauro Rosales and Bobby Convey have found new homes in MLS, either in the few months leading up to this season or since the first kick. The names themselves aren’t specific references of importance, but rather examples of what happens in the off-season concerning players in the aforementioned pay range that are just casualties of cap situations in today’s era.

These players we understand to a degree. They are interesting talents with a fair amount of room for critiquing, whether that be due to personality, problems with injuries or just inconsistent displays of performance from week to week. There are always one or two or even three (in this case) of these players that are available come the off-season.

Two of the three players went to clubs with the ability to take chances.

Chivas USA was obviously getting a steal in adding Rosales. Super Mauro, since being added to the roster, has accrued 17 key passes and 3 assists while producing 12 shots on his own. He leads the club in Total Shots Created.

DC United needed anything to help save their season and jump start their offense. The arrival of Rolfe in return for a bit of allocation money was seemingly a worthwhile risk–and his influence on Ben Olsen’s chances of keeping the head coaching job can probably be debated to some extent. Prior to the trade, Olsen and DC United had only produced 1 point through 3 matches. Since the addition of Rolfe, they’re now rolling at nearly 2 points per match.

Now, I’m not saying that Rolfe is truly responsible for the turn around. That idea would represent lazy analysis. In fact, DC United generated 34 shot attempts to its opponents’ 36 in the first three games, and 108 to 112 since, so it’s not like Rolfe’s presence has indicated a stable improvement yet. Frankly, since MLS week 4, it’s been the Fabian Espindola show at RFK, and that is a completely different discussion.

On to Convey, who didn’t go to a team that had to take on a lot of risk. Instead he went to the defending Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. He has been somewhat of middling attacking influence in his time on the pitch for the Bulls, adding 9 key passes and 2 shots in just under 700 minutes over his initial tenure this season.

WhoScored isn’t exactly impressed. They have graded his performance so far by issuing him a 6.39 rating which is well below their league average rating for a player—which sits near 6.7. Squawka ranks him 16th on the  roster depth chart which mostly follows up that thinking being that WhoScored placed him 15th overall.

These three players represent teams that have taken advantage of a system available to them in an effort to improve their club. What is intriguing to me at this juncture isn’t necessarily the impact they’ve made upon their current club but how their current clubs targeted them as being upgrades and financially worth their investments.

I’m sure that MLS teams have personnel that help front office types make decisions and help discern player talent and ability that make them right for the acquisition. I am familiar enough with certain clubs to be aware of the individuals that are involved in that process, and much of it seems archaic and awkward in method.

Mauro Rosales may have been less of a risk when it comes to Chivas. In fact it was kind of “duh” type moment that perfectly fell in their lap. The other side of the coin is that Rolfe and Convey were both risks, and heavy ones at that considering their price tags (before New York lapped Convey up, that is).

I would certainly concede that all are substantial talents within the US first division. But how they fit the rosters to which they were added to is a bit interesting.

Some could point to Convey’s addition to New York as an attempt to add competition to the left side and some wide play making, Convey has instead shifted to the back line in the form of a full back. Which begs the question, was that the idea before he was added?

I, as well as many, had thought Luis Silva would be taking over the role of central play maker in Washington after the departure of Dwayne De Rosario. After the stumbles by Silva early on, I thought that Rolfe would take over that role, but instead he looks to be pushed out wide with Nick DeLeon, being featured more frequently in the central attacking role. Was this a decision made before acquiring him, and did the club think he could fill that role any better than some of the more natural wide midfielders who have moved clubs since?

Results-based analysis is often unhelpful, and in these cases, don’t truly tell the story we’re seeking in how MLS teams are valuing these types of players. I’m curious if there are any specific statistical values that teams could point to as to why they made this move–and please, I hope it’s more than the assists or goals totals, or the fact that they’re “winners.” For all the talk about transparency in details for the league, it would be nice to see some of the true thought processes involved in analyzing these talents beyond tired cliches. Especially considering that all these clubs they have access to far better gauges and methods than what most of us have at our disposal.

How it Happened: Week Eleven

Another weekend of games, and another weekend of contradictions from teams across the league. I thought I’d write today about the six teams in the three games I watched through the lens of huge differences between those teams. Without any further ado, here’s how it happened last weekend.

Toronto FC 2 – 0 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for Toronto: 6 through balls, 3 key passes from middle third

tfc11

Toronto and New York are both flawed teams. Toronto doesn’t particularly well with possession in the middle third of the field (especially without Michael Bradley), and they tend to set their defensive line of confrontation dangerously deep in their own half. But there’s one thing they excel at that helps neutralize both of these weaknesses: they attack swiftly and directly through the middle third with through balls to a striker who’s not bad at putting them away, Jermain Defoe. Take a look at that map above: three key passes from TFC midfielders and six more through balls, all coming from the middle third and springing dangerous attacks very quickly. For sake of comparison, New York had exactly zero through balls or key passes from the same part of the field in the match.

Stat that told the story for New York: 4 successful crosses, 34 unsuccessful crosses

If Toronto’s greatest asset is their direct attacking speed through the midfield, it’s one thing that the Red Bulls commonly lack. I already noted that they had no key passes or through balls from the midfield recorded against Toronto, but that number of crosses is fairly absurd as well. I’m not one who believes crossing is a terrible gameplan at all times: Lloyd Sam has maybe been the best Red Bull this year, and they really should’ve scored at least one goal from those 38 crosses on Saturday. But the lack of variety and speed in their attack is stunning for a team as talented as New York. Hopefully this improves when Peguy Luyindula returns and adds some spark to the midfield, but right now New York looks about as flawed as Toronto.

Real Salt Lake 2 – 1 Colorado Rapids

Stat that told the story for RSL: first 50 minutes of the game: 93/110 passing in center of field vs. 61/84 for Colorado

rsl11

The Rocky Mountain rivalry is always a hotly-contested one, and in years past has been a game with a clash of styles, too. That was less the case in the first half of Saturday’s game: both teams came out with narrow midfields looking to control the center of the field. The Rapids have tried out these tactics this season, but RSL has been using them for years, and to be frank, it showed early in the game. Salt Lake’s diamond midfield (even without Kyle Beckerman) had little trouble passing the ball around Colorado like a church congregation with the offering dish. The lead-up to their first goal was absolutely beautiful to watch, and they created oodles of other chances in staking themselves to a 2-0 lead.

Stat that told the story for Colorado: 5 out of 7 successful crosses, 11 of 16 total crosses, 10 of 16 shots came after going behind 2-0

Pablo Mastroeni was a really good central midfielder in his playing days, and he has a couple of very good ones in his current squad (especially Dillon Powers). But his insistence on lining his team up with 3 or even 4 natural center midfielders on the field has confused me all season. Colorado was one of the surprise stories of the league last year, and a lot of their success was due to a fairly direct style of play. It certainly wasn’t all long balls and crosses a la Stoke City, but they made a lot of good things happen by getting the ball into the box to Edson Buddle and Deshorn Brown. In this one, after falling behind 2-0 in the 50th minute, Colorado reverted a bit to their 2013 ways. They lumped in significantly more crosses, and not coincidentally they had more success getting legitimate chances, shots and goals. I hope the Raps were taking notes on some of what made them successful in the second half.

Seattle Sounders 1 – 0 San Jose Earthquakes

Stat that told the story for Seattle: Obafemi Martins was/is really good

sea11

So far this year, Clint Dempsey has (deservedly) gotten a lot of attention for being the best player in the league. Obafemi Martins has gotten less attention for being just about as good. Martins and Dempsey are absolutely the most fearsome attack combination in the league right now, and it’s very much because of how well they play off each other. Dempsey’s success has come very much thanks to Martins’ passing and hold-up ability, while Martins has sacrificed some of his goal-scoring to do the dirty work for Seattle. In this one without Deuce, Oba unleashed the fury with a pretty incredible goal that you’ve probably seen already. He’s been everything you could ask for of a Designated Player this year: making plays each and every game that have helped the Sounders to the top of the league.

Stat that told the story for San Jose: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi was/is really boring

If Seattle’s DP additions from last season have been the most fearsome duo in the league this season, San Jose’s recent signings have been about as scary as the Odd Couple. Let’s run them down: Yannick Djalo looked super exciting, then got hurt. Andreas Gorlitz didn’t look very exciting, then got hurt. Brandon Barklage, Atiba Harris and Khari Stephenson have all been basically the best any Quakes fan could hope for: extremely average MLS journeymen. But the one guy that I want to mention is the one who’s been most disappointing: Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. I mean no offense to Pierazzi at all, but he came in from French club AC Ajaccio with nearly 180 career appearances in France’s top league and a lot was expected of him. From what I’ve seen of him so far, he’s struggled to fit in with the team as well as the physicality of MLS. He’s hardly been a bad player, but he’s definitely not made the impact you expect of a high-profile addition from a top European league.

 

Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? Let me know. @MLSAtheist

Big Game in the Big Apple – my picks on who wins/loses in MLS for Week 12

Sorry, a bit late on this and not a lot of time to offer up detailed thoughts so here we go with my picks on who wins and loses this weekend keeping in mind I don’t/won’t pick draws…  my record without picking draws now hovers at 51%.

 

New York at home to Portland – I’ve already offered up my thoughts on my home blog about this one.  If the Timbers don’t make mental mistakes, don’t get a red card, don’t yield a Penalty Kick and don’t score an own goal I think they win… Timbers take three.

Vancouver at home to Seattle – A big game in the great northwest with Cascadia Cup clash written all over it – Vancouver wins…

Columbus at home to Chicago – If the Crew don’t win and Chicago does the early season dream start will have started to fade into a mid-season nightmare for Berhalter and his Crew; especially after being gifted three goals in Portland and still only coming away with a draw.  Columbus win…

New England hosts DC United – A huge test for Olsen and his crew coming off that disappointing draw to the worst team in MLS, Montreal.  Can the Revolution continue to win – since I can’t pick draws I go with New England to win…

Colorado at home to Montreal – Really – is anyone willing to bet Montreal wins this game?  Colorado wins…

Real Salt Lake entertains FC Dallas – Perhaps a pivot point for FC Dallas as the mid-season approaches.  There might be room this week for Dallas to walk in and take 3 points – RSL are unbeaten this year and if all else fails I can see a draw with these two teams… but Plata should be a difference maker this game – along with the ever under-rated Grabavoy – RSL wins…

LA Galaxy at home to Philadelphia – Is this another one of those stunners for the Union?  Hard to say but with Donovan returning far to early, in my opinion, from the USMNT I see some fire in his eyes and the Union possibly getting crushed… LA wins…

San Jose entertains Houston – with Wondolowski missing, and rightly so… and Davis missing, and rightly so… this has all the makings of a draw but I think Houston wins with a better defense…

Best, Chris

You say you want a Revolution? Possession with Purpose From a Different Angle

A superb run with five wins and a draw in six games; by most standards that is a compelling argument for consistency.  I agree and their overall Composite Possession with Purpose Index rating continues to climb.

They’ve (New England) climbed from 17th in PWP (week 5) to 7th after week 11; a superb shift of 10 full places in 6 weeks.

So in considering this giant push forward I’d like to take a different approach in how the data points from PWP can be viewed.  

This is new so please bear with me for a minute or two as I set the context.

Below are a number of diagrams referencing my PWP indicators for a few teams; the diagram being used this time is the ‘doughnut’ diagram from Microsoft Powerpoint.

The interesting thing about this diagram is that it allows me to offer up a view on my PWP data points that isn’t relative to the exponential relationship (a line). Instead, it allows me to picture the overall tenor of PWP data points in relationship to themselves as being a part of a ‘whole’; with the ‘whole’ being PWP.

I feel confident I can take this approach since my Expected Wins 2 correlation for my data points is ~.97 (R2) — as near to rock solid as you can get.

Other context points include:  

  • The teams used in this analysis are Seattle, New England, Montreal, Portland and last years’ Supporters Shield winner (New York) plus last years bottom dweller (DC United)
  • Reminder in case my explanation was a bit wordy above – the percentages indicated in the doughnut are not the percentages of those activities relative to the game; they are the percentage of those activities relative to each other with 100% being all those activities added together.
  • Source – as usual the MLS Chalkboard and the MLS Statistics Sheets
  • Gold Stars on the diagrams are intended to show you where differences occur.
  • The team name on the outside of the doughnut is the outer ring of data and the team name on the inside of the doughnut is the inner ring of data.

To begin…

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NER v MIFC

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NER v MIFC

The volume of Final Third passes successfully completed by New England (29%) is 3% points higher than Montreal (26%).  Note also that Montreal has a greater percentage of PWP outside the Final Third (30%) than New England (28%). Both of these indicate to me that New England is more focused on penetrating and creating than Montreal.

For the future I will check into these three areas when looking to see if a ‘direct attacking approach’ can be better differentiated from a ‘ground-based’ (short passing scheme) approach.

The actual volume of penetration is higher for New England as well (11%) versus (7%). And like my regular PWP analysis the data here also supports the fact that teams who are more patient in creating shots taken (6% for NER versus 11% for MIFC) end up with more goals scored.

I did ask Matthias Kullowatz about the specific shot data for New England and Montreal; ~60% of Montreal’s shots on target have come outside the prime scoring zones 1 & 2 while ~68% of the Revolution shots on target have also come outside of zones 1 & 2.  So what’s different?

I think it’s down to time and space again; though it could be the Revolution have better strikers – but when you see the DC United doughnut diagram a bit later I think it’s back to time and space; and with fewer shots taken and more patience in the final third that seems reasonable to me.

Now for a contrast that might be better at explaining individual mistakes and bad fortune more than a bad ‘style/system’…

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 SSFC v PTFC

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 SSFC v PTFC

Notice no ‘gold stars’; why? Because there really isn’t that much difference between how these two teams execute the six steps of PWP.

What separates these two teams in the league table are individual mental mistakes in defense – Portland sit on ten points while Seattle have 25. Through the course of this year the Timbers have dropped 7 points due to red cards and penalties – they did both against Columbus Saturday night!

In considering the ‘sameness’ of the data I expect as time passes an output similar to this could highlight ‘individual mistakes’ and perhaps ‘good/bad luck’ when it comes to rebounds and deflections – again recall Saturday night when Futty Danso deflected a shot and notched an ‘own-goal’

All told things went pretty well for Columbus, a red card by their opponent, a foul in the penalty box by their opponent for a PK and a deflected own-goal by their opponent. If I were a Columbus fan I’d be pretty pissed they didn’t win – bad luck for the Crew!

However viewed I’ll revisit this diagram later when the Cascadia Cup battle heats up.

So here’s the doughnut view of New York compared to DC United last year and then a bit further down how they look compared to each other this year.

PWP Doughnut Diagram NYRB v DCU 2013

PWP Doughnut Diagram NYRB v DCU 2013

First off – let’s not forget Ben Olsen was not fired and perhaps this doughnut diagram can also help explain why given the overall poor performance in results last year for DC United.

Notice that the team does exceedingly well in comparison to New York with respect to Passing, penetration and creation; they actually exceed New York in the first two categories and only fall off when it comes to goals scored (7% for DC United versus 15% for New York).

So I’d offer that the system Ben Olsen ran last year worked – what he lacked was a pair of good strikers.  And if you recall the Montreal doughnut earlier the outputs from DC United do not mirror those of the Impact!

They added Espindola and Johnson and shored up their defense a bit; that also included adding Amos Magee to the staff.  Remember him as the Defensive Coordinator for Portland last year (I think – others can confirm or deny that I’m sure)

Bottom line here – the system didn’t change and the Head Coach didn’t change and I’d offer that was appropriate…  now for the same diagram this year:

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NYRB v DCU 2014

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NYRB v DCU 2014

In closing:

Note the increase for DC United in the final category – goals scored versus shots on goal – pretty compelling information to reinforce that the system used last year is the same system used this year and the difference – major difference – is the addition of two quality strikers.

I’m just in the learning stages on how this new doughnut diagram will take shape – I’m pretty sure it will have at least one hole in it – I’m hopeful there aren’t a lot more.

Some changes afoot with OPTA and MLS – I see OPTA incorporated the Final Third Passing Accuracy suggestion – just need to find out if crosses are included in that metric???

As for the new MLS Chalkboard – I’m not sure how that will work if the ‘numbers’ of activities are not available to count when it comes to defensive activities and ‘touches’ for players…

And yes, the old Chalkboard still appears to exist given a separate link within previous articles but it’s unclear if this change will be a permanent change for next year – or even the World Cup for that matter…

As for This Week in PWP; if you saw my tweets yesterday you know the top Attacking and Defending PWP teams of the week; New England in attack and Toronto in Defense with the Reds taking the Composite PWP Index top spot for Week 11.  

Sporting KC, along with LA Galaxy remain atop the Composite PWP through Week 11 while the Revolution moved to 7th and Columbus dropped to 4th as Real Salt Lake are now in a comfortable position of 3rd best overall.

Finally, this view also gives you and idea of what percentage each team gleans from each of the PWP Six Steps data points in the calculation for the overall Index number.

Best, Chris

Playoffs are a real possibility for the Whitecaps

Vancouver finished outside the playoff picture last year in a conference that allows 55.6 percent of its members to advance into November. Despite passing the “eye test” with a lot of talent, and despite producing a positive goal differential, the Whitecaps did little to convince our more advanced soccer statistics that they were a good team. Vancouver fired off 12.9 shots per game, but allowed 15.1. Furthermore, when those shots are valued based on quality, Expected Goals suggests Vancouver was below average, posting a negative xGD. Supporters may have pointed to their excellent shot accuracy and finishing rates as signs of talent and reason for optimism, but those things don’t stabilize quickly, and the man who was most responsible deserted them for Liga MX.

To kick off the season, we provided previews of all 19 teams. Jacob covered Vancouver, and he justifiably wrote, “As the 2014 season gets set to begin, Vancouver is one of just a few teams in the league that don’t appear to be as good as last year.” Losing internationals Kenny Miller, Y.P. Lee and Camilo would probably make any MLS team worse, and before the acquisition of Matias Laba, Steve Beitashour was probably the most notable addition. On average, you readers picked the Caps to finish 7th in the West, and 76 percent of you guessed that they would miss the playoffs. I’m quite confident that I picked them to finish in 8th place. Missing the playoffs may very well still happen, but that outcome doesn’t seem to have a majority of the probability anymore.

I think it’s fair to say that Vancouver’s 2014 has been surprising for most everybody. After ten games, nearly one-third of a season, Vancouver finds itself in third place. More importantly, it has an above-average shot attempt ratio (1.1) and positive expected goal differentials both overall (+0.13 per game) and in even gamestates (+0.36 per game). In 2013, the first 10 games of the season proved to be reasonably predictive of points earned in the final 24, as shown below.

Predictor Correlation P-value
GD 0.43 0.091
AttRatio* 0.55 0.000
xGD 0.78 0.000
xGD (zero) 0.75 0.000

A team’s actual goal differential during the first 10 games had the weakest correlation to its points earned in the last 24 games, as any reader of this blog would have expected. But look at the correlations between xGD in the first 10 games and points earned in the last 24 games. Only more seasons of data will tell us if the correlation is truly that strong, but it’s definitely a good indication for Vancouver. The xGD model would expect them to earn another 37 points, totaling 53 points for the season—a figure that, in combination with our playoff chances, suggests the playoffs might be more likely than not likely for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

*The correlation for Attempt Ratio was calculated from all team seasons between 2011 and 2013, while the other correlations could only be calculated from 2013 with the available data.

Expected Wins #2 – After 184 MLS Events (92 Games)

Hopefully most of you read Part I of my series on Expected Wins in Major League Soccer.

As a quick reminder the Expected Wins analysis is my internal data quality review on the seven data points I use to support my quantitative Possession with Purpose analysis; the stronger the correlation these data points have the more confidence I have in the overall Indices that are created to assess team performance.

For your benefit, in case you forgot, here are the seven data points I continue to analyze as we reach the 92 game point in MLS; which equals 184 events:

  1. Passes Attempted Entire Pitch
  2. Passes Completed Entire Pitch
  3. Passes Attempted Final Third
  4. Passes Completed Final Third
  5. Shots Taken
  6. Shots on Goal
  7. Goals Scored

All data points, at this time, have equal weight.

What is interesting is that over the week to week course of the season 40% (20/50) of the weekly top five teams, in Attacking PWP, have averaged less than 50% possession in their matches.  

For me that’s pretty cool as it indicates this analysis is not really biased towards teams that use a shorter-passing scheme in attack.  Week 5, 3 of 5 teams were under 50% and the other two were both under 51% possession.

Some of those teams are possession based teams like DC United, Portland and Seattle but in that week the margin of possession did not have as much effect as the ability of those teams to finish quality chances – the top three teams that week all scored goals equal to their shots on goal.

The five teams that week who exceeded 80% in Passing Accuracy; usually a good indicator of ground based attacking all finished outside the top 5.

 

Moving on after that tidbit, here’s the averages for overall (blue bar), teams that win (green bar), teams that draw (orange bar) and teams that lose (red bar).

Expected Wins 2 Averages

Expected Wins 2 Averages

Facts as they exist today after 184 Events in 2014:

  • The overall tenor of the data points and their relationship really hasn’t changed that much since XpW 1.
  • Teams that win average 51.11% Possession; losing teams average 48.89% Possession, (lower)
  • Teams that win average 76.39% in Passing Accuracy; losing teams average 74.10% (lower)
  • Teams that win average 20.48% Penetration in the Final Third based upon Total Passes completed; teams that lose average 20.32% (lower)
  • Teams that win average 18.64% Shots Taken per pass completed in the Final Third, losing teams average 19.22% (higher)
  • Teams that win average 42.67% Shots on Goal per Shot Taken; teams that lose 32.13% (lower) (by over 10%!)
  • Teams that win average 46.18 Goals Scored per Shot on Goal; losing teams 17.03% (lower) (by over 29%!)

Like after XpW 1 (102 Events – 51 games) losing teams shoot the ball more often, on average, but are less accurate when it comes to putting those shots on target and into the net.  Patience in creating quality continues to outweigh quantity…

Overall, the averages for Shots on Goal for winning teams has increased from XpW 1 (4.90) to XpW 2 (5.36); basically the better teams have gotten better and the losing teams have gotten worse (3.84 now) versus (4.10 in XpW 1).

I wonder how that trend will continue through the rest of this year?

Tthe 2% gap in Passing Accuracy between winning teams and losing teams has held from XpW 1 to XpW 2.

The gap in Shots on Goal has increased in losing teams to 10% as opposed to 9% (XpW 1).

The gap in Goals scored has remained near steady at roughly ~30%; though slightly smaller in XpW 2.

Losing teams still continue to take more Shots than winning teams; 12.74 (winning teams) to 12.80 (losing teams) but… that gap has dropped since XpW 1 – perhaps losing teams are looking to be more patient in their shot selection?

So how does the overall data relate in an Exponential Relationship?

Expected Wins 2 Trend-lines

Expected Wins 2 Trend-lines

Observations:

The light shaded lines are the lines of data as in XpW 1 – and the trend-line colors remain the same.

This time the R2 has dropped just a tad.98 to .95 – all things considered most would consider that correlation Rock Solid… I do – and the correlation of these data points, viewed as a whole, have a higher correlation together than Goal Differential (R2 = .88) to Points in the League Table.

Goal differential is usually a great indicator but it also remains a qualitative statistical indicator not a quantitative indicator.

Like last time there remains a difference in the R2 between winning teams, teams that draw, and losing teams; with draws now having greater correlation than wins.  Why?  I’m not sure – but as noted by the closeness of all the data points there still remains a fine line between winning, losing and drawing.

Last time I felt that helped explain the difference between mistakes or unlucky breaks – I continue to sense that is the main difference.  So might this be an indicator of luck – I don’t know – what do you think?

I have seen discussions of late, on Telly, and in some articles written elsewhere, that focus more on ‘space available’ as opposed to just Shots Taken…  hopefully that trend continues!

I also remain hopeful that OPTA and other statistical web sites will offer up more critical events taking place in the Final Third…  One other article written since XpW 1 is my analysis (as promised in Xpw 1) on defensive indicators; here’s a link to Hurried Passes and those details.

In closing:

I still don’t have enough data, in my opinion, to offer additional thoughts on individual team performance relative to home and away games; that probably won’t have statistical reliability until the midpoint of the season (game 323 – events # 646).

There are trends but I’ll save that for another article, enough for now.

Best, Chris

 

 

 

How it Happened: Week Ten

Another weekend, another bunch of ones and zeroes on the scoreboards for the games I checked out. The season’s a quarter done now for just about every team, and reality is starting to set in that playoffs are only going to be a dream for some this year. Still, MLS is a league of incredible parity and almost everyone still harbors dreams of the postseason, no matter how realistic they are at the moment.

Portland Timbers 1 – 1 LA Galaxy

Stat that told the story for both teams: 2 goals, 1 uncalled red card on a breakaway in 2nd half stoppage time

lapor10

It’s nearly impossible to analyze this game without spending a bulk of your attentions on second half stoppage time, when both goals were scored. Not only that, but LA’s Juninho had a breakaway chance to put the game away and was bundled over with no foul called. All in all, it was a pretty incredible conclusion to a game that was fairly entertaining, if not particularly well-played. To some degree, it was more of the same for both teams: the Galaxy struggled to finish the chances they were able to create, and Portland looked out of sorts and a little slow compared to last year’s high-octane outfit.

I want to spend a paragraph here talking a little about the apparent tactical trends of the league at the moment. For the last couple years, it seemed like the formation en vogue was the high-pressing 4-3-3: Kansas City and Portland were the most notable success stories using this setup. But this year, it appears the trend has shifted to the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, a la Real Salt Lake. It seems like every team in the league has at least experimented with it this year, from LA to Colorado to DC. The MLSSoccer.com March to the Match podcast did a great feature on this tactical trend a few weeks back detailing some of the pros and cons of the formation.

Anyway, this game seemed like a pretty decent case study with these two formations facing off with one another: Portland’s 4-3-3 against LA’s diamond midfield. It’s my opinion that the narrow diamond midfield does a great job of neutralizing what made the Timbers’ 4-3-3 so effective last year – that’s part of why RSL just seemed to have Caleb Porter’s number last year. Portland was at their best last year mainly because of two guys: Diego Chara and Will Johnson, who played as a double pivot and covered more ground than the Trans-Pacific Railroad. However, the Galaxy’s narrow midfield boxes that double pivot in with four central mids who are all tucked inside, limiting the number of balls Chara & Johnson can win and thereby limiting Portland’s possession. There are plenty of other reasons the Timbers haven’t been great so far this year, but it’s a trend worth watching as they try to turn their season around.

Columbus Crew 0 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Stat that told the story for Columbus: 90.33% of minutes this season have been played by starting eleven

It’s no secret that Columbus started out this season like gangbusters and have since played more like busts. The reason for this is inherently simple: they only have one way of playing. Every single game from Columbus is basically the same: they play the same guys in the same roles and try the same things. It caught teams by surprise in the first few games, but now that the opposition knows what’s coming (short passes out of the back, fullbacks getting way forward, etc.) it’s gotten a lot easier to beat. And now it’s up to coach Gregg Berhalter to make some adjustments and at least give the Crew a plan B so this losing skid doesn’t continue.

Stat that told the story for Vancouver: average age of midfield and forward: 23 years old

Vancouver has sneakily been one of the surprise stories of the 2014 MLS season. Everyone knew they had a good deal of young talent on the squad, but nobody was sure how the chemistry would work out under first-year coach Carl Robinson. So far, returns have been impressive. Not only has Robinson set the team up in a position to be successful tactically, but he’s handed over a ton of responsibility to the youngsters to great effect. With veterans Kenny Miller gone and Nigel Reo-Coker perhaps on the way out, even more of the load is going to be heaped onto the 25-and-under players. During this victory, the only midfielder or forward in the starting eleven over 25 was Pedro Morales (28). And even when they made subs, they brought on 20-year-old Omar Salgado and 21-year-old Russell Teibert – I’d say the future is bright in Vancouver.

Philadelphia Union 0 – 1 DC United

Stat that told the story for DC: wide presence of the forwards

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It’s interesting that a lot of season previews of DC United focused on if the wide play would be good enough to get quality service for new striker Eddie Johnson. I say this because DC has been as good, if not better, as anyone could’ve hoped, despite the presence of roughly zero wide midfielders and zero Eddie Johnson goals. There are obviously a few reasons they’ve been so good, but chiefly among them is that this is Fabian Espindola’s team. He’s played better this season than I ever remember him looking in Salt Lake as the focal point of United’s attack, orchestrating everything and creating a lot of chances. He does this by floating to the wide areas of the field to provide some width to DC’s narrow formation, as his heat map above shows (EJ’s actually pretty good at this too, particularly when holding the ball up).

Stat that told the story for Philadelphia: 647,428 times caught ball-watching this season*

Philadelphia was everyone’s darling in the first few weeks of the season. All their new acquisitions looked really impressive, they had a young and improving defense and some talent up top that was sure to start banging in the goals soon. Fast forward a couple months, and the bottom has fallen out. This loss was their ninth game without a win, they’ve switched formations like four times hoping for a spark, and their coach might get fired soon. So what’s wrong? Lots of things. But #1 in my book is simply that the Union didn’t seem that interested in playing soccer against DC this weekend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Philly midfielders or defenders or really anyone just watch an opposing player run by them or pass the ball by them with little to no contesting. And this isn’t a problem for one or two players, it’s the entire team. Sorry to be such a rah-rah coach type who says they just need to try harder, but the Union need to be more active, or engaged, or try harder….whatever wording works best.

*this is only an approximation because I couldn’t find Opta’s information on this

MLS Week 11 My PWP-Pick-List – Can the Fire take 3 from Sporting?

Last week there were some outrageous results – Chivas taking three points in Colorado and Chicago taking three points in New York – wow – who’da guessed that?

For me both were stunners – and if I don’t mind saying – very timely, as was the San Jose 2-1 win versus FC Dallas…  all told I was five for 12 last week excluding the Canada Cup games.

So what’s in store for this week and weekend?  Any preordained stunners to consider, hard to say, and with some star players moving to the USMNT camp soon there will be some teams working really hard to fill gaps.

For me – this is when a systematic approach brings value provided players minimize mistakes in critical areas.  Some teams, it seems, this year are being plagued by mistakes; two come to mind, the Portland Timbers and the Philadelphia Union.

Both teams are performing well in attacking and defending indicators, as a whole, but the results just aren’t there – with the Timbers it’s about individual mistakes and according to some the same can be said for Philadelphia.

And if you recall from my Expected Wins article, the line between winning, losing and drawing is really, really fine…

So forward into the season both Sporting and Philadelphia have two games this week; is your fantasy team set up to support that potential for more points?

Sporting KC at home to Philadelphia:  I’d expect this is a statement game for the Union – some members of the press have been rating the Union pretty low of late and their end results seem to support that – but end results aren’t necessarily a reflection of a team gone bad; sometimes individual mistakes directly influence the game outcome and somtimes they don’t.  However viewed one of the best teams in MLS, in both record and on-pitch performance, is Sporting KC.  Will Collin have the discipline to hold his yellow/red card tendencies in check – can Philadelphia score and prevent goals against.  At this stage, at this time the cards might be right for a stunner like Chicago had last week but I just don’t see it happening – Sporting take three points…

Toronto at home to New York:  Is this a classic game of counter attacking for Toronto against a very possession and penetration oriented Red Bulls team?  I think so – and since the Red Bulls defending performance hasn’t been the best this year there may be an issue for them in taking three points – but that’s with the Reds having fresh legs – the Reds might be going all out in the Canada Cup game three days prior so when all said and done I’m seeing the Red Bulls beat the Reds…

Philadelphia at home to New England:  The games just don’t get an easier for the Union as they take on the 2nd best team in the Eastern Conference three days after playing the top team in the Eastern Conference.  Some members of the paid media have been socializing how poor the Union have been in their winless run of late.  Is this another nail in that ‘press/media’ environment.  For the sake of good team performance I hope not but… when viewing New England so far this year they are also very strong in attack and defending across the pitch.  With all that said Edu will be missing and it’s a short time span from Wednesday – tired legs versus fresh legs and no Edu.  In seeing the bad fortune of Philadelphia early this season a reasonable pick is the Revolution to take three points.  I’m not going to do that though – Philadelphia have strong team performances at home; better than the average team performances by the Revolution on the road – I submit Philadelphia takes three points…  perhaps a stunner pick but if mistakes are at a minimum for the Union they can win.

DC United at home to Montreal:  It would appear that the Montreal Impact and DC United have played role reversal this year.  I don’t think I see Montreal taking three points against a much improved United – short analysis here – DC United take three points.

Chivas travel to FC Dallas:  Can the Goats pull off another stunner like they did in Colorado?  Wow… if they do poker goes up and Dallas doesn’t.  I’m not inclined to think they do given how strong Dallas is in attack – that said they do prove, on occasion, that their central defending area is a bit weak…  All told I don’t see Dallas losing – three points should be expected “and” taken here…

Houston at home to LA:  Star players will be missing and I submit the bigger stars will be missing from the Galaxy – not to diminish the great value Davis brings to the USMNT – on the contrary – I think the Houston bench can better support the loss of Davis – and at home to boot.  Houston wins…

Real Salt Lake at home to Colorado:  Can anyone actually beat Real Salt Lake – so far they are unbeaten this year and their internal team attacking and defending performance indicators don’t do anything but get better.  Can they win with Saborio, Beckerman and Rimando missing?   Colorado may put up a good fight in this game especially since they were really out of sorts against Chivas – I’d like to pick a draw but won’t…  teams don’t go into a game looking to draw even though in this instance a draw might actually be what Mastroeni wants :).  With that I opine RSL wins…

Seattle at home to San Jose:  Dempsey and Evans are training at the USMNT camp as is Wondolowski – is Fucito likely to get a start with Wondo gone?  Don’t know – but I think the Sounders can afford to replace their two stars a bit better than San Jose… not much else to offer up on this one – big stadium, big crowd and likely 3 big points for Seattle…

Portland at home to Columbus:  Bad form for Columbus of late – team performance has dropped since week 3 and I’m not sure the medicine for that is a trip to Portland and a win-starved Timbers team.  The big question here is the back-four for the Timbers; Harrington is injured still (I think) and ball watching seems to occur frequently at key points – well, every second is a possible key second – their only really key if the mistake leads to a goal.  In this case the ball watching last week was pretty bad – I doubt Porter was happy and it’s likely the video and mental part of training was a big focus this week.  I’d expect Portland to come out focused and come out as winners… Timbers take three.

Chicago at home to Sporting KC:  Seems good fortune that Chicago entertain Sporting after the USMNT training starts – two key players out for Sporting and Opara injured means Olum and Collin are the likely pairing if Collin doesn’t get another red card earlier in the week.  Chicago are coming off a huge win against a full strength Red Bulls – it’s home and Harry Shipp is getting these guys into shape.  Not bad young lad, and Amarikwa has shown good skills as well…   upset for most, but I see the Fire taking three points here…

In closing – I was 5/12 last week (about 45% total so far in my picks) and took a right uppercut when Chivas, Chicago and DC got wins on the road. There’s no sure thing in MLS as last week pointed out.  Perhaps fortune smiles more on the home teams this week.

Best, Chris

 

PWP: Chicago lights up New York while Montreal feels the Impact of Sporting KC

As noted in my headline, the Chicago Fire simply lit the fireworks with the youngster Harry Shipp leading the way; good for him and well done, son!  As for the new leader in Montreal–and ex-Fire coach–things weren’t quite as rosy.

You’ll recall early last week I published this article on MLS Coaches – showing statistics, not pure speculation, on which coaches have teams that aren’t performing to standard in MLS at this time.  Frank Klopas was one of those Head Coaches mentioned, and sadly his team was the only team in the bottom four of that list who didn’t win this past weekend.

Mark Watson did with San Jose, Frank Yallop did in the obvious thriller in New York, and Wilmer Cabrera saw his Goats absolutely stun Colorado.  Sooner or later the wheat will separate from the chaff.

But back to Chicago.  They didn’t take the PWP Attacking Team of the week by much; Sporting KC was a close second while Cabrera and the Goats were 3rd best and New England rounded out the top 4 with that blowout against Seattle.

PWP Attacking Player of Week #10 – Harry Shipp – surprised?  Not likely, for only the second time this year my PWP Attacking Player of the Week was the same as the MLS Player of the Week… as odd as it may sound I take pride in my PWP Players of the Week not matching those from MLSSoccer.com.

PWP ATTACKING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

PWP ATTACKING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

A busy day for the young lad, and almost too much information to go into my standard PWP Player of the Week.

That said Sporting KC got back on track with another smashing win against Montreal.  And while they scored three goals what stood out most was their smothering defense; a leader in helping that effort was my PWP Defending Player of the Week; Chance Myers.

PWP DEFENDING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

PWP DEFENDING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

Duly noted that some players had some superb passing statistics in this game; here’s a diagram of all the successful passes for Sporting against a hapless Montreal side… and even more intriguing is this diagram (also from the OPTA Chalkboard) of all the unsuccessful passes by Sporting.  WOW!  Not sure I’ve ever seen so sparse a chalkboard as that for unsuccessful passes!

In looking at the defensive side of the pitch Montreal offered up 45 total passes in the Sporting defending third – of which nine were throw-ins… in the area here (just atop the 18 yard box) Montreal had 5 unsuccessful passes and 3 successful passes with two of those successful passes being throw-ins.

Moving on… So this week who’s top and who’s not in Possession with Purpose after 10 full weeks of play in MLS?

PWP COMPOSITE INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

PWP COMPOSITE INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

As a reminder, the top five Western Conference teams in the End-of-Season PWP Composite Index were the top five Western Conference teams to make the Playoffs.  In addition, the top five Eastern Conference Teams in the same Index were the top five Eastern Conference teams to make the Playoffs.

Last year’s Champion has finally reached the top spot; will they be able to hold on?  I don’t know, but still-unbeaten Real Salt Lake has shifted from 7th to 4th this week.

Columbus is starting their painful drop while Seattle, LA, and FC Dallas hover, and New England continues to push higher.

What is unique about this Index is it’s not influenced by the “next bright and shiny object” syndrome.  Teams will fade and teams will push higher, but not on a whim; I hate whims…

With respect to the bottom teams in this Index – there is no question that the worst performing team in MLS is Montreal.  I’m not sure how anyone can consider their pathetic team output – across all categories measured – anything other than worst.  

Chivas got a notable win, but one win does not a streak make – falling a bit further this week was Toronto – moving from 6th worst to 4th worst.  Are some other teams in MLS catching on to that ‘mistake driven’ football that Nelson might be working towards?

Hard to say, but with some MLS stars moving off to prepare for the World Cup, there will definitely be important lineup change, and possible some big changes to this Index in the next six weeks.

In closing:

Another busy week coming with the Canada Cup Championship plus two more games for Sporting and Philadelphia.

Two diagrams for your consideration:

PWP ATTACKING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

PWP ATTACKING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

This is the Cumulative PWP Attacking Index after week 10.

Note that the separation between the top attacking team (FC Dallas) and the 10th best attacking team (Vancouver) is 2.4984 – 2.3365 = .1619.  So when you see the overall Composite Index there really isn’t that much that separates the tenth place attacking team from the 1st place attacking team…

However, small movement is still expected given that a number of teams will be without some key players for at least 5 weeks – we can hope for more for the USMNT’s sake.

PWP DEFENDING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

PWP DEFENDING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

This information reflects how well the combined opponents of these teams performs in the Defending PWP.

In looking at the diagram what the last place team offers is that the opponents of Chicago Fire, by and large, possess the ball, pass the ball, penetrate with the ball, take shots with the ball, and score with the ball more than Chicago does… if that trend continues it is likely that Chicago will have a very poor record by the end of the season.

In considering Philadelphia for a minute – they are in the bottom half but they are not being dominated by their opponents – sometimes games won and lost or drawn end up being more about a single mistake or… multiple mistakes as opposed to poor team performance.  It’s data like this that tells me, as an analyst, that Hackworth has a reasonable system and plan – its’ just not working because something on the pitch is broken.

I think many would offer that is the same case for Portland this year – most know that 5 points were lost due to PK’s early this year, and perhaps three points were lost this past Sunday when some players simply forgot that they were soccer players and instead decided to be ball watchers…

All for now, Chris