MLS Head Coaches: Leveraging PWP Analysis on Performance

I promised this year, at various times, to offer some thoughts about how Possession with Purpose can be used to support analysis on how well Head Coaches might be performing compared to others.

As a reminder from last year; five of the bottom six teams in my PWP Composite Index had coaching changes, Columbus, Chicago, San Jose, Toronto, Chivas USA, and then after an early exit from the Playoffs; Montreal.  Other teams making changes included Vancouver, Colorado and FC Dallas and the depature of Kreis for NYCFC. All told, a total of 10 teams made changes in Head Coaches for one reason or another.

Will this year have similar results, and if so, who?  I don’t claim to prognosticate coaching changes and the firing of Head Coaches, but changes happen, and last year’s information, relative to the bottom six teams in my Composite PWP Index, is pretty compelling at first glance.

So after reading an article offered up by Jason Davis at ESPNFC “Three MLS coaches on the hot seat,” plus releasing my article earlier this week on Crosses offered in MLS, I figured the timing was pretty good for my first installment.

Here’s some of my initial information for consideration on “system of attack”:

  1. For home games Frank Klopas, Mark Watson and Frank Yallop-led teams are the top three in MLS that offer up more crosses per pass attempted in the final third.
  2. For away games Klopas, Watson, Yallop and Wilmer Cabrera-led teams are the top four teams in MLS that offer up more crosses per pass attempted in the final third.
  3. The relationship of taking points, at home, in the MLS is (-.70) for teams that cross the ball more frequently than others. In other words, the teams who cross the ball the most are more likely to lose points (at home) than teams that don’t.
  4. The same relationship of taking points in away games holds as well (less at -.37). but still the same logic – the more crosses a team offers in away games the more likely they are to drop points.
  5. Bottom line is these four teams are less likely to win at home or on the road given their current system of attack in the Final Third.

In other words, these teams led by these head coaches use a system of attack that simply doesn’t get positive results on a regular basis in MLS; or… these teams, led by these head coaches and general managers don’t have the right players to execute that system of attack in MLS.

So how does Sporting KC do it? They are a team that offers up the 7th-most crosses at home and the 5th most crosses on the road, yet they are winning using that system of attack.

Why? I think it’s because their GM and head coach, collectively, are getting the right players to play to that system of attack.

So how about overall Team Attacking and Defending performance  (Team Positions in my Composite PWP Index) after nine weeks in: (1) Possession, (2) Passing Accuracy, (3) Penetration into the Final Third, (4) Creating and Taking Shots, (5) Putting Shots on Goal, and (6) Scoring Goals?

After Week nine, four of the five worst performing teams in MLS, in these categories are:

  • Chivas USA (19th out of 19),
  • Montreal Impact (18th out of 19),
  • Chicago Fire (17th out of 19), and
  • San Jose Earthquakes (15th out of 19).

In case you missed it in an earlier article on Expected Wins – the correlation of those data points as a whole is .99 (R-squared); the closer to “1” the better and stronger the relationship.

In other words that means that the relationship of those data points is pretty much rock solid, and that it’s a worthy indicator (outside of points in the league table) for objectively evaluating team (attacking and defending) performance.

So while Jason Davis indicates John Hackworth and Caleb Porter as being potential candidates for hot seat discussions, actual evidence available indicates those names don’t belong there. Indeed, there are other teams performing, as a whole, much worse than Philadelphia or Portland.

Three teams performing worse at this time include Chivas USA, Houston and Toronto, while Vancouver is behind the power curve compared to Philadelphia and slightly ahead of Portland.  By the way, this is not to say John Hackworth might not belong in a list a bit later this year – but for now I think it is highly speculative to even put in print that he’s a potential hot seat candidate.

And with respect to Caleb Porter – it does seem, at times, that writers outside of the Portland area speculate and use the Timbers large supporter base to artificially increase readership in some of their articles… just saying. As a writer covering the Timbers here in Portland, reading the idea that Caleb Porter is on some sort of hot seat is (softly voiced) bollocks. But that’s just me…

In closing:

Given the evidence offered, does it seem reasonable that those four Head Coaches and their associated GM’s are worthy of a “Hot Seat” distinction? I think so…

Winning styles come in all shapes and sizes – the critical piece is having the right players to support that effort, and the time to install the system. Klopas, Cabrera, Yallop and Watson all know more about football than I do.

And it’s not my place, nor is it the place of any soccer writer (in my opinion) to pass judgment on whether or not someone should get fired or hired.

But… objective evidence indicates that those four teams, compared to others, lack an effective attacking system of play, lack strong overall team performance in attacking and defending while also lacking the most important measuring stick – points in the league table.

I’m sure this is not new, nor rocket science, to those head coaches, general managers, or owners… but… (perhaps?) it is helpful to others.

Best, Chris

You can find Chris on twitter @ChrisGluckPWP

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4 thoughts on “MLS Head Coaches: Leveraging PWP Analysis on Performance

  1. Having analysed 500 + matches at all levels my colleague and I have arrived at performance standards that elite teams share when they score 3+ goals in a match. So if you want to be elite you need a training programme that will aspire you to meet the performance standard.
    From our analysis we have determined that your criteria, your performance standards don’t contribute to winning matches.

    Very briefly (1) Possession, teams who have the most possession don’t always win matches, its about what you do with possession
    (2) Passing Accuracy, you need to define this, teams may have 83% passing accuracy yet 70% of their passes are square, backward or don’t put opponents out of the game. You need to determine the %age success rate of transferring balls won in the defending and middle thirds into the an attacking third possession.
    (3) Penetration into the Final Third, this as stated above needs to be with possession.
    (4) Creating and Taking Shots, we have determined that there is a key zone for taking shots from , we call it the gold zone (GZ) so the delivery into the GZ is key! we have five delivery zones from where the ball is played into GZ with possession, the popular delivery zone is from crosses outside the penalty area from the goal line to the edge of penalty area. This method is very unproductive so it is not a good idea to use crossing as a criteria/performance standard for successful teams.
    (5) Putting Shots on Goal, there are key areas to play the ball into in GZ from key and highly successful GZ delivery zones. We have found that 1.5 to 2 strikes on target from inside GZ results in a goal (1.5:1). The strikes on target ratio from outside GZ is around 12.5:1, big big difference.
    (6) Scoring Goals? to conclude scoring goals is about entering the attacking third successfully with possession ( how this is done is the coaches choice, short, long or a mixture of passes) delivery into the GZ with possession from key areas to produce 1.5:1 strikes on targets and goals.
    Teams who do this consistently score 3+ goals at least in 1 in 3 matches. These performance standards are consistent across FIFA world cups, senior, u17, 19,20 etc, men and women. UCL, La Liga, EPL, Bundesliga, youth football etc.

    • John, Thanks for your comments – I will try to do my best in responding. Usually when I read what somebody offers I ask clarifying questions before discounting it and throwing it out with the bath water… but maybe that’s just me…. it seems clear in reading the overall content of your comments that you do not have an understanding of PWP nor Expected Wins as you misquote me and misrepresent what my data offers for consideration…

      1. There is no filter on my efforts that quantify any need for these data points to have a relationship to a team being elite. I’m not sure what elite is but this data relates to simply winning, losing or drawing.

      2. I don’t advocate that my data contributes to winning matches – never have – what I offer is a view where specific data sets of information tell a story that has a relationship to the games played in MLS.

      3. I have never advocated that teams who have the most possession win games – you misquote me and it would seem then you may misunderstand the context and content of the research and outcomes — have you had a chance to read my Expected Wins and PWP Introduction with some Explanations – if not please do.

      4. Passing accuracy – actually I track two areas of passing accuracy – one across the entire pitch and one ‘inside the final third’ – so yes i determine success rate within and outside the final third so therefore it is with respect to possession… so again you misrepresent what my data outputs relate to – and recommend again you read my foundation articles before drawing more conclusions…

      5. Creating and taking shots – I think most recognize there are ideal shot locations – i don’t dispute that and have never disputed that… but in my research and analysis I don’t need that information to draw conclusions about successful or unsuccessful penetration. Bottom line for me is the fluid approach to the game recognizing that the only thing predictable about a game is who wins, loses or draws. In my view goals are not predictable based upon location – they are predictable based upon time and space available as a team looks to create goal scoring opportunities under any circumstances.

      Question – if everyone knows of a “gold zone” what happens to your team when the opponent closes that zone and you can’t get a shot taken from the “gold Zone” – do you just pack it in and not shoot — no — you take shots when they become available from elsewhere.

      Question – if everyone becomes aware of your five ideal delivery locations you become predictable there as well – again, what do you do when your predictable delivery areas are closed down – not deliver the ball?

      Question – of a player scores a goal outside the gold zone do you penalize them for that – I would imagine no… so why create an artificial filter that says scoring from one location is ‘wrong’?

      For me it’s having the flexibility in recognizing that ‘time and space’ has far greater value in seeing a goal get scored then relying strictly on shot or delivery locations. To be blunt… I think an approach such as yours – that quantifies a specific area for delivery and shooting – is unimaginative – predictable – boring – and lacks creativity and vision and…. ultimately using statistics in soccer for all the wrong reasons… My view, however divergent from others is that this game game is fluid and unpredictable – live the with unpredictability of the game and manage is as best as possible relying on ‘instincts’ and vision with a systematic approach that leverages individual skills. And that view doesn’t exclude your own ‘gold zone’ data but it doesn’t abuse it either…

      6. Scoring goals – I’m not sure I follow your comments there.

      7. Teams who consistently score 3+ goals – did you eliminate all games where teams that scored 3+ goals lost? If not you should… scoring three + goals and losing has no value…

      Do you consider eliminating all games where the top 4 teams, in that specific league, played against the bottom 6 or so teams in that same league? Perhaps there is value in doing this as scoring three + goals is not an objective of soccer – the objective, in my view, is to win…

      In closing – an example if you will – check out this link and then look at the scoreline – the team with 6 shots in zone 1 (the gold zone for most) is losing 5-nil — as I offer space and time has as much if not more value than location… http://matchcenter.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2014-05-11-new-england-revolution-vs-seattle-sounders-fc/stats

      By the way – the point of the article was to offer up ‘data’ that can be viewed (as opposed to pure supposition and opinion) when considering who might be on a hot seat and who might not be… I think if you read the article linked in the beginning you will see that writer offered pure speculation and supposition…

      In viewing my outputs stemming from PWP last year it is very clear to me that the PWP Composite Index 1) related to the final league table without using points and 2) five of the bottom six teams had their managers sacked… so it isn’t a data set about contributing to winning anyway – it’s a data set that reflects winning and losing… if I offer up tactics to train to given this information then I’m giving away the business end of my PWP analysis…

      Anyhow – thanks again for your comments – I really struggled in responding… Best, Chris

      • In conducting some additional research on MLS teams that have scored 3+ goals or have goals against of 3+ or more this year here are my findings John

        For this year I believe 29 games saw teams score 3+ goals with five of those games resulting in a loss or a draw. None of the teams scoring 3+ that drew or lost were repeat teams.
        Real Salt Lake, Dallas, Sporting KC and Seattle all have scored +3 goals at least three times with RSL doing that 4 times. In looking at my PWP analysis after week 10 Sporting KC are #1 Real are #4, Seattle are #5 and FC Dallas are #6 – so in considering that very small sample size (10-11 games so far this year for each team) the two indicators look to support each other.

        When looking at Goals Against of 3+ goals five teams in MLS have had their opponents score +3 goals against them three times; those teams are Montreal, Chivas, Chicago, Houston and Colorado – four of those five teams are four of the five worst performing teams in my PWP Index after week 10.

        In conclusion I would offer that both analyses support each other quite well… (at this time) we should track these two approaches together next year in Europe to see how the PWP Index compares.

        I always see great value in having 2-3 different analytical approaches support each other… in my view both analyses do that – I am anxious to hear your thoughts John!.

        All the best, Chris

  2. Pingback: PWP: Chicago lights up New York while Montreal feels the Impact of Sporting KC | American Soccer Analysis

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