Possession with Purpose… an update of sorts.

All,

Over the last six months my efforts in Possession with Purpose have led to far more interesting avenues than at first expected.

With that, my volume of articles has increased to the point where I needed to create a new Domain site; www.possessionwithpurpose.com

This isn’t an end to me visiting and writing articles on ASA; but it does mean a reduction in the volume of articles I offer here.

My sincere thanks to Matthias Kullowatz and Harrison Crow for their kind words and great support when introducing me to ASA in January of this year.

Best, Chris

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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

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

 

 

 

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

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