Dynamo Dynamic in Attack and Bulls Bullish on Defense – Week 9 Ends in MLS

Taking a team to L.A. and winning 4-1 sounds incredible until you offer up the caveat that it wasn’t against the Galaxy.

The doormat this year seems to be shining earlier than last. The Houston Dynamo have dominated in dynamic fashion; wow – good on you Giles Barnes…

So how exactly did that powerful attack look compared to other four-goal outbursts this year – was it really that special?

In all the four-goal games this year, here’s a quick breakdown on which teams accomplished that and then who’s been tops in their Possession with Purpose and Expected Wins statistics for those games:

  1. DC United vs FC Dallas
  2. Sporting KC vs Montreal Impact
  3. Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids
  4. Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers
  5. New York Red Bulls vs Houston Dynamo
  6. Houston Dynamo vs Chivas USA
  7. Houston Dynamo vs New England Revolution
  8. Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders
  9. Vancouver Whitecaps vs New York Red Bulls

Tops in overall possession in those high scoring affairs was DC United at 67.04%. Tops in passing accuracy across the entire pitch was, again, DC United at 84.17%.

Tops in penetration percentage based upon passes completed in the final third vs. across the entire pitch was Houston vs. New England at 28.94%.

Tops in percentage of successful passes within the final third was Vancouver at 74.55%. Tops in shots taken compared to passes completed in the final third was Houston vs. Chivas USA at 39.13%.

Tops in shots on goal compared to shots taken was Vancouver at 71.43%; and finally… tops in goals scored vs. shots on goal was FC Dallas at 100% versus Houston.

So while Houston did well this weekend, and got their second four-goal game, it wasn’t dominating compared to others – sorry Houston. It was three points (which is the target) but it wasn’t really that special when viewing who you played against… more later on just how weak Chivas are in Possession with Purpose.

However viewed, Houston still had the best attacking outcome this week. So here’s my PWP Attacking Player of the Week… Giles Barnes.

PWP Attacking Player of the Week 10

PWP Attacking Player of the Week 10

Moving on to the Defensive side of the pitch – FC Dallas saw red this past weekend and it wasn’t just their kit, the Red Bulls kit or Dax McCarty’s hair – it was Watson (elementary my dear) who got red.  

Things don’t get better for Dallas either – they travel to Seattle for a midweek clash this Wednesday and then must fly down to San Jose for another on Saturday… wow.   Might we see Dallas drop three in a row?  I’m not sure and if you want to know my MLS picks for this week check here.

Anyhow, I digress – the PWP Defending Player of Week 9 is Jamison Olave…

PWP Defending Player of the Week 10

PWP Defending Player of the Week 10

So was that a worthy three points for New York and should it have been expected?  I’m not sure and here’s some information to consider:

Below is a list of games, this year, where the first team listed got a Red Card:

  1. DC United v FC Dallas
  2. Columbus Crew v DC United
  3. Columbus Crew v Sporting KC
  4. Sporting KC v Columbus Crew
  5. Sporting KC v New England Revolution
  6. Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake
  7. FC Dallas v Chivas USA
  8. FC Dallas v DC United
  9. FC Dallas v New York Red Bulls
  10. FC Dallas v Portland Timbers
  11. New York Red Bulls v Philadelphia Union
  12. Houston Dynamo v FC Dallas
  13. Houston Dynamo v Philadelphia Union
  14. Chivas USA v Houston Dynamo
  15. Chivas USA v San Jose Earthquakes
  16. Chivas USA v Seattle Sounders
  17. Chivas USA v Vancouver Whitecaps
  18. Portland Timbers v Colorado Rapids
  19. Portland Timbers v FC Dallas
  20. Vancouver Whitecaps v Colorado Rapids
  21. Colorado Rapids v Portland Timbers
  22. Colorado Rapids v Sporting KC
  23. Montreal Impact v Philadelphia Union
  24. Chicago Fire v New England Revolution
  25. Chicago Fire v Portland Timbers
  26. San Jose Earthquakes v Colorado Rapids
  27. Seattle Sounders v Columbus Crew

Twenty seven in all and only Colorado, New York, FC Dallas twice, Sporting KC and DC United won games yielding just a 22% chance of winning when seeing Red.

FC Dallas and Chivas USA lead MLS having received Red Cards in four games.  But here’s where the more later comes in for Chivas – check this out.

FC Dallas (when short handed) have an Attacking PWP Index = 2.3976.  Their Defending PWP Index = 2.3914 and their Composite PWP Index = .1472.

By contrast, the Goats PWP Indices (at full strength this year) for Attacking = 2.1685; for Defending = 2.5446 and for Composite PWP = -.3760.  If I were a Chivas USA supporter that is a pretty depressing statistical output – FC Dallas, short-handed, are more productive in Attack and more effective in Defense than a full-strength Chivas… wow!

In circling back to my question on whether or not it should have been expected that New York would win?   Perhaps now, seeing how effective FC Dallas is, even when short-handed, it wasn’t quite the cake-walk one would expect.  Key for Dallas these next 7 days will be the health of Diaz and the discipline to minimize Red Cards…

In closing…

After nine full weeks of MLS here’s how things stand with my Composite PWP Index along with a few quick thoughts plus the Top 3 in Attacking and Top 3 in Defending.

PWP Cumulative Composite Index through Week 10

PWP Cumulative Composite Index through Week 10

LA Galaxy remain atop the table even with their 1-nil loss in Colorado – if Robbie Keane hits that PK, LA doesn’t drop one point.  As for Columbus they drop down to 3rd with Sporting KC pushing up to spot #2.

Seattle, FC Dallas, Colorado and Columbus still stay in the top 6 while RSL continues to move forward – inching one space higher into 7th with New York and New England swapping places.

Note DC United dropped a few places and the bandwidth between the Revolution, United, Union, Whitecaps, and Portland got a bit tighter while Houston pushed forward past both Montreal and Chicago after thrashing Chivas.

Settling into last is Chivas, by a large margin, while the Fire and Impact hover on the low end as well…

Did a change in Managers (Head Coaches) really make a difference when looking at the End State? I’m not sure; for now it doesn’t appear that either Klopas or Yallop have really changed things up when viewing the bottom line…

The top three teams in overall Attacking PWP (after 9 full weeks) are FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders, and Columbus Crew – can their approaches in possession continue to keep them there?

The top three teams in overall Defending PWP are Sporting KC, LA Galaxy and New England Revolution – some might offer elsewhere that it is surprising to see the Revolution somewhat higher in the table compared to others; is that surprising?

I don’t think so… they have shown pedigree in defending for over a year now and with an improved attack it only stands to reason that their overall position finds them where they are…

Finally, have you made adjustments in your Fantasy teams yet?

If not and you are looking for a consistent (team back-four) you may want to add the Revolution to your list while spending a bit of change in leveraging Lloyd Sam from New York (cheap and cheerful) or latching on to Jaoa Plata if you haven’t already…

Best, Chris

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PWP – Who’s Best and Worst after 8 Weeks

Another exciting week in Major League Soccer.

Most of the headlines belong to New York, Seattle, DC United and New England as those four teams along with San Jose took 3 points; the instant measurement of success.

Duly noted, but a growing indicator in popularity is Possession with Purpose and the composite difference between how well an MLS team attacks versus defends across the broad spectrum of six key performance indicators in attack.  It’s grown enough that after answering my question about Passing Accuracy last Thursday Caleb Porter looked to me, smiled,  and said “Possession with Purpose”.

If you’re not familiar with those Six Steps here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Possession,
  2. Passing Accuracy across the entire pitch,
  3. Penetration (that percentage of passing a team successfully accomplishes within the Final Third),
  4. Creation of Goal Scoring Opportunities (that percentage of shots taken relative to successful passing within the Final Third),
  5. Putting those shots on goal, and
  6. Goals scored

In case you missed it the relationship of the data points supporting PWP Analysis (after 102 games this year) is very strong regardless of winning, losing or drawing; with the Correlation for Winning being; .9898, drawing; .9827 and losing; .9564.  Click Expected Wins (XpW) to read more…

And if not convinced that this effort is taking hold elsewhere it appears Ted Knutson (@statsbomb) has taken up the gauntlet to see how opponents passing behaviors impact defensive activities in the European Leagues; you may find this article of interest as well.

It will be interesting to see what insights Ted can offer on this; especially given he’s got three additional leagues to evaluate.  A great example coming up this week for MLS is the match between DC United and Portland.

DC United average over 18 crosses a game (home and away) playing a Diamond formation (6 of 7 games) – will that pattern continue against Portland or do we see a different defensive approach by Portland to manage (and reduce) that volume of crosses and thereby try to mitigate the strength of Eddie Johnson in the air???  (As noted on occasion by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — “The game is afoot” replied Holmes to his loyal companion, Watson.)

With that offered here’s how the 19 teams in MLS compare to each other after eight weeks following the PWP guidelines:

PWP Composite Index Through Week 8

PWP Composite Index Through Week 8

The tale of the tape sees Seattle clear the first quarter-mile hurdle ahead of Sporting KC and Colorado.  A strong indication that they are serious contenders for the Shield – and yes you would think so given their position in the Standings and that comprehensive victory against Colorado.

But waiting in the shadows, with three games in hand, is a very potent team called LA Galaxy; nine points from those three games in hand puts them atop the West.  And of note is that LA currently have the best PWP Composite Index of any team in MLS.

Can you hold your breath until July 26th when these two teams meet for the first time on National TV?  And how about the last two games of the regular season – back to back Nationally televised games again… wow……

Talk about a story-line; and all that coming after the World Cup…

But back to the basics; DC United took great advantage of Zach Loyd and his 2nd Yellow (Red Card) in the 39’th minute; scoring four goals and icing the game with Fabian Espindola’s second from an assist by Chris Rofle.

While I didn’t see the game I did get to watch the MLSSoccer.com recap here…  seems a bit dubious that two yellows like that would garner a Red Card but on the first one Loyd was clearly out of position and his pulling back Espindola warranted a Yellow given how tight the Referee’s have called games this year.

As for the second – well – any time you go studs up into a tackle you deserve a Yellow; shame on Loyd for two Yellows… and like Collin (Sporting KC) he put his team at a distinct disadvantage…

Other teams making moves this week included San Jose beating a woeful Chivas while Houston dropped two points by drawing, at home, to Portland. 

What was interesting to me about that game was how pedestrian, at times, the possession for Portland was.  Clearly there is an attempt by Caleb Porter to resurrect the successful possession based approach leveraged last year.

If a player like Gaston Fernandez can pair up more readily with the likes of Valeri and Nagbe then the Rose City should begin to feel better.  A great test comes this next weekend as they entertain another possession based team, DC United.

PWP Attacking Team of the week:  DC United

 

PWP Attacking Team of Week 8

PWP Attacking Team of Week 8

DC United had a superb 84% completion rating in Passing; much no doubt do to Loyd being sent off before the first half.  But hey, if you can’t dominate a team when they are a man down then you’re not a good team… DC United proved they were good this weekend and proved it in style.

As for Seattle; sadly they had to play against an 11 man Colorado.  If not it is likely they would have scored 6 or 7 goals against the Rapids…

Mastroeni will need to work his back-four hard as they prepare for LA this weekend.

PWP Attacking Player of Week 8: Fabian Espindola

PWP Attacking Player of Week 8

PWP Attacking Player of Week 8

Pretty comprehensive as Espindola took great advantage, as did his teammates, with Loyd’s poor performance…

Another player getting big headlines this weekend was Clint Dempsey.  Here’s how Clint lined up playing against the full strength Rapids:  99 touches, 55/59 (93% passing accuracy), 2 Key Passes and 2 Goals.  So a great game for Dempsey and a solid indication that his run of play over the last 3-4 games has been superb…

Other notable team attacking performances this week saw New York completely blast Houston 4-nil; that is two games running where New York matched or exceeded their PWP Index rating for last year – is it any wonder they’ve won the last two games?

As for bottom dwellers, Philadelphia was the only team in the bottom four without a Red Card; worst of the bunch this past week also included Chivas, Sporting KC, and FC Dallas.

Maybe it’s just me but another reason why a team’s Index shouldn’t double count the impact of a Red or Yellow Card – when players get booked (regardless of red or yellow) does it impact overall team PWP performance?  I think so, and I’ll look into that at the half-way point of the season.

I’ll look at teams that lose with and without players that got booked; not sure what I’ll find out but it should be interesting to see if it can be quantified to some extent.

PWP Defending Team of Week #8:  New England Revolution

PWP Defending Team of Week 8

PWP Defending Team of Week 8

A clean sheet is a clean sheet and so on… shutting out Sporting is probably easier at home than on the road – the rematches will be big games and Collin is probably pretty narked for that Red Card.  We shouldn’t be surprised though; he’s traditionally untimely in his tackles and with Opara (still injured?) Vermes may be hard pressed to find a suitable replacement.

Anyhow – the top play here was the back-four for New England shutting down Dwyer and Zusi… well done and not a surprise…

PWP Defending Player of Week 8: Chris Tierney

 

PWP Defending Player of Week 8

PWP Defending Player of Week 8

The toughest pick I had this week was selecting which defender got the award; both AJ Soares and Chris Tierney stood out over the others.

AJ offered up these defending attributes… 30 of 38 in passing for 79% accuracy, 69 touches, 1 tackle won, 2 blacked shots, 2 interceptions, 6 clearances and 3 recoveries.  Pretty close to the same outputs by Tierney – more appropriate though was the fact that the two of them partnered on the Revolution defensive left side, in their own final third in stopping 12 of 38 passes by Sporting KC.

In my view Tierney and Soares were far more productive for their team this weekend than Farrell – this isn’t the first time my PWP Players or teams don’t match what comes out of MLSSoccer.com – different views offer different outputs… both have value.

Congrats to San Jose for their clean sheet and kudo’s for Montreal winning a game that a switched-on Union should have won hands down… wow – what a surprise that outcome was!

Stay tuned for my PWP-Pick-List Week 9;  I’m at 44% success rate and I took a clean hit across the cheek when Montreal and New England took three points while Real Salt Lake gave away two points in that complete melt down against Vancouver…. my, oh my, oh my…

Best, Chris

 

MLS Week 8: Top 50 Shots

Okay, shots. We talk a lot about shots because, well, shots lead to goals. Obviously you can’t have a goal without first attempting a shot. I know that was a deep thought, but just go with me here.

We put a lot of emphasis on shots here and have dug into their expectation leading to goals. It’s backed by the belief that shots are important statistics in correlation to team success. Now there are plenty of caveats to shots and we use them to influence our ideas of what is good or bad. Matthias has taken time to explain at least some of them.

So with all that said you can’t read too much into all of these numbers. Take for instance the fact that Frederico Higuian creates 7.03 shots per 90 minutes. That’s nearly a shot and a quarter more than Brad Davis at 5.79. Is Higuian a better shot creator because he creates one additional shot over the course of a single match? If that shot is from zone 4 or even 5, the value of that single shot becomes marginalized in that specific instance.

Despite all of those various acknowledgements of how this is marginally interesting, and yet mostly a useless exercise, I put together a follow-up of last week’s top 50 individual shots creators in Major League Soccer. I decided it was best to cut up this data and present it via a tiered system to make it a bit more palatable and to highlight the players that have set themselves apart from their peers. Also, this allows me to be a bit creative in the tier process.

IBC Root Beer Tier – “The Best of the Best.”

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
1 Marco Di Vaio MTL F 326 1 1 24 4 29 8.01
2 Clint Dempsey SEA M 393 6 3 23 7 33 7.56
3 Federico Higuain CLB F 538 4 2 20 20 42 7.03
4 Robbie Keane LA F 450 4 1 22 12 35 7.00
5 Pedro Morales VAN M 472 1 2 19 15 36 6.86
6 Thierry Henry NY F 449 2 0 23 9 32 6.41

Oh, yeah… Marco Di Viao. He’s also pretty good at this whole soccer thing. I guess we can all say that we could have guessed every singl–what the hell is Pedro Morales doing in there??? I guess that probably explains a lot about what’s been happening in Vancouver. He’s second overall in total Shots Created and he could very well be a shoo-in for MLS Newcomer of the Year.  He’s like the offensive equivalent of what Jose Goncalves was last year to New England. I only have one question: who is this Camilo guy everyone was talking about?

Stewart’s Root Beer Tier – “You don’t have IBC? Who doesn’t have IBC?”

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
7 Landon Donovan LA M-F 450 0 2 13 14 29 5.80
8 Brad Davis HOU M 311 0 2 3 15 20 5.79
9 Graham Zusi KC F-M 450 1 3 9 16 28 5.60
10 Diego Valeri POR M 579 1 0 19 16 35 5.44
11 Dom Dwyer KC F 427 4 0 22 3 25 5.27
12 Leo Fernandes PHI F 436 2 1 13 11 25 5.16
13 Lloyd Sam NY M 621 1 3 12 20 35 5.07
14 Mike Magee CHI F 450 1 2 15 8 25 5.00
15 Giles Barnes HOU M 527 0 1 22 6 29 4.95
16 Justin Mapp MTL M 585 0 3 11 18 32 4.92
17 Michael Bradley TOR M 433 1 0 6 17 23 4.78
18 Mauro Diaz DAL M 604 2 3 13 16 32 4.77
19 Quincy Amarikwa CHI F 548 4 1 16 12 29 4.76
20 Felipe Martins MTL M 626 1 2 18 13 33 4.74
21 Gilberto TOR F 423 0 0 13 9 22 4.68
22 Cristian Maidana PHI M 425 0 2 11 9 22 4.66
23 Deshorn Brown COL F 448 1 0 19 4 23 4.62
24 Chris Wondolowski SJ F-M 450 3 0 20 3 23 4.60
25 Fabian Espindola DC F 531 2 2 11 14 27 4.58
26 Michel DAL M-D 401 3 2 11 7 20 4.49
27 Lamar Neagle SEA F 506 2 2 16 6 24 4.27
28 Obafemi Martins SEA F 620 2 4 13 12 29 4.21
29 Erick Torres CHV F 603 6 0 22 6 28 4.18
30 Javier Morales RSL M 527 0 2 7 15 24 4.10

Justin Mapp has the same amount of total Shots Created as Mauro Diaz in almost 20 minutes less field time. Try thinking about that next time you’re frustrated by Mapp’s hair line. Try.

Dom Dwyer does not go away. This guy could be someone that we may need to start legitimately talking about in the coming weeks. You should probably add Leo Fernandez and Lloyd Sam to that obnoxious hype list too.

Speaking of Sam, I added him to my MLS Fantasy Roster for tonight, hedging the bet that he finally scores a goal. At last look, the guy currently holds the highest xGoal predictor score without actually scoring a goal. If there was ever a guy that was “due” to score a goal, it’s him and I’m virtually betting on it happening.

On the note of not scoring goals, “Hi, Landon Donovan“. Who, in case you didn’t notice, is still a good player even when not putting the ball in the back of the net. Because, you know, skillz.

 

Barqs Root Beer Tier – “Old Reliable”

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
31 Dwayne De Rosario TOR M 254 0 0 10 1 11 3.90
32 Mauro Rosales CHV M 626 0 3 10 14 27 3.88
33 Kenny Miller VAN F 537 3 1 14 8 23 3.85
34 Bradley Wright-Phillips NY F 358 1 0 12 3 15 3.77
35 Darren Mattocks VAN F 580 2 3 13 8 24 3.72
36 Jack McInerney MTL F 436 2 1 13 4 18 3.72
37 Will Bruin HOU F 539 3 1 14 7 22 3.67
38 Baggio Husidic LA M 344 1 1 7 6 14 3.66
39 Bernardo Anor CLB M 497 2 0 16 4 20 3.62
40 Hector Jimenez CLB M 523 1 2 9 10 21 3.61
41 Teal Bunbury NE F 630 0 1 14 10 25 3.57
42 Diego Fagundez NE M-F 584 0 0 19 4 23 3.54
43 Sal Zizzo KC F 433 0 2 10 5 17 3.53
44 Kenny Cooper SEA F 358 2 1 12 1 14 3.52
45 Benny Feilhaber KC M 539 1 1 8 12 21 3.51
46 Juninho LA M 448 0 2 8 7 17 3.42
47 Andrew Wenger PHI F 528 2 0 14 6 20 3.41
48 Eric Alexander NY M 451 0 3 7 7 17 3.39
49 Alex CHI M 512 0 0 12 7 19 3.34
50 Saer Sene NE M 355 0 0 8 5 13 3.30

 

There are roughly 19 names here and I’m not going to go through them all. But key surprises are Jack McInerney, who everyone continues to think is “slumping” when he’s not scoring goals. Baggio Husidic is making waves in that flashy new diamond attack in LA. Husidic is filling the hole that once upon a time existed out wide and makes the Robbie Rogers-trade look worse and worse, as he likely won’t make it past a bench position upon return. Bernardo Anor has been doing a lot for Columbus out of the midfield but, perhaps, the bigger story than Anor–or even the LA trade for Rogers–is that fact that Gregg Berhalter pretty much stole Hector Jimenez who is looking brilliant in his new Crew colors.

Lastly, three other off season moves are having impacts with their new clubs.

  1. Teal Bunbury is finally being “the other guy” and taking shots in New England. Lord knows they need to start converting those opportunities.
  2. Sal Zizzo wasn’t exactly a headline move this off-season, but since being let go by Portland this past off-season he’s been a gold staple in the Sporting KC line-up.
  3. Kenny Cooper is having himself a quietly productive first season in the Emerald City. Yes, it’s towards the bottom of the line-up and it doesn’t really mean much of anything. But he’s been reliable and fits in with Clint Dempsey and Oba Martins, playing the third/fourth fiddle and doing whatever needs to happen. Great role for him and he’s doing it well.

There are a lot of things to take away from this. Like why didn’t I just make two tiers: IBC Rootbeer and Barqs, which is basically all you’re going to go with unless there is some local brewed Root beer that you want to try for funsies. Anyways, some information here. Not necessarily good information, but at this stage of analysis and data when it comes to MLS, and really soccer in general, what is “good” information?

My PWP-Pick-List Week 7

It’s a busy week for Philadelphia. If you get into Fantasy Football, it’s my recommendation you have at least two players from the Union in your squad this week. Who they are is up to you – I have added Amobi Okugo and Raymon Gaddis.

In considering my PWP Pick List this week, here are my prognostications based on not having any additional injury or suspension information than I was aware of Friday.

New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union:  Bottom line here is that the overall tenor of the attack and defending of the Union has been better this year than New York.  A more potent attack wasn’t in the cards for the Red Bulls against DC United, and I’m just not seeing it happening here either.

Wenger added value early on, as did Edu later, against Real Salt Lake. That value should continue, provided Kimura still lines up as the right fullback for the Red Bulls. Yeah, it’s hard to go against a team with the firepower of New York, but I’m just not linked in to seeing Mike Petke win a battle of chess against Hackworth – for whatever that means…  Union take 3 points – I hate saying that again, but it is what it is. If Eckerlsey lines up with Sakagya, Olave and Miller, then New York wins.

Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution:  This is a tough one – both teams are performing well early. The hitch for the Revolution has been scoring goals while the giddy-up for Chicago has been a renewed attack with Amarikwa leading the way.  If Amarikwa gets a goal against the stingy defense of New England, the Fire remain on fire. Otherwise I can see this game finishing in a nil-nil draw.

Philadelphia Union vs Houston Dynamo:  I’m not sure why I feel this way, but my thinking is the Union defense won’t be able to contain a renewed dynamic Dynamo, with a return of David Horst and a focused Will Bruin (one of the more normal #9’s in MLS) after having just played 3 days ago against a Red Bulls teams that was itching for it’s first win. I don’t see this as a high scoring game but Houston gets my head nod this week.

Colorado Rapids entertain San Jose Earthquakes:  A solid three points last week saw the Rapids take advantage of an injury depleted Toronto side. San Jose continues to have one of the poorer performing defenses across MLS this year and I see the Rapids rapidly taking advantage of that. Might we see Brown get the nod to start against what I consider to be a slower defensive center-back pairing of Bernardez and Goodson?  Rapids win.

Vancouver returning home to face LA in a quick back-to-back out West:  Hard to see Vancouver take three points here against a team that completely dominated the PWP six-step process against them just this past week; the Whitecaps will be lucky to escape with a draw but I think they can in the friendly confines of BC Place. If not, LA is slamming its foot down early this year and, like Seattle, if they can muster points early on this season, then most of the other teams will be chasing the Galaxy.

Columbus Crew vs DC United:  Can DC win three on the trot – not likely if Columbus are healthy and firing on all cylinders.  Berhalter was probably okay with 1 point traveling out to San Jose this past week, but three points are three points. To set the tone for a continued presence atop the Eastern Conference, this is a game the Crew should win; 3 points to Columbus.

FC Dallas entertains a still hurting Toronto:  If Toronto is going to win this game, they need to contain a very aggressive Dallas attack – an approach like they had against Seattle would do well for the Reds.  Is everyone healthy? If so, I think the passive aggressive Reds can take three points in Dallas – if not then Dallas probably puts at least one past Toronto and wins at least 1-nil.  Expect Toronto to have no more than 40% of the possession this game… key is Defoe and Bradley teaming up to penetrate the weak center of Dallas.

Sporting Kansas City vs Montreal:  I may get burned on this one, but I think this is a no-brainer; Sporting take 3 points against a Montreal team that will probably have poor possession, poor penetration and poor results in shots on goal against one of the best defenses in MLS.

Real Salt Lake vs Portland Timbers:  Wow – talk about a tough hill to climb so early in the season for Portland. What should have been 3 points melted away in the final 20 minutes to one point against a Chivas side that actually had 52% of the possession against Portland.  Talk about a difference between one year and the next – if memory serves, the last time Portland entertained Chivas at home, they won putting three goals past the Goats.  And in their last game of the season the Timbers put five past Chivas while having ~54% of the possession.  I just don’t see the Timbers taking three points here against the greatest nemesis of 2013 – Real wins.  As a supporter of the Timbers, it really pains me to say that, but if Portland is going to turn this season into a positive before mid-April, then their defense REALLY needs to get better…

Chivas USA vs Seattle Sounders:  It would be surprising, very surprising, to see the Goats take 3 points – or even 1 point – against Seattle.  With Dempsey beginning to find his role (in attack and defense) I just don’t see Chivas scoring unless they really abuse a slower Marshall in the center – otherwise there are simply too many attacking angles that the Sounders can offer – if there is a blowout this weekend it’s likely to come here as Seattle take 3 points.

That’s all for now – I was five for nine last week – not bad. It’s always a dodge to offer up prognostications, but there you have it.

Next up my Cumulative PWP Indices through Week 6.

All the best,

Chris

 

 

Possession with Purpose: My MLS thoughts and the Indices through Week 5

An editorial comment before starting: In case you missed it, there is no flash and dash to my headlines for Possession with Purpose. My intent here is not to create a misconception about what the Indices and corresponding statistics show.

Statistics, when effective, are not based upon emotion; they have value because they lack emotion. The trick has always been, from a management standpoint, to balance the value of metrics with the value of knowledge in how the game of soccer is played.

With that said there are a few changes (as expected after just five weeks) to these Indices – I’ll dig into those, but first as always, here’s a link to my original article on American Soccer Analysis in case you aren’t familiar with my methodology.

PWP COMPOSITE INDEX CUMULATIVE THROUGH WEEK 5 2014

PWP COMPOSITE INDEX CUMULATIVE THROUGH WEEK 5 2014

Observations:

It’s still early so teams may move around quite a bit. Consider how last year took shape: it wasn’t until the 15-17 week time-frame where teams settled in, and even then we saw FC Dallas take a marked nose-dive in PWP.

Put another way; by Week 17, last year, eight of the ten teams to make the MLS Playoffs were in the top ten and pretty much stayed there the rest of the way. By 2013 season’s end this Index had correctly identified nine of the top ten teams with only Houston as the outlier at 12th.

The grist between Week 4 and Week 5…

  • The Capt. Obvious here is FC Dallas have moved up top while Columbus, who lost 2-nil to Toronto have slid back to 2nd.
  • As for the bottom dwellers (somebody has gotta be there)… San Jose, Chivas and New England – more to follow there when digging into the Attacking and Defending PWP Indices.
  • Houston was off to a good start this season (4th in PWP last week) but they’ve dropped to 10th best this week. Much of that had to do with a red card to center-back David Horst and the three goals scored by Dallas less than 15 minutes after his exit.
  • This drop is one of those early season moves that might be expected with such a low sample size – by Week 12 or so a one-off game like this for a team might not create such a large impact in the Index rating.
  • Real Salt Lake completely hammered Toronto two weeks ago – yet this week, a big surprise for me, Toronto turned around and beat Columbus, in Columbus. That great result for Toronto saw them move up from 17th to 12th.
  • Other movers include Ben Olsen’s squad. DC United was dead last after four weeks and are now tucked in at 12th, behind Portland.
  • Another big mover this week was New England, albeit the wrong way, who moved from 12th best to 17th. More to follow on the Revolution a bit further down…

What to Look for Next Weekend…

As the year progresses I will begin to offer up a few snippets for your consideration on the upcoming games while leveraging the PWP Indices.

I’m not sure if you want to call these prognostications or not – that’s up to you – but in looking at the Indices and understanding all the analysis behind how they are created here’s my thoughts for this weekend.

I call it my (PWP-Pick-List): I have no idea how this will play out so we can all watch together…

  • Real Salt Lake at Philadelphia – Given the PWP pedigree of Salt Lake I’m not seeing Philadelphia win this game; as for the addition of Wenger and how he influences things – hard to say. In my view it is more likely Edu and/or Okugo lend more value than Wenger at this time. RSL wins…
  • Colorado at Toronto – Tough one here but I am going with a win to Colorado. It’s early yet and the Rapids remain a strong attacking team, even on the road (4 points on the road already). That coupled with numerous injuries in Toronto I see the Rapids taking 3 points against the depleted Reds.
  • Chicago at Montreal – Truly an interesting game between Yallop’s style and Klopas’s style. I had originally considered this might end in a draw but after thinking a bit more about how weak the PWP Defense was in Chicago last year (under Klopas) and how weak the Montreal defense is looking this year (under Klopas) I think Chicago takes 3 points.
  • Houston at New England – That red card really hurt Houston and perhaps Brunner? gets the head nod to replace Horst. As for the Revolution – they have a solid defense but can they score? I think Houston can get at least one goal up north – I’m just not seeing the same for New England… Houston wins.
  • New York at DC United – A real early test for both teams. The defense for New York really hasn’t been that good and DC are beginning to take shape. New York wins if Sekagya and Olave pair up as center backs with Eckersley returning to partner Miller as the fullbacks. If Kimura starts at right back I think DC United wins. Rumor has it Miller is injured – does that put Convey as the left fullback? If so don’t forget the 4-1 loss to Vancouver with Convey playing left fullback…
  • Seattle at FC Dallas – Another tough road match for the Sounders coming off a lucky tie against Portland last week. In all fairness the Timbers dominated large parts of that game and they exposed the weak center of Seattle. But FC Dallas also have a weak center – this could be another 3-3 draw but the edge goes to Seattle with Traore returning as center-back in place of a very weak defending Anibaba.
  • Chivas at Portland – Can I really opine anything different than 3 points to Portland? I’ll put it this way: if they don’t get three points against a very disorganized defense like Chivas there may be major issues in Soccer City USA.
  • Vancouver at Los Angeles – I’m not sure anybody beats LA in LA this year. LA wins.
  • Columbus at San Jose – Challenging home game for San Jose and they need three points against a strong Eastern Conference team. For now, I don’t see them doing that regardless of how many crosses they put into the box. Most likely a draw here…

I wouldn’t bet the house on any of these offerings – I’d suggest they are no more or less valuable than what others following MLS soccer might consider.

For the record though – after Week 15 completes I will begin to keep official track of my prognostications leveraging the PWP Indices.

Moving on to my PWP Attacking Index…

PWP ATTACKING INDEX CUMULATIVE THROUGH WEEK 5 2014

PWP ATTACKING INDEX CUMULATIVE THROUGH WEEK 5 2014

Observations:

Here’s where it gets interesting. Note that Philadelphia, New York and Chicago Fire are fairly high up in the rankings while Toronto and Sporting KC are a bit lower.

This is where you can get an idea on what teams tend to focus a wee bit more in attack and what teams might not.

So for example, when looking at New England, they have had just one home game so far this year. They’ve been shutout by Vancouver and in three of their four road matches they didn’t score a goal.

The only team they have beaten this year is San Jose, a current bottom dweller for most of the first five weeks. It’s that overall Index rating that helps me shape my pick that Houston will beat New England given their current performances.

As for New York, they have four draws so far this year after getting hammered at home by Vancouver. Their attack has gotten better with Peguy Luyindula and his efforts working with Steele and Sam were pretty good in Montreal. All that happened without Henry, Cahill or McCarty starting (albeit McCarty did come on as a sub later on). Don’t forget Luyindula missed that PK as well…

Chicago… This team does not resemble the attack pattern of old Chicago that Yallop left behind and abandoned in San Jose. There is more grist on the ground this year and if the defense gets better they should be pretty good.

My PWP Defending Index…

PWP DEFENDING INDEX CUMULATIVE THROUGH WEEK 5 2014

PWP DEFENDING INDEX CUMULATIVE THROUGH WEEK 5 2014

Observations:

The LA Galaxy have moved into the top spot in place of Columbus while Houston took a huge nose dive with the red card to Horst.

Four goals against (one being an own goal) to FC Dallas will significantly influence this Index that early in the season… note Houston went from having the second most effective defense to the 12th most effective defense.

Creeping up further this week was Sporting KC. Last year they were tops for the 34 game regular season and this week they climbed from 5th up to 2nd with that game against Real Salt Lake. It’s quite an achievement for Sporting to get a clean sheet against that wicked-good Diamond 4-4-2.

So how about New England? Two years ago their defense was solid and their attack was shaky; have they digressed? Hard to say, their back-end looks good (ooh err missus) but their front end leaves a wee bit to be desired…

Vancouver continues to stay in the top 10 for Defending PWP. Last year they were horrid in defense and every week they stay in the top ten is every reason to consider betting they will make the playoffs.

Last but not least Toronto are sitting in 7th place in Defending PWP. Defense will win you championships. The rebuild, though looking more geared to improve the attack, has had a strong influence on the defensive side of the pitch.

As noted earlier it appears they have a number of injuries — to long to list — so here’s a link in case you are interested.

In closing…

Clint Dempsey had a great 20+ minutes for Seattle this past weekend and it looks as if Schmid may have found the right area for him to operate in. That’s bad news for the Western Conference as a whole and in particular for Vancouver and Portland as they also vie against the Sounders for the Cascadia Cup.

How Dempsey settles in will be interesting especially if Kenny Cooper returns to his goal scoring days while in New York. The system might be a wee bit different but Cooper does well when there are others around him who can score and create good space by their mere presence on the pitch; Dempsey does that like Henry does that for New York.

All else considered the only teams I really haven’t talked about that much about are Montreal and Chivas.

I have no idea how Chivas will do this year. Their match this weekend in Portland is an early statement match for both teams. If Chivas takes it on the chin it is likely they retain the doormat award in the West again this year.

As for Montreal, I’m not a fan of Klopas (not because I don’t like him, I don’t know him) but I think the poor defense in Chicago will translate to Montreal. It’s hard to say though now that they have McInerney as well as Di Viao…

Five games in, Montreal are 5th worst in Defending PWP and 6th worst in Attacking PWP. Bottom line here is they aren’t good on either side of the ball, yet.

If I had an early season prognostication it would be Montreal will be the doormats of the Eastern Conference unless Jack McInerney brings some magic with him.

All the best, Chris You can follow me on twitter here @ChrisGluckPWP.

MLS Possession with Purpose: The best and worst of Week 5

And so it goes; another week completed where you got the heart-pounding excitement from the Cascadia Cup clash, a defensive struggle from two of the best teams in MLS, and lopsided victories for two others.

Before digging in, a couple of links to consider: if you missed the match between Portland and Seattle here are two articles you may want to read if the opportunity presents itself. This one was offered up by MLS, and then here’s mine offered up on my home site here in Portland with the Columbian Newspaper.

Also, if PWP is new for you there may be value in reading what that’s about through this link, an introduction to PWP and some explanations in case this approach is new to you.

With that out of the way it’s time for some grist… who was the most effective and efficient team in my PWP Composite Index this week, and who was the worst?

To set the table here’s my standard diagram for Week 5 only. Later this week I will publish the Cumulative Index – when I do I’ll pop that link here.

PWP STRATEGIC COMPOSITE INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

There were two games this past weekend with lopsided scores (3-nil LA over Chivas) and (4-1 FC Dallas over Houston).

Up until the completion of the LA Galaxy 3-nil thrashing of Chivas USA, it looked like FC Dallas would be top of the heap for Week 5 – and rightly so given they put 3 past Houston plus they got the Orange team to give them an own goal as well.

But as you can see, LA were tops this week; more later on why, and it may surprise you.

The tough part about the FC Dallas game, for Houston, was the straight red and sending off of David Horst on what the Referee considered was a rash foul down Houston’s right sideline. I’m not so sure about that but as we have seen so far this year, the Referee’s are stamping their authority with no reservation whatsoever.

Spilt milk and, as it goes. Dallas scored three goals within 15 minutes of that Red Card to take three points. If you run a team defense in Fantasy football and have Houston in that role you got hosed – I do and I got hosed in the back-four; still got 52 points though!

But back to the LA Galaxy match on Sunday

If anyone wasn’t sure about how Landon Donovan could operate in a Diamond 4-4-2, be advised that he can – he has – and he will; when surrounded by other strong players, he’s tough to stop.

For me, though, this game wasn’t about just scoring goals. It was also about defense, and it’s that defensive mindset that put LA at the overall top this week – clean sheets matter!

As for the bottom side of the Index…

If it’s LA shutting down Chivas that garners the top offensive spot, then it’s reasonable the flip side is the complete lack of structure and focus from Chivas that sees them at the bottom.

Carlos Bocanegra has great mental awareness, but he can’t stop an aggressive Galaxy attack on his own – and in the short glimpses I had of their video it certainly looked to me like Baptiste and others were simply outmatched.

As for Houston – enuf said – the Red Card to Horst directly influenced the outcome of that game.

As for the middle of the middle of the pack… if you read my recommendations above about the Timbers-Sounders match, you know that game was all about possession with the intent to penetrate. There was absolutely no possession, that I saw, where the intent was to possess just for the sake of controlling possession.

There is no love lost between those two teams, and it seems every time they meet both just simply want to smash each other senseless. It makes for great entertainment, but there are times in my book where negative football has value, and securing three points (like it or not) is a time where negative football has value.

So on to the PWP Attacking Index; here’s how they lined up head to head…

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

For the first time this year the magical 3.00 barrier was broken in the attacking index. It comes on the heels of the USMNT also breaking the 3.00 barrier in the first half against Mexico. If you missed my thoughts on that game, you can review them here.

Onwards and upwards – for the first time this year Portland broke the top-five barrier in team attack for a given week, getting two stunners from Diego Chara plus another couple from the Argentina contingent of Diego Valeri and Maxi Urruti.

Not to be outdone was the final 20-minute performance of Clint Dempsey – aye – he got a goal early on, but for much of the game his influence and presence was pretty much unnoticed. Indeed, the chalkboard tells us that between about the 40-minute mark and the 70-minute mark, he had just 9 touches of any sort with no shots or key passes. It wasn’t until the 70-minute mark where he started to directly influence and impact the game. After that point, Dempsey had no fewer than 18 touches in the run of play with one key pass, three shots on target, and a goal.

I’m all for highlighting his hat trick in that game, but he simply wasn’t solid through the full 90+ minutes, and his team barely eked out a draw.

Understanding that and seeing the red-card tainted blowout of Houston by FC Dallas my PWP Attacking Player of Week 5 was…

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

That may be a surprise to some on two fronts. One – Dempsey got a Hat Trick. And Two – what about Watson or Diaz?

Well, as already noted, Dempsey simply didn’t play well for a full 90+ minutes and his presence and influence did not prevent Portland from having their best attacking performance of the year.

In addition, it’s likely Seattle drops three points if Ben Zemanski doesn’t do what he did in the box, and I’m simply not in favor of seeing someone getting an Attacking Player of the Week award when his team loses or draws. 3 points is the objective in this game – it’s not all about just scoring goals.

And two – while Diaz is the spark that lights the Dallas attack this year and Watson donated a brace of goals this weekend, I feel and think Michel had more overall responsibility on the pitch; therefore – given his vast number of touches on both sides of the ball I give him the award.

And in case you missed it, I don’t view this weekly award as going to someone who just lights up the front end without also considering how well they supported the back end.

Time now for Defending PWP Team of the week, where the LA Galaxy really made it count

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

It was a close call between LA and Sporting KC this week when it came down to it; any team who can get a clean sheet against Real Salt Lake has really done their job.

But… alas… the Top PWP Defending team was LA. Why? Well it really came down to how poorly Chivas USA performed against LA, and not how poorly Real Salt Lake performed against Sporting; remember – this Weekly Index does not get influenced by previous performances on a week to week basis only the Cumulative Index does.

When checking out my Cumulative Index later this week, you may see a change in who the top defending team is overall – for now though – this is just Week 5.

In looking at the player statistics I had considered awarding the PWP Defender of Week 5 to Landon Donovan, and here’s why: he had three key passes, five recoveries and an 85% passing accuracy with 2 assists. But the more compelling case fell to Juninho, given his combined efforts (like Michel) playing on both sides of the ball.

Here’s the Diagram offering up his team effort on Sunday…

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 5 ONLY

In closing

Week 5 saw some individual players step up and some team performances improve as compared to previous weeks. It’s a long season, and it’s likely the Cumulative Index will continue to take shape – especially after the (unexpected) Toronto victory over Columbus in Ohio.

You may have thought that game flew under the radar, but it hasn’t, and Toronto will look the better for it in my Cumulative Index… all is not lost when a team gets a big victory without getting the headlines for that week.

If curious – here’s a link to my Weekly PWP analysis on the Red Bulls of New York.

All for now,

Chris

MLS PWP: Team Performance Index through Week 4

With just four weeks of play in the books, it’s unlikely that the bottom feeders by the end of this year are those at the bottom right now. But this analysis should be an indicator on who needs to get better in attacking (and in defending) when it comes to Possession, Passing Accuracy, Penetration, Creation of Goal Scoring Opportunities and converting those opportunities into goals.

As a reminder here is the initial PWP article offering up an introduction and explanation to the PWP Strategic Index, if this is a new approach for you to consider.

For the future – please get used to the abbreviation and hashtag #PWP-TPI. I will refer to my cumulative analyses on MLS team performance this way.

And in case you missed it here is a link to the Week 4 PWP Analysis.

Here’s how they stand after Week 4:

PWP Cumulative Strategic Index After Week 4

Observations: (click to enlarge)

For me it’s no surprise that Columbus remain atop considering they have 9 points after three games and have done pretty well in all phases of PWP. They rank 3rd in Possession percentage at ~57%, 1st in Passing Accuracy at ~81%, nearly half of all their shots taken have been on goal (41.48%), and they’ve converted 62.86% of those targeted shots into goals. Only FC Dallas has a better rate in converting targeted shots on goal to goals scored (71.25%)… Conversely, DC United have only converted 7.41% of their shots on goal into goals scored.

What is somewhat surprising is how far down Toronto have dropped after their 3-nil loss to Real Salt Lake. As noted in my Week 4 Analysis Toronto did well in getting results their first two games, but when going up against a traditional powerhouse in MLS their tactics and strategies were simply dominated.

Again, to drive home some points about PWP – Passing Accuracy and Possession Percentage will influence the bottom line, and in the first three games Toronto have simply been very poor in passing accuracy (67%, 59%, and 54%), and their highest amount of possession percentage came against RSL at 46%, while they had 38% against DC United and 32% against Seattle.

We already know that DC United has not started with a bang–and given Seattle’s loss to Columbus–it isn’t quite so surprising after all.  (Perhaps?) the league table position for Toronto is more a reflection of luck and good fortune than a comprehensive approach to attacking and defending with purpose?

I’m not alone in ranking Toronto a bit further down the scale…  Whoscored.com currently ranks Toronto as 11th. I also checked Squawka.com, but their data currently only go out to week 2 for team comparisons.

So enough about Toronto. Dallas, Salt Lake, Houston and Vancouver round out the top 5. In considering those other four, the new kid on the block for me here is Vancouver. Why?

Well last year they had issues in defending while clearly having a very strong attack. Early indications are that the defending side of the equation has been fixed… does that hold true as the grind begins in April and the heat of summer sets in?

As for Dallas, Salt Lake and Houston – Pareja is no stranger to fielding a top team in MLS when it comes to Possession with Purpose (Colorado was in the top ten last year), and Houston has done what it needed to do (at least so far) to get tighter in defense and offer up better balls for Barnes and Bruin to score.

The boring team in the top 5 goes to Real Salt Lake. Simply said, they just keep doing what they need to do – polish their Diamond 4-4-2 and let it shine, regardless of who plays up top – be it Garcia, Plata or Saborio. Then there’s the ever present and dominating defensive central midfielder, Kyle Beckerman, who controls the back.

Speaking of the Diamond 4-4-2 – as the year continues, I’ll be able to offer up additional analysis on what teams run what basic formations with the intent to really peel them back to see if specific team performance indicators increase or decrease based upon that simple filter.

In considering the bottom feeders outside of Toronto so far…

DC United – Aye – great weekend in that game against Chicago, and there remains no question DC United like a possession-based attack. The difference this week was a highly engaged Johnson and Espindola in attack that also included a steady stream of pretty good crossing and wing penetration.

How well that holds up is hard to tell. Head coach Frank Yallop has been known to cede possession, given his days in San Jose, but the direct attack for the Fire is more ground-based this year given the types of strikers. Has everybody by now realized that Yallop was sacked because he wanted to change the attacking approach in San Jose, and Watson–along with the front office–didn’t?

To be sure – look no further than what team sits just above DC United – it’s San Jose. For now, that’s not an indicator that the Earthquakes are a bad team… no… I’d offer that it’s more of an indicator that their approach in attack needs refinement as does their back four being a bit unlucky with that own goal against New England.

Not last and not least are Portland and Montreal… For me, seeing Montreal on the low end is not surprising – head coach Frank Klopas ran a pretty weak defensive team in Chicago last year, and it seems to have translated over to Montreal. It’s true that Di Vaio was missing in games 1 and 2, so this will be a team to watch as well.

As for Portland,  here’s a possession-based team that simply hasn’t clicked yet. And in all that there remain holes in the defending side. One might say that there are distinct instances of distinction where they have instinctively distinguished themselves as lacking instinct in where to defend. Or – in other words – the back four have been better at ball watching than defending the ball…

Mid-table: Sporting, Colorado, LA, New York, Philadelphia and New England

It’s early days and given some top activities in defending and attacking for Sporting it is likely their run of games inside and outside of the MLS Regular season will now give them a breather to prepare for Month 2; the same can probably be said for LA as well as the Earthquakes (who a lower at this time).

As for New York – I’ll touch more on them in another article but for now I’m still not sure Petke has found the right mix. Philadelphia, from what I have seen, has some dangerous players in the Midfield (Edu and Maindana come to mind first) – so how they fare in April will be interesting to see in contrast with New England.

With all those observations I’ll simply offer up these two diagrams to give you an idea on where each team stands in the PWP Strategic Attacking Index and Strategic Defending Index.

PWP CUMULATIVE ATTACKING INDEX AFTER WEEK 4

As a reminder here are the individual players who have been highlighted as the PWP Attacking Players for March – they might be reasonable targets for your MLS Fantasy team if funds are available…

1. Federico Higuain
2. Jaoa Plata
3. Bernardo Anor
4. Graham Zusi

On to the Strategic Defending PWP and the PWP Defenders of March.

PWP CUMULATIVE DEFENDING INDEX AFTER WEEK 4

Top Defenders for the Month of March:

1. Michael Parkhurst
2. Corey Ashe
3. Ike Opara
4. Kyle Beckerman

In closing…

Remember that the season is still young – but in about 4 weeks time it won’t be as young, and in 16 weeks time this Index should begin to settle in and hopefully, like last year, paint an early picture on who’s up for the Playoffs and who might be making some summer transfers to bolster chances for a late season push.

Teams to watch in this Cumulative Index are numerous.

In the bottom end let’s see about Toronto, Portland, San Jose, and DC United – will the rest of MLs figure out the way to beat the Toronto approach of counter attacking? Will the return of Donovan Ricketts after the Seattle match spell a recovery in the back four for Portland? Can DC United really make better use of the accuracy and possession based approach? And finally, can Watson continue to make use of his aerial attack in getting penetration through the air as other teams seem to build greater strength in the midfield?

On the top side can Columbus continue their early run and does the sleeping giant residing in Houston awaken even more to clinch dominance across the East? Can FC Dallas hold it together this year under the new guidance of Pareja?

How about the other money bag teams like New York, Seattle and LA Galaxy – have other teams in the mix figured a way to bypass the top-flight DP approach used by those guys or are they real challengers for the Cup and the Shield?

Last but not least – the Champions from last year – Sporting continues to show well in defending, and Zusi has lifted his game on both sides of the pitch. Will the World Cup really be his time to shine? For the sake of the USMNT I hope so.

As always my thanks to OPTA and the MLS for continuing to provide free information in order to conduct this analysis.

If interested here’s a link to my latest article on New Sports Hub about the Red Bulls of New York, including their PWP Attacking and Defending Players of the Week 4.

You can follow me on twitter here: Each week I look to offer up twitter comments for the MLS nationally-televised games as well as those for the Timbers.

All the best,
Chris