Playoffs are a real possibility for the Whitecaps

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

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

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

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

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

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


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-Pick-List Week 10 – weaving Expected Wins into my predictions this week…

A different approach this week just to see how things go.  Instead of leveraging my PWP Indices this week I’m going to leverage my Expected Wins analysis this week.

Last week I was 5/9 so my running total on my PWP-Pick-List is 51%.

As background – most teams have had roughly an equal amount of home and away games – the Expected Wins #’s are the R2 values relative to playing either at home or on the road.  It’s not 100% enough games but it’ll do as a test of sorts…

The higher the number the more effective the team has been in overall Possession, Passing Accuracy, Penetration, Shots Taken, Shots on Goals and Goals Scored… the R2 below does not take into account the points earned (i.e. – those numbers do not reflect points won or lost in the league table)…

So in quick fashion (offering up only wins or losses – no draws) here’s my picks for games beginning Wednesday and ending on Sunday:

Canadian Cup Vancouver visits Toronto:  Expected wins Toronto .9979 at home and Vancouver .9997 on the road.  Have most MLS teams twigged onto the ‘mistake driven’ attack by Toronto where possession really has no meaning?  I think so…  Nelson has, as I’ve intuited earlier this year, imported a European style of football to MLS. Chelsea has seen some success but has failed to take the EPL Championship.  Is this system good enough to get Toronto in to the Playoffs? I’m not sure  – for now I pick Vancouver winning. 

Houston at home to Columbus: Expected wins Houston .9993 at home and Columbus .9996 on the road – Columbus would normally be favored but with Will Trapp sitting on a Red Card I pick Houston winning.  Besides – it is still early days for Berhalter’s system and Kinnear knows it well enough having just played Portland while also playing against Sporting the last few years…  I think the width of Houston is better…

Canadian Cup – Edmonton at home to Montreal:  Expected wins for Edmonton (no idea) and Montreal .9993 – Montreal wins given their budget and higher quality players… if they don’t win – wow – they really aren’t any good…

Seattle at home to FC Dallas:  Expected wins Seattle .9992 at home and FC Dallas .9990 on the road – Seattle wins; especially with Watson on a Red Card.

San Jose at home to Colorado:  Expected wins San Jose .9989 at home and Colorado .9996 on the road.  Colorado has done extremely well on the road this year averaging 1.25 goals per game – they have speed and the back-four for San Jose doesn’t… why on earth Goodson continues to be a potential selection candidate for the World Cup I don’t know…  maybe he proves me wrong this game.  For the USMNT sake I hope so…  for now Colorado wins...

Philadelphia at home to DC United:  Expected wins Philadelphia .9996 at home and DC United .9985 on the road; A rough patch for the Union of late and Hackworth is probably pretty hacked off by now – for no other reason than the Expected wins favors the Union I think Philadelphia wins…

Montreal at home to Sporting KC:  Expected wins Montreal .9979 at home and Sporting KC .9998 on the road – Montreal took advantage of a disjointed Union two weeks ago and they may consider have to play some stronger players to ensure a good result against Edmonton.  That and Sporting probably being very upset about dropping three points in New England sees Sporting KC  winning… besides, with Zusi and Besler being away with the USMNT later this year these early games really are pretty important for them.

New York Red Bulls at home to Chicago Fire:  Expected wins New York .9999 at home and Chicago .9996 on the road -The Red Bulls are almost at full strength – Cahill got minutes in their Red Card tainted win in Dallas and it’s not likely they will be shut out against a Fire defense that’s really watered down again this year – New York Red Bulls win…

Columbus at home to Vancouver:  Expected wins Columbus .9996 at home and Vancouver .9997 on the road – I’m convinced Columbus can play possession based football but can they do it consistently and can they take on a Vancouver team that is pretty powerful in attack?  I’m not sure they do that this next weekend.  So this might be an upset by many but I pick Vancouver to win…

San Jose at home to FC Dallas:  Expected wins San Jose  .9989 (subject to change given another home game earlier in the week) and FC Dallas (also with another away game earlier in the week) .9990 – I suppose San Jose has to put together a run of wins sooner or later – my guess is that it doesn’t happen here – the attack, if Diaz is healthy is just too strong and the back-four, as noted before, is simply too slow – even with Watson having to sit with a Red Card against New York…  (edit – Watson sits against Seattle) FC Dallas wins…  that doesn’t mean San Jose can’t score in this game – Dallas remain weak at the back and that might be the telling downfall for Dallas again this year when push comes to shove…

Portland at home to LA Galaxy:  Expected wins Portland .9953 at home and LA .9999 on the road; LA has higher Expected Wins but Portland are improving and LA just lost on the road to Colorado – tough game here and if I had to pick a draw this week it would be here.  For now, unfortunately my Expected Wins indicates LA with a win but I will go with Portland to win.

Colorado at home to Chivas USA:  Expected wins Colorado .9983 at home and Chivas .9997 on the road.  Another one going against the grain based upon Expected wins – I just don’t see Chivas winning this game no matter how well their attacking data points relate to each other…  besides speed kills and Colorado has speed up top with Brown… Colorado wins

New England at home to Seattle:  Expected wins New England .9990 at home and Seattle .9997 on the road.  A true test for New England in matching their solid defense against one of the most potent attacks in MLS – an early statement game, in my opinion for the Revolution.  They took it to Sporting KC against the odds at home not too long ago and this one will be a test as well.  For now I have more confidence in the attack of Seattle creating and scoring more goals than the defense giving away more goals to New England… Seattle wins…

Houston at home to Real Salt Lake:  Expected wins Houston .9993 at home and Real Salt Lake .9997 on the road.  Jaoa Plata has shown his value this season and his pairing with Saborio is simply dangerous – that coupled with the strong Diamond midfield makes RSL very hard to beat anywhere.  And with Houston having a game earlier this week I see RSL taking three points

Best, Chris

Week 9 PWP-Pick-List – My stunner this week? Columbus taking 3 at Sporting?!?

My thoughts on the Sporting v Columbus match a bit further down; for now let’s get started working from left to right based upon kick-off times:

Toronto entertains New England:  Toronto has been the odd one out in PWP this year and they’ve had injuries to go with – it doesn’t appear that is the case this week.  Both teams are at full strength.  So how might this game go?  Will the Revolution ‘turtle-up’ in defense like they have in some other away games?  Toronto has been a side that is willing to yield large amounts of possession…  Normally the run of play drives the intent where one team will want to play  ‘keep-away’ (sustain and maintain possession to increase better chances).  I’m not sure about this game though.  Without trying to be to cynical might this game be a game of ‘hot-potato’; you take it – no you take it???    …. Probably not, but there’s a fair chance that large chunks of this game will be start-stop with plenty of second chance balls and seeing-eye switches/through-balls/counterattacks against the run of play driving opportunities.  Or…. Nelson pulls a surprise with a possession based attack?   I don’t know…  However that balances out I see Toronto taking three points – perhaps 2-1 as a final score?

Vancouver how to San Jose:  Have the earthquakes put themselves together now after that win versus Chivas – perhaps?  But enough to beat an aggressive Vancouver squad at BC Place – not likely.  Vancouver wins this – in my view what remains is how many goals they score against a slower San Jose defense.  If history has any say it’ll be at least 2-1 Vancouver – my opine is the Whitecaps could score as many as three as the woes for San Jose continue.

Real Salt Lake travel to Chicago:  For some reason RSL struggles a wee bit in Chicago – in the last 5 matches RSL have never scored more than a goal but… this year may be different.  Chicago still don’t have a strong defense and Jaoa Plata is back from injury for Real.  I see this game as being one of a few games where an away team will win this week.  Real Salt Lake are beginning to gel a bit better and as much as I like Chicago it’s hard to see them taking three points against Real; RSL wins…

Colorado home to LA Galaxy:  This is a big test for the Rapids – especially after getting smacked down so badly in Seattle.  No major injuries or suspensions for either team and it’s likely the team who has the edge in possession is the team who takes this one unless early goals signal a blowout.  The Galaxy are (if you can believe this) even more formidable in attack than Seattle and like the RSL v Chicago game I see this one being won by the away team – LA Galaxy wins – against the odds most likely.

Philadelphia travel to Seattle:  The Union are on a bad run of late – win-less in six while Seattle are simply pumping with energy since that come from behind 4-4 draw with Portland.   Can anyone stop the Sounders as they continue to pound their opponents of late?  With them in the friendly confines of Century Link Field and no major injuries (I’m aware of) to their top 12 or so it just doesn’t seem likely the Union can come together to win this one.  Perhaps another multiple goal game for Seattle – but with a back-four that can be slow at times I don’t think they get a clean sheet — we’ll see – Seattle wins.

Portland at home to DC United:  If you looked at this game before the season started you mighta thought this one a no-brainer; not so fast now though.  DC United are taking shape as a strong attacking team that is no slouch in defense.  My view here is this one is a battle of possession with the critical time being spent defending United crosses into the box on one side and finding the right striker to score on the attacking side.  Total possession percentage might not mean that much with two teams like this – what will matter most is the quality versus quantity issue in the Final Third.  The Timbers are beginning to show last year’s habits and DC United are no where near the doormat this year.  I see this as a tight one but, really, can the Timbers afford to drop points at home again?  Even a draw here would be a big disappointment.  Timbers take three.

Chivas USA at home to Houston:  Two teams looking to change direction – Chivas can score and Torres has shown that.  The confidence of the Dynamo has to be shaky after getting hammered by New York and then turning around and dropping 2 points with that draw versus Portland.  All told neither team has a win in their last six games and a ‘draw’ is begging to be called here but I won’t.   At the end of the day the team who attacks better, as whole, usually wins.  And so far this year Chivas have attacked better, as a team, than Houston.  Chivas Win…

FC Dallas at home to New York:  If there was ever a time to play Dallas it’s now – they took a heavy and costly loss in DC United and New York are riding a wave that should remind many of how well they performed last year in winning the Supporter’s Shield.  New York wins… especially with Diaz unlikely to start and Michel, as well as Loyd, on a red card suspension — I just don’t see the home team winning this game.

Sporting KC at home to Columbus:  Of all this games this weekend this is the biggest one I’d like to watch and THANKFULLY this one is on NBC Sunday afternoon 4:00 PM Eastern!  Columbus have been one of the stronger teams to start this year and even with 3 draws on the trot they remain at the top with Sporting one point behind.   The challenge for Sporting this game is who starts at center-back; if I recall Opara is still injured and Collin is on a red card suspension.  And with Columbus being one of the top attacking teams in MLS this year I’m seeing the Berhalter bunch take three points – though if putting money on this game a draw is more likely.

In closing…

In case you missed it I did some research on team defensive activities this past week and after 71 games teams who average more Clearances, Interceptions and Blocked Crosses generate more Unsuccessful Passes against their Opponent’s and are more likely to win… so if you get a chance today watch the wings and hopefully your team will do a better job in those key performance areas.

So far I’m at 44% and staying there will be a challenge given I’m not offering up draws anymore – a team might consider a draw a great result but no-one goes into a game with a plan that expects to get a draw as an outcome.  Only the game state as the game is played might drive decisions that push for one point instead of three…

Best, Chris

Week 8: My PWP Pick List

Two weeks in and my PWP-Pick-List is doing pretty well:

If you tracked my picks from last week I nailed the wins by Seattle, Real Salt Lake, Sporting, FC Dallas, and the two draws – Vancouver v LA Galaxy and Chicago v New England.  That’s 5 for 9 in my first week (Week 6) and 6 for 10 in my second week (Week 7).

With that said, and if you’ve read my latest article on Expected Wins, (XpW) you’ll know that I will no longer be picking draws as an outcome – granted they will happen, but since no team really goes into a game expected a draw then my picks won’t either.

For now XpW won’t be part of my PWP-Pick-List.  Each team has only played 5-7 games so far, and that’s not enough individual sample points to support a reasonable correlation (R2) that has relevance.  Figure by Week 17 I’ll start to include the R2 for each team (home and away games) and then by Week 24 I will start to separate out the R2 for Home games versus Away games.

For now my source in this effort is strictly my subjective view on the objective data that I collect as part of my Possession with Purpose analysis.

To begin, your Week 8 picks:

New York Red Bulls hosting Houston Dynamo:  This is a hard call; Houston has David Horst back but Sarkodie is missing due to that red card last weekend.  It seems to me that when all four of the back-four are in and playing this team is really tough to beat.  That being said the Red Bulls got two goals against an improving Union side last week and they don’t have a short week to prepare like Houston.  Bottom line here is I see New York winning this game.

Seattle at home to Colorado:  Dempsey didn’t score against Chivas but he didn’t need to – instead he began to show his value in creating space and assisting others in scoring goals.  That additional value adds tremendous strength to the Sounders attack.  On the other hand, Colorado is no slouch when it comes to winning away games so this will be a huge test to the Seattle back-four.  Can they contain Brown?  I think so and Seattle wins…  though I wouldn’t be surprised to see this game end 2-1 or 3-2 given the weaker center with the Seattle back-four.

Philadelphia travels to Montreal:  In short – I simply don’t see Montreal winning, or even getting a draw at home against a Union side that probably could have done better this past weekend. The Impact have one of the poorest performing teams on both sides of the ball, and Klopas (imo) simply runs an archaic (direct attacking) system that no longer belongs in the MLS – more mounting losses for Monreal, and by the summer transfer window I could see Klopas being given the heave-ho.  Union win

DC United entertain FC Dallas:  A resurgent DC United with a quality striking partnership of Johnson and Espindola is working well as Kitchen runs the single pivot.  A great matchup where DC United is likely to have more of the possession.  That said Diaz and the creative midfield for Dallas can win this one and keep their strong start alive.  If I would bet on a draw it would be this one but I think the edge goes to Dallas IF DC United win this one then the Eastern Conference really needs to be considered about the positive confidence they’ll gain with three points.  If there was a game to be played on National TV this next weekend this would be a good one.

Columbus at home to New York:  A short rest for the Red Bulls against a well rested Crew that are probably disappointed they didn’t take three points from DC United.  I think defense wins this game and in my view the defense for Columbus is better than what New York offers.  Crew win

Sporting KC travel to New England:  The team formerly known as the wizards offered some offensive magic against a fast fading Montreal this past week and the Revolution will need to be in fine fiddle to control the volume of successful crosses I’d expect to see this game.  Can the New England defense hold and will the ability of the KC back-four be enough to contain a Revolution side who have struggled at times to score this season.  All told I’m not quite sure – I’d like to offer this as a draw as well but I think the improving attack, to go along with the best defense in MLS, gives Sporting the edge.  I won’t always pick Sporting to win every game this year, and against some Western Conference teams I won’t, but for now SKC wins.

Real Salt Lake at home to Vancouver:  Real continue to show quality versus quantity and they also continue to move up the ladder in my Composite PWP.  Vancouver had two very tough games against LA back to back and the wicked attack (with a healthy Plata) won’t get any easier in Rio Tinto.  Real Salt Lake wins

San Jose versus Chivas:  The Earthquakes have yet to win a game this year and no better opportunity to do that than this week.  Their continued use of crossing as a prime source for creating goal scoring opportunities should get them that three points provided Torres can be controlled in attack.  He’s shown an ability to score as well so this one probably doesn’t see either team getting a clean sheet but I do think the Earthquakes take three.

Portland travels to Houston:  Are the cards right for the Timbers to get their first three points?  We saw Nanchoff come on as a late sub and Valeri, along with Kalif and others, seemed to struggle with their passing accuracy.  Having vision and accuracy in tight spaces is what separated the Timbers last year from the Timbers this year.  That and a healthy, well communicating back-four led by Ricketts.  That being said Houston are coming into this game on short rest and Kinnear will want his players to stamp their irritating level of physical play early on.  This is likely to be a VERY physical game for both teams but the edge for the Timbers needs to be real sharp as they are simply fed up with not winning.  I think the Timbers find the back of the net and win.  If it’s Urruti great; but in this game, Valeri needs to score.

All for now and not an easy thing for me to ignore picking draws – but I remain steadfastly stubborn and stubbornly steadfast that teams don’t enter games with an intent to get one point – so in my picks I won’t either.

Best, Chris