Player Acquisition: The Tweeners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it Happened: Week Nine

Welcome to my few-days-old review of the weekend in MLS, where I recap three games that I watched in their entirety (well, usually) by picking a stat or Opta image that tells the story of the game for each team. This week I fell short of my usual three games, and I apologize to the legions of Red Bulls and FC Dallas fans who will no doubt be disappointed to read the following paragraph.

FC Dallas 0 – 1 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for both teams: 26 minutes for which I was able to watch this game

This game was hideous. Not necessarily soccer wise: Thierry Henry will be fun to watch when he’s pushing a walker around on opposing half, and this was a very competitive match, from what I saw. But I couldn’t even make it past 26 minutes of this game before I had to give up and turn it off. Between Je-Vaughn Watson’s karate kick of Tim Cahill, the referee’s less-than-stellar control of the game, and players, fans and coaches alike going insane showing their indignation at every whistle, it was absolutely painful.

Sporting Kansas City 2 – 0 Columbus Crew

Stat that told the story for SKC: the ability to switch the ball in one pass

skc9

First, an aside: re-capping the national TV game from NBCSN is next to impossible, but for a good reason. Kyle Martino on the broadcast team does such a fantastic job breaking down the tactics of the match, that it’s incredibly difficult for me to pick out anything that hasn’t been said yet. So I’m going to just roll with something he mentioned, and that Matthew Doyle also mentioned in his weekly column. One of the major differences between KC and Columbus is Matt Besler’s ability to switch the field of play with one ball. It’s an ability that led straight to the first goal (buildup pictured above according to Opta), and it’s one that USMNT fans have to hope pays off in the World Cup. Columbus, for all their admirable qualities, don’t really have a player with the quality to hit that ball. Federico Higuain can do it, and Wil Trapp will from time to time, but with SKC if it isn’t Besler switching fields, it’s Graham Zusi or Benny Feilhaber or Seth Sinovic. All in all, they’re just a more complete team at the moment.

Stat that told the story for Columbus: Jairo Arrieta’s actions

clb9

There’s one other really big difference between the Crew and Sporting KC that spells out why Columbus doesn’t measure up, at least not yet. Jairo Arrieta plays as a lone striker for Columbus. This probably isn’t the greatest role for him, because he’s at his best when combining with others. Sometimes this works well with him and Higuain, but sometimes (like Sunday), he ends up isolated and completely ineffective. Seriously, his action that was closest to the goal against SKC was still about 30 yards away from the endline. The Crew did have some solid moves, generally involving Josh Williams overlapping and sending in a dangerous cross, but the lack of a quality striker really did Columbus in.

Chivas USA 1 – 4 Houston Dynamo

Stat that told the story for Houston: interchanging midfield in the new formation

hou9

I’m gonna play a little trivia game here and see if you can guess which heat map belongs to which midfielder from Sunday’s game for Houston. The telecast called Dom Kinnear’s formation a 4-3-3, but it looked a whole lot like a 4-1-4-1 to me, taken straight out of Jay Heaps’ playbook from last season. I really liked the move: the Dynamo have multiple midfielders who can tuck in or pose a threat out wide, and Giles Barnes and Will Bruin just haven’t worked well together up top. So, might as well drop Barnes into the midfield. It was only Chivas, but the early returns were pretty tough to argue with: the midfield dominated every facet of the game from winning balls to creating chances. We’ll see if the Dynamo stick to the formation, but I liked the innovation from Kinnear. By the way, the answer from top left to bottom right: Davis, Garcia, Driver, Barnes, Carrasco.

Stat that told the story for Chivas: first half midfield struggles: 16/19 recoveries/interceptions in their own half

I’ve written about Chivas a few times in recent weeks, focusing mostly on the midfield. Against the LA Galaxy, they got run over and never stood a chance. Against San Jose, they held their own and really made it a game (seeing the Quakes’ struggles against Vancouver this weekend makes that seem like less of an accomplishment). Against the Dynamo on Sunday, it was back to getting run over. The five midfielders put together a total of 19 recoveries + interceptions in the first half, but 16 of them were in their own half and the other three were miles from the attacking goal. Basically, the Goats couldn’t make up any ground and just got pushed around by the more talented Houston midfield. On the bright side: the second half started better, until another goalkeeper red card finished off any Chivas hopes at a comeback.

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

How It Happened: Week Eight

The scorelines of the three games I caught this weekend had a very “binary solo” feel to them: 1-0, 1-1, 1-0. There were impressive performances from young wingers, outstanding goalkeeping, and irresponsible defending – and that was just in these three games. Here’s how it happened for six teams last weekend.

Columbus Crew 1 – 1 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for New York: 5 terrific chances in the first 10 minutes

ny8

This was certainly the premier game I tuned into this weekend: two teams fighting to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference and who play entertaining soccer. Both teams played pretty well, too, for the most part – a notable exception was the first ten minutes when Red Bulls were terrific and Columbus was sleepwalking. NYRB would look back on these first ten minutes with great angst, as great saves by Steve Clark and near misses by Eric Alexander and Thierry Henry made them all go for naught. New York would eventually get their goal through the red-hot Bradley Wright-Phillips, but also gave up their share of great chances that required big saves from Luis Robles. All in all, this was probably a game where both teams left fairly content with the result and how they played.

Stat that told the story for Columbus: 7 first time crosses from wide players

I went over the game from both team’s perspective above, so I’m going to use this space to talk a little general soccer strategy. Each and every game I ever watch, a wide player will receive a ball in the attacking third with forwards and attacking midfielders streaking into the box. And probably 80% of the time, the winger slows down and takes a touch to steady himself before crossing it, thereby forcing his teammates crashing the box to stop or delay their runs, and allowing the defense a chance to get set and defend the cross. Every time this happens, I get inexplicably angry. Crossing the ball with the first touch is admittedly more difficult and not always the right play, but it overjoys me to see Crew wingers (especially Hector Jimenez and Josh Williams) send in these first time crosses. Of the 23 the team recorded against New York, I counted 7 that were on the wide player’s first touch. Oh, and the one that led to the team’s lone goal? First time.

Montreal Impact 1 – 0 Philadelphia Union

Stat that told the story for Philadelphia: 15 giveaways in their own half by Union defenders

phi8

 

I used this stat for one of the games last week, and it’s a bit of a tough one to quantify. I included the above image to show how I figure: 15 of the unsuccessful passes by Philly defenders ended in their defensive half (one of which led directly to the game’s lone goal). For a team who have as impressive moments as the Union have early in the year, this kind of sloppiness out of the back really hurts. I don’t want to heap all the criticism on Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams and the other defenders, because the truth is part of the problem stems from the midfield. As good as Maurice Edu and Vincent Noguiera look at times, there’s often a conspicuous lack of anyone getting open in the middle of the field for the back line to pass to. The point is this: Philadelphia has certainly looked like a playoff team at times and probably deserves to have more points than they do, but at the same time are usually their own undoing.

Stat that told the story for Montreal: only 41 passes in attacking half by defense/midfield; 51 by four attackers

When watching the Impact this weekend, I was struck by the fact that four attackers in their formation were actually pretty creative and fun to watch. Jack McInerney, Marco Di Vaio, Felipe and Justin Mapp do a lot of good work interchanging and creating chances (especially on the counter). But their defense is fairly fragile, and because of that they play two central midfielders who concentrate on defending first and foremost. This leads to Montreal never really pushing up the field and keeping possession in the attacking half, which ends up putting a lot of pressure on them to defend for heavy minutes. This is one of many reasons that Montreal are near the bottom of the standings; on the other hand, those four attackers can be good enough to win some points on their own at times.

San Jose Earthquakes 1 – 0 Chivas USA

Stat that told the story for Chivas: 7/17 crosses completed by Leandro Barrera

chv8

Chivas had to be disappointed to lose this game. They outplayed the Earthquakes, particularly in the first half. They had more possession and more chances than San Jose on the whole, but they were really lacking in quality for the final ball/shot. A prime culprit on this was also one of their best players on the day, young electric winger Leandro Barrera. He mostly plays with the same strategy as guys like Fabian Castillo or Teal Bunbury; that is, run really fast past the defender and try to cross or shoot. Unfortunately, the end of that sequence is a struggle for Barrera: you can see from the image above that his crosses were as likely to fly well over the goal as they were to find a teammate in the box. If he can improve his service, Chivas should see an uptick in their goal scoring.

Stat that told the story for San Jose: 12 midfield recoveries + interceptions in the first half; 17 in the second

San Jose wasn’t overly impressive in earning their first win of the year, but the second half was markedly better than the first. Admittedly, some of this was due to Chivas playing the last portion of the game down a man, but I think the largest reason for the second half improvement was the introduction of Yannick Djalo to the game. Bringing in a true wide threat stretched Chivas’ midfield quite a bit, which was stocked with 3 center mids and two wide players who were wont to tuck inside. This led to the Goats controlling the midfield and winning a lot of balls in the first half, but they were spread thin and had a harder time in the second stanza. To wit: Chivas had 20 recoveries/interceptions to San Jose’s 12 in the first half, but were out-dueled 17-14 by that measure in the second. Once Djalo is healthy, he needs to be on the field all game: it’s clear that his presence brings a threat not only on the ball, but it also helps the team in other ways.

 

Agree with my ideas on these games? Think I’m an idiot? I love to hear feedback. @MLSAtheist

 

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.

How it Happened: Week Five

Another great week of MLS games went down this past weekend. Even though I didn’t have the pleasure of watching all 90 minutes of Cascadia bliss from Portland (I do my best to mix up which teams I watch for this post, and this wasn’t a Seattle or Portland week), there were still plenty of solid rivalry matches to go around. Without further ado, here’s how it happened for six teams last weekend:

Houston Dynamo 1 – 4 FC Dallas

Stat that told the story for Houston: Ricardo Salazar’s heat map

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If you don’t recognize Ricardo Salazar’s name from the Houston roster, you aren’t alone. He was the referee for this one, and while I refuse to rip on officials because they have a really difficult job, it’s impossible to deny the influence he had on this game (image above shows all the fouls called – three of which turned directly into goals). I actually don’t think Salazar did a terrible job given the circumstances: this game was a true rivalry match where both teams came out and played super physically from the opening whistle. But Houston and Dallas were neck-and-neck until the red card was doled out to David Horst, and the Dynamo almost immediately capitulated once they went down a man. Sure, the red card was a debatable decision, but Houston has to show better composure after going down a man.

Stat that told the story for Dallas: 11 set pieces taken by Mauro Diaz and Michel

It would be easy to pick a stat from the last half hour of this one, when Houston had basically given up and the Dallas midfield had full control of the park. But what’s arguably more impressive from this one was how Dallas was still in this game for the first hour, despite being on the road to a tough opponent in the Dynamo. Truthfully, FCD hadn’t been playing particularly well; Houston was successful in limiting space for Diaz and they had control of the midfield. But even playing mediocre, Dallas had created a number of really good chances and a goal, all from set pieces. Both Diaz and Michel are wizards over a dead ball, and any set piece in the attacking half is a chance waiting to happen for the Hoops.

Sporting KC 0 – 0 Real Salt Lake

Stat that told the story for Kansas City: 16 key passes

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For me, this stat/image is more about where the key passes took place than how many of them there were. KC and RSL have a bit of a history now, and the teams definitely know what to expect when they faceoff. I thought Sporting did a really good job of a couple things: (1) pressing RSL into turnovers and (2) attacking the Salt Lake diamond midfield. I’ll talk more about #1 below, so here’s my take on KC’s attack. They created most of their shots or chances by either playing wide around the narrow midfield or by bypassing it entirely and going over the top. While it didn’t result in any goals for Sporting, that was more of a function of RSL’s great goalkeeping and KC’s mediocre finishing. Overall, I liked the gameplan of Peter Vermes this weekend.

Stat that told the story for Salt Lake: 257/282 (91.1%) of completed passes were in the first two thirds of the field

Real Salt Lake is a possession team, and everyone knows it. They try to pass all over the field, and when they’re at their best they control the ball into and around the penalty area before getting chances. In this one, Kansas City really let them have it with their high-pressing defense. RSL couldn’t find much space anywhere in the middle third of the field, let alone the attacking third, leading Salt Lake to play mostly in their own half. This was particularly the case early in the game: in the games first 40 minutes, 76/113 (67%) of RSL’s completed passes were in the defensive half of the field. It was a bit surprising that a veteran team like RSL didn’t seem prepared for this one, but given the makeshift lineup Jeff Cassar fielded, a scoreless draw has to be seen as a point gained rather than two lost in Utah.

 

Chivas USA 0 – 3 LA Galaxy

Stat that told the story for LA: 131 completed passes in the center of the field by midfielders

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Bruce Arena did something that was pretty unexpected this Sunday, deploying a diamond midfield of four nominally central midfielders: Juninho, Stefan Ishizaki, Marcelo Sarvas and Baggio Husidic. The move was a clear message that despite their best attempts, the Galaxy had been unable thus far to find any decent wide play in the midfield opposite Landon Donovan. Instead of trying yet another option out there, LA played their four best overall midfielders in a diamond, and instructed them to figure it out as they went. As the scoreline suggests, this was hugely successful as the Galaxy just overran Chivas in the midfield time and again. The starting midfield completed 131 passes in the center of the field compared to the Goats’ midfield’s 79, and that’s to say nothing of the 2 goals on 8 shots that the midfielders also added. As I’ll note in the next paragraph, Chivas’ midfield is hardly a force to be reckoned with, but early signs on the diamond midfield are strictly positive.

Stat that told the story for Chivas: 1 weird starting lineup

OK, this isn’t a stat, but it’s hard to find anything in particular to focus on when most of the game was Chivas getting run over. There were some decent attacking combinations when the Goats were able to possess the ball and get forward, but those times were few and far between. From looking at the team that Wilmer Cabrera put on the field, it’s hard to imagine a much better result. I know the general narrative surrounding Chivas is that the club is much improved since Cabrera’s come onboard, but this is still a weirdly constructed roster. Trying to fit this team of very few fullbacks and a ton of attack-minded midfielders into a 4-4-2 is quite a task, which is why this week’s lineup looked so weird. The strange fits included featuring midfielder Eric Avila and centerback Andrew Jean-Baptiste at fullback, and Agustin Pelletieri* and mostly attack-minded Carlos Alvarez in central midfield.

*I think Pelletieri is supposed to be more of a holding midfielder, but all I’ve seen of him is an early red card vs. Vancouver and getting run over by LA. Too early to pass judgment, but he wasn’t impressive this weekend.

Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? I always appreciate feedback. @MLSAtheist

How It Happened: Week Two

I’ll be frank: either week two of the MLS season was much less exciting than week one, or I did a poor job of picking games to watch and analyze this week. My bet is that both are true. Anyway, onto the show in which I take a look at three games from the weekend and pick a stat or Opta chalkboard image for each team that tells the story of how they played (last week’s version is here if you missed it):

Sporting Kansas City 1 – 1 FC Dallas

Stat that told the story for Dallas: outpassed 418-213, including 103-41 in the game’s first half hour

A thought occurred to me when watching this game: Sporting Kansas City has to look a lot like a prototype of what Oscar Pareja wants out of his teams. From the formation to the high-pressing, KC has long made their money by manhandling opponents as soon as they get on the ball and not letting them get comfortable. In this game, Sporting came out fired up at home and simply punched Dallas in the mouth (not even completely a figure of speech – this game was brutally physical). The high-pressing from KC’s entire team had FCD out of sorts for most of the first half, particularly the first 30 minutes, when they mustered only 41 completed passes.

But the Hoops managed a road draw against the defending champs, so the game wasn’t completely a story of getting worked over. As the game wore on and Sporting found it difficult to keep up the constant pressure, Dallas was able to grow into the game a bit. They certainly were never dominant, but another very good game from Mauro Diaz and some smart counter-attacks allowed Pareja’s team to stem the tide for the majority of the game. In the end, it was fitting that the slugfest of a game saw just two goals, both from set pieces, but Dallas should feel good about how they played as the game progressed and were able to steal a point.

Stat that told the story for Kansas City: lack of production from forward line: 15 offensive actions in attacking third

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Sporting KC won MLS Cup last year and has unquestionably been one of the league’s best teams for the last few seasons. But few would argue that this success is built on a very strong defense and midfield. The forward line has often been sort of an Achilles’ heel for this squad, especially now that Kei Kamara has moved on. In this game, Graham Zusi was held out so he could stay fresh for CONCACAF Champions League action, and DP forward Claudio Bieler only came on for the last 13 minutes. But the five players who saw time at a forward spot for KC (Bieler, Dom Dwyer, Sal Zizzo, CJ Sapong and Jacob Peterson) combined to register 15 offensive actions in the attacking third. 

To be clear, that ‘offensive actions’ stat that’s illustrated above might have been made up by me just now, but it encompasses successful passes, dribbles, and all shot attempts. Too often on Saturday, and really for the last few years, Kansas City has dominated the game until the last thirty yards of the field, where they lack ideas. Getting Zusi back will likely help, as would playing Claudio Bieler for a full 90 minutes, but Sporting will need some more creativity and production from their forwards if they hope to lift another trophy this season.

Chivas USA 1 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Stat that told the story for Vancouver: only 53 passes in the offensive third (23 of which were after Kekuta Manneh came on in the 60th minute)

I tuned in for the Chivas-Vancouver matchup excited to see an offensive battle between two sides that combined for 7 goals in week one. Instead, I saw an early red card to the Goats’ Agustin Pelletieri followed by a lot of dull possession for Vancouver against a surprisingly organized team in red and white stripes. After looking so deadly in attack against New York, the Whitecaps looked completely lost for ideas on Sunday, with the only forays into the offensive third seeming to come from chips over the top from the superb Pedro Morales. That all changed when Kekuta Manneh came on, as he attacked the Chivas defense with and without the ball, causing fits for Eric Avila and eventually scoring the equalizer for the ‘Caps. Still, after playing 87 minutes against 10 men, Vancouver has to be rightfully disappointed at only earning a point.

Stat that told the story for Chivas: Mauro Rosales turning back the clock: 151 actions

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The Seattle Sounders traded Mauro Rosales to Chivas this offseason because he was too expensive and too old to fit into the club’s plans for 2014. Nobody even really argued with the decision, though Rosales is undeniably a classy player and won the league’s Newcomer of the Year award in 2011. So far in 2014, playing in the red and white of the Goat Zombies, Rosales has looked a lot like the 2011 playmaker that Sounders fans knew and loved. Playing down a man, Rosales was everything you could hope from a smart, skilled veteran; he hoofed it up field when in trouble so his team could get organized, he led smart counter-attacks and he kept the ball when possible (with the help of Erick Torres, who also played very well). All in all, he registered 151 actions in Opta’s chalkboard, 12 more than any other player and a whopping 47 more than his nearest teammate. Not bad for a washed-up 33-year-old.

Houston Dynamo 1 – 0 Montreal Impact

Stat that told the story for Montreal: Marco Di Vaio‘s non-existant heat map

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I’ve watched about 120 minutes of Montreal Impact soccer in the season’s first two weeks, and just about every one of those minutes has been more impressive than I expected from the Impact this season. Despite having zero points from their first two games (both on the road), they’ve actually looked pretty good on the field. Justin Mapp is doing Justin Mapp things (like this awesome run & assist from week 1), Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier are pinging beautiful balls to open up space, and Felipe and Andrew Wenger are getting in pretty good goal-scoring spots. So what’s the reason behind the zero points? Well, not putting chances away against the Dynamo killed Montreal. ASA’s shot numbers had their xGF at 1.15 this week, but there were plenty of other times that they wasted dangerous opportunities (one particular Wenger near-breakaway early in the first half stands out). If All-Star Italian striker Marco Di Vaio wasn’t suspended, I have a hard time believing the Impact gets shutout last week.

Stat that told the story for Houston: 8 fouls conceded in the defensive third

This was another game where what I ended up watching did not line up with the expectations I had going in. After an open, attack-filled opening game with New England, Houston came out and didn’t really do much offensively against Montreal. It was actually sort of a gameplan of old-school Dom Kinnear, as the Dynamo got an early goal thanks to a deflected Will Bruin shot, and then packed it in and made themselves hard to beat. They sat in two organized banks of four so that only the perfect ball from Montreal would be enough to beat them, and when it looked like they might get beaten, they did the professional thing and took a foul. Eight of Houston’s 14 fouls conceded were in their defensive third, and while I can’t offer much perspective on whether that’s a high proportion compared to league average, I can tell you that many of them occurred when Montreal players were breaking away and getting ready to provide a scoring chance.

Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? I always enjoy feedback. @MLSAtheist or MLSAtheist@gmail.com