How it Happened: Week Eleven

Another weekend of games, and another weekend of contradictions from teams across the league. I thought I’d write today about the six teams in the three games I watched through the lens of huge differences between those teams. Without any further ado, here’s how it happened last weekend.

Toronto FC 2 – 0 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for Toronto: 6 through balls, 3 key passes from middle third

tfc11

Toronto and New York are both flawed teams. Toronto doesn’t particularly well with possession in the middle third of the field (especially without Michael Bradley), and they tend to set their defensive line of confrontation dangerously deep in their own half. But there’s one thing they excel at that helps neutralize both of these weaknesses: they attack swiftly and directly through the middle third with through balls to a striker who’s not bad at putting them away, Jermain Defoe. Take a look at that map above: three key passes from TFC midfielders and six more through balls, all coming from the middle third and springing dangerous attacks very quickly. For sake of comparison, New York had exactly zero through balls or key passes from the same part of the field in the match.

Stat that told the story for New York: 4 successful crosses, 34 unsuccessful crosses

If Toronto’s greatest asset is their direct attacking speed through the midfield, it’s one thing that the Red Bulls commonly lack. I already noted that they had no key passes or through balls from the midfield recorded against Toronto, but that number of crosses is fairly absurd as well. I’m not one who believes crossing is a terrible gameplan at all times: Lloyd Sam has maybe been the best Red Bull this year, and they really should’ve scored at least one goal from those 38 crosses on Saturday. But the lack of variety and speed in their attack is stunning for a team as talented as New York. Hopefully this improves when Peguy Luyindula returns and adds some spark to the midfield, but right now New York looks about as flawed as Toronto.

Real Salt Lake 2 – 1 Colorado Rapids

Stat that told the story for RSL: first 50 minutes of the game: 93/110 passing in center of field vs. 61/84 for Colorado

rsl11

The Rocky Mountain rivalry is always a hotly-contested one, and in years past has been a game with a clash of styles, too. That was less the case in the first half of Saturday’s game: both teams came out with narrow midfields looking to control the center of the field. The Rapids have tried out these tactics this season, but RSL has been using them for years, and to be frank, it showed early in the game. Salt Lake’s diamond midfield (even without Kyle Beckerman) had little trouble passing the ball around Colorado like a church congregation with the offering dish. The lead-up to their first goal was absolutely beautiful to watch, and they created oodles of other chances in staking themselves to a 2-0 lead.

Stat that told the story for Colorado: 5 out of 7 successful crosses, 11 of 16 total crosses, 10 of 16 shots came after going behind 2-0

Pablo Mastroeni was a really good central midfielder in his playing days, and he has a couple of very good ones in his current squad (especially Dillon Powers). But his insistence on lining his team up with 3 or even 4 natural center midfielders on the field has confused me all season. Colorado was one of the surprise stories of the league last year, and a lot of their success was due to a fairly direct style of play. It certainly wasn’t all long balls and crosses a la Stoke City, but they made a lot of good things happen by getting the ball into the box to Edson Buddle and Deshorn Brown. In this one, after falling behind 2-0 in the 50th minute, Colorado reverted a bit to their 2013 ways. They lumped in significantly more crosses, and not coincidentally they had more success getting legitimate chances, shots and goals. I hope the Raps were taking notes on some of what made them successful in the second half.

Seattle Sounders 1 – 0 San Jose Earthquakes

Stat that told the story for Seattle: Obafemi Martins was/is really good

sea11

So far this year, Clint Dempsey has (deservedly) gotten a lot of attention for being the best player in the league. Obafemi Martins has gotten less attention for being just about as good. Martins and Dempsey are absolutely the most fearsome attack combination in the league right now, and it’s very much because of how well they play off each other. Dempsey’s success has come very much thanks to Martins’ passing and hold-up ability, while Martins has sacrificed some of his goal-scoring to do the dirty work for Seattle. In this one without Deuce, Oba unleashed the fury with a pretty incredible goal that you’ve probably seen already. He’s been everything you could ask for of a Designated Player this year: making plays each and every game that have helped the Sounders to the top of the league.

Stat that told the story for San Jose: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi was/is really boring

If Seattle’s DP additions from last season have been the most fearsome duo in the league this season, San Jose’s recent signings have been about as scary as the Odd Couple. Let’s run them down: Yannick Djalo looked super exciting, then got hurt. Andreas Gorlitz didn’t look very exciting, then got hurt. Brandon Barklage, Atiba Harris and Khari Stephenson have all been basically the best any Quakes fan could hope for: extremely average MLS journeymen. But the one guy that I want to mention is the one who’s been most disappointing: Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. I mean no offense to Pierazzi at all, but he came in from French club AC Ajaccio with nearly 180 career appearances in France’s top league and a lot was expected of him. From what I’ve seen of him so far, he’s struggled to fit in with the team as well as the physicality of MLS. He’s hardly been a bad player, but he’s definitely not made the impact you expect of a high-profile addition from a top European league.

 

Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? Let me know. @MLSAtheist

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PWP Week 7: Zusi has a Sporting impact as Moor Rapidly manages threat of Earthquakes

Week 7 got an early start with a first for New York this year – a win. Was there anything else that stood out this week, and who managed the top spot?

To kick off my PWP for Week 7, and only week 7, here’s my traditional diagram showing the highs and lows and everyone in between..

PWP Strategic Composite Index Week 7

The Capt. Obvious here is the 4-nil thrashing that Sporting KC put on Montreal; if there is a Head Coach on the hot seat, in the early days of 2014, it’s likely to be Frank Klopas; wow…

What may be surprising to you is that Dom Dwyer did not get my PWP Attacking Player of the Week; why?

Because most good strikers score goals – what’s critical in my view is the amount of set-up and overall interaction that goes with creating those goal scoring opportunities.  And as much as I’d like to favor Dom Dwyer, he had just 58 touches with 11 passes, 5 of them unsuccessful for a 54% passing accuracy…  good but not great in my view.

Other teams getting worthy results this week were Seattle, Real, and Dallas in addition to New York, hopeful of taking three points but somewhat satisfied with one point are New England, San Jose and DC United; disappointed with draws were most probably Chicago, Colorado and Columbus.

In considering Sporting KC scored three, plus got an own-goal by Montreal, how did their Six Steps in the PWP Process play out?  Below are the overall outputs:

PWP Attacking Process Sporting KC Week 7

PWP Attacking Process Sporting KC Week 7

In case you missed it one of my newer focus areas this year is passing accuracy.

For now I think there is great value in recognizing how much influence 81% passing accuracy has across the entire pitch; even more so within the Final Third.

For this game Sporting were successful in completing ~71% of their passes in the Final third; that accuracy led to having 58% of their shots taken go on goal and a 57% success rating in having those shots on goal score goals.

In simple terms it almost didn’t matter where the shots were taken that scored (2 outside the 6 yard box and 1 outside the 18 yard box) – plus an own goal (from between the corner of the 6 and 18 yard box).

To get a better picture on that relationship between passing, penetration and goal scoring you may want to read this latest on Expected Wins.

For now here’s my PWP Attacking Player of Week 7:  Graham Zusi.

PWP Attacking Player of Week 7

Some pretty comprehensive play by Graham Zusi.  His volume of touches, passing accuracy, and work within the midfield (in defense) as well as his accuracy (final third) was crucial in creating scoring opportunities for Sporting.  What speaks more to me about Graham is his continued growth in playing on both sides of the ball.  That rigor and discipline will do well to help him and his teammates in the World Cup this year.

Of note is that Graham offered up five successful crosses; that’s more than the per game average for all these teams in MLS this year: Colorado, Chivas, DC United, FC Dallas, New England, Portland, Philadelphia, Real and Vancouver.

By the way, the most successful team in delivering crosses this year is LA; with a 34.06% success rate.

Toronto is next at 32.21% while Sporting is 3rd best at 31.69%.  Bottom of the league in offering up successful crosses per game is Portland at just 16.34%.

Moving on to the Defending PWP team of Week 7:

PWP Defending Process Colorado Week 7

PWP Defending Process Colorado Week 7

This one may have come as a surprise but in looking at the attack of San Jose it’s no wonder Colorado looks this good when defending against them.

All told San Jose had no shots on goal and no goals scored with minimal penetration generating just 6 shots, 2 of which were blocked.

Bottom line is that Colorado basically snuffed out just about everything San Jose had to offer.

So who is my PWP Defending Player of the Week?

All told O’Neill, Piermayr and Klute all had great games with O’Neill completing 49 of 52 passes playing right fullback.  Hard choice this game by my award goes to Drew Moor.

In a league where top flight Center-Backs are needed, Moor did a great job controlling the 18 yard box against a team that loves to cross the ball.

San Jose completed just 5 of 23 crosses – and for a guy like Wondolowski, who lives of crosses, Moor did a stand-up job.

Here’s the highlighted statistics I picked out for him this game.

PWP Defending Player of Week 7

In Closing…

Week 7 has come and gone and the chase continues; some look to be dropping back a bit further while others rise to the top on a regular basis.

Next up I’ll get into the Composite Index for all games played to date.

For now know that it’s getting pretty packed up top – but clarity on the five playoff spots for each conference will take a while to sort itself out, as it should.

Best, Chris

How it Happened: Week Three

In the three games I watched this week, five goals were scored. Two were from penalty kicks, and two were off corner kicks. Needless to say, offenses around the league are in early-season form, i.e. not exactly clicking in front of the net. On the bright side, there was a decent amount of combination play leading to chances….it’s just that whole putting them away thing that MLS teams are still working on. Onto the main attraction:

Chicago Fire 1 – 1 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for New York: 350 completed passes; 68% of which were on the left side of the field*

nyrb3

It’s hardly inspiring for the Supporters’ Shield holders to sneak away from Chicago with a draw, but I actually thought they played pretty well on Sunday. Like I said above about the league as a whole, quality was missing on the final ball/shot, but New York fans shouldn’t be too worried about the team’s winless start. In this one there was quite a bit of good linking-up, particularly on the left flank. Given that midfielder Matt Watson was starting in a pinch as a nominal right back for the Fire, it seemed like a concerted effort from RBNY to expose a weakness on that side of the field. Between Roy Miller, Jonny Steele and Thierry Henry, there were some encouraging sequences down that side in particular; unfortunately for New York it didn’t lead to any actual goals.

*This stat/image is blatantly stolen from the Twitter account of MLS Fantasy Insider Ben Jata, @Ben_Jata. After seeing it this weekend, I was unable to think of anything better to include, so thanks, Ben!

Stat that told the story for Chicago: 24 total shots + key passes, only 2 of which were from Mike Magee

I’m not sure if this one is a good stat for Chicago fans or a bad one, but Mike Magee was conspicuously absent from a lot of the action this weekend (unless you count yelling incessantly and childishly at the ref as your definition of ‘action’). But seriously: last year Chicago had 377 shots the entire season, and Magee either took or assisted on 116 of them (31%)*. Oh, and he only played 22 of their 34 games. The fact that he was involved in only 2 of the team’s 24 shots (both of his shots were blocked, for what it’s worth) could certainly be viewed as concerning for Chicago fans expecting another MVP-caliber season out of Magee. But on the other hand, it’s easy to chalk up the struggles to the fact that this was his first game of the season after a maybe-contract-hold-out related hiatus. Also, the fact that Chicago managed to create 22 shots without Magee’s direct influence (or Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka, both also out this weekend) has to be a good sign for a team that was often a one-man show last season: youngsters Harrison Shipp and Benji Joya in particular both seem capable of lightening the load.

*Numbers from Squawka.

 

Toronto FC 1 – 0 DC United

Stat that told the story for Toronto: 38% possession, 3 points won

tfc3

TFC captain Michael Bradley made headlines this week saying something along the lines of how possession was an overrated stat, and his team certainly appears to be trying to prove his point so far this season. The Reds didn’t see a ton of the ball in their home opener, instead preferring to let DC knock the ball around with minimal penetration in the final third. And then when Toronto did win the ball, well, check out the Opta image that led to the game’s lone goal for Jermain Defoe (or watch the video). It started with a hopeful ball from keeper Julio Cesar. The second ball was recovered by Steven Caldwell, who fed Jonathan Osorio. Osorio found his midfield partner Bradley, who lofted a brilliant 7-iron to fellow DP Gilberto. The Brazilian’s shot was saved but stabbed home by the sequence’s final Designated Player, Defoe. Balls like that one were played multiple times throughout the game by both Bradley and Osorio, as TFC has shown no aversion to going vertical quickly upon winning the ball. And with passes like that, speedy wingers, and quality strikers, it’s certainly a strategy that may continue to pay off.

Stat that told the story for DC: 1/21 completed crosses

This stat goes along a bit with what I wrote about Toronto above: they made themselves hard to penetrate in the final third, leading to plenty of incomplete crosses. Some of this high number of aimless crosses also comes from the fact that DC was chasing an equalizer and just lumping balls into the box late in the match. Still, less than 5% on completing crosses is a bit of a red flag when you look at the stat sheet. Particularly when your biggest attacking threat is Eddie Johnson, who tends to be at his best when attacking balls in the air. You’d think Ben Olsen would expect a better crossing percentage. To be fair to United though, I thought they were much better in this game than they were on opening day against Columbus. They looked about 4 times more organized than two weeks ago, and about 786 times more organized than last season, and their possession and link-up play showed signs of improvement too. Still a ways to go, but at least things are trending upward for the Black and Red.

 

Colorado Rapids 2 – 0 Portland Timbers

Stat that told the story for Portland: 1 Donovan Ricketts karate kick

por3

I admit that I’m cheating here and not using a stat or an Opta Chalkboard image. But the above grainy screenshot of my TV that I took is too hilarious and impactful not to include. Colorado and Portland played a game on Saturday that some might call turgid, or testy, or any number of adjectives that are really stand-ins for the word boring. The most interesting parts of most of the game were Ricketts’ adventures in goal, which ranged from dropping floated long balls to tipping shots straight in the air to himself. In the 71st minute it appeared Ricketts had had enough and essentially dropped the mic. Flying out of his net, he leapt into the air with both feet, apparently hoping that if he looked crazy enough the ref would look away in horror instead of red carding him for the obvious kick to Deshorn Brown‘s chest. The Rapids converted the penalty and then added another one a few minutes later, and that was all she wrote.

Stat that told the story for Colorado: 59 total interceptions/recoveries/tackles won; 27 in the game’s first 30 minutes

Alright, I was silly with the Portland section so I feel like I need to do a little serious analysis for this paragraph. The truth is that this game was fairly sloppy on both sides, which is particularly surprising considering how technically proficient Portland was for most of last season. But cold weather combined with early season chemistry issues makes teams play sloppily sometimes, and it didn’t help that Colorado came out and looked very good to start this game. Their defensive shape was very compact when the Timbers had the ball, and the Rapids were very proficient in closing down passing lanes and taking possession back. The momentum swung back to Portland’s side and back a couple of times throughout the match, but Colorado’s strong start set the tone that Donovan Ricketts helped carry to the final whistle.

 

Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? I always enjoy feedback. Contact me on twitter @MLSAtheist or by email at MLSAtheist@gmail.com

Season Preview: Colorado Rapids

If you are a fan of up-and-coming soccer talent, the 2013 Colorado Rapids were a squad who, seemingly out of nowhere, became a must-watch team. While the trend is for MLS teams to rely more heavily upon experienced and highly paid players to bolster their roster, Colorado, perhaps out of necessity, became a team driven by young, inexpensive talent. They used all available means to assemble their roster: trades (Edson Buddle and Nathan Sturgis), the SuperDraft (Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers), the NASL and USL (Chris Klute and Clint Irwin, respectively), and international signings (Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres). By the time the 2013 season concluded, Oscar Pareja had lead the Rapids to 51 points and the 5th seed in the Western Conference, a sizeable upgrade over their 37 points accumulated in 2012.

2013 Finish: 14-11-9, 51 points; 45 GF, 38 GA. Fifth place in Western Conference. Lost in Wildcard round.

Colorado Rapids 2013 Formation - 2014-02-24

 

Transactions

Players In

Players Out

Name Pos   Name Pos  
Marc Burch D/M Re-Entry Stage 1 Diego Calderon D Loan expired
Marvin Chavez  M Trade from San Jose Jaime Castrillon M Option declined
Marlon Hairston M SuperDraft Steward Ceus GK Option declined
Grant Van De Casteele D SuperDraft Atiba Harris F Traded to San Jose
Joe Nasco GK Free Jamie Smith M Retired
Jared Watts M SuperDraft Tony Cascio M Loaned to Houston
John Berner GK SuperDraft Hendry Thomas M Trade to FC Dallas
      Kory Kindle D Retired

Roster churn: Colorado returns 76.5% of its 2013 minutes, 9th most in the league.

Colorado Rapids' 2014 Roster

Median age: 24.5
*Designated player

My Kingdom for a Coach

Let’s start at the top.

Oscar Pareja has moved on to become the head coach of FC Dallas, returning to helm the club where he spent eight seasons as a player. Last year, Pareja assembled a young Rapids team that managed to sneak into the playoffs of the highly competitive Western Conference. Pareja was lauded for his ability to identify and acquire young talent. Though that should come as no surprise, considering that he served as the Director of Player Development for the FC Dallas Youth system from 2007 through 2011, fostering the growth of 11 players who have subsequently signed with the senior team.

When the Rapids were plagued by injury early in the season, Pareja was able to slot Sturgis, Klute, and O’Neill into the lineup, and the team continued to get results. Pareja, as coaches often do, made some questionable decisions over the course of the season. He showed unwavering faith in Atiba Harris all season long despite subpar performances, and took some heat for decisions he made in Colorado’s playoff loss to Seattle. Still, starting a rusty German Mera at centerback is not the same thing as, say, deploying Shalrie Joseph at forward. Pareja made some a personnel choice that did not pay off, but his overall tenure as Rapids head coach was a positive experience, one that has left the Rapids in much better position than when he arrived.

So where do they go from here? Well, we don’t know. With only a few weeks to go before the season, the Rapids have yet to name a head coach. But let’s assume that they will hire Pablo Mastroeni (hey, someone has to make a decision here), following the league-wide trend of elevating young ex-players into the head coaching ranks. Sometimes these new hires pay off (Peter Vermes, Mike Petke, 2012 Ben Olsen), but just as often they yield disappointing results (Curt Onalfo, Jesse Marsch, 2013 Ben Olsen). With no prior coaching experience, it is difficult to predict how Mastroeni will fare as coach of the Rapids. Though Mastro will take over a promising young squad, growing pains should be expected as he develops his own coaching personality.

The Departures

COLINFOThis offseason, Colorado parted ways with only seven players (one of whom, Jamie Smith, will remain with the franchise as an academy coach). The two regular starters who will not be returning this season are Atiba Harris, who played in 29 games last season, logging a stout 2,012 minutes attacking down the right flank, and Hendry Thomas, who started 28 games in defensive midfield for the Rapids. The Rapids balked at Thomas’s request for a DP-level salary, and shipped him off to Dallas in exchange for some allocation money.

The other five players combined to tally just 1,463 total minutes. Tony Cascio, who led that quintet with 530 minutes, will spend the 2014 season on loan in Houston as part of the first intra-league loan in Major League Soccer history.* The three other departing field players—Diego Calderon, Jamie Castrillon, and Smith—were plagued by injuries throughout 2013, and were never able to gain a steady foothold in the starting lineup. The final departed player, goalkeeper Steward Ceus, got his 2013 season off to a promising start… for about 10 minutes. In the 11th minute of the season opener, David Ferreira sent a long pass toward the Rapids penalty area. Ceus raced out of his penalty area to clear the ball, only to watch helplessly as the ball—and his chances of keeping the starting GK job—soared beyond him. Clint Irwin would start game two, and Ceus would not see another minute for Colorado in the 2014 season.

*No, Matias Laba is not on intra-league loan to Vancouver. He was traded for pipe dreams and promises.

Clint Irwin: Act II

Nothing has changed in goal for Colorado this season. Clint Irwin will enter the season as the starting goalkeeper, with Matt Pickens—currently on trial in Norway—tentatively set to serve as his backup. The Rapids have signed Joe Nasco—who last season helmed the nets for Atlanta—and rookie John Berner, in case Pickens does depart. Irwin finished 12th in the league in save percentage last season, stopping 69% of shots on target. Though you should take this purely as a descriptive statistic, as it appears that save percentage tells you very little about the quality of a professional goalkeeper. Irwin also failed to crack the top ten in crosses claimed last season, and ranked only 9th in punches, though strong flank play from the Rapids could mean that Irwin had fewer balls from wide areas to deal with.

One aspect of play where statistics say that Irwin did excel was in his distribution: Irwin completed 73% of his passes—6th best in the league—despite his average distribution being 48 meters long. For comparison, average length of distribution of keepers in the top 10 accurate passers is only 38.8 meters. His distribution numbers are likely skewed by the fact that Irwin could hammer a 70-yard ball down the right side of the field and know that Atiba Harris (statistically the best aeriel duelist in the league) would get on the end of it (I guess we can look at Jon Busch’s numbers this year and see). Generally though, Irwin’s decision making and positioning, things not yet easily quantifiable, were solid all season; he looked and played like an MLS-caliber goalkeeper, which is impressive enough for a 24-year-old.

Moor: verb (used with object) … 2. to fix firmly; secure

For the sake of this preview, we will assume Mastroeni will not alter Pareja’s preferred formation of 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. Chris Klute and Drew Moor are locks to retain their spots on the back line. Klute will maraud down the wing and make life difficult for opposing midfielders. Last season he led the league in assists among defenders with 7, and was second (behind only Andrew Farrell) in successful take-ons with 39. Moor provides a solid veteran presence at the back, and provides excellent distribution to a team which often lacks patience in the defensive third. Preseason games would indicate that Shane O’Neill will make way at the other center back spot for either Marvell Wynne or Wake Forest rookie Jared Watts.

Despite a strong rookie season for O’Neill, his biggest shortcoming was his ability to assert his physicality in the air. Whereas Moor finished the season with 3.7 aerial duels won per game (8th in MLS, 5th among centerbacks), O’Neill had only 1.4 aerials won per game (79th in MLS, 34th among centerbacks). Moor won 68% of his aerial duels; O’Neill, 52%. But if you’re the kind of person who prefers their evidence anecdotal, here’s him being completely schooled by Chris Wondolowski (not the most physical specimen himself) on a corner kick. O’Neill should remain a starter, but he will shift to the right side of the field, either in defense or midfield.

Who? What? Where?

The midfield is a much bigger quandary. Hendry Thomas is gone, Nathan Sturgis has spent a considerable amount of time this preseason at right back, and Dillon Powers’ health is in question: not only was he only just cleared to return to game action on February 20 after recovering from a concussion last season, but he is battling tendinitis in his knee. The talent level drops precipitously as you move down the depth chart.

First-round draft pick Marlon Hairston could be the man to replace Thomas. But Thomas is a Premier League and World Cup veteran, who averaged 3.3 tackles per game last season, 7th in MLS, and Hairston is a 19-year-old who, in spite of his physical gifts, was labeled by one college coach as a “lazy” defender, not the ringing endorsement you want for a player who will be shielding your back line. Nick LaBrocca is another option to replace Thomas, but the 29-year-old Rutgers grad lacks the size and athleticism that either Thomas or Hairston can bring. LaBrocca also has the potential to step in for an injured Powers, but with a glut of forwards on the team, Gabriel Torres might find himself deputizing for Powers in the event that he misses time, playing a more direct role in the offense (and leaving Edson Buddle as the center forward).

The Designated Player and Deshorn

If and when Powers returns to full health, Torres will spearhead the attack for Colorado. The first designated player in Rapids history, Torres was signed in August of last season, and immediately demonstrated his value. He notched 3 goals and 1 assist on 15 shots in 507 minutes. The shot total is low for a DP level striker, but so is the sample size. Still, flashes of brilliance like this make it difficult for Rapids fans to keep their expectations tempered.

Deshorn Brown will start to the left of the center forward, in a more advanced role than the typical wide player in a 4-2-3-1. This is because Brown’s speed and size far outshine his technical skills. Last season, Brown notched 10 goals, solid enough on its own, but it should be noted that of the 18 players who scored 10 goals or more last season, Brown had the lowest scoring chance percentage, converting a mere 10.3% of his shots. Though that seems like bad news on the surface (and it may be that Brown isn’t a crack finisher), it comes with a big silver lining.Finishing rates are less predictive of yearly success than Expected Goals, which are determined by number and location of shots taken.

On the right, the Rapids have a choice between Marvin Chavez and Vicente Sanchez, two left-footed players who bring different assets to the table. Chavez is a versatile player who has the speed to stretch the defensive line (as he did with his time in Dallas) and an accurate cross that allows him to play as a more conventional midfielder (as he did in his 12-assist season with San Jose in 2012). Sanchez, who spent most of his career in Mexico, is a more technically savvy (and to be fair to Chavez, slower) player, who in his limited time with Colorado last season provided some of the cerebral play that was often missing from the lineup.

The Prediction

Last year, Colorado’s depth enabled them to overcome a spate of injuries and make the playoffs, bringing a new generation of players to the league’s attention. This year, without any wholesale roster changes, those same players will bear the weight of expectations of a franchise. New coach or not, progress will be expected from this young team, and it will be interesting to see how they will fare in the 2014 season.

Crowdsourcing Results

The readers of American Soccer Analysis don’t seem to think that Colorado will make any progress this season. The plurality (20.2%) of our 406 voters think that the Rapids will drop to 6th place in the Western Conference, with the vast majority (78.1%) anticipating them to finish in the 5th-to-8th-place range.

A few key games this week…

Since we now have playoff and Supporters’ Shield chances on the site, it provides us with a means of weighting each upcoming game by its effect on playoff odds. What if, for instance, Montreal were to lose to New England at home this weekend? There’s no doubt it would hurt Montreal and keep New England alive, but just how much would it matter? The same question can be asked of the San Jose and Colorado, who play tonight.

Currently, our model gives Colorado and Montreal 90.4 and 82.8 percent chances,* respectively, to make the playoffs, while San Jose and New England sit at 6.0 and 14.1 percent. Remember that our playoff chances refer to earning at least fifth place in the conference, and they do not include probability associated with ties for fifth.

I re-ran our simulations three times, accounting for the three possible conclusions to each of those games. I allowed the simulator to pick winners as usual for the other matches this week and beyond. To the results!

A San Jose tie or loss at home tonight would effectively end its chances of a playoff berth. In just 11 of the 10,000 simulated seasons (0.11%) did San Jose recover from a loss to claim a playoff spot (not counting ties for fifth), and even a tie only doubled those chances to about 0.23 percent. A win boosted its playoff chances from 6.0 to 12.0 percent. Playoffs would still not be likely for the Earthquakes, but at least a win tonight would give them something to play for in the final two games.

Their opponent, Colorado, is the West’s most likely team to give up its playoff spot, according to our model. That said, its playoff chances are still quite high. Even a loss to San Jose tonight would only lower the Rapids’ playoff chances to about 78.4 percent. A tie or win for Colorado tonight essentially assures it a tie-breaker-free route to the playoffs with at least 98.7 percent probability (99.9% with a win tonight).

Moving over to the East, the game most likely to swing playoff percentage points around is the Montreal—New England matchup. New England could increase its playoff chances from 14.1 to nearly 39 percent with a road win. However, like San Jose, a tie or loss would hurt New England a lot. A tie would leave New England with only about a 5.6 percent shot at the playoffs, and a loss would render the Revs’ situation quite hopeless at 1.6 percent.

Conversely, a win or tie for the Montreal Impact would have a mirrored result, boosting its playoff chances to 91.0 percent with a tie and 99.2 percent with win against the Revs. Like Colorado, a loss would not ruin Montreal, and their playoff chances would sit right around 63.3 percent.

A lot of playoff probability is waiting to swing—as much as 12 percent in San Jose’s case and 38 percent in New England’s case. In my opinion, this speaks as much to the weight resting on these final few weeks as it does to the weight that was on the games that led us to this point. Teams like Colorado and Montreal have performed well enough in the first 30 or 31 games to put themselves in a position where a loss still leaves them with better than 50 percent chances at a playoff spot.

Oh, in case your were curious, our model gives San Jose a 39-percent shot at a win tonight, 31-percent chances of a loss, and 30-percent chances of a tie. As for New England, those probabilities are 29 percent, 39 percent and 32 percent.

*The margins of error for 95% confidence are, at most, 1.0 percent for each playoff percentage calculation.

Colorado’s Playoff Chances.

A few short months ago, we recorded a podcast in which we discussed the teams likely to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. At the time, we did not think Colorado would get in, but now—after a surprising win in Los Angeles—the Rapids find themselves very much in the thick of the playoff race.

As of May 31st, Colorado had earned 19 points from 13 games and sat in 5th place out west. Additionally, the Rapids’ 1.03 attempts ratio was 6th in the conference, while our shot locations data suggested an expected goal differential essentially tied for 4th. Perhaps we shouldn’t have discarded them so quickly.

Now with more information, we’ve seen how shot ratios help to predict the future as well as anything in soccer. The predictions aren’t awesome, but better than if we were to use goal differential or standings. Colorado has found itself still in playoff contention, and I think it is worth revisiting the playoff chances for the Western Conference’s mile-high team.

Now, 28 weeks into the season, Colorado has improved its shots ratios and expected goal differential to second in the conference, just behind the Galaxy on both accounts. But while Colorado could very well be one of the top teams in the West, its remaining schedule is pretty brutal. Of its last six matches, five of them come against Dallas, Portland, San Jose and Vancouver (twice). Those are the four teams fighting along with the Rapids for the final two playoff spots. The other game on their schedule just so happens to be Seattle, the current favorite to win the Supporters’ Shield. There is not a single cupcake on the schedule, and losses will be far more costly than if they were against Eastern Conference foes.

While the best predictions using shots data still leaves much to be desired, that data would in fact pick Colorado as the second best team in the West. However, playing a tough schedule against opponents shooting for the same playoff spot, there is so much weight on just a few games. I’d pick Colorado to be one of those top five in the tables at the end, but it’s not a gimme pick.

Let’s say, ooooh, 55%.