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

Should away teams be more aggressive?

Second Half Shot chart - HOUvPOR - April 2014The Portland Timbers traveled to Houston on Sunday in desperate need of three points to get out of the cellar in the Western Conference. They played well in the first half, outshooting the Dynamo 8 – 7 en route to a 1 – 1 tie, while dominating possession. Then Portland came out in the second half much like many away teams do with a tie score, conservatively. The second-half shot charts to the right serve as an indication of the change in strategy.

 

This conjured up a question that constantly bugs me. Should away teams go for wins more often when tied in the second half? Let’s get right to the data. Here is chart summarizing the offensive aggression of away teams during gamestates when the score is tied and the teams are playing with the same number of players. The data presents the proportion of totals earned by the away team in both the first and second halves.

2013 – 2014 Goals% xGoals% Shots%
1st Half 44.8% (266) 42.3% (282.9) 43.4% (2948)
2nd Half 34.8% (184) 37.4% (168.6) 39.7% (1654)
P-value 0.017 0.007

The away team consistently garners 42% to 45% of these primary offensive stats during the first half, and then drops down to the 35%-to-40% range in the second half. For the proportions of goals and shots, those differences are statistically significant (there is no simple test for xGoals%, but it is probably statistically significant as well).

My instinct is that away teams are capable of playing in the second half as they do in the first half, and that these discrepancies are a product of conscious decision making by away coaches and players. Teams likely change strategy in the second half to preserve a tie. Playing more openly would ostensibly increase the chances of both a loss and win, while decreasing the chances of a tie. However, I would think based on the data above that it would increase the chances of a win more so than the chances of a loss. Since a win would earn the away team an extra two points, while a loss would cost it just one, my gut says teams should go for it more often.

Are away teams playing conservatively because mindless soccer conventionality tells them that it’s okay to get one point on the road? Is this the self-detrimental risk aversion that plagues coaches in other sports, or are these numbers missing something that could justify the conservative play?

I can’t say that I’ve proven anything, but these data suggest the former.

New England tops the MLS PWP Team of the Week 6

Those living up near the northeast coast of America should be pretty chuffed with that result this weekend against Houston – an early season defensive-minded team came in to visit, and the Revolution re-educated Kinnear and his Dynamo on what a defensive-minded team really looks like.

I’ll get to that in a minute, but before doing so, my link to what PWP is all about and then my recap on my PWP-Pick-List for last week and how the end results shook out.  In the future, look for the Pick-List in its own post.

Here’s what I said in my “PWP-Pick-List” and then just beneath the outcome:

  • 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…
  • Philadelphia drew with Real Salt Lake on a late equalizer by Maurice Edu as both he AND Wenger added value…. noted.    (Miss)

 

  • 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.  (Hit)
  • Colorado beat a depleted Toronto 1-nil…

 

  • 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.
  • Chicago and Amarikwa got a draw – if Quincey isn’t on your Fantasy team he should be… (Miss)

 

  • 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 England scored two goals and Houston were shutout – is anyone surprised the New England defense did so well?  If you are looking for a ‘team’ Fantasy in defense you may consider the Revolution as a good place to focus; I know I’ve moved on from Houston…  That’ll teach me to go against what I usually believe – defense will win you a game more often than attacking… (Miss)

 

  • 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…
  • DC United took three points – Kimura started and New York lost – granted that loss isn’t directly down to Kimura as Alexander blew his man to man coverage on the far post of that corner ball combination – but – Eckersley is stronger… (Hit)

 

  • 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.
  • Seattle beat Dallas – Traore played and Dempsey got a brace – and no I’m not going to say he got a ‘due..’   (Hit)

 

  • 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.
  • Chivas came from behind as open space came available late on… the defense continues to be an issue in Portland… (Miss)

 

  • Vancouver at Los Angeles – I’m not sure anybody beats LA in LA this year. LA wins.
  • LA took three points… the diamond continues to dazzle in Stub-hub with Keane scoring the lone goal. (Hit) 

 

  • 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…
  • Columbus got goal 1 and San Jose, through Salinas to Wondolowski, got the draw… (Hit)

All told – in my maiden pix for week six – I was five out of nine… with three of my four losses coming via 2nd half equalizers by the teams I picked to lose – bollocks…

By the way – in case you missed it before here is a link to my PWP introduction…

Now for this weeks PWP – here’s the Composite Index for Week 6 (only):

PWP Composite Index Week 6

Observations…

No question here that New England were the top performing team this week. A 2-nil shutout (at home) should be a warning to the rest of the Eastern Conference that Jay Heaps has his team beginning to perform at its best.

What’s really good to see about this team is how well the fullbacks integrated into the attack without forgetting that the first job is defense.  In a league where I think defense is considered a second-class citizen, the Revolution don’t play that way… for me a welcomed site.  More to follow…

A late surprise for me was seeing how well Philadelphia performed this past weekend against a very strong Real Salt Lake – granted it was the 90+ minute mark before Edu equalized, but there’s never a wrong time to score – there’s only a wrong time to give up a goal.

The LA Galaxy got the expected result against Vancouver – the overall outputs from LA this game were just stunning… they offered up 617 passes; more than 500 of them completed with over 100 of those within the final third – I didn’t watch the game but it is likely the Vancouver defense was pulled and pushed and poked to exhaustion.

That being said, the achilles heel for Vancouver last year was their defense – although they lost 1-nil they did a pretty good job all things considered – so the result didn’t go in their favor but they should take some positives away from that game in how well they maintained the LA attack around that lone goal by Keene.

On the flip side – Houston started the season quite strong and it is likely Kinnear will get them firing on all cylinders again.

What was missing – at least in my view – was David Horst; that red card was double punishment for the Dynamo last week and his return should bring back a more solid back four.

With that said – and seeing how things continue to develop – I have begun my swap out my Dynamo defenders on my Fantasy team – I’ll begin to rotate in a couple of New England players and maybe someone from DC United?  More to follow on that thought in my Cumulative PWP Index article later this week.

Moving on to my PWP Attacking team of the week…

PWP Attacking Index Week 6

Observations:

A surprise for some I’m sure – the winner this week is a team that drew 2-2 – while Seattle and Clint Dempsey traveled to FC Dallas and took three points… why?

For me it’s down to the tenor of the overall attack – here’s the differences (by the basic numbers) between those two teams this week – Philadelphia had the edge in possession (~55% to ~50%); their overall passing accuracy was ~76% compared to ~74%; while Seattle penetrated more often (23% to 20%) and put more shots on goal (46% vs 15%), the Union converted their two shots on goal into two goals scored (100% to 50% for Seattle)…

In a few words that means Seattle had more quantity in creating chances within the final third while the Union had more quality with their fewer chances… this has been the norm for many teams this past year-and-a-half within my PWP analysis – quality will beat quantity – not just in the statistics of the game, but in the regular run of play in the game…. it’s always good to see statistics support what the eye sees.

Bottom line here though isn’t the intent to minimze the success of Seattle – they took three points and Dempsey had another stellar game – but when looking at the comprehensive view of the game – more of the overall PWP parts of the game were executed better by Philadelphia than Seattle.

Other thoughts – Real Salt Lake performed in the top ten again as did FC Dallas and LA Galaxy – Portland edged its way into the 7th position this week and with that draw to Chivas it’s a double-edged sword for Porter – the Timbers continue to improve in the overall attack – but they also continue to lack focus for a full 90+ minutes in defense.

How long before we see the Timbers begin to shake the trees to see what falls out for a defensive addition in the summer transfer window – perhaps another double-edged sword was the inclusion of Michael Harrington into the USMNT training scheme – has that reward created an issue for Harrington?

Both he and Kah were directly accountable for that poor man-marking in the box against Chivas; a mistake for Harrington that compounds his schoolboy mistake on closing down Neagle last week, which gave Neagle the room to turn and put in that devastating cross that saw Dempsey bring Seattle within one goal a week ago.

The PWP Attacking Player of the Week was…

PWP Attacking Player of the Week 6

Observations:

It’s six weeks in and the top Attacking PWP Player of the week is another midfielder – go figure. Two years ago I opined that the most influential players in attack should come from the midfield, given their increased touches on the ball and their overall vision of the game from the center of the pitch.

Duly noted – Maurice Edu got a late equalizer and the Union fought back for a hard won draw against (IMO) the best team in MLS.

Evidence of Maurice’s two way influence is above – enough said – this midfield acquisition continues to help the Union etch their place as a top team in the Eastern Conference, and grabbing a late point helps them sustain that Playoff vision.

On to the Defending Team of the Week… my favorite part of this game.

PWP Strategic Defending Proceess Team of the Week 6

Observations:

I’ll offer the Index a bit later; for now here’s how New England’s opponent (Houston) performed in the six steps of my PWP Index process…

Note the final three steps in the overall attack mounted by Houston – only 13% of their overall penetration generated a shot taken, and none of those shots were on goal. Consequently, none of those shots got past Shuttleworth–pretty stingy if you ask me. Their passing accuracy was below average, but with an average amount of possession.

If you had to paint a picture of a team that defends across the entire pitch, it’s results like these that you want to see from your opponent’s attack (i.e how well your team defense performs in controlling the opponent’s attack).

Here’s the overall Defending PWP Index for all 19 teams…

PWP Defending Index Week 6

Observations:

Consistency begins to show for many teams this year – a welcome surprise for Olsen is that his team is beginning to shut down their opponents. D.C. United comes in 4th place this week against a very strong New York Red Bulls attacking side (at least they were last year).

Colorado traveled to Toronto and did well–aye the Reds had some injuries, but every team this year will experience players who get injured or miss a game through disciplinary reasons. Toronto got edged out by an improving Colorado.

On the tail end was FC Dallas, an unusual spot for them this year. The own goal, as well as the brace by Dempsey, speaks volumes – yet as we saw on the Attacking side of PWP, Seattle were also pretty strong across the entire pitch — the center of FC Dallas defense remains and issue and Keel did not add value in pairing up with Hedges.

Now for my PWP Defending Player of the Week…

PWP Defending Player of the Week 6

PWP Defending Player of the Week 6

Observations:

I like fullbacks who add to the attack, but I love fullbacks who defend first – there’s a reason these guys are in defense; it’s to stop the opponent first.

Overall, Alston did a superb job in playing his role; he not only scored, but he was also five for five in throw-ins within the final third – you’d be surprised – but at least four teams this week couldn’t complete over 70% of their throw-ins within their attacking third… never take a throw-in for granted.

Another storyline here is that Alston continues to work through very difficult health issues from the past – showing concentration and doing his job to support his team translates to strong character. In a country where I think good fullbacks are not the norm, it is good to see Kevin have a great game!

In closing…

Next up will be my PWP Pick-List for Week 7 followed by my PWP Cumulative Indices and associated thoughts. For now know that the top team in each conference is not the top team in my overall PWP Cumulative Index – lest we forget not everyone has played six games yet.

All the best, Chris

You can follow all my PWP analysis through twitter: @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

hou5

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

kc5

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

lag5

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWP STRATEGIC COMPOSITE INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

But back to the LA Galaxy match on Sunday

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

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

As for the bottom side of the Index…

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 5 ONLY

In closing

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

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

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

All for now,

Chris

D.C. United: Shooters, Providers and What?

As you might have seen from our twitter stream, I kind of wrote an article on DC United last night. Then I scrapped it. Then, Alex Olshansky dropped this brilliant mess concerning Michael Bradley, and I was like “that’s basically what I was doing… on a team level!” So it kind of nudged me to at least put forth an effort to finish it…only not really.

What I did was basically compiled stats for four “core” attacking players on three different clubs. Two of those clubs (Sporting KC and Houston Dynamo) have shown consistent success the last two years, while D.C. United…well, you know, they have kind of stunk the place up.

The rest I submit to you without further inane commentary.

 

D.C. United

DC-Four

SH=shots, KP=Key Passes
SH/KP = Shots/key passes ratio
ShCPG =Shots created per 90 minutes played
%ofTeam= the total percentage of the teams shots that the individual created

 

 

 

Houston Dynamo

Hou-Four

SH=shots, KP=Key Passes
SH/KP = Shots/key passes ratio
ShCPG =Shots created per 90 minutes played
%ofTeam= the total percentage of the teams shots that the individual created

 

 

 

Sporting Kansas City

SportingKC-Four

SH=shots, KP=Key Passes
SH/KP = Shots/key passes ratio
ShCPG =Shots created per 90 minutes played
%ofTeam= the total percentage of the teams shots that the individual created