How it Happened: Week Ten

Another weekend, another bunch of ones and zeroes on the scoreboards for the games I checked out. The season’s a quarter done now for just about every team, and reality is starting to set in that playoffs are only going to be a dream for some this year. Still, MLS is a league of incredible parity and almost everyone still harbors dreams of the postseason, no matter how realistic they are at the moment.

Portland Timbers 1 – 1 LA Galaxy

Stat that told the story for both teams: 2 goals, 1 uncalled red card on a breakaway in 2nd half stoppage time

lapor10

It’s nearly impossible to analyze this game without spending a bulk of your attentions on second half stoppage time, when both goals were scored. Not only that, but LA’s Juninho had a breakaway chance to put the game away and was bundled over with no foul called. All in all, it was a pretty incredible conclusion to a game that was fairly entertaining, if not particularly well-played. To some degree, it was more of the same for both teams: the Galaxy struggled to finish the chances they were able to create, and Portland looked out of sorts and a little slow compared to last year’s high-octane outfit.

I want to spend a paragraph here talking a little about the apparent tactical trends of the league at the moment. For the last couple years, it seemed like the formation en vogue was the high-pressing 4-3-3: Kansas City and Portland were the most notable success stories using this setup. But this year, it appears the trend has shifted to the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, a la Real Salt Lake. It seems like every team in the league has at least experimented with it this year, from LA to Colorado to DC. The MLSSoccer.com March to the Match podcast did a great feature on this tactical trend a few weeks back detailing some of the pros and cons of the formation.

Anyway, this game seemed like a pretty decent case study with these two formations facing off with one another: Portland’s 4-3-3 against LA’s diamond midfield. It’s my opinion that the narrow diamond midfield does a great job of neutralizing what made the Timbers’ 4-3-3 so effective last year – that’s part of why RSL just seemed to have Caleb Porter’s number last year. Portland was at their best last year mainly because of two guys: Diego Chara and Will Johnson, who played as a double pivot and covered more ground than the Trans-Pacific Railroad. However, the Galaxy’s narrow midfield boxes that double pivot in with four central mids who are all tucked inside, limiting the number of balls Chara & Johnson can win and thereby limiting Portland’s possession. There are plenty of other reasons the Timbers haven’t been great so far this year, but it’s a trend worth watching as they try to turn their season around.

Columbus Crew 0 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Stat that told the story for Columbus: 90.33% of minutes this season have been played by starting eleven

It’s no secret that Columbus started out this season like gangbusters and have since played more like busts. The reason for this is inherently simple: they only have one way of playing. Every single game from Columbus is basically the same: they play the same guys in the same roles and try the same things. It caught teams by surprise in the first few games, but now that the opposition knows what’s coming (short passes out of the back, fullbacks getting way forward, etc.) it’s gotten a lot easier to beat. And now it’s up to coach Gregg Berhalter to make some adjustments and at least give the Crew a plan B so this losing skid doesn’t continue.

Stat that told the story for Vancouver: average age of midfield and forward: 23 years old

Vancouver has sneakily been one of the surprise stories of the 2014 MLS season. Everyone knew they had a good deal of young talent on the squad, but nobody was sure how the chemistry would work out under first-year coach Carl Robinson. So far, returns have been impressive. Not only has Robinson set the team up in a position to be successful tactically, but he’s handed over a ton of responsibility to the youngsters to great effect. With veterans Kenny Miller gone and Nigel Reo-Coker perhaps on the way out, even more of the load is going to be heaped onto the 25-and-under players. During this victory, the only midfielder or forward in the starting eleven over 25 was Pedro Morales (28). And even when they made subs, they brought on 20-year-old Omar Salgado and 21-year-old Russell Teibert – I’d say the future is bright in Vancouver.

Philadelphia Union 0 – 1 DC United

Stat that told the story for DC: wide presence of the forwards

dc10

 

It’s interesting that a lot of season previews of DC United focused on if the wide play would be good enough to get quality service for new striker Eddie Johnson. I say this because DC has been as good, if not better, as anyone could’ve hoped, despite the presence of roughly zero wide midfielders and zero Eddie Johnson goals. There are obviously a few reasons they’ve been so good, but chiefly among them is that this is Fabian Espindola’s team. He’s played better this season than I ever remember him looking in Salt Lake as the focal point of United’s attack, orchestrating everything and creating a lot of chances. He does this by floating to the wide areas of the field to provide some width to DC’s narrow formation, as his heat map above shows (EJ’s actually pretty good at this too, particularly when holding the ball up).

Stat that told the story for Philadelphia: 647,428 times caught ball-watching this season*

Philadelphia was everyone’s darling in the first few weeks of the season. All their new acquisitions looked really impressive, they had a young and improving defense and some talent up top that was sure to start banging in the goals soon. Fast forward a couple months, and the bottom has fallen out. This loss was their ninth game without a win, they’ve switched formations like four times hoping for a spark, and their coach might get fired soon. So what’s wrong? Lots of things. But #1 in my book is simply that the Union didn’t seem that interested in playing soccer against DC this weekend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Philly midfielders or defenders or really anyone just watch an opposing player run by them or pass the ball by them with little to no contesting. And this isn’t a problem for one or two players, it’s the entire team. Sorry to be such a rah-rah coach type who says they just need to try harder, but the Union need to be more active, or engaged, or try harder….whatever wording works best.

*this is only an approximation because I couldn’t find Opta’s information on this

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 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

xGD in CONCACAF Champions League

Understanding that not everything has to mean something, we still try to provide meaning to things. Deriving meaning becomes infinitely harder when sample sizes are small: what size sample is important when considering a specific set of data? We don’t always know, but I present you the CONCACAF Champions League data anyway. Below is the Expected Goals 1.0 data from the group stage of the CCL that I’ve compiled in the last couple of days.

Team  xGF   xGA   xGD 
Cruz Azul 8.578 4.112 4.466
Toulca 7.528 3.488 4.04
Tijuana 6.617 3.018 3.599
America 6.975 4.017 2.958
Dynamo 5.683 3.417 2.266
LA Galaxy 7.052 4.95 2.102
Sporting KC 4.785 2.699 2.086
    SJ Earthquakes 4.768 2.962 1.806
Montreal I.    3.816    8.796    -4.98

To be honest, this is my inventive way to present this information to you. I wanted to do an article about various things concerning CCL, but the problem always kind of leads back to sample size. Four games just isn’t that much. The thing is, while you may not be able to draw any solid conclusions from this, it does give us a rough assessment for how Liga MX compares to MLS at this juncture, and it tells us that for the most part, MLS and Liga MX teams are better than the competition.

Mind you, teams have changed between when they qualified for CCL 2013-14 and now. This San Jose Earthquakes squad, for example, has quite a few new faces. Houston also has added a couple of pieces and underwent a some changes in the defensive rotation scheme.

xGD wasn’t going to tell us too much about the semi-final matches that were played the last two nights. We knew that it was improbable that even two clubs were going to move forward. Furthermore it seems awkward to even consider that San Jose was the closest to advancing–and had it not been for a bad call, it probably would have.

What xGD did tell us is that all four Mexican clubs performed better in that short period than any of the MLS sides. Sure, a “duh” statement is in order, but this clarifies that point further than a cute 1990’s radio morning drive show with catchy sound effects could. Cruz Azul seemed a superior team, for example, as they were nearly two expected goals better than any MLS side. In a short tournament that says something stronger than their actual goal tallies.

Yes, I realize the whole sample size thing, and really it’s funny submitting qualifying statements, but it’s even more silly to consider that we qualify them despite the fact that we don’t actually know if we need to. For all we know xGD stabilizes as a metric at six games or maybe even four. We’ll get Matty on that…

Mexico’s teams were better, and judging from everything going down on  Twitter and how the fragile psyche of the average US Soccer fan seems almost devastated by this fact, the reality is that MLS is better than it has been. The league has grown so much, and considering the issues that still limit organizations from competing against Mexico, it’s surprising how well we really do in this competition.

Now American teams aren’t yet on the “elite” level yet. But they are still very good and are nearing the imaginary line of being able to compete on a greater level with Mexico. As the budgets of MLS increase, and the depth charts along with the academies grow deeper, you’re only going to see MLS teams get better. Stating that an MLS team will never win the CCL is one of those hyperbole statements that is just crazy to me. I think it’s an eventuality at this point that some club somewhere will knock Mexico off it’s perch…sooner rather than later.

How it Happened: Week One

Hello friends. This is the first in what will hopefully be a weekly feature here at ASA by yours truly.

First, the background: Not being a fan of any particular MLS team is hard. It’s hard to follow an entire league of 19 teams. Seven or eight games a week are difficult to catch up on, even when they aren’t all played at the same time. Previously, I’ve watched highlights and ‘condensed games’ to try to pick up which teams and players were playing well, but it just doesn’t work. The only way to really learn a team’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies is by watching every minute of every game they play. There’s no way I can do that with every team in MLS while still working a full-time job. Sorry.

My solution is this: I plan on committing to watching a full 90 minutes of three games per week. This gives me six teams that I’ll feel that I truly know (at least for that week), and should certainly teach me a heckuva lot more than just if I just watched their highlight packages. Since this here is an analytical and statistic-focused blog, I’ll break down each of the three games by one particular stat or Opta chalkboard image that I think told the story of the game for each team. Think this idea is idiotic? Love it? Please, let me know: feedback is always appreciated. But leave my mom out of this.

DC United vs. Columbus Crew

Stat that told the story for Columbus: 58% of successful passes in attacking half for the fullbacks

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The above image is all of the completed passes for Crew fullbacks Waylon Francis and Josh Williams on Saturday. These two players are clearly defenders who aren’t afraid to get forward, but the startling frequency with which they were able to get up the field against DC had to have alarm bells ringing for United fans. For folks who prefer numbers to images, here you are: 49 of the 85 passes that Francis and Williams completed (58%) were in the attacking half. That’s a pretty solid attacking contribution from two guys who are listed along the back line.

This was made possible for Columbus by a couple of adjustments made by new coach Gregg Berhalter. Centerbacks Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez split reallllly wide when in possession, allowing both fullbacks to get forward. This was made possible by holding midfielder Wil Trapp, who sat very deep to cover the gap between centerbacks. It’s only one game, but it certainly looked like a good strategy in week one for Columbus.

Stat that told the story for DC: 1 attacking player’s pass into the penalty area

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Really, the above image for Columbus tells a lot of the story for DC, as well: they got hammered because the Crew got the ball wide and stretched DC’s shape like a bad hamstring. With a team full of new faces who clearly haven’t learned to play with one another yet, the defense was abused by all the space Crew players were able to find. But I can’t use the same stat for both teams, so here’s what I got for United: one. One successful pass from any of the three players nominally deployed in attack (Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva) that ended in the penalty box.

Seriously: take a look at the Opta Chalkboard above. I get that it’s hard to complete passes in the 18, but for the three guys who are tasked with creating chances, there needs to be more than one completed pass that ends up there. Oh, and that one completed pass? It came from a free kick, and ended with a flick-on by Davy Arnaud that didn’t even turn into a shot. There was a lot wrong with DC in 2013 and a lot wrong with DC last weekend, but if the new faces of Johnson and Espindola were expected to cure all attacking ills….Ben Olsen may be in for a rude awakening.

Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union

Stat that told the story for Portland: 20 crosses in the second hour of the game

The Timbers came out for the season opener and were dealt a dose of their own medicine from the new-look Philadelphia Union. Playing in a 4-3-3, the Union clogged the center of the field, put a lot of pressure on Portland and really made it difficult for the home team to get into their possession game. But as any good team does, the Timbers made adjustments. After being credited with just two crosses from open play in the games first 35 minutes, Portland emphasized wide play with Michael Harrington getting forward and Darlington Nagbe flaring out wide. After the 35th minute, Opta credited Portland with 20 crosses from open play. Some of this was due to bombing the ball forward as they sought an equalizer late, but recording 10 times as many crosses was certainly the product of an adjustment made by the Timbers.

Stat that told the story for Philadelphia: 12 midfield interceptions & recoveries to start the game

As I said above, the Union started the game very strong, with their midfield really clogging up Portland’s attempts to possess the ball. The midfield three of Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll and Vincent Nogueira seemed to be replicating some of what made Portland so successful in 2013: clogging the middle of the field and winning a majority of loose balls. Opta credits those three with 12 combined interceptions and recoveries in the game’s first 22 minutes. However, as also noted above, Portland adjusted to the Union’s set-up and began to emphasize wide play. The Union didn’t really adjust to the adjustment, as the Timbers clearly became more and more comfortable as the game went on. After those 12 interceptions/recoveries in the first 22 minutes, Edu, Carroll and Nogueria only recorded seven more the rest of the game.

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake

Stat that told the story for LA: 2.39 expected goals; 0 actual goals

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If you’re at this site, chances are you know the concept behind expected goals. If not, scroll down a ways and read up. Anyway, look at the above image: that’s not a map of shots that typically leads to a shutout. According to the numbers run by ASA’s own Harrison Crow, a league average team would’ve finished 2.39 goals from those shots. They finished zero. If you aren’t into the stats and would prefer the English commentator’s version: Robbie Keane missed some sitters, Landon Donovan was unlucky not to finish any of his half-chances, and Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas combined for some speculative efforts that nearly bulged the ol’ onion bag. Oh, and Nick Rimando had a magisterial day in net to keep his clean sheet.

Stat that told the story for RSL: Joao Plata’s complete game

I’m cheating a little here because that’s not a real stat, but any time there’s a 1-0 game, it’s tough to leave out any conversation about the lone goal scorer. In this case, that’s the diminutive Ecuadorian, Joao Plata. Plata debuted for Toronto FC three seasons ago, and it seems like he’s been around for a lot longer than your average 22-year-old. But it’s true. Plata is only 22, and if Saturday night is any indication, he could be in for his best season in MLS yet. Not only was Plata’s finish on the game’s only goal very cool, he was consistently playing with a lot more tactical awareness than I’ve seen out of him in the past. Whether it was setting up Alvaro Saborio for golden chances or making intelligent runs to stretch the defense and open up space for Javier Morales, Plata had a very, very good game against LA.

A Week One Break Down Of Shot Locations, Final Third Passes and xGF

HEY EVERYONE, WE HAD A WEEK OF SOCCER! YAY!

Taking a quick look at this ghetto chart that I made, we see a little break down of the shot locations as well as some of the final third possessions. I’m still searching for the best way to display this data, but there are some interesting things here. For instance, I feel a lot less silly about starting Robbie Keane on my fantasy team after a quick look at the Galaxy’s xGF, as he really should have scored at least one goal from the run of play–oh and then there is the whole business of missing the penalty kick. Besides that, we can also see that New York Red Bulls were forced into long range shots and couldn’t dangerously penetrate the 18-yard box despite being one of three clubs with more than 100 touches inside the attacking third.

Team Att1 xG1 Att2 xG2 Att3 xG3 Att4 xG4 Att5 xG5 Att6 xG6 xGF Passes Completed  Total Passes AP%
Sounders 0 0 0 0 2 0.142 7 0.371 0 0 0 0 0.513 57 102 0.559
Sporting 0 0 2 0.354 3 0.213 3 0.159 1 0.023 0 0 0.749 45 86 0.523
Chivas 0 0 4 0.708 2 0.142 4 0.212 0 0 0 0 1.062 88 137 0.642
Fire 0 0 0 0 1 0.071 4 0.212 0 0 0 0 0.283 58 85 0.682
Galaxy 0 0 8 1.416 4 0.284 13 0.689 0 0 0 0 2.389 116 147 0.789
RSL 0 0 4 0.708 1 0.071 3 0.159 0 0 0 0 0.938 75 104 0.721
Timbers 0 0 6 1.062 1 0.071 5 0.265 0 0 1 0.035 1.433 106 154 0.688
Union 0 0 2 0.354 2 0.142 4 0.212 0 0 0 0 0.708 68 105 0.648
Dynamo 0 0 10 1.77 2 0.142 6 0.318 0 0 0 0 2.23 70 105 0.667
Revolution 0 0 5 0.885 3 0.213 6 0.318 1 0.023 1 0.035 1.474 60 103 0.583
FC Dallas 0 0 3 0.531 4 0.284 4 0.212 0 0 0 0 1.027 81 115 0.704
Impact 0 0 7 1.239 1 0.071 6 0.318 0 0 0 0 1.628 60 107 0.561
Whitecaps 0 0 5 0.885 3 0.213 6 0.318 0 0 0 0 1.416 86 125 0.688
NYRB 0 0 1 0.177 1 0.071 5 0.265 0 0 0 0 0.513 100 139 0.719
DC United 0 0 6 1.062 0 0 3 0.159 1 0.023 0 0 1.244 80 119 0.672
Crew 0 0 4 0.708 0 0 4 0.212 1 0.023 0 0 0.943 74 104 0.712
Total 0 0 67 11.859 30 2.13 83 4.399 4 0.092 2 0.07 18.55 1224 1837 0.666

Scoring ZonesZones 1-6 have been broken down by Matthias previously, and correspond to the map displayed on the right. xGF is simply expected goals for, and AP% is simply attacking passing percentage.

Looking at the xGF, shot location would predict approximately 18-19 goals being scored when in reality there were 26 total goals put through the back of the net. The shot locations were compiled using mlssoccer.com’s Golazo and I’m not sure that the locations were entirely accurate. I plan on doing a bit of a look into how the break down works in regards to Goalzo versus the Chalkboard, and I really think that the use of the chalkboard will yield better prediction numbers, but that’s purely a suspicion of mine.

Overall it’ll be interesting to monitor this break down, and with that, maybe next time I’ll do an xGD where teams could project how many “points” that they should have based on whether or not they should have won, drawn or lost a match. Taking that a step further it’ll be interesting to see if the first 17 games has any insight to the next 17 games of the season. Here we go!