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

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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

clb1

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

dcu1

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

lag1

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.

Crowdsourcing the Western and Eastern Conferences

This past off-season we’ve put a lot of time into the project of obtaining shot data from the 2013 season. We’ve mentioned this before, and I’m sure you keep coming back waiting and expecting it to be here. We hope to release that soon. We are closing in on completing the data set, and once done, the data will be used to create goalkeeping ratings, game states analysis, and many other things that I haven’t yet really mentioned. We (read: Matthias) are all extremely anxious to get started.

But while we are winding down that project and getting ready for the regular season of MLS—and don’t forget NASL—we have a pre-season exercise that we would like to conduct this month. This will be a brief and simple survey that tells us how you think each respective conference will finish after the regular season. This endeavor almost certainly won’t lead to a perfect prediction of the final standings, but hey, maybe it will be close?

Take the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6KS3CL6

The intended use is to give a short snapshot of how we all view teams at this stage of the season. Recent outcomes seem to distort perceived notions and ideas that we originally had about something to the point that we’re not sure what we thought prior to the occurrence of that specific event. It would seem our doubt is closely followed and probably facilitated by people claiming that it “wasn’t a surprise that Montreal jumped out to an early lead in the East” or that “you shouldn’t have been shocked to see D.C. United in the cellar.” After something occurs, it’s easy to feel like things were once forgone conclusions, even if beforehand it would have been hard to rationalize a one-dollar bet on that outcome.

Most of the time it’s just an arrogant (and probably ignorant, too) pundit that would choose to speak for the entirety of those that enjoy and follow U.S.-based soccer. But, let me ask you, would you have guessed that the Timbers were going to be the #1 team in the West last year? A team that, despite it’s dedicated following, looked miserable just one season ago. Who would have guessed that LA was nearly a wild card team? Think about the fact that Landon Donovan, who rightfully had been restored to the US Mens National Team roster, was in his best form in years and the Galaxy barely missed the single elimination match to get into the playoffs.

Here is a more current example:

There is no doubt in my mind that Philadelphia Union supporters, the Sons of Ben and Co., believe that they will be a top-3 club in the East. Yet, judging from the incredibly small sample size of the survey I’ve sent out, most don’t believe they’re a playoffs team at this point, and some even believe they are the worst team in the East. I admit that these votes were cast before the announcement of key additions Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira, both of whom are primed to make sizable contributions to their new club. But that underlines that fact that maybe we missed something. Maybe there are things that with overlooked in this fast and furious off-season. This is your opportunity to influence things and make your voice heard.

With most major European transfer windows closing this past weekend, the waters of MLS will settle and the rosters will start to set. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of an impact talent still signing with the league; there are interesting players in leagues that still have windows open.

Regardless, we are starting to gain an idea of the starting line-ups that in turn help us reference the order in which we could see clubs finish, and this gives us our best chance at making an intelligent and informed decision.

The link to the survey is below and will be available from now until the 21st of February. We have a very optimistic level of participation that we’d like to see which means that we’re going to need some help to meet those obscured and honestly, pretty randomly chosen goals. This is the part where we selfishly push this on you as “the only way we can do this.” It’s an old—and maybe a bit contrived—tactic, sure. But the truth is that while we could be satisfied with the anywhere between 100 and as many as 250 unique and steadfast visitors that we have to this site, we won’t be. We need more help.

I’ll assume you have friends or people that would pass-off as such—Google calls them “acquaintances.” I’d also suspect that you have a new-fangled social media option which you prefer. All I would simply ask is that you take this survey and then share it with others. Whether you love your Twitter like a new-born baby, or shun it as you should Eddie Johnson, tweet this baby out.  The more voices that we hear, the better the picture becomes, and the less probable it is that some idiot just comes and nukes your favorite team just because he’s a supporter from an opposing club.

Take the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6KS3CL6

*Please bare in mind you only get one vote. Just one. Use it wisely.