# You say you want a Revolution? Possession with Purpose From a Different Angle

A superb run with five wins and a draw in six games; by most standards that is a compelling argument for consistency.  I agree and their overall Composite Possession with Purpose Index rating continues to climb.

They’ve (New England) climbed from 17th in PWP (week 5) to 7th after week 11; a superb shift of 10 full places in 6 weeks.

So in considering this giant push forward I’d like to take a different approach in how the data points from PWP can be viewed.

This is new so please bear with me for a minute or two as I set the context.

Below are a number of diagrams referencing my PWP indicators for a few teams; the diagram being used this time is the ‘doughnut’ diagram from Microsoft Powerpoint.

The interesting thing about this diagram is that it allows me to offer up a view on my PWP data points that isn’t relative to the exponential relationship (a line). Instead, it allows me to picture the overall tenor of PWP data points in relationship to themselves as being a part of a ‘whole’; with the ‘whole’ being PWP.

I feel confident I can take this approach since my Expected Wins 2 correlation for my data points is ~.97 (R2) — as near to rock solid as you can get.

Other context points include:

• The teams used in this analysis are Seattle, New England, Montreal, Portland and last years’ Supporters Shield winner (New York) plus last years bottom dweller (DC United)
• Reminder in case my explanation was a bit wordy above – the percentages indicated in the doughnut are not the percentages of those activities relative to the game; they are the percentage of those activities relative to each other with 100% being all those activities added together.
• Source – as usual the MLS Chalkboard and the MLS Statistics Sheets
• Gold Stars on the diagrams are intended to show you where differences occur.
• The team name on the outside of the doughnut is the outer ring of data and the team name on the inside of the doughnut is the inner ring of data.

To begin…

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NER v MIFC

The volume of Final Third passes successfully completed by New England (29%) is 3% points higher than Montreal (26%).  Note also that Montreal has a greater percentage of PWP outside the Final Third (30%) than New England (28%). Both of these indicate to me that New England is more focused on penetrating and creating than Montreal.

For the future I will check into these three areas when looking to see if a ‘direct attacking approach’ can be better differentiated from a ‘ground-based’ (short passing scheme) approach.

The actual volume of penetration is higher for New England as well (11%) versus (7%). And like my regular PWP analysis the data here also supports the fact that teams who are more patient in creating shots taken (6% for NER versus 11% for MIFC) end up with more goals scored.

I did ask Matthias Kullowatz about the specific shot data for New England and Montreal; ~60% of Montreal’s shots on target have come outside the prime scoring zones 1 & 2 while ~68% of the Revolution shots on target have also come outside of zones 1 & 2.  So what’s different?

I think it’s down to time and space again; though it could be the Revolution have better strikers – but when you see the DC United doughnut diagram a bit later I think it’s back to time and space; and with fewer shots taken and more patience in the final third that seems reasonable to me.

Now for a contrast that might be better at explaining individual mistakes and bad fortune more than a bad ‘style/system’…

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 SSFC v PTFC

Notice no ‘gold stars’; why? Because there really isn’t that much difference between how these two teams execute the six steps of PWP.

What separates these two teams in the league table are individual mental mistakes in defense – Portland sit on ten points while Seattle have 25. Through the course of this year the Timbers have dropped 7 points due to red cards and penalties – they did both against Columbus Saturday night!

In considering the ‘sameness’ of the data I expect as time passes an output similar to this could highlight ‘individual mistakes’ and perhaps ‘good/bad luck’ when it comes to rebounds and deflections – again recall Saturday night when Futty Danso deflected a shot and notched an ‘own-goal’

All told things went pretty well for Columbus, a red card by their opponent, a foul in the penalty box by their opponent for a PK and a deflected own-goal by their opponent. If I were a Columbus fan I’d be pretty pissed they didn’t win – bad luck for the Crew!

However viewed I’ll revisit this diagram later when the Cascadia Cup battle heats up.

So here’s the doughnut view of New York compared to DC United last year and then a bit further down how they look compared to each other this year.

PWP Doughnut Diagram NYRB v DCU 2013

First off – let’s not forget Ben Olsen was not fired and perhaps this doughnut diagram can also help explain why given the overall poor performance in results last year for DC United.

Notice that the team does exceedingly well in comparison to New York with respect to Passing, penetration and creation; they actually exceed New York in the first two categories and only fall off when it comes to goals scored (7% for DC United versus 15% for New York).

So I’d offer that the system Ben Olsen ran last year worked – what he lacked was a pair of good strikers.  And if you recall the Montreal doughnut earlier the outputs from DC United do not mirror those of the Impact!

They added Espindola and Johnson and shored up their defense a bit; that also included adding Amos Magee to the staff.  Remember him as the Defensive Coordinator for Portland last year (I think – others can confirm or deny that I’m sure)

Bottom line here – the system didn’t change and the Head Coach didn’t change and I’d offer that was appropriate…  now for the same diagram this year:

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NYRB v DCU 2014

In closing:

Note the increase for DC United in the final category – goals scored versus shots on goal – pretty compelling information to reinforce that the system used last year is the same system used this year and the difference – major difference – is the addition of two quality strikers.

I’m just in the learning stages on how this new doughnut diagram will take shape – I’m pretty sure it will have at least one hole in it – I’m hopeful there aren’t a lot more.

Some changes afoot with OPTA and MLS – I see OPTA incorporated the Final Third Passing Accuracy suggestion – just need to find out if crosses are included in that metric???

As for the new MLS Chalkboard – I’m not sure how that will work if the ‘numbers’ of activities are not available to count when it comes to defensive activities and ‘touches’ for players…

And yes, the old Chalkboard still appears to exist given a separate link within previous articles but it’s unclear if this change will be a permanent change for next year – or even the World Cup for that matter…

As for This Week in PWP; if you saw my tweets yesterday you know the top Attacking and Defending PWP teams of the week; New England in attack and Toronto in Defense with the Reds taking the Composite PWP Index top spot for Week 11.

Sporting KC, along with LA Galaxy remain atop the Composite PWP through Week 11 while the Revolution moved to 7th and Columbus dropped to 4th as Real Salt Lake are now in a comfortable position of 3rd best overall.

Finally, this view also gives you and idea of what percentage each team gleans from each of the PWP Six Steps data points in the calculation for the overall Index number.

Best, Chris

# How It Happened: Week Eight

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

Columbus Crew 1 – 1 New York Red Bulls

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

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

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

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

Montreal Impact 1 – 0 Philadelphia Union

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

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

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

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

San Jose Earthquakes 1 – 0 Chivas USA

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

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

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

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

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

# Montreal and Philadelphia Swap Young Strikers

Okay, I’m sure by now that, given you follow our site, you’ve also probably been made aware of the fact that the Philadelphia Union (an underrated team in my opinion) traded their young 20-year old striker Jack McInerney to the Montreal Impact for their young 22-year old striker Andrew Wenger. The trade has a very Matt Garza for Delmon Young feel to it, leaving me with an odd taste in my mouth. Are the Montreal Impact selling low on Andrew Wenger? It’s, at the very least, presumable that they know something that we don’t about him and his nature. The question becomes, then, is that assessment accurate?

Obviously the idea of a poacher is one that is met with a bit of contention,  in the sense of how do you measure being in the “right place at the right time” for an individual? However assessing the 86 shots taken by ‘JackMac’ from the 2013 season, we can know that no fewer than 57 of them came from inside the 18 yard box, courtesy of digging around on the MLS Chalkboards. It’s obvious that he’s a player that can get the ball in advantageous locations. Already on the season he’s put together 12 shots and 11 of them have come inside the 18-yard box with 6 coming directly in front of goal. He’s been appropriately tagged on twitter as a “fox in the box”—hold the sexual innuendos—and I think the term poacher probably comes naturally with that association. Unfortunately, that term may harbor and imply the idea that he’s more lucky than good. I’m not sure I entirely buy that approach.

Meanwhile with everyone’s attention directly focused on McInerney–audaciously stamped as ‘The American Chicharito’–having already being called in the USMNT Camp for training during the Gold Cup, people are forgetting about Wenger and his potential that once made him a #1 overall MLS draft pick. Back in 2012, Wenger was painted as a potent and rising talent in MLS, named to MLSSoccer.com’s 24 under 24 roster, coming in 7th overall. Just one year later McInerney jumped onto the list himself, rocketing to 4th overall, while Wenger was left off. The perpetual “what have you done for me lately?” seemed to come out in these rankings.

Wenger–despite all his talent–has run into a slew of various injury-related setbacks the last two seasons; it’s so much failing to perform. The talent is still there, and I fully expect John Hackworth to tinker in an effort to get as much out of him as possible. The easy narrative here might just be the returning home to “revitalize his career” or something like that. Instead I think Philadelphia possibly got an undervalued piece in this move.

Looking at the last two years and a total of 31 shots Wenger has taken, 24 of those came from inside the 18-yard box, a higher percentage than that of JacMac. With that you can see above with xGpSH (expected goals per shot) that Wenger’s average shot has been more likely to become a goal than that of his counterpart. Now, understand that this all comes with the requisite small sample sizes admission. Wenger has played less than half the amount of time as McInerney and has less than half the amount of shots. However, estimations based upon their current performances with creating shots has them near the same level as that of Eddie Johnson, Will Bruin and Chris Rolfe in years past.

Creating shots isn’t everything. Creating shots in important positions is something. As we attempt to analyze the value of certain events on the pitch and how certain players are responsible for those events, we’ll see some things and maybe understand how to assess performances. It’s easy to overact to certain things that come with doing this type of analysis— Such as McInerney, Wenger, Bruin and Rolfe all averaging about 4.0 shots created per game individually. That seems rather important, but there is additional data that is missing. How much was each shot that they created worth? What other attributes do they bring to the match? This is just an simple break down between two players and comparing how they’ve impacted their respective clubs.

Personally, looking at all of this data, I’m of the mindset that Montreal got the better player. However, it’s extremely close and that isn’t taking into account the rosters in which they are joining or how they might be utilized on the pitch with their new teams (4-3-3 concerns vs. 4-4-2 placement). I would say at this time the difference between the two is that one is younger and has more experience. That might be a bit simplistic approach but honestly both create shots the same way in the same space. McInerney does so at a higher rate but Wenger has made up for taking less shots with taking advantage of his more experienced partner, Marco Di Vaio, and feeding him opportunities.

This may be one of the more interesting trades in recent memory. I’m fascinated to watch what happens next and how each of these two players develop. Their career arcs will go a long way in providing the narrative for this trade and I’m not so certain that this is as one-sided as some people might think. Referencing baseball again, the Tampa Bay (then, Devil) Rays were largely regarded as having “sold low” on Delmon Young. We can now see, looking over the past decade,  that he never managed to put together all those tools that we once believed he had. The lesson being: don’t be too quick to judge Philadelphia. This isn’t necessarily going to be something as easily evaluated by just a single season, and time will reveal the significance of this day.

# How It Happened: Week Four

Week four was a great week for MLS fans. It seemed like nearly every game ended with a stoppage time goal to rescue a draw or clinch a victory, and there were plenty of great goals and saves to go around. On a personal level, week four was less great: between a car breakdown, being super busy at my real job and the USA-Mexico friendly happening at 11 PM EST, I come to you for my weekly column a day late and a game short. Sincerest apologies to my loyal readers (both of you).

## Philadelphia Union 1 – 1 Montreal Impact

Stat that told the story for Montreal: Long passes and counter-attacks

So this isn’t necessarily a stat, but watching Montreal is a clear lesson in direct attacking with long passes. The image above shows all the completed passes by Montreal in the middle third of the field, and you can tell that they tend to be pretty long. And these are only the completed passes – long passes have a higher tendency to be incomplete, so in fact Montreal attempted way more long passes than are in the picture. On the bright side, Montreal has some guys who are pretty darn good at those long passes (and another who’s pretty darn good on the end of them: check out this beauty that Mapp hits to Marco Di Vaio for the Impact’s lone goal. This isn’t new for Montreal: it’s exactly how they played last year when they rolled to a hot start and then struggled mightily down the stretch. The hot start hasn’t exactly happened this year; will the rest of the season play out any better?

Stat that told the story for Philadelphia: 3 blocked shots by Amobi Okugo Aaron Wheeler

What hurts for Philadelphia fans is that if the centerback pairing of Okugo and Wheeler had managed to block a fourth shot, the Union probably would’ve snatched three points instead of just one. From watching Philly a couple times now this year, it seems like their backline, particularly Okugo, blocks a ton of shots. MLS fantasy stats say Okugo is averaging 9.5 CBIs (Clearances, Blocks & Interceptions) per game, and he tallied 9 against Montreal. But only two were blocked shots, and if he had closed Marco Di Vaio down just one step earlier on that goal…. Still, MDV is a class player even at his advanced age, and Okugo has saved enough goals this year that one slip up is hardly enough to pile on the guy.

## Seattle Sounders 1 – 2 Columbus Crew

Stat that told the story for Columbus: Location of Federico Higuain’s touches

If you haven’t watched any Columbus Crew games yet this season, you’re missing out on the most entertaining team in the league. This tweet from Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle sums it up better than I ever could: the Crew is so fluid and so good at creating space in possession that they create a ton of chances. The straw that stirs the drink for all this is their talisman, Federico Higuain. In the past, Higuain has floated all over the attacking half of the field to get on the ball, but this year he’s extended his meanderings to the entire field (see exhibit A: heat map above).

Another part of what’s making Columbus so successful this year is how well the rest of the team plays off his movement. For example, when Higuain slides onto Bernardo Anor‘s flank, sometimes Anor or Dom Oduro or Tony Tchani makes a run off the movement to create an attacking chance. This kind of interplay is awesome to watch, and if Gregg Berhalter can keep his team’s creative spark alive then Columbus could not only make the postseason, but make some noise once there.

Stat that told the story for Seattle: 20 recoveries + interceptions in attacking half

After writing an opus to Columbus’ early play, it’s time to bring them back down to Earth a little bit. If it weren’t for the red card issued to Djimi Traore, the Crew’s perfect start would’ve been seriously in jeopardy. Sigi Schmid came out with a good tactical plan to counteract Berhalter’s attacking possession style, pressing high up the field and trying to win the ball off Columbus’ defenders.

Before going a man down, the pressing led to a number of balls won in the attacking half which led directly to dangerous Seattle counterattacks. Some of this high pressing could also be attributed to the 4-3-3 that the Sounders employed in the absence of Clint Dempsey. I might be alone in this opinion, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Dempsey in that formation alongside Obafemi Martins and one of Lamar Neagle/Kenny Cooper. I know Sounders fans want Dempsey to be the focal point of this team, but he might just be more effective as a complimentary piece in a balanced formation.

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

# MLS Week 3: Expected Goals and Attacking Passes

In the coming days, Matthias will be releasing our Expected Goals 2.0 statistics for 2014. You can find the 2013 version already uploaded here. I would imagine that basically everything I’ve been tweeting out from our @AnalysisEvolved twitter handle about expected goals up to this point will be certainly less cool, but he informs me it won’t be entirely obsolete. He’ll explain when he presents it, but the concept behind the new metrics are familiar, and there is a reason why I use xGF to describe how teams performed in their attempt to win a game. It’s important to understand that there is a difference between actual results and expected goals, as one yields the game points and the other indicates possible future performances.

However, this post isn’t about expected goal differential anyway–it’s about expected goals for. Offense. This obviously omits what the team did defensively (and that’s why xGD is so ideal in quantifying a team performance), but I’m not all about the team right now. These posts are about clubs’ ability to create goals through the quality of their shots. It’s a different method of measurement than that of PWP, and really it’s a measuring something completely different.

Take for instance the game which featured Columbus beating Philadelphia on a couple of goals from Bernardo Anor, who aside from those goals turned in a great game overall and was named Chris Gluck’s attacking player of the week. That said, know that the goals that Anor scored are not goals that can be consistently counted upon in the future. That’s not to diminish the quality or the fact that they happened. It took talent to make both happen. They’re events—a wide open header off a corner and a screamer from over 25 yards out—that I wouldn’t expect him to replicate week in and week out.

Obviously Columbus got some shots and in good locations which they capitalized on, but looking at the xGF metric tells us that while they scored two goals and won the match, the average shot taker would have produced just a little more than one expected goal. Their opponents took a cumulative eleven shots inside the 18 yard box, which we consider to be a dangerous location. Those shots, plus the six from long range, add up to nearly two goals worth of xGF. What this can tell us is two pretty basic things 1) Columbus scored a lucky goal somewhere (maybe the 25 yard screamer?) and then 2) They allowed a lot of shots in inopportune locations and were probably lucky to come out with the full 3 points.

Again, if you are a Columbus Crew fan and you think I’m criticizing your team’s play, I’m not doing that. I’m merely looking at how many shots they produced versus how many goals they scored and telling you what would probably happen the majority of the time with those specific rates.

 Team shot1 shot2 shot3 shot4 shot5 shot6 Shot-total xGF Chicago 1 3 3 3 3 0 13 1.283 Chivas 0 3 2 2 3 0 10 0.848 Colorado 1 4 4 2 1 1 13 1.467 Columbus 0 5 1 2 1 0 9 1.085 DC 0 0 1 1 4 0 6 0.216 FC Dallas 0 6 2 0 1 1 10 1.368 LAG 0 0 4 2 3 0 9 0.459 Montreal 2 4 5 8 7 0 26 2.27 New England 1 2 1 8 5 0 17 1.275 New York 2 4 2 0 2 0 10 1.518 Philadelphia 2 5 6 2 4 0 19 2.131 Portland 0 0 2 2 2 1 7 0.329 RSL 0 4 3 0 3 0 10 0.99 San Jose 0 2 0 0 3 0 5 0.423 Seattle 1 4 0 2 2 0 9 1.171 Sporting 2 6 2 2 3 2 17 2.071 Toronto 0 6 4 2 2 0 14 1.498 Vancouver 0 1 1 3 3 0 8 0.476 Team shot1 shot2 shot3 shot4 shot5 shot6 Shot-total xGF

Now we’ve talked about this before, and one thing that xGF, or xGD for that matter, doesn’t take into account is Game States—when the shot was taken and what the score was. This is something that we want to adjust for in future versions, as that sort of thing has a huge impact on the team strategy and the value of each shot taken and allowed. Looking around at other instances of games like that of Columbus, Seattle scored an early goal in their match against Montreal, and as mentioned, it changed their tactics. Yet despite that, and the fact that the Sounders only had 52 total touches in the attacking third, they were still able to average a shot per every 5.8 touches in the attacking third over the course of the match.

It could imply a few different things. Such as it tells me that Seattle took advantage of their opportunities in taking shots and even with allowing of so many shots they turned those into opportunities for themselves. They probably weren’t as over matched it might seem just because the advantage that Montreal had in shots (26) and final third touches (114). Going back to Columbus, it seems Philadelphia was similar to Montreal in the fact that both clubs had a good amount of touches, but it seems like the real difference in the matches is that Seattle responded with a good ratio of touches to shots (5.77), and Columbus did not (9.33).

These numbers don’t contradict PWP. Columbus did a lot of things right, looked extremely good, and dare I say they make me look rather brilliant for picking them at the start of the season as a possible playoff contender. That said their shot numbers are underwhelming and if they want to score more goals they are going to need to grow a set and take some shots.

 Team att passes C att passes I att passes Total Shot perAT Att% KP Chicago 26 17 43 3.308 60.47% 7 Chivas 32 29 61 6.100 52.46% 2 Colorado 58 27 85 6.538 68.24% 7 Columbus 53 31 84 9.333 63.10% 5 DC 61 45 106 17.667 57.55% 3 FC Dallas 34 26 60 6.000 56.67% 2 LAG 43 23 66 7.333 65.15% 6 Montreal 63 51 114 4.385 55.26% 11 New England 41 29 70 4.118 58.57% 7 New York 57 41 98 9.800 58.16% 6 Philadelphia 56 29 85 4.474 65.88% 10 Portland 10 9 19 2.714 52.63% 3 RSL 54 32 86 8.600 62.79% 3 San Jose 37 20 57 11.400 64.91% 3 Seattle 33 19 52 5.778 63.46% 5 Sporting 47 29 76 4.471 61.84% 7 Toronto 30 24 54 3.857 55.56% 6 Vancouver 21 20 41 5.125 51.22% 2 Team att passes C att passes I att passes Total ShotpT Att% KP

There is a lot more to comment on than just Columbus/Philadelphia and Montreal/Seattle (Hi Portland and your 19 touches in the final third!). But these are the games that stood out to me as being analytically awkward when it comes to the numbers that we produce with xGF, and I thought they were good examples of how we’re trying to better quantify the the game. It’s not that we do it perfect—and the metric is far from perfect—instead it’s about trying to get better and move forward with this type of analysis, opposed to just using some dried up cliché to describe a defense, like “that defense is made of warriors with steel plated testicles” or some other garbage.

This is NUUUUUuuuuummmmmbbbbbbeeerrrs. Numbers!

# 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 Two

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

### Sporting Kansas City 1 – 1 FC Dallas

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

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

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

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

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

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

### Chivas USA 1 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

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

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

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

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

### Houston Dynamo 1 – 0 Montreal Impact

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

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

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

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

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

# A few key games this week…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# Game of the Week: Montreal Impact at Chicago Fire

So why this game, you ask. Real Salt Lake is hosting Houston, and the Revs travel to play the Wiz, but I picked this game instead. Despite a negative goal differential, I like Chicago in this one. I smell upset. Our MLS tables tell me that Chicago ranks 5th in the league in attempts ratio at 1.07, earning nearly 10% more shot attempts than its opponents on average. When we account for where those shots are coming from, our shot location data suggests that Chicago’s goal differential should be pretty even: -0.04 expected goal differential (xGD) per game if I regress finishing rates 100%.

Basically Chicago is an average team with a little bad own-goals luck. However, as I’ve been preaching all year, Montreal’s play is seemingly unsustainable, and it is playing on the road. Despite the most points per game in MLS, Montreal owns the third-worst attempts ratio in the league, and an expected goal differential of -0.20 goals per game. The Impact may very well be the second-best team on the pitch come Saturday.

Chicago Fire Shots Data

 For Locations Goals GoalDistr SOGDistr OffDistr BlksDistr AttDistr Finish% ExpGoals One 5 19.2% 6.9% 2.6% 2.9% 4.2% 41.7% 4.0 Two 16 61.5% 31.7% 31.3% 17.6% 28.2% 20.0% 14.3 Three 3 11.5% 19.8% 16.5% 20.6% 18.7% 5.7% 3.2 Four 1 3.8% 22.8% 19.1% 25.0% 21.8% 1.6% 2.8 Five 1 3.8% 18.8% 28.7% 33.8% 26.4% 1.3% 1.6 Six 0 0.0% 0.0% 1.7% 0.0% 0.7% 0.0% 0.1 Total 26 26.0 Against Locations Goals GoalDistr SOGDistr OffDistr BlksDistr AttDistr Finish% ExpGoals One 8 29.6% 11.5% 9.4% 2.0% 8.6% 34.8% 7.7 Two 9 33.3% 26.4% 29.7% 15.7% 25.9% 13.0% 12.3 Three 6 22.2% 23.0% 14.8% 31.4% 20.7% 10.9% 3.3 Four 0 0.0% 13.8% 13.3% 21.6% 15.0% 0.0% 1.8 Five 3 11.1% 21.8% 32.0% 29.4% 28.2% 4.0% 1.6 Six 1 3.7% 3.4% 0.8% 0.0% 1.5% 25.0% 0.2 Total 27 26.9 Luck -0.1

Montreal Impact Shots Data

 For Locations Goals GoalDistr SOGDistr OffDistr BlksDistr AttDistr Finish% ExpGoals One 4 12.1% 5.6% 1.1% 1.5% 3.0% 50.0% 2.7 Two 18 54.5% 30.6% 33.3% 25.4% 30.2% 22.5% 14.3 Three 5 15.2% 25.9% 18.9% 10.4% 19.6% 9.6% 3.1 Four 4 12.1% 18.5% 15.6% 23.9% 18.9% 8.0% 2.3 Five 2 6.1% 19.4% 31.1% 38.8% 28.3% 2.7% 1.6 Six 0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0 Total 33 23.9 Against Locations Goals GoalDistr SOGDistr OffDistr BlksDistr AttDistr Finish% ExpGoals One 4 12.9% 5.9% 2.8% 2.9% 3.8% 33.3% 4.0 Two 15 48.4% 39.6% 32.4% 10.3% 29.9% 16.0% 16.7 Three 5 16.1% 14.9% 9.0% 11.8% 11.5% 13.9% 2.2 Four 6 19.4% 19.8% 13.8% 26.5% 18.5% 10.3% 2.7 Five 0 0.0% 18.8% 39.3% 45.6% 34.1% 0.0% 2.2 Six 1 3.2% 1.0% 2.8% 2.9% 2.2% 14.3% 0.3 Total 31 28.1 Luck 6.2

# Introducing Shot Locations

On the site and on the podcast we have discussed shot rates an awful lot. A team’s shot rate is simply how many shots it has taken divided by how many shots it has conceded to its opponents. Whenever I make a Game-of the-Week prediction on the podcast, you’ll hear me use two primary pieces of information: which team is at home and which team has recorded the better shot rate. In general, shot rates help to explain not only the relative number of scoring opportunities a team has given itself, but also the relative number of scoring opportunities it is likely to get in the future. It’s predictive.

There are, however, some conspicuous outliers in the league—teams that just don’t seem to follow the rules. Harrison wrote earlier this week about Montreal’s shot data. While Montreal gives up far more shots that it earns for itself, Harrison pointed out that Marco Di Vaio and company also place the ball quite well, finding the lower corners a high percentage of the time.

Perhaps Montreal’s own finishing rate is for real. But I won’t be convinced about the low rate at which teams have finished against Montreal before first delving into some new numbers. We have our own shot location data here at American Soccer Analysis, now, and I’m going to use it.

I have broken the field down into six primary scoring zones (seen to the right) in the hopes of accounting for the difficulty of both angle and distance.  It is possible that some teams earn a higher quality of opportunities rather than a higher quantity—or vice versa. In addition to recording where each team gets its own shots, I have also gathered the locations of the shots that each team has given up defensively from each zone. Here are some interesting tidbits about Montreal’s defense.

Despite being ahead much of the time—which would seemingly encourage low-quality attempts—Montreal still gives up a league-average proportion of shots from high-scoring zones one and two. In fact, if Montreal’s opponents had finished their attempts from zones one and two at the league average clip, Montreal would have given up six additional goals this season. However, including all six zones, Montreal would have given up just two additional goals due to some unlucky results from distance.

Because Montreal has played a wide range of opponents, it would make sense that its goal scoring rates against would stabilize to something close to league norms. It turns out, for the most part, that those rates have stabilized. The zones help to control for difficulty of shots, and Montreal’s defense isn’t getting particularly lucky based on the shots it is allowing. The major controversy still lies in the Impact’s offense, and whether or not it can sustain a league-leading finishing rate. According to its shot locations, the Impact “should have” scored eight fewer goals this season.

On the flip side we have Sporting Kansas City. Unlike Montreal, the Wiz have dominated the league all season in shot rates, and yet find themselves third in the East in points per match. Could quality of shots be playing a role?

Possibly. Sporting KC gets more shots from zones two and four than the league average team, and those tend to be decent scoring zones. SKC has outscored its opponents by five goals on the season, but with average finishing rates from each zone, one would expect a goal differential closer to +7 or +8. SKC has underachieved by only about two goals according to the shot locations data. How much of that difference is skill versus luck is still well beyond this blogger, but maybe someday…

*Own goals are taken out of the shot locations data.