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

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

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

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

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 seven

I hate to be a disappointment, but Easter weekend means I only got to review two matches instead of the usual three. One was a doozy: a premier matchup of Western Conference powers, while the other had a pretty incredible final five minutes. On to the show (and if you’re really jonesing for some analysis of Chivas-Seattle from Saturday night, I’ll probably tweet some thoughts when I catch up on it later this week).

Real Salt Lake 1 – 0 Portland Timbers

Stat that told the story for Salt Lake: 23/37 passes in attacking center of the field

Stat that told the story for Portland: 7/12 passes in attacking center of the field

rslpor7

 

We’re breaking new ground with this one: I’m combining both teams’ stats for this game. These two teams have had drastically different starts to the season, with RSL grinding out results against a very difficult schedule and Portland failing to do the same against an easier slate. Still, the margin of quality between these teams is pretty slim, and that fact was borne out this weekend.

From a Real Salt Lake standpoint, this game was pretty much par for the course for 2014 and really the last five seasons. Aside from a few surprising miscues in possession that gifted chances to the Timbers, RSL’s diamond midfield was good in possession and solid in defense. They found a weakness in Portland’s defense by attacking the channel to the right of the Timbers’ centerbacks (that’s where all the incisive passes above, and Ned Grabavoy’s goal, came). Even though they weren’t at their clinical best, using tiki-taka passes to break through the backline, RSL did their job and got three points at home.

As a Timbers fan, it’s yet another missed opportunity for Portland to get that elusive first win of the year. Theories of what’s plaguing the 2014 Timbers are abound, and like ghost stories or craft beers, I have my likes and dislikes. I’ll say two things on PTFC here: (1) their demise is overstated. Portland has hit the post like a million times already this year,* and the Timbers have only been outscored by four goals (coincidentally the number of penalties they’ve given up). Once those two areas regress to the mean, it’s likely the Timbers will start to earn points and earn them fast.

*Portland leads the league in posts and crossbars hit during even gamestates with four.

But that brings me to (2): the Timbers aren’t playing as well as they did for much of last season. They are a team that thrives on possession when at their best, yet they’ve been out-possessed in each of their last five games. It’s like Portland is always flooring the engine, pushing the ball vertical to rush into shots instead of occasionally using cruise control and slowing the game down. A huge issue for them in this game was their lack of penetration in attack, as illustrated by the image above. Still, the game went back and forth with Portland and RSL both controlling the game for portions, and only the quality finish by Grabavoy instead of the fluffed chances by Maxi Urruti decided the result.

Chicago Fire 1 – 1 New England Revolution

Stat that told the story for New England: Teal Bunbury playing out of position in his position

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That stat above makes no sense, so I’ll let someone much wiser than me explain.

shinguardian

Bunbury has been playing up top for New England for the entirety of this season, and while he’s always been thought of as a striker, he fits better as a winger in the Revolution’s system. His speed is his greatest asset while his finishing leaves something to be desired, two sure signs that lone striker isn’t necessarily your best fit. At center forward in this one, Bunbury gave a lot of great effort and the team tried to set him off to the races behind Chicago’s backline. But it was never particularly successful. Late in the match, Bunbury was shifted out wide as Jerry Bengtson came on, and he promptly created a chance out of nothing by simply running really fast around Chicago’s left back. I’d love to see more of that and less of Bunbury struggling up top in the future for New England.

Stat that told the story for Chicago: 11 turnovers in their own half by Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado

Chicago played well enough to win this game, and probably should have. If not for a poor penalty kick in stoppage time that was easily saved by Bobby Shuttleworth, the Fire would’ve left with three points instead of yet another draw. The draws are getting to be ridiculous for Chicago (6 in 7 games!), but they really have no one to blame but themselves. In addition to the penalty fiasco, the goal they gave up immediately followed one of those 11 turnovers by Chicago centerbacks. Patrick Nyarko was the one who gave up the penalty, but Soumare and Hurtado deserve at least a share of the blame. This was hardly an isolated incident for Chicago – their centerbacks have been shaky all season. Think they regret trading away Austin Berry right about now?

 

Agree with my ideas? Think I’m an idiot? I love to hear feedback: @MLSAtheist

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

MLS Week 2: Expected Goals and Attacking Passes

Truth be told, last week was kind of a failure on my behalf. I trusted the data and information that was supplied by Golazo, and I’m not sure it really worked out as intended. A few mistakes have been pointed out to me, and while in general that could have been avoided by double checking the MLS chalkboard, I’m not sure that I really wanted to double check their work. This week I went straight to the Chalkboard for the data and then verified the total amount based off MLS soccer numbers. The result of the total numbers this week were a bit surprising.

Team shot1 shot2 shot3 shot4 shot5 shot6 Total xGF
San Jose 0 15 1 8 2 1 27 3.231
Colorado 1 8 4 3 1 1 18 2.228
Portland 2 5 6 3 4 1 21 2.219
New York 1 7 1 0 2 0 11 1.667
Sporting KC 1 4 4 4 3 2 18 1.654
Philadelphia 2 2 4 3 2 0 13 1.465
Chicago 2 2 2 4 2 2 14 1.446
Chivas 2 1 2 6 4 0 15 1.351
Seattle 1 4 1 0 6 1 13 1.263
Houston 1 2 4 3 4 0 14 1.2
Montreal 1 2 2 3 8 0 16 1.15
RSL 0 3 3 2 4 0 12 0.942
Toronto 0 2 2 1 3 1 9 0.653
New England 1 1 1 1 1 0 5 0.635
Vancouver 0 2 1 1 3 1 8 0.582
FC Dallas 0 2 1 2 2 0 7 0.577
Total               22.26

*Expected Goals 1.0 used for this table.

It’s weird the last couple of games (talking the CCL match against Toluca midweek); San Jose has done an incredible job at generating shots against talented opposition. First, against a very talented Deportivo Toluca that currently sits second in the Clausura 2014 table, the Quakes managed to put together 20 shots. Liga MX isn’t what they once were to MLS, but this is a very efficient showing. With that they barely squeaked by with a draw. This weekend was a much different story as they put the pedal to the floor and crashed through Real Salt Lake to draw a game they really had no business even being in to that point.

Portland is another team that stood out, but for less good things than bad. As Chris already alluded to this morning (he stole my thunder!), they’ve had an incredible amount of shots that have been blocked even before they get to the keeper. They’re obviously getting into advantageous locations and taking shots, but their opponents are getting out in front and deterring those attempts. Which, if you were going to deploy a method for the stopping the Timbers’ offense, that would seem to be it. Stay in front of them and prevent as many shots from occurring as possible. Portland has shown itself to be a terribly direct team.

Team    xGF     Goals  
San Jose 3 3
Colorado 2 1
Portland 2 1
New York 2 1
Sporting KC 2 1
Philadelphia 1 1
Chicago 1 1
Chivas 1 1
Seattle 1 1
Houston 1 1
Montreal 1 0
RSL 1 3
Toronto 1 2
New England 1 0
Vancouver 1 1
FC Dallas 1 1
Total 22 19

As you saw last week, our metric predicted under the total amount of goals scored and this week we were actually over. Again this speaks to the strength of long-term averages, and you’re frequency going to be bouncing around the total amount. But the important thing is that we’re close, and that we understand where we came up short and where we went over. New England, Vancouver and FC Dallas are all clubs that were lucky to even make the “50%” cut off because they just barely projected for a goal. But that was because we round up to the nearest whole number.

New England was surprisingly the highest of the three clubs. I say surprising because they tallied the least amount of shots. Despite that they managed a couple of better shot locations.

    Team   Comp. Passes   Inc. Passes   Total     Pass%     KeyP
Philadelphia 76 35 111 68.47% 5
New England 44 22 66 66.67% 1
New York 53 38 91 58.24% 6
Colorado 26 20 46 56.52% 5
Seattle 59 54 113 52.21% 6
Toronto 15 19 34 51.72% 2
Sporting KC 38 29 67 56.72% 5
Dallas FC 26 11 37 70.27% 4
Houston 40 26 66 60.61% 8
Montreal 49 25 74 66.22% 8
San Jose 54 36 90 60.00% 10
RSL 50 15 65 76.92% 3
Portland 46 41 87 52.87% 5
Chicago 31 30 61 50.82% 7
Chivas 48 33 81 59.26% 8
Vancouver 31 22 53 58.49% 2

Lastly we have attacking third passing data. As you see, there were only two clubs over the “100” mark this week. Seattle and Philly both collected a large percentage of the total possession, which as we have talked about previously isn’t necessarily what’s important. It’s about WHERE you possess the ball. Well, for Philadelphia it worked out well as they pretty much dominated New England. Pushing the ball into the attacking third, the Zolos limited the total touches of New England in dangerous locations and created plenty of opportunities for themselves.

However, Seattle is a different story. As shown in PWP, they dominated a lot of the raw numbers and even managed to finally produce a goal despite shot frustrations. But Toronto preyed on the counter attack and mental mistakes by Marco Pappa. They didn’t need many chances, but in the future we’ll have to see if they can continue to finish as efficiently as they did on Saturday. They sported the least amount of attacking touches in all of MLS with only 34 and while that obviously doesn’t correlate 100% to goals scored, the more opportunities you have the more likely you’re going to find the back of the net.

Season Preview: New England Revolution

A franchise empathetic to the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Braves, and every team that chased the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s, the Revs have shown over their 16-year history in the league that they are perpetual contenders and forever runners-up—a key member of the ‘almost was there’ club. That was harsh, but I don’t mean to be. The club, with just a little bit of support from Robert Kraft, could have been—and still could be—a super power in MLS. The trio of Clint Dempsey, Shalrie Joseph, and Steve Ralston, and then the often forgotten (outside of New England) prowess of Taylor Twellman dominated the mid 00’s period of MLS, and New England reached the MLS Cup finals on four different occasions between 2002 and 2007. Now, after a couple of down years, the franchise has reloaded and found itself a new era of young up-and-comers a decade later.

2013 Review: 51 Points, 3rd in the Eastern Conference, lost to Sporting Kansas City in Conference Semis

newenglandXI

Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Paulo DelPiccolo M Waiver Draft  Chad Barrett F Option Declined
Brad Knighton GK Trade (Vancouver) Ryan Guy M Option Declined
Charlie Davies F Free (Randers) Tyler Polak D Option Declined
Steve Neumann M/F SuperDraft Matt Reis GK Retired
Patrick Mullins F SuperDraft Clyde Simms M Option Declined
Teal Bunbury F Trade (Kansas City) Juan Toja M Option Declined
Jossimar Sanchez D Supplemental Draft Bilal Duckett D Waived
Daigo Kobayashi M Trade (Vancouver) Matt Horth F Waived
Alec Sundly M SuperDraft Gabe Latigue M Waived
      Juan Agudelo F Out of Contract

2013 opened for the Revs with expectations of justhoping to make the Wildcard round. Really, anything better than finishing above Toronto was the end goal, and while maybe I’m slightly exaggerating the situation a bit, I don’t think many thought they would finish 3rd in the East. Jay Heaps definitely sat upon a seat of growing embers, and fans were gradually getting more and more anxious to see progression from their second-year manager after replacing long-term icon Steve Nicol.

2013 will be remembered for many things across MLS, but Revs fans will, perhaps paradoxically, be hard-pressed to think of many good things outside the breakout year of teenager Diego Fagundez—who is being heralded as the foundation of many great, wonderful scoring-type things for the Revs in the future, and one of the future stars of MLS — and the addition of Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves. Let me be one of the first to throw that “it may be a bit premature” out there. Fagundez is a great talent, but it’s probably a bit unfair to place such expectations on an 18-year-old at this point. Scoring 13 goals at that age is going to get you attention, but doesn’t guarantee stardom.

NEINFOWhile it’s been pointed out that his goal tally was impressive— partly because it was fifth in the league and not inflated by penalty kicks—I’m not yet convinced that he’s bound for all the glory people think. In fact, I’d wager that he won’t likely equal his tally from last season for a couple of reasons.

A) An observance I’ve made over the last few days suggests that he creates many of his own shots at the goal off the dribble. I’m not sure that if he continues this trend he can be as successful.

B)  He creates below-average shots-per-90 minutes rates. Among the top 50 goal scorers, the average shots-per-90 is roughly 2.6. Fagundez averages a paltry 2.0 in comparison.

C) Over half those chances (52%) he fired off hit the target (29 of his 55 shots). While that is above-average, it may be a less-stable metric year-to-year, as is finishing rate. He needs to continue to create a high volume of chances before I’m ready to get on the bandwagon.

Now, there is some hope. The addition of Teal Bunbury gives the Revs someone who is going to take shots at a better-than-league-average clip. This could take some of the pressure off Fagundez, allowing him to be slippery with his electric speed, getting into dangerous locations, and keeping his finishing rate high.

There is also the case that New England has quite the creative midfield core, which only got deeper this week with the addition of Daigo Kobayashi. Adding him to the grouping of Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen is rather intimidating and could help the young attacking midfielder, as he may not have to create so many shots for himself.

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket and ‘poo poo’ everyone that is drinking the Fagundez Kool-Aid. The youngster is an incredible talent, both on and off the ball, and he’ll probably be a large contributing factor to why I watch so many Rev games this year. I do think there could be some undue pressure on him at this stage in his career, and it’s crazy to think this club is going to live and die with him.

Outside of Fagundez, the Revs have been stock piling young and exciting talents, such as the aforementioned Rowe, with Andrew FarrellScott Caldwell  and even Dimitry Imbongo. They’re a young team that has a lot of helium at this stage. Add to it the top-scoring collegiate talents of Patrick Mullins and lesser heralded (yet equally exciting) Steve Neumann, with the recently acquired Bunbury, and maybe the long-awaited break out season of Jerry Bengston–who seems to save all his goals for the Honduras national team—and you realize ‘holy crap’ they’ve got weapons in abundance. Truth is, they shouldn’t struggle to find the back of the net this year.

A good indicator for their offensive success last year was, of course, Chris Gluck’s Possession with Purpose (PWP Index) stat that ranks them in the upper half (9th) in MLS and 4th among their Eastern conference foes. The loss of Juan Agudelo is a bit disappointing to some of their supporters and certainly with their front office that seemed pretty determined to keep him around against all odds. But with the quality and quantity of the youth available, as well as the off-season additions, this club could very well take a step forward in the attack.

The real question for me is going to be the defense. Jose Goncalves came out of pretty much nowhere to have a lights out season and win defensive player of year honors for MLS. It’s not so much a question of whether he’ll regress so much as I wonder what the likelihood of the defense as a whole regressing.

The backline should remain, for all intents and purposes, intact from last year. The big question is whether we’ll see Bobby Shuttleworth or Brad Knighton between the pipes as a goal keeper. This is an entirely different conversation, and I want to set it aside of the time being. The defense wasn’t necessarily great so much as it was a bit lucky in some cases. Sure their PDO as a whole is under the 100 mark, indicating that they have actually gotten a bit unlucky as a whole, but they earned just 95 percent of the shot totals of their opponents, and their overall xGD was negative, which both imply that they not only surrendered more shots than they created but also surrendered shots in more advantageous locations for the opposition. Neither are good things, and both are critical points for the defense. Now those numbers don’t tell us that New England will regress or that they will certainly allow more goals than what they last year, but simply what they did produce was not as we expected and that they played above what they likely should have.

Now, as for the Shuttleworth vs. Knighton—WWE Royal Rumble face off—I’m a bit torn. Personally, I know Matt Reis had been there for a decade, but Shuttleworth was—in my opinion—a good keeper, and there was an argument for letting him stay in the net after Reis returned from injury. Now with Reis retired and the Revolution acquiring Knighton, it becomes an interesting battle. Our early advanced indications point to the fact that Brad Knighton, despite only seeing 540 minutes, was a better keeper. Now those numbers are only indicators, and they do come with a clear set of caveats. Neither keeper has enough empirical evidence that one is necessarily better than the other. That said, I expect that Brad Knighton will win the job, and his performances will stick right in and around what we thought of Matt Reis.

Overall I could see really two vastly different scenarios playing out with New England. The first is that they come out like gangbusters. Their defense holds, the youngsters take another step forward, and they overtake New York, who I believe may be somewhat overrated, and possibly even Sporting Kansas City (don’t tell Matthias I said that), staying in contention for a supporters shield for most of the year.

The other side is that, with all the significant improvements that other clubs  have made compounded with some struggles by the a young core, it could leave the team in an early hole. Early disappointing results could very well culminate in them missing the playoffs entirely.

The East going to be a dog fight, more so than what the Western Conference is thought to be. Because of that, clubs such as Toronto FC, Chicago, Houston, D.C. United and New England are all fighting for the last three spots, assuming that New York and Sporting play up to their potential. Though, given the strange inconsistencies of both of those franchises, anything remains possible. Youth lends itself to variability, making New England’s projection hard to pin down.

Crowdsourcing Results

New England received a wide range of votes, earning at least 10% of all votes for every placement between 4th and 10th in the Eastern conference. Overall, just 34.4% of voters felt that New England was a playoff team.

Show Down: Juan Agudelo vs. Diego Fagundez

During our podcast on Thursday night, a short side conversation was sparked between Drew and me. Who would you take in a situation where you are starting a new team: Juan Agudelo or Diego Fagundez. While the question and how it’s presented matters (i.e. how many years of control do you have, salary cap situation, blah, blah, blah) because it gives us context, let’s not go there. The discussion here is more about the general response. We’ve all, myself included, just generally assumed that the answer to any question between the two is: “Agudelo now, Fagundez later”. But what makes us think that Fagundez isn’t the better option right now?

While doing our podcast I generally have between 9 and 15 browser tabs open with general bits of information. I’m sure my wife would argue that it’s more like 50. Whatever. It’s a lot. During that point in the podcast, I had Squawka up and quoted a total performance score of 452 for Fagundez, as opposed to Juan Agudelo and his shockingly low score of only 57.

So, the response then transforms itself from the answer that we thought we were sure of, to understanding what exactly Agudelo has done over the course of the season. Trust me, I get that numbers, especially in soccer, can’t tell an entire story. But they can help see us things that our brains don’t naturally keep track of.

Agudelo, in my mind, is a special case of a lot of talent doing one specific thing and being credited for far more than perhaps initially thought. I know the other side of that argument stresses his physical traits and goal-scoring ability. Sure, those are two HUGE things when it comes to this game. Speed kills and Agudelo knows how to turn it on.

Let’s take a look below.

Mins Goals Shots Goals pSh Chances Created
Fagundez 2419 13 43 0.30 27
Agudelo 1019 7 17 0.41 4

First, we can see one thing. And it’s quiet amazing. Together, the two players produced 20 goals on 60 shots. Take a second to think about that because that’s major. The Revolution took 37 shots and scored just one goal over their first five matches of the season. These guys get thrown into the line-up and procure 20 goals on just 60 shots. That’s special.

Second, what is most obviously the difference between the two is the number of chances created. You’ll see in a second that Agudelo still made a fine amount of passes. The issue isn’t that he’s a ball hog, or that he just wants the chances for himself. The problem is those passes did not become chances on goal. You’d hope that a guy who gets plenty of attention from the defense has the ability to find open teammates that can create goals.

Mins Pass p90 TO p90 Pass pTO Avg Length Dribbles DisPos per 90
Fagundez 2419 22.17 2.08 10.65 14m 0.86 1.71
Agudelo 1019 28.52 3 9.51 13m 0.53 2.91

Alright, onto the possession-based stuff. There are some interesting thoughts here. Such as Agudelo taking less dribbles, making shorter passes, and making more of them. It’s not something that I would have generally have thought of about him. I think of an individual who is looking to constantly run at defenders, but maybe that isn’t the whole picture. That said, he’s still losing the ball quiet a bit, and while Fagundez doesn’t make as many passes, he’s less error-prone and creates more pockets of space up the field with the ball at his feet.

Mins Fouls Cards Tackles Blocks Interceptions Clearances
Fagundez 2419 0.81 3 1.3 0.11 0.74 0.33
Agudelo 1019 3.53 2 1.4 0.09 0.35 0.71

The biggest number that stands out to me on this page is the number of fouls committed per 90 minutes by Agudelo. There is no way he makes that many fouls and continues to only pull about 6 cards over the course of a full season. That’s impossible. Outside of that, you see that each of these players is rather close to one another. One is a bit more on top of clearances while the other interceptions.

Really, that’s probably due to two random factors. 1) Agudelo is in the middle of the box more often for corner kicks, and 2) Fagundez works in the midfield where errant passes are more probable.

It’s important to realize these players aren’t like for like. Trying to compare them as apples to apples isn’t going to work and makes this work less productive. I am willing to acknowledge that. Agudelo did have some opportunities in the midfield this season, however, he was primarily featured up top in the striker role. Likewise, Fagundez had some exciting moments playing center forward, but was primarily used out wide as a left midfielder.

Because they don’t occupy the same space, certain statistical attributes that we associate with these players are going to be either more or less inflated. They have different responsibilities so they aren’t going to be the same player statistically. We don’t have a “Wins Above Replacement” calculator, as awesome as that would be.

There is no key that unlocks all events and makes them equal, as if to say this player is better than that player, regardless of position or team. Maybe this post was a complete waste because we should be comparing these two teammates to the rest of the league, rather than to each other. What I do know is that Fagundez is less a player of the future and more of an MLS standout now, but when Agudelo leaves for Stoke, he is still going to be missed by the Revs.

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.