How it Happened: Week Ten

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

Portland Timbers 1 – 1 LA Galaxy

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

lapor10

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

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

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

Columbus Crew 0 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia Union 0 – 1 DC United

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

dc10

 

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

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

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

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

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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

ny8

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

phi8

 

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

chv8

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

 

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

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.

 

JmC-AWen

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

mtl4

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

clb4
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!

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.