How it Happened: Week Eleven

Another weekend of games, and another weekend of contradictions from teams across the league. I thought I’d write today about the six teams in the three games I watched through the lens of huge differences between those teams. Without any further ado, here’s how it happened last weekend.

Toronto FC 2 – 0 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for Toronto: 6 through balls, 3 key passes from middle third

tfc11

Toronto and New York are both flawed teams. Toronto doesn’t particularly well with possession in the middle third of the field (especially without Michael Bradley), and they tend to set their defensive line of confrontation dangerously deep in their own half. But there’s one thing they excel at that helps neutralize both of these weaknesses: they attack swiftly and directly through the middle third with through balls to a striker who’s not bad at putting them away, Jermain Defoe. Take a look at that map above: three key passes from TFC midfielders and six more through balls, all coming from the middle third and springing dangerous attacks very quickly. For sake of comparison, New York had exactly zero through balls or key passes from the same part of the field in the match.

Stat that told the story for New York: 4 successful crosses, 34 unsuccessful crosses

If Toronto’s greatest asset is their direct attacking speed through the midfield, it’s one thing that the Red Bulls commonly lack. I already noted that they had no key passes or through balls from the midfield recorded against Toronto, but that number of crosses is fairly absurd as well. I’m not one who believes crossing is a terrible gameplan at all times: Lloyd Sam has maybe been the best Red Bull this year, and they really should’ve scored at least one goal from those 38 crosses on Saturday. But the lack of variety and speed in their attack is stunning for a team as talented as New York. Hopefully this improves when Peguy Luyindula returns and adds some spark to the midfield, but right now New York looks about as flawed as Toronto.

Real Salt Lake 2 – 1 Colorado Rapids

Stat that told the story for RSL: first 50 minutes of the game: 93/110 passing in center of field vs. 61/84 for Colorado

rsl11

The Rocky Mountain rivalry is always a hotly-contested one, and in years past has been a game with a clash of styles, too. That was less the case in the first half of Saturday’s game: both teams came out with narrow midfields looking to control the center of the field. The Rapids have tried out these tactics this season, but RSL has been using them for years, and to be frank, it showed early in the game. Salt Lake’s diamond midfield (even without Kyle Beckerman) had little trouble passing the ball around Colorado like a church congregation with the offering dish. The lead-up to their first goal was absolutely beautiful to watch, and they created oodles of other chances in staking themselves to a 2-0 lead.

Stat that told the story for Colorado: 5 out of 7 successful crosses, 11 of 16 total crosses, 10 of 16 shots came after going behind 2-0

Pablo Mastroeni was a really good central midfielder in his playing days, and he has a couple of very good ones in his current squad (especially Dillon Powers). But his insistence on lining his team up with 3 or even 4 natural center midfielders on the field has confused me all season. Colorado was one of the surprise stories of the league last year, and a lot of their success was due to a fairly direct style of play. It certainly wasn’t all long balls and crosses a la Stoke City, but they made a lot of good things happen by getting the ball into the box to Edson Buddle and Deshorn Brown. In this one, after falling behind 2-0 in the 50th minute, Colorado reverted a bit to their 2013 ways. They lumped in significantly more crosses, and not coincidentally they had more success getting legitimate chances, shots and goals. I hope the Raps were taking notes on some of what made them successful in the second half.

Seattle Sounders 1 – 0 San Jose Earthquakes

Stat that told the story for Seattle: Obafemi Martins was/is really good

sea11

So far this year, Clint Dempsey has (deservedly) gotten a lot of attention for being the best player in the league. Obafemi Martins has gotten less attention for being just about as good. Martins and Dempsey are absolutely the most fearsome attack combination in the league right now, and it’s very much because of how well they play off each other. Dempsey’s success has come very much thanks to Martins’ passing and hold-up ability, while Martins has sacrificed some of his goal-scoring to do the dirty work for Seattle. In this one without Deuce, Oba unleashed the fury with a pretty incredible goal that you’ve probably seen already. He’s been everything you could ask for of a Designated Player this year: making plays each and every game that have helped the Sounders to the top of the league.

Stat that told the story for San Jose: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi was/is really boring

If Seattle’s DP additions from last season have been the most fearsome duo in the league this season, San Jose’s recent signings have been about as scary as the Odd Couple. Let’s run them down: Yannick Djalo looked super exciting, then got hurt. Andreas Gorlitz didn’t look very exciting, then got hurt. Brandon Barklage, Atiba Harris and Khari Stephenson have all been basically the best any Quakes fan could hope for: extremely average MLS journeymen. But the one guy that I want to mention is the one who’s been most disappointing: Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. I mean no offense to Pierazzi at all, but he came in from French club AC Ajaccio with nearly 180 career appearances in France’s top league and a lot was expected of him. From what I’ve seen of him so far, he’s struggled to fit in with the team as well as the physicality of MLS. He’s hardly been a bad player, but he’s definitely not made the impact you expect of a high-profile addition from a top European league.

 

Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? Let me know. @MLSAtheist

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

MLS Possession with Purpose: The best and worst of Week 5

And so it goes; another week completed where you got the heart-pounding excitement from the Cascadia Cup clash, a defensive struggle from two of the best teams in MLS, and lopsided victories for two others.

Before digging in, a couple of links to consider: if you missed the match between Portland and Seattle here are two articles you may want to read if the opportunity presents itself. This one was offered up by MLS, and then here’s mine offered up on my home site here in Portland with the Columbian Newspaper.

Also, if PWP is new for you there may be value in reading what that’s about through this link, an introduction to PWP and some explanations in case this approach is new to you.

With that out of the way it’s time for some grist… who was the most effective and efficient team in my PWP Composite Index this week, and who was the worst?

To set the table here’s my standard diagram for Week 5 only. Later this week I will publish the Cumulative Index – when I do I’ll pop that link here.

PWP STRATEGIC COMPOSITE INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

There were two games this past weekend with lopsided scores (3-nil LA over Chivas) and (4-1 FC Dallas over Houston).

Up until the completion of the LA Galaxy 3-nil thrashing of Chivas USA, it looked like FC Dallas would be top of the heap for Week 5 – and rightly so given they put 3 past Houston plus they got the Orange team to give them an own goal as well.

But as you can see, LA were tops this week; more later on why, and it may surprise you.

The tough part about the FC Dallas game, for Houston, was the straight red and sending off of David Horst on what the Referee considered was a rash foul down Houston’s right sideline. I’m not so sure about that but as we have seen so far this year, the Referee’s are stamping their authority with no reservation whatsoever.

Spilt milk and, as it goes. Dallas scored three goals within 15 minutes of that Red Card to take three points. If you run a team defense in Fantasy football and have Houston in that role you got hosed – I do and I got hosed in the back-four; still got 52 points though!

But back to the LA Galaxy match on Sunday

If anyone wasn’t sure about how Landon Donovan could operate in a Diamond 4-4-2, be advised that he can – he has – and he will; when surrounded by other strong players, he’s tough to stop.

For me, though, this game wasn’t about just scoring goals. It was also about defense, and it’s that defensive mindset that put LA at the overall top this week – clean sheets matter!

As for the bottom side of the Index…

If it’s LA shutting down Chivas that garners the top offensive spot, then it’s reasonable the flip side is the complete lack of structure and focus from Chivas that sees them at the bottom.

Carlos Bocanegra has great mental awareness, but he can’t stop an aggressive Galaxy attack on his own – and in the short glimpses I had of their video it certainly looked to me like Baptiste and others were simply outmatched.

As for Houston – enuf said – the Red Card to Horst directly influenced the outcome of that game.

As for the middle of the middle of the pack… if you read my recommendations above about the Timbers-Sounders match, you know that game was all about possession with the intent to penetrate. There was absolutely no possession, that I saw, where the intent was to possess just for the sake of controlling possession.

There is no love lost between those two teams, and it seems every time they meet both just simply want to smash each other senseless. It makes for great entertainment, but there are times in my book where negative football has value, and securing three points (like it or not) is a time where negative football has value.

So on to the PWP Attacking Index; here’s how they lined up head to head…

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

For the first time this year the magical 3.00 barrier was broken in the attacking index. It comes on the heels of the USMNT also breaking the 3.00 barrier in the first half against Mexico. If you missed my thoughts on that game, you can review them here.

Onwards and upwards – for the first time this year Portland broke the top-five barrier in team attack for a given week, getting two stunners from Diego Chara plus another couple from the Argentina contingent of Diego Valeri and Maxi Urruti.

Not to be outdone was the final 20-minute performance of Clint Dempsey – aye – he got a goal early on, but for much of the game his influence and presence was pretty much unnoticed. Indeed, the chalkboard tells us that between about the 40-minute mark and the 70-minute mark, he had just 9 touches of any sort with no shots or key passes. It wasn’t until the 70-minute mark where he started to directly influence and impact the game. After that point, Dempsey had no fewer than 18 touches in the run of play with one key pass, three shots on target, and a goal.

I’m all for highlighting his hat trick in that game, but he simply wasn’t solid through the full 90+ minutes, and his team barely eked out a draw.

Understanding that and seeing the red-card tainted blowout of Houston by FC Dallas my PWP Attacking Player of Week 5 was…

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

That may be a surprise to some on two fronts. One – Dempsey got a Hat Trick. And Two – what about Watson or Diaz?

Well, as already noted, Dempsey simply didn’t play well for a full 90+ minutes and his presence and influence did not prevent Portland from having their best attacking performance of the year.

In addition, it’s likely Seattle drops three points if Ben Zemanski doesn’t do what he did in the box, and I’m simply not in favor of seeing someone getting an Attacking Player of the Week award when his team loses or draws. 3 points is the objective in this game – it’s not all about just scoring goals.

And two – while Diaz is the spark that lights the Dallas attack this year and Watson donated a brace of goals this weekend, I feel and think Michel had more overall responsibility on the pitch; therefore – given his vast number of touches on both sides of the ball I give him the award.

And in case you missed it, I don’t view this weekly award as going to someone who just lights up the front end without also considering how well they supported the back end.

Time now for Defending PWP Team of the week, where the LA Galaxy really made it count

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING INDEX WEEK 5 ONLY

Observations:

It was a close call between LA and Sporting KC this week when it came down to it; any team who can get a clean sheet against Real Salt Lake has really done their job.

But… alas… the Top PWP Defending team was LA. Why? Well it really came down to how poorly Chivas USA performed against LA, and not how poorly Real Salt Lake performed against Sporting; remember – this Weekly Index does not get influenced by previous performances on a week to week basis only the Cumulative Index does.

When checking out my Cumulative Index later this week, you may see a change in who the top defending team is overall – for now though – this is just Week 5.

In looking at the player statistics I had considered awarding the PWP Defender of Week 5 to Landon Donovan, and here’s why: he had three key passes, five recoveries and an 85% passing accuracy with 2 assists. But the more compelling case fell to Juninho, given his combined efforts (like Michel) playing on both sides of the ball.

Here’s the Diagram offering up his team effort on Sunday…

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING PLAYER OF THE WEEK 5 ONLY

In closing

Week 5 saw some individual players step up and some team performances improve as compared to previous weeks. It’s a long season, and it’s likely the Cumulative Index will continue to take shape – especially after the (unexpected) Toronto victory over Columbus in Ohio.

You may have thought that game flew under the radar, but it hasn’t, and Toronto will look the better for it in my Cumulative Index… all is not lost when a team gets a big victory without getting the headlines for that week.

If curious – here’s a link to my Weekly PWP analysis on the Red Bulls of New York.

All for now,

Chris

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.

Vegas Posts Odds on MLS Cup 2014

I’m not usually interested in sports betting. I think most would find that surprising because we run an analytics site, and most analytics fit jointly, at least in Europe, with gambling. I avoid gambling for numerous reasons, but in general because I like the money I have and would hate to lose it.  However, there is a bit of value in looking at the betting lines and understanding which teams are favorites and why. It can give us a bit of early insight into who people consider “the best” teams.

In case you missed it, Las Vegas odd makers metaphorically walked to the front of the class room and posted the first pre-season grades, identifying who they believe to the best teams in MLS. Basically they painted big red targets on the back of the LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City going forward.

Here is a little snap shot of the complete lines, courtesy of Steve Davis and NBCSports.

Here are few things that pop out at me just looking at this list.

First, the LA Galaxy are a club that we liked a lot going into the MLS Cup. We ranked them second in terms of the probability of winning the Supporters Shield and then third in the likelihood of winning the end of season tournament. Being cast aside by Real Salt Lake in the first round was not unimaginable, and yet it kind of took us all back for a moment. It’s not surprising to me that they probably hoist the imaginary pre-season trophy at this point.

Second, Portland and Seattle are neck and neck in odds. If you thought the rivalry between these two I-5 teams culminated with the playoff match, you have another thing coming. This season is going to be rife with parity, and the difference between the 1st seed and the 5th could be substantially less than what it’s been in a number of years. This is only going to throw more wood on the fire for clubs like Seattle and Portland, creating an even more tension filled stadium. Oh, hey Vancouver, you’re there also… your just not “there” yet.

Third, Toronto goes from being on the worst teams in the league to big signings and having the 8th best odds to come home with silverware at the end of the season. The tides look on the brink of turning in the Queen City and could yield a very fun summer for the Reds. Some thing well deserved for their fans with the incredible support shown through some disappointing years, and really since their arrival to MLS in 2008.

Lastly, who could blame you if really you wanted to throw five dollars down on DC United. Eddie Johnson/Fabian Espindola, a rebuilt back line, and young potential US internationals in Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid. 50-1 odds? Heck, I may just throw 20 dollars on them and become a season long United fan.