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Through the Looking Glass: Control or Lack Thereof

For over two years I've been researching team and league statistics to help paint a picture and perhaps better explain what is happening on the pitch relative to points earned in a league table.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part every competition measured, MLS 2013, MLS 2014, English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and the UEFA Champions League, have all shown a pattern of consistency.

This pattern isn't relative to individual teams that win or lose it's relative to the behavior of the league/competition as a whole.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here's a diagram on how each of the six data statistics I track in Attacking Possession with Purpose correlate to points earned for all the teams in those leagues.

By correlate, statistically speaking, the graphic above refers to the correlation coefficient between each data point and points earned - for those using statistics that is called "r".

The other technical point here is that the average percentage for each of these statistics doesn't matter, so even when they are different their overall correlation to points earned is very close. Said differently: there is a consistent pattern of league behavior relative to all leagues measured for team attacking.

What's kinda cool for me is that the pattern of information, as arranged here, shows up as a bird - with the brains of the bird located in the center. And that center statistic, the ratio of shots taken to passes completed in the final third, usually represents where the asset of vision comes into play; the better the completed pass into a danger area ( the attacking final third in this case), the more likely it is to create a shot taken that has a chance of resulting in a goal scored.

Here's a look at the same diagram with the MLS 2015 information, the red line, and the Portland Timbers information, the green line, in comparison to the other leagues:

No birds here...

In looking at the MLS 2015 Possession Percentage, there is virtually zero correlation to points earned - meaning that it simply doesn't matter how much possession you have in a game in MLS.

This isn't true for Portland however, whose Possession Percentage is hovering around -.50. This means that the less possession Portland has had this year, the more likely they are to earn points. Said another way: the more direct the play, the better the odds are that the Timbers take points.

Last year that number was .10. In 2013 that number was .02.

A takeaway here, on the Timbers, is that they were able to take points in 2013 with any level of possession percentage. In 2014 their tendency was to earn points more frequently when having greater possession. So far this year it's not only the opposite, it's actually the opposite by quite a large margin.

That strong correlation could mean that the tactical approach for the Timbers is far easier to predict this year than in the two previous years.

A few other thoughts about the two diagrams...

When considering the correlations of Passing Accuracy and Goals Scored to Points Earned versus the correlation of Shots on Goal to Points Earned for MLS, those correlations are a bit lower than either the Timbers or the other leagues measured. For me, that means the value of scoring a goal this year carries far less weight than other leagues or even MLS for 2014.

Said a different way: perhaps more goals are being scored so far this year as a result of individual mistakes instead of controlled, well placed passes that create more effective shots that finish in the back of the net.

Even more apparent is the far lower difference between MLS 2015 and the others, for Shots on Goal per Shots Taken. In other words, there is virtually no correlation on how accurate a team is in having their shots taken wind up as shots on goal.

In Closing:

The latest Composite PWP Index for MLS through Week 6.

What does it mean?

For now, it appears that MLS 2015 is nowhere near the general level of consistency it showed in 2013 or 2014. And the league itself is also far different from those measured in Europe.

While some may disagree, I'd almost be willing to offer that it's a complete crap-shoot on which teams win this year.

As a Timbers supporter I suppose that means that at any given time, from any given angle, the Timbers could either get a goal or concede a goal regardless of how good or bad their vision, passing, or penetration is.

If I were a head coach this bit of info might be interpreted in a few different ways.

  1. Either it doesn't matter how much you plan, mistakes are going to happen and it's anybody's guess who makes those mistakes and when.
  2. Or, when the lads take to the pitch, make sure they get the ball as far forward as quickly as possible, so that when a mistake occurs it is more likely to occur outside your own defending final third.
  3. Or, it doesn't matter how much is spent on players; as long as we get guys who can strike the ball in open space, regardless of how it got there, we have a great shot at winning the game.

Enjoy the roller coaster ride this year; I know I will!

Best, Chris