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Through the Looking Glass - Portland Timbers vs the Rest of MLS - Week 1

In the first of my regular series to be published here I'll be offering up a different view on how the Timbers compare to the rest of Major League Soccer throughout this year.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

In order to do that I think it's fair I offer two minutes and two seconds of background on my Possession with Purpose analyses (to provide some context); if you want to read more read here: Possession with Purpose.

  • I measure team activities (possession, passing, penetration, shot creation, shots taken, shots on goal and goals scored.
  • To do that I collect the volume of passes a team makes across the entire pitch, the volume of passes within and into the final third, and the volume of shots taken, shots on goal, and goals scored.
  • The final Index (pictured below) is an attempt to give others an objective sensing of where their team fits with respect to other teams performances. It's not subjective nor based on unsubstantiated opinions.
  • As seen in my previous article (Through the Looking Glass 2014) a number of tactical views can be offered on how a team behaves.
  • Finally, from a purely academic standpoint, this Index is the first of its kind, anywhere, in soccer statistics, that measures team performance that is not exclusive to shots taken, shots on goal or goals scored nor is it influenced by points earned.

So how do things stand after one full week of MLS?

Composite Possession with Purpose Index Week 1 MLS 2015

Some teams just never seem to leave the top 5 - like that team up north as well as that team down south - perhaps a surprise in this early tangled web is Philadelphia Union or even New York City FC?

But should New York City FC be a surprise this early?

Probably not - lest we forget their Head Coach is Jason Kreis and he's had two years to develop his team and organize their tactical approaches.

I see them as being the Real Salt Lake of old - but perhaps better - especially since they'll be playing in what others figure, at this time, to be a weaker conference.

As for Philadelphia - who knows - by Week 15 this Index should really take shape.

But enough about New York, and others, where do the Timbers fit into all this?

First and foremost their attacking performance outweighed the opponents attacking performance - that was a trend for most of last year and even with four/five changes, to the starting lineup, it remained consistent to start this year.

The most telling team statistic comes from Shots Taken per Penetration - last year that average was just over 18% - meaning they were far more patient in taking shots per penetration.; for this game it was 32.43% - the highest of any team in Week 1) and higher than any level reached last year.

For the most part this means when the Timbers penetrated they tried to take shots at the very earliest opportunity - as opposed to last year - where they may have been more selective in creating additional time and space before taking a shot.

A good gut check on this is looking to see what the volume of shots blocked was by the opponent - in Saturday's game the Timbers had 9 shots blocked - their average for last year was 3.41.

And in every game they played (seven of them last year) where the opponent blocked more than five shots, the Timbers either lost (once) or drew (six times).

In terms of possession - well if you watched the game it was pretty obvious that they didn't possess the ball all that much (~43%) or so... but perhaps most surprising (compared to last year) was their poor level of accuracy within and into the RSL defending final third (just 51%).

Probably the biggest reason for this is that the three starting midfielders were missing - anytime you take three of the best ground passers out of the game figure the next best tactical approach is to by-pass the midfield - the Timbers did that.

And a knock-on to that was the controlled penetration by either Villafana or Powell - I don't recall them bombing up and down the wings that often (though Villafana added some very timely crosses).

So for the most part Porter left his attack up to the four front players and kept his central midfielders a bit deeper to defend against possible Real Salt Lake counter attacks.  They did and I only recall one dangerous penetration by Salt Lake - and even that ended up being pretty harmless.

If you want to get a glimpse of how the Timbers performed throughout the entire 2014 season click Though the Looking Glass Portland Timbers Team Performance 2014.

In closing:

As the season progresses I'll be using this Index to rank teams from first to worst - in the two previous seasons (both 2013 and 2014) nine of the ten teams to make the playoffs were in the top ten.

For those curious the correlation (R Squared) for the Index to Points Earned (without using Points Earned in the calcualtions) was .85 for MLS in 2013, .86 for MLS in 2014, over halfway through the season in Europe it's .91 for La Liga, .92 for the English Premier League, .92 for the Bundesliga, and .89 for the UEFA Champions League. The Index R Squared for the World Cup was .79

Hopefully we continue to see the Timbers in the top half of this Index - if not - then there are some underlying (objective) negative team performances that should show themselves...

LA Galaxy visit Providence Park this weekend - do you think or feel that the Timbers will, again, play a more direct style of attack or might we see the Galaxy play deeper, themselves, and try to force the Timbers into a midfield possession type game?

Best, Chris