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Through the Looking Glass: Half Full or Half Empty?

The obvious point here is that when you make mistakes you will pay for it. What's not so obvious is how pear-shaped this league really is.

Ousted Outstanding as he Saves the Day for Vancouver
Ousted Outstanding as he Saves the Day for Vancouver
Hazel May

That isn't an attempt to paint an early excuse on the Portland Timbers record - it is what it is - but perhaps some context may help soothe the ache we all feel after another dose of frustration.

Major League Soccer has offered up about four games per team so far this year and, unlike any other league I've tracked or followed, there are some unusual things going on.

First - teams that possess the ball less are earning more points than teams who possess the ball more.

This isn't unusual - in and of itself - for MLS, but it is for at least five other competitions across the World - including the English Premier League, German Premier League, Spanish Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, and the World Cup of 2014. Statistically speaking the correlation (relationship) of teams who possess the ball to points earned (R) is -.31.

Second - teams that have a lower passing accuracy across the entire pitch earn more points than teams with a higher passing accuracy.

Can you Adam-and-Eve-it (cockney rhyme for believe it)? No team goes into a game thinking they will try to offer up more unsuccessful passes than their opponent. But what is happening is that the teams who take more chances/play riskier soccer overall are being rewarded more than teams who attempt to stamp some semblance of controlled possession. The correlation (R) is -.35.

Third - teams that complete fewer passes within and into their attacking final third earn more points than teams who complete more passes within and into their attacking final third.

Again, like Passing Accuracy, this speaks to a resultant type of approach where teams that are playing with more risk in attack are winning more than losing. The correlation (R) is -.37.

Perhaps another view, when considering all three of these, is that the teams in Major League Soccer who are winning now are more lucky than good???

For me at least, I try to temper my frustration on how the Timbers results play out knowing that the reasonable expectation I've grown accustomed to in England is not what is likely to happen here. If you want to see the complete details on the top European Leagues suggest you read here: Expected Wins Five.

So what does this mean for the Timbers in 2015 so far?

Before trying to offer some answers to that question here's a few diagrams on what some of the generic team performance statistics are:

My biggest take away here is the Timbers, after four games, are still looking to find consistency in adjusting to life without Diego Valeri (at least) and perhaps life without Will Johnson as well.

In looking here, the variation is pretty clear (like with shots). As time passes there should be more consistency - but even these statistics will be deceptive given they are also influenced by what the opponent offers as much as what the Timbers attempt.

Case in point is this past game against Vancouver - the Whitecaps completely ceded possession in the midfield and while some may consider playing Gaston higher up the pitch (closer to the midfield line) as a tactical change to use Gaston differently) it's likely that approach had more to do with what Vancouver offered in terms of time and space in that area.

The other obvious here is that - for the first time - Maxi Urruti and Fenando Adi played as a tandem up top - at least when it came to the formation publicized... I'm not going to dig into success or failure there - it's a moot point in my opinion and simply doesn't matter at this stage. What matters, for me, is can they improve? Others may disagree...

It took Rodney Wallace and Jorge Villafana some time to get better as a tandem and I expect it may take a bit of time for those two to get better in working together too. Does that mean the pairing was a failure if we don't see them play together against FC Dallas - I don't think so - FC Dallas are a different team but it is likely they will come into Providence Park looking to play deep and cede some midfield possession.

Anyhow - now for some quality instead of quantity:

Unlike the previous two, the Timbers appear to be pretty consistent when it comes to quality - most of their overall percentages are in line with last year - except for goals scored/shots on goals - not pictured.

Last year during their final run (games 25 - 34) with Diego Valeri that percentage was ~39% - this year - after four games without Valeri - it's 17.5%. Clearly Valeri is missed and the solution set with his absence is yet to be solved completely. For me that's not an excuse - it is what it is.

So back to the original question - what does all this mean for the Timbers?

Thirty games remain - the Timbers have high quality players who get it right when it comes to moving the ball - finishing is always the toughest part. When it breaks down it shows itself first.

With all that going on - Major League Soccer, itself, is not a constant. The schedule is unbalanced, conference strengths are unbalanced, every team has new additions and some teams have new Head Coaches.

With all that change the Timbers are still searching to find the right solution with three injured players - all of them midfielders. And while some may disagree it's pretty reasonable to say that when the midfield is operating at full throttle - the strikers should have more time and space to strike the ball - usually meaning they score more goals.

For me - for now - the glass remains half full. How about you? Best, Chris