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Through the Looking Glass: Portland Timbers Team Performance Statistics 2014

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I'm not sure this statistical analyses will scratch everyone's itch but in thinking about this year I do think there is value in taking a look at Timbers team performance statistics from last year.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

To help set the stage for 2015 I've put together a .pdf file that walks through the Portland Timbers team performance statistics (2014) relative to the points they earned - game to game.

Before opening the file I'll just offer that these statistics form just a very small part of the data and analyses I do on Major League Soccer in my Possession with Purpose effort.

I hope you find this information and analyses interesting....

Portland_Timbers_2014_Version_1.0.pdf (Please click)

First up - Timbers Quality in Attack:

  • The Portland Timbers were not an overly dominate team in possession - in other words the days of Timba-Taka are no longer...
  • And actually, the less the Timbers possessed the ball the more likely they were to earn points (slide 3).
  • Throughout the season the Timbers were extremely consistent in passing accuracy - be it with high or low possession percentages (slide 4).
  • As the season progressed (slide 5) the Timbers were more active in penetrating the opponents defending final third than earlier in the season - in other words they took less time to possess the ball outside the opponents defending final third.
  • And even with the increased level of penetration (slide 6) the Timbers still sustained a consistent level of passing accuracy in the opponents defending final third.
  • Most would think that with increased penetration and consistent passing accuracy the percentage of shots taken per penetration would increase - it didn't...  the Timbers (slide 7) actually showed greater patience in taking shots.
  • It's counter-intuitive for some that increased penetration ends up with reduced shots - but even with that reduction in shots per penetration the Timbers actual quality of shots on goal increased (slide 8).
  • And that increase in quality of shots on goal directly led to an increase in goals scored per shots on goal (slide 9).

Next up Timbers Quantity in Attack:

  • As the season wore on the Timbers clearly dropped in their overall volume of passes attempted - this fits in with a drop in overall possession.  For most this is a solid indicator that the Timbers played either more direct or more of a counter-attacking game (slide 10).
  • With a reduced volume in passes they had a slightly higher drop off in overall passes completed (across the entire pitch) (slide 11).
  • The interesting part of this - and again it speaks to more counter-attacking - than perhaps regular direct attacking as we know it - the volume of passes the Timbers attempted into the opponents defending final third increased (slide 12).  In other words they took fewer passes to penetrate - a quicker game than earlier in the season for sure.
  • And even though their overall volume of passes dropped, as the season progressed, the overall volume of passes into the opponents defending final third increased (slide 13).  So accuracy AND volume increased in the opponents defending final third.
  • Finally, this increased accuracy and volume, within the opponents defending final third, led to a corresponding increase in the volume of shots (slide 14) shots on goal (slide 15) and goals scored (slide 16).
  • Clearly the attack benefited considerably by playing quicker from the back as they transitioned from the midfield to the opponents defending final third. All told accuracy got better as they got closer to goal - a good thing to be sure...

What's all that mean for this year?

Even without Diego Valeri, to start, I'd offer we are likely to see an up-tempo game where possession with the intent to possess is not the first order of business - I think it will be possession with the intent to penetrate.

How things take shape after penetration will be more about how well the Timbers are in creating time and space or how effective they are in taking advantage of what time and space the opponent provides. However viewed look for goals to be scored in all areas within and into the 18 yard box...

So that's the attacking side of the pitch - here's the summary for quality on the defending side of the pitch:
  • With the Timbers seeing a slight decrease in possession it would be expected that their opponents would see a slight increase in possession; they did. But given the end state - more points earned in the second half of the season - that opponent possession was not possession with purpose (slide 19).
  • Like the Timbers, their opponents overall passing accuracy remained steady (at least across the entire pitch (slide 20).
  • Here's where the defensive grist begins - as previously offered about 2 months ago - the Timbers began to cede more penetration (comes about by dropping deeper as opposed to playing a higher defensive line) (slide 21). This slide really begins to show that the opponent had a higher ratio of passes completed within and into the Timbers defending final third than earlier in the season.
  • What is good to see is that even with the uptick in opponent penetration the opponents actually showed lower passing accuracy (slide 22) within and into the Timbers defending final third. In other words, since the space got tighter (with a deeper drop) the opponent was less successful in completing passes in that area.
  • As a result, the opponent's shots taken per penetration (slide 23), shots on goal per shots taken (slide 24), and goals scored per shots on goal (slide 25)all decreased. It's this improved performance in defending that had a direct impact in the Timbers ability to earn more points.
Here's my summary for quantity on the defending side of the pitch:
  • It's interesting to note (slides 26 and 27) that the opponents volume of passes decreased (across the entire pitch) just like the Timbers volume decreased! With the opponent actually seeing an increase in possession percentage it's counter-intuitive that their own volume would go down. What's happening here is that the game itself is taking a more hectic shape (across the midfield) than what we might normally see with a slower paced - high volume - short passing type of game.
  • And to reinforce that view (slide 28 and slide 29) confirm that fewer passes were occuring in the middle of the pitch and more passes were being offered, and completed, in the Timbers defending final third. So when Keith Blyer or some other TV announcer notes the high level of opponent penetration into the Timbers defending Final Third it's because the Timbers are actually (indirectly) "inviting" the opponent to penetrate with the intent to create their own counter-attacking opportunities.
  • A great sign of success in that defensive approach is seeing (slides 30-32) how the oppoennt actually had a drop off in shots taken, shots on goal, and goals scored... In other words a deeper line resulted in less time and space in and around the 18 yard box; meaning fewer shots taken with adequate time and space to make them effective.

What's all that mean for this year?

Overall, I'd expect the Timbers to play slightly deeper in order to try and create the same success in counter-attacking they saw late last year - this tactic may vary given their opponent but with a deeper line their defense has shown success in getting more clean sheets - and a clean sheet always means you can get at least one point.

In Closing

It's all to play for as the new season has arrived, if you're interested in how all that data comes together here's a look at the final Possession with Purpose Index after 2014:

Best, Chris