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Through the Looking Glass: Finishing Touches

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Winning means the team needs to score.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

So far the Timbers are averaging one goal a game: enough to get them 34 goals scored for the season.  That's unlikely given Diego Valeri is still missing, but there should be some concern as the Timbers head north to play one of the strongest and highest scoring teams in Major League Soccer.

To set the stage, here's the diagram that piqued my interest this week:

All things considered, 2015 doesn't look too different from 2013 and 2014 with one exception: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (finishing).

Granted there were some other differences between 2013 and 2014, especially in defending, but this isn't about defending; it's about attacking.

So how do things look for the rest of the league compared to Portland?

The table below shows best to worst in difference (the fourth column) and the overall correlation (r) to Average Points Earned. It's the difference between how well a team finishes compared to how well their opponent finishes against them; higher is better.

If the (R) is low, below .40 or so, there really isn't much to offer as the two categories don't really have a strong relationship to each other.

But since it's .67, the relationship is strong, meaning, for the most part, teams who have a higher percentage in Difference are more likely to earn more points...  (i.e score more goals than their opponent.)

In checking out Portland it's pretty clear that the Timbers are way below average in this category, and with a negative number it means the opponent is, on average, finishing their strikes better than Portland.

Without harping on the point too much, it's obvious that the team up north is near the top at 19.91% differential.

This pretty much means that the Timbers may need to score at least two goals if they want a reasonable chance of winning against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday.

That said, here's another view for your consideration.

This is how the Composite Possession with Purpose Index (Blue Bars) shows after Week 7 plus the same Difference (r) along side (the Red Bars).

So what does this mean?

First off, the Index correlation (r) has increased from .54 (last week) to .61 (this week) - meaning the output of the Index is a bit closer to how things stand in the league table.

If you look at Portland it means that they are offering very good quality (accuracy) up to, but not including, the finishing touch.

The flip side would be FC Dallas or Houston, who are performing worse than their opponent with respect to passing, penetration, and shot creation, but are getting the goals when they need them.

Bottom line here is that the Timbers appear to have all the right pieces to win games, with one exception: the most critical exception at that - finishing!

In closing:

Diagram 1 and Diagram 3 confirm to me that the Timbers primary attacking pieces in passing, penetration, and shot creation are strong and have been strong since Caleb Porter took over.

Said differently, this means the tactical side of executing the game plan is pretty much spot-on; leaving pitch performance in finishing as a weakness for this team.

Poor finishing is correctable, if not through additional training it may mean digging a bit deeper into the pocket book to find guys with better pedigree in finishing.

What do you think?

Best, Chris