The Hardest Win to Win

When New York City FC defeated the Montreal Impact 3-1 on Sunday, they notched their sixth away win of the season. The Eastern Conference leaders have twice as many wins on the road as they do at their home field, Yankee Stadium. NYCFC and FC Dallas have nearly a third of all road wins between them, and if you add Toronto and Vancouver to the equation, those four teams account for nearly half of all road wins in a 20 team league.

The count of each type of MLS result, and the percent of the whole:

Home Wins 102 0.515152
Home Draws 63 0.318182
Home Losses 33 0.166667
Away Losses 102 0.515152
Away Draws 63 0.318182
Away Wins 33 0.166667

Home teams average 1.86 points per game in MLS, while away teams average 0.82. There are a number of factors to consider, but this seems to be another area where MLS doesn’t hold to international norms, where the win percentage for home teams is ~45%, depending on the league.

It’s tempting to say this is likely travel related, and there is probably something to that. MLS has teams in all four time zones, and there can be thousands of miles to match up against conference foes, never mind the occasional east-west clash.

Indeed, looking at the other national soccer league in the US, the numbers aren’t too dissimilar. Here’s the same information for the 2016 NASL season:

Home Wins 39 0.513158
Home Draws 21 0.276316
Home Losses 16 0.210526
Away Losses 39 0.513158
Away Draws 21 0.276316
Away Wins 16 0.210526

Home teams in NASL have a similarly strong advantage at home. Home teams average 1.81ppg, and road teams average .90.

Below MLS and NASL lies USL, which should be considered a regional, instead of national league. The Eastern and Western conferences rarely face off during the regular season, and the limits in travel also seem to affect results. The Eastern Conference:

Home Wins 53 0.420635
Home Draws 31 0.246032
Home Losses 42 0.333333
Away Losses 52 0.412698
Away Draws 31 0.246032
Away Wins 43 0.34127

And the Western Conference:

Home Wins 58 0.43
Home Draws 36 0.27
Home Losses 40 0.30
Away Losses 58 0.43
Away Draws 37 0.28
Away Wins 39 0.29

USL numbers tend to skew closer to international averages, which makes sense. Outside of Russia and China, there aren’t too many countries with teams traveling across multiple time zones to face each other.

All of this is to explain one facet of the power rankings, namely that I wanted to incorporate a degree of difficulty component to the results. This means a home win in MLS is scored as 3 points, while an away win counts much higher. So don’t be surprised by the team on top of the power rankings. They’re good, but this good? Maaaaaybe.

USA 2016 07 18

 

 

Posted in MLS, Uncategorized, US Pyramid

5-1

Not the ideal way to end a season, even one as good at Tottenham’s. Especially when you need at least a tie to finish above your local rivals for the first time in 21 years. Especially on a day when you were the only game that really meant anything. So the world tuned in to see a second half collapse against 10 relegated  mercenary souls.

The game was very much a trap game. Newcastle’s short-term manager, Rafa Benitez, excels at coming up with strategies that put better teams’ noses out of joint. He knew where to hit Spurs, and in ex-Spur Andros Townsend and enthusiastic want-away Moussa Sissoko, he had players that are great working down the flanks, in the space Tottenham’s full backs tend to vacate as they attempt to provide width. Keep Colbeck, Tiote, and Steven Taylor clogging up Zone 14 (the central area right outside the box) and you’ll take away most of Tottenham’s attacking verve.

I generally don’t second guess managers, since they see training and have a whole myriad of other factors to consider besides the outcome of the next match. I would argue that Pochettino should have tweaked his usual formation a little bit more than he did, given the players available. I would have taken these steps:

  1. Switch Mason and Eriksen. Drop Eriksen alongside Dier to provide deeper passing range and smarter positional play.  Think back to Huddlestone playing the deep pivot when Bale was out injured, pinging endless accurate balls up the flanks to the fullbacks to switch point of attack. Mason should have been a like-for-like with Dele Alli, breaking beyond Kane into the box. Not the same technique as the teenager, but a better use of his “talents.”
  2. Tell Lamela and Son to start wider. Both will happily come inside to search for the ball, but they needed to drag their full backs and the holding midfielders out to them to open up gaps.
  3. Fullbacks to play more conservatively and look to underlap more often. I’m thinking of the inverted full backs at Bayern, who will come up slightly and provide an interior passing option. Walker in particular was hitting some woeful crosses.

Does that solve everything? Not really, but it shifts Newcastle’s defense around a bit more while keeping the fullbacks at home a bit more to deal with the counterattack.

Mitrovic’s red card perversely helped Newcastle way more than it did Tottenham. Newcastle were already planning on sitting deep and breaking, and the man advantage just meant more Spurs players got sucked forward. Going from 2-1 to 5-1 based on the equalizer and red card reminded me of the 6-1 defeat Manchester United suffered against their city rivals, where one commentator said that United getting a goal back to make it 3-1 was the worst thing that could have happened to United, as they poured forward and conceded three more.

The last thing I wanted to touch on before breaking into tears was the penalty. So much kicking and pulling and whatnot goes uncalled in the name of letting the game flow, that I don’t really consider diving cheating, it is more like artful revenge, when done well. Honestly, Sissoko’s dive was the artiest of revenges. If my idea of putting a former player, an ice skating judge, and a kinesiologist on a panel to judge dives was implemented, that trio would have awarded Sissoko high marks:

  • he is alone in the box after a single-person 60 yard counterattack
  • the only defender between him and the goalie is a wispy creative midfielder not known for his staunch defending
  • the opposition is desperate to get something out of the game
  • it’s the last game of the season, everyone is tired
  • he pulls the leg back almost perfectly to mirror the defender’s leg swipe
  • he falls in a semi-natural way

That’s gotta be one of the smarter dives I’ve seen all season. I’m not even mad at the dirty rotten cheater.

So Tottenham’s manager and players have come out and apologized, and off we head for a summer rife with soccer. The European Championship, Copa Centenario, the trainwreck that will be Olympic soccer in Rio, plus the usual league and Open Cup soccer in the US. I’m sure eldest daughter will appreciate having her dad back on weekend mornings, and I’ll need to brush up on my Lego skills.

US Rankings

Colorado’s two recent draws have seen them dragged down a bit, but no one can match them overall for results. Houston and Edmonton were the big gainers.

I am working on breaking this table to reflect past versus upcoming opponents and to better account for teams being home or away. Hopefully that will be available by the time the Copa starts.

USA 2016 05 17

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Posted in BPL, MLS, US Pyramid

Hoping for One Fewer Holiday

Some stats shamelessly lifted from a Facebook post:

“Pochettino’s win percentage in Premier League:

August 30.00
September 55.56
October 44.44
November 54.55
December 38.89
January 42.86
February 57.14
March 58.82
April 31.25
May 30.00

Spurs in stats:

20 Points lost by Tottenham from leading positions this season, the most by any Premier League team

19 Points won by Tottenham when trailing in matches, the most by any Premier League team”

After being supremely annoyed that Tottenham played on Monday three weeks in a row, their match against Southampton on Sunday was supposed to provide some relief. Even though the chance at a title had gone with the ill-tempered draw against Chelsea, there was another minor victory there for the taking. A win would ensure that Arsenal fans would be unable to enjoy St. Totteringham’s Day, their yearly commemoration of the point in the season where Tottenham are unable to finish above their rival.

A win over Southampton would have removed St. Totteringham’s Day from the calendar, and things looked good when Tottenham took a 1-0 lead. But the advantage never say comfortably with Spurs, who conceded twice and now have a two point lead on Arsenal heading into the last weekend of the season. A season that seemed so promising far longer than most people expected may evaporate. Their is plenty to be proud of, and even more reasons to be optimistic, but Tottenham finishing below second would be something approaching a catastrophe.

Thankfully, whenever there is soccer catastrophe, there is someone to put it in perspective. My wife purchased God is Round by Juan Villoro as a birthday gift, and I have finally started chewing through it. Books about soccer by Latin and South American authors are usually pretty amazing, and this one is no different. As someone who recognizes the kernel of truth in Dogma‘s claim that genocide is the second most exhausting activity one can participate in outside of soccer, I often think how weird soccer fans are to tolerate the grind of a game, a season, a tournament. Villoro argues it this way:

A stadium, that cauldron of voices and flares, might not seem like an incubator for stoicism, and yet it very much promotes coolness in the face of adversity. The referee gets a lot of things wrong, the turf becomes slippery, the most accurate player on your team misses every now and then. A whole catalog of imponderables, all kinds of surprises, can happen in football to put a dent in our mood; no one goes expecting a sure thing…This is the way with football: it doesn’t happen, or half-happens, or happens just in the way you don’t want it to happen, but constantly teeters on the edge of coming together just right.

For many people, it’s hard to talk about the grind of world soccer without mentioning promotion/relegation. A group of US soccer fans have helped get the #ProRelforUSA hashtag running, pushing for an end to the closed league franchise model that dominates US sports. It’s timed to coincide with the beginning of the US Open Cup, a tournament that draws increased attention every year, and more attention to lower division US soccer. For many teams, the Open Cup is the most national exposure they will receive all season, which is unfortunate. What these teams go through to exist is not really known to a lot of fans. In addition to the Open Cup coverage, there was an interesting article written by the founder of Foursquare about his efforts to start a soccer club. I hope that more owners and founders step forward to talk about how and why their clubs exist, as it adds a lot to the conversation.

The US rankings for the week saw a lot of consolidation. Even the teams that won often lost points in the rankings, just fewer relative to the teams around them. New York City FC, Ft. Lauderdale, and Edmonton were the big gainers of the weekend, while Carolina, DC United, and San Jose saw the biggest decreases. The full table:

USA 2016 05 09

Posted in BPL, MLS, Uncategorized, US Pyramid

US Power Rankings May 3, 2016

A rather close fought weekend meant only small changes in the rankings for most teams. MLS had five ties and four one-goal victories, the lone exception being Red Bull New York’s 4-0 shellacking of FC Dallas. While it wasn’t a particularly low-scoring weekend, it seemed that many of the goals were of especially good quality. It was especially heartening to see several goals that relied on quick combinations, especially as the league seems to value long-distance blasts more highly than I do:

Portland and New England both scored goals featuring a series of quick passes in tight spaces. That combined with high quality goals for Brad Davis and Gio de Santos in the late Sunday game, as well the game-winning Diego Valeri free kick versus Toronto meant that there were plenty of re-watchable moments from MLS play.

Carolina lost their first game of the season, 1-0 to the Cosmos in New York. Combined with Minnesota’s bye week, the top three NASL teams remain clumped together, though the order has been maintained. At the other end of the table, FC Miami and Ft Lauderdale Strikers have both slid closer to FC Montreal, perennial power rankings basement dwellers.

In the USL, there were good wins for Charlotte at the Baby Bulls, for Los Dos on the road in south Texas, and San Antonio put together another solid win over the struggling Tulsa Roughnecks, who at least got on the scoresheet this week. The USL’s big winners were the Orange County Blues, who have been rounding into the form they showed last season and won their third straight game, beating Sacramento at Bonney Field.

USA 2016 05 02

Posted in Uncategorized

Copa Centenario Roster

The opening game of the tournament specially designed to celebrate 100 years of Copa Americas is a little over a month away. This tournament has been specially designed to separate fans from their money for matchups like Haiti-Peru and Panama-Bolivia. Don’t get me wrong, there will be some really good soccer played, but there are some less than exciting matchups due to the expanded field.

The best part about the lead-in to any tournament is roster selection. The nature of tournament as a celebration instead of serious competition has manifested with news that Brazilian Neymar will participate in the Olympics instead of the Centenario, with more withdrawals possible.

The United States’ failure to qualify for the Men’s Olympic tournament means that the Centenario should have more of a focus on bringing through younger players that should have been getting experience in Brazil. This does not mean that Klinsmann should bring the full U-23 squad, but instead of opting for experience in the 3-4 slots for a particular role or position, fill it with a youth player. There are some especially hype-train worthy prospects this time around. My guesses and wishes for the 23 man roster below.

  1. Brad Guzan (GK) – a rough season in England for a terrible team, but still pretty good.
  2. Tim Howard (GK) – a rougher season personally, he is in some ways still the face of the team, and will no doubt be there
  3. David Bingham (GK) – seems to have inherited the Hamid/Rimando/Johnson challenger to the crown role.
  4. DeAndre Yedlin (OD) – has settled into the right back role for a team fighting relegation, and while he hasn’t been superb, he looks much more comfortable here than further upfield. Let him play and grow into the position.
  5. Tim Chandler (OD) – return of the fling. He’s been playing regularly for his German club, so there’s a good chance he sneaks in here. Statistically very good during the 2014 World Cup.
  6. John Brooks (CD) – another guy playing regularly in Germany, Brooks’ team have been chasing a Champions League place most of the season. He remains the short to middle term future of the defense.
  7. Geoff Cameron (CD, OD, CM) – my personal choice to play as the holding midfielder for the USMNT, his versatility and experience mean he will be used to plug gaps, including in central defense.
  8. Matt Besler (CD) – the Sporting Kansas City defender organizes and reads the game well, and watching him play against Chile will be the best test of his soccer mind yet.
  9. Matt Miazga (CD) – the other future of the central defense, his move from New York to Chelsea has kind of gone better than many expected, but he clearly will be out on loan next season. Bring him, give him minutes, it will pay off in the long run.
  10. Tim Ream (OD, CD) – another former MLS defender who jumped to England, Ream has been a success story there. His ability to play left back, albiet a conservative interpretation of the position, should get him on the roster.
  11. Brek Shea (OD, OM) – the Orlando City left back scored one of the goals of the season so far and has looked fitter and more involved than previous seasons. He seems to have a flighty mindset, but potential remains.
  12. Michael Bradley (CM) – has benefited hugely from the improved structure at Toronto this season, showing a restraint and anticipation that makes him a serious contender to take over the six role, play box to box, or one of the wide spots in a diamond.
  13. Danny Williams (CM) – another holding midfielder with the ability to get forward, Williams hasn’t played for Reading FC, his English club the past few weeks after a fight with the club captain. He would be my other choice to take over from Beckerman.
  14. Darlington Nagbe (CM, OM) – the smooth operator of MLS, Nagbe has shown hints of what he can do at the international level, and assuming he is fully recovered from his ankle knock, should be on the roster.
  15. Wil Trapp (CM) – offers something different from the deep role, with a greater passing range and vision. Perhaps won’t play as a lone holding midfielder internationally, but still need to start accumulating minutes.
  16. Fabian Johnson (OM, OD) – The US’ form player of the European season, Johnson has been a hugely effective attacking presence when played in midfield. Keep playing him there, and he will take over Landon Donovan’s role from the 2010 World Cup.
  17. Alejandro Bedoya – (OM, CM, OD) – another steady veteran for the midfield pool, Bedoya’s versatility and work rate should help the US in tournament play.
  18. Christian Pulisic – (OM, CM) – CHOO CHOO! Reports surfaced that there is an excellent chance that the 17 year old from Pennsylvania will parlay his appearances for German club Borussia Dortmund into a starting role for the US this summer. Pulisic is already the youngest goal-scorer in Bundesliga history, and Klinsmann clearly feels he is ready to lead the offense for the US.
  19. Ethan Finlay (OM) – Klinsmann does love to have speed on his roster, and Finlay has been winning Klinsmann over in camp. While the Columbus winger has been a bit predictable with the ball, refining his runs and movement off the ball will allow the US to stretch the field and give the midfield some space to play.
  20. Clint Dempsey (CM, ST) – Dempsey has apparently been on record as saying it is a life goal to play in the Copa America, and playing in this tournament would count. Not sure I would agree with that, but given that Dempsey remains the most effective finisher on the main roster, he should be there. He has been poor in MLS so far, but that’s more emblematic of Seattle working through issues.
  21. Jozy Altidore (ST) – his impressive January camp was derailed with some injuries, but has been working his way back into form, winning a penalty against Montreal this past week. He is ever present for US national team.
  22. Bobby Wood (ST, OM) – the Hawaiian born attacker has been outstanding in the second division of German soccer, and deserves to be here on merit. Has shown flashes of what he can do at the international level, and would really benefit from three quality games over the summer.
  23. CJ Sapong (ST, OM) – a few seasons ago Sapong was playing as a target winger for Sporting Kansas City, and the way he played fearlessly was a stark contrast to the timidity that the bulkier Altidore was playing with at the time. For Philadelphia last season, Sapong was splitting time at center forward with a Venezuelan import. This season, Sapong’s hold up play, passing, and strike rate have been a revelation. Without a true back to goal striker in the squad, there needs to be a place for CJ Sapong.

Alternates:

  • Daniel Yarborough (GK)
  • Jon Kempin (GK)
  • Edgar Castillo (OD)
  • Omar Gonzalez (CD)
  • Steve Birnbaum (CD, OD)
  • Emerson Hydnman (CM)
  • Scott Caldwell (CM)
  • Paul Arriola (OM, CM)
  • Sebastian Lleget (OM, CM)
  • Gyasi Zardes (ST, OM)
  • Christian Ramirez (ST)
Posted in Uncategorized, US Men's National Team

The Odds and The Ends

The Odds:

  1. Tottenham’s title chances aren’t good. After the 1-1 draw with West Bromich Albion on Monday afternoon, league leading Leicester only need three points from their last three games to clinch the title. A win away at Manchester United on Sunday will render Tottenham’s Monday clash with Chelsea pointless.
  2. PRO referees. A rough season for the United States’ men in black reached Klinsmann-esque levels of farce on Sunday. A controversial no-call on a Karl Ouimette tackle was compounded by the head of PRO referees informing the Fox Sports broadcast crew the referee blew the call, which they announced over the air. US soccerdom hasn’t seen a betrayal so cold blooded since Jurgen Klinsmann pulled Alejandro Bedoya after 36 minutes against Brazil and then stuck the knife in during his halftime interview.

The Ends:

  1. Real Salt Lake’s run as the last unbeaten team in MLS. Los Angeles put five past them. The loss of several starters and an unusually switched on LA strikeforce led to a 5-2 loss for the Utah squad.
  2. The Italian league. Juventus have clinched the league after picking up a simple insane 73 out of 75 points. Napoli’s failure to beat Roma on Monday meant that the Juve players were able to turn into day drinkers, enjoying champagne and cigars after training on Monday morning. It is quite the triumph for a club that lost three of its best players after last season, and a testament to planning trumping cash.

US Power Rankings:

Carolina’s fourth win coupled with Minnesota United’s gutsy defeat of the New York Cosmos established the Railhawks as the best NASL team of the season. Colorado remains in first, while Toronto’s road defeat of Montreal sees them as one of the big gainers from the past week.

USA 2016 04 25

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Five to Watch

My top five games of the weekend:

  1. Liverpool v. Newcastle, NBC Sports Network, Saturday 10:00 am Eastern. Rafa Benitez returns to Liverpool trying to save Newcastle from the drop. Rafa can be an intensely frustrating manager, and his current career trajectory indicates some people may agree. He’s done so well coaching underdogs in Spain and England, and Newcastle will certainly not be the favorites here. Meanwhile Liverpool have really hit their stride at this point in the season, staging an epic comeback to knockout Borussia Dortmund, then smashing four goals past their next door neighbors Everton.
  2. Atletico Madrid v. Malaga, BeIn Sports, Saturday 11:10 am Eastern. Besides Barcelona, only three teams have beaten Atletico this season, and Malaga is one of them. Diego Simeone has constructed a wonderful team that defends immaculately no matter who is on the field, and runs their hearts out every single game. Except this time, Atletico have a Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich in four days. With Barcelona snapping back into form and local rivals Real Madrid also in the chase for the Spanish league title, will Simeone muster enough forces to avoid another defeat?
  3. Everton v. Manchester United FA Cup semi-final, Saturday 12:15pm Eastern, Fox Sports 2. Teams should be excited about being one game away from a chance at a trophy, but the vibe for this game is that both sets of fans are trying to do the calculus on how much damage would be caused by their respective managers winning a trophy and staying in the job another year. Roberto Martinez managed to coast by on taking Everton’s David Moyes defense for the first year in charge, but since then performances have dropped off and more closely resemble Wigan. Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United has been an awkward fit for a long time, but Van Gaal still has the touch with less-heralded youngsters, and has managed to unearth some real gems in Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
  4. Tampa Bay Rowdies v Carolina Railhawks, Saturday 7:30pm Eastern, BeIn Sports. An early season clash at one of the more picturesque NASL stadium in Tampa will see league leading Carolina take on a talented Tampa squad that still needs to figure out how all the pieces work together. Plus we may get lucky and have a Freddy Adu sighting.
  5. New York Red Bulls v. Orlando City SC, Sunday 7:30pm Eastern, Fox Sports 1. As the finale for the MLS weekend, hopes should not be high for this game. Per American Soccer Analysis, the Red Bulls should have been expected to score twelve more goals than they have this season. Orlando is another fair-to-middling team at the moment, though they will be boosted by the suspension of midfielder Antonio Nocerino, who has unsettled the midfield with his presence. New York’s Bradley Wright Phillips remains the most snakebit striker since Roberto Soldado at Tottenham, but uncertainty runs through the whole team, starting with defense. A team featuring Kaka, Cyle Larin, and Kevin Molino should wreak havoc.
Posted in MLS, Uncategorized
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