Possession, Passing, and Shooting in MLS in 2016

Given the emphasis that Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter places on possession and passing, it probably isn’t a surprise that I’ve started to focus on those statistical categories. Throughout the 2016 season, as troublesome results started to accumulate, I’ve tried to understand the Columbus approach to possession and passing within the context of other teams in MLS.

I’m hardly alone in this, of course – which is one of my motivations in writing this post.

Now that the 2016 MLS league season has concluded, I combed through the stats pages for each game and recorded a series of data points. The resulting dataset has been posted to GitHub.

Each observation is a single team’s performance in a single game – so with 20 teams each playing 34 games, there are 680 rows available. Fields include:

  • Team
  • Opponent
  • Possession %
  • Passes
  • Pass completion %
  • Passes in specific areas of the field (attacking half, final third, and crossses)
  • Pass completion % in those areas
  • Shots
  • Shots on target
  • Goals

Hopefully the work to assemble this data proves useful to someone. I’ve been using this data for many of the plots that I’ve shared on Twitter this season, and now that Columbus is done for the year I’ve been exploring it in more detail.

I hope to be able to share what I’ve found over the coming weeks, but for now I mostly just want to see whether anyone is interested in the data itself.

Get the data in CSV format over on GitHub.

Here are some sample plots that I’ve been working with that are generated by this data. More information will be shared in future posts.

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Winless stretches in Columbus Crew SC history

The 2016 season for Columbus Crew SC is turning into one of the hardest in team history. A year after hosting MLS Cup, the team is mired near the foot of the Eastern Conference standings. The collapse is threatening to set several team records for futility, including lowest number of victories and the fewest points earned in a season.

Recently, I was asked via Twitter to look into another possible mark of futility:

The answer, sadly, is that this year’s team will at least equal the longest winless stretch in history. Should they fail to defeat New York City FC (currently leading the Eastern Conference) on August 13th, they will own the mark outright.

The following table illustrates the longest winless streaks (solely looking at league play) during each calendar year.

Season Max Gap Last Win Next Win Notes
1996 75 May 11 July 25
1997 41 May 11 June 21
1998 30 July 9 August 8
1999 42 May 15 June 26
2000 28 May 27 June 24
2001 35 April 14 May 19
2002 31 March 27 April 27
2003 56 June 28 August 23
2004 27 June 6 July 3 Columbus did not win its first game in 2004 until 42 days into the 2004 season.
2005 39 June 11 July 20
2006 77 June 3 August 19
2007 62 July 22 September 22
2008 35 May 10 June 14
2009 29 August 15 September 13 Columbus did not win its first game until 49 days into the 2009 season.
2010 50 September 4 October 24 The 2010 team’s 50-day winless streak ended when the season ended.
2011 43 August 20 October 2
2012 42 March 31 May 12
2013 35 March 23 April 27
2014 56 March 29 May 24 2014 had two different spells of 56 days between victories.
May 24 July 19
2015 46 May 9 June 24
2016 77 May 28 August 13 This assumes Columbus defeats New York City FC on August 13.

Before 2016, the club record for days between victories in a single season was 2006, when Sigi Schmid’s inaugural squad went 77 days between victories on June 3 and August 19.

The 2006 season is commonly acknowledged as the worst in team history. The first of Schmid’s three years in charge saw so much player turnover from the Greg Andrulis years that Columbus was essentially an expansion club, and almost none of the players from that year were on the roster to lift MLS Cup two years later.

Interestingly, the season with the shortest winless streak – including season-beginning streaks – was 2000. This is ironic, given that the 2000 team was also the first to miss the playoffs. While their 11 victories were spread out evenly enough that they avoided any long doldrums, they also won no more than two games in a row during the season.

Other seasons of note in this summary were 2004 and 2009, which began with winless streaks (42 and 49 days respectively) that were longer than any seen during the middle of the season. Oddly, both of those years ended with Columbus winning the Supporters Shield. The 2004 team in somewhat infamous for reaching this mark on the strength of only five losses, but drew more often (13 times) than they won (12).

Caveats

I should give a caveat that my records for 1996 – 1999 treat all games that went to a shootout as ties. Arguments can be made that this is inaccurate, but in the case of this particular question the difference is irrelevant. In 1996 Columbus did not win a game of soccer between May 11 and July 25 (a stretch of 75 days) – even though they twice won the post-game shootout during that spell.

The data used to compile this post have been uploaded to GitHub.