Exploring the passing tendencies of Columbus and Portland ahead of MLS Cup

When Columbus and Portland face off this evening in MLS Cup, it will be a clash between two of the better passing teams in the league. Both feature midfields heavy on ball control, with international-caliber players pulling the strings supported by a back line that likes to get forward.

In preparation for this game, I collected player-by-player passing summaries for each game the two teams played, starting from the last time they faced each other in late September. What I found indicates that fans of all stripes could be in for quite a treat.

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Examining whether teams in MLS must spend big to succeed

There is a narrative about Major League Soccer that describes an emerging financial arms race between its teams. The Designated Player Rule, instituted in 2007 with the arrival of David Beckham, has allowed teams additional flexibility to spend larger sums of money on key players. Every team in the league has taken advantage of this opportunity, and the rule itself has been expanded several times in recent years. Teams can currently have up to three such players on their roster, and a new category of expenditure – “Targeted Allocation Money” – was announced earlier this season. This tactic was used almost immediately by the Los Angeles Galaxy, with the end result being the acquisition of Giovani dos Santos.

Surveying this shifting landscape, columnist Steve Davis recently argued at World Soccer Talk that the teams in MLS will effectively split into two groups:

Now [MLS is] like all the other leagues of haves and have nots. We will now march predictably into every season essentially choosing among a handful of big brand clubs as the real title contenders. Everyone else will fight for the scraps.

Is this narrative of financial inequality accurate? I set out to investigate.

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League Parity, and Repeatability of Points Per Game

I was inspired the other day by something Steve Fenn (@StatHunting on Twitter) wrote about analytics in soccer:

This question of repeatability is something that resonated with me, so I started digging around a bit. While I can’t claim great familiarity with some of the advanced modeling that goes on around the soccer world, my starting point was a fairly simple question:

How repeatable is team success itself?

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Comparing MLS Goalscoring Rates to Recent History

The week of the All-Star Game is upon us. Most teams in Major League Soccer hit the midway point of their season a few weeks back, the Gold Cup just finished, and the CONCACAF Champions League is starting soon. This seems a decent time to step back from the season, take stock of the trends so far, and begin to anticipate the push to the playoffs.

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Lineup Continuity and Points Per Game

Lineup Continuity compared with Points Per Game in Major League Soccer, through games of May 10, 2015

 

Several years ago, I wrote about the importance of continuity in a team’s lineup over the course of the season. The piece has since been taken down (it will soon be republished on this site), but the thrust of the argument was that the most successful teams in Major League Soccer were able to identify a core group of players who played a significant amount of a given season together. Teams that couldn’t, or didn’t, coalesce around such a core were less likely to be successful.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been re-visiting that thesis using some alternate strategies to see if they continue to hold true.

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Plotting individual playing time against goal difference

I started working with a new type of impact plot tonight, looking specifically at playing time compared against team goal difference. Dots representing each player are plotted along two axes: the horizontal axis records how much of the season the player has seen, while the vertical axis indicates the team’s goal difference during the player’s time on the field. Continue reading Plotting individual playing time against goal difference

Revisiting player use in World Cup qualifying cycles

 

 

Just before the start of the World Cup, I posted an exploration of the United States’ roster through its last five qualifying cycles. Now that the tournament has finished, here is an updated version that includes the four games played by Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.

US_Qualifying_Charts

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Examining players used in World Cup qualifying cycles

The American roster for the World Cup has been named, and the intense discussion over Donovan’s exclusion (and that of Eddie Johnson before him) has begun to subside. This seems an opportune time to look back over how this World Cup cycle compares to the last few.
Players used in each World Cup and qualifying cycle, since MLS began Continue reading Examining players used in World Cup qualifying cycles

Anticipating Game Three Attendance: Columbus vs. DC United

The third home game of the Columbus Crew’s 2014 season is coming up this weekend. The team will play DC United – one of the team’s rivals in the early days of MLS, but a rivalry that has significantly faded in recent years.

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Survey of Game Two Attendance Decreases Around MLS

Last week, I examined a few different ways to anticipate the attendance for the Columbus Crew’s second home game. Competing models included past changes from games one to two, and a weather-centric model. The first indicated a crowd of around 13,000, while the weather model predicted a lower figure of 11,500.

The real figure turned out to be somewhere in the middle: 12,045.

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