MLS Possession with Purpose Week 4: The best (and worst) performances / by Andrew Olsen

The beauty and maybe the curse of Possession with Purpose (the weekly update) is that it completely ignores past performance and only gives you a view on how things went this weekend.

For me, I like that, as it helps point out how well a team performs against their counterparts as a snapshot in time. The value in seeing that weekly effort then has more grist when viewing those positive and negatives in a cumulative effort week to week.

So without further ado here's how the teams stood toe to toe in Week 4:

Observations: Considering the complete blowout that Real Salt Lake had against a supposed "elite" Toronto team, it's no wonder those guys headed the composite Index this week.

Like many things, there is a tendency to over-embellish on occasion when things look really good for a team early in the season, and those reminders on how far FC Dallas fell last year - from first to eighth in about 3 months - you just can never tell how good a team is until they go up against the likes of a team like Real Salt Lake.

Last year we saw Salt Lake lose out on both the Open Cup and the MLS Championship Cup - they have been consistent in their consistency for a consistently long time; Toronto may have done well in the first couple of games but as noted in an editorial of mine the other day, the word 'elite' really doesn't belong to a team like this just yet.

In taking a further look at this Index, note again how far down the rung Portland is; it indeed was a close match and there were many chances for the Timbers, but an Index like this points out that the weaknesses in defending far outweigh their strengths in attack. If the Timbers are to turn this around (quickly) then a run of clean sheets is in order. No better way to test that than in their next game when they host the Sounders at Providence Park. If their blood doesn't boil up for this game, it may be a very long season indeed for Portland.

So after seeing the Composite winner, who actually took top honors in the overall team attacking department? You may be surprised that it wasn't Real Salt Lake---lest it's forgotten, the Index above points out the overall difference between Attacking PWP and Defending PWP.

Here's the PWP Attacking Index:

Observations:

First out of the blocks this week is Sporting Kansas City - and yes; they did pull a Lazurus this week by scoring the late winner in stoppage time. When they scored their goals doesn't matter to this Index, as it is context neutral in that respect. The fact that they came from behind to defeat a worthy Rapids team speaks more to the overall outcome and all the compelling work that went with it.

And yes - their defense gave up two goals. So, no - you won't find them in the top ten in the PWP Defending Index.

Other teams doing well in attack this week were FC Dallas, Columbus (also with a late winner) and Chivas USA (who lost 2 points by giving up a late equalizer to New York).

By the way - that's a pretty good run so far for Dallas and Columbus; Higuain should probably be on your fantasy team, as should Diaz; as a Timbers supporter it was hard to acknowledge that it was a blindingly good 'turn and strike' Diaz had against Portland yesterday.  It's like Diaz turned on a dime and struck it home - unfortunately it appeared that dime was in Pa Modou Kah's pocket.

As for Real Salt Lake - no surprise they are in the top three given their 3-nil win against Toronto.

Perhaps another surprise for some is DC United being in the top 5 - if you watched the game, like me, there were moments where DC really looked good in attack. A 2-2 draw was worthy and should give Olsen some breathing room for a wee bit longer; note - having a passing accuracy of 93.50% in that game 'will' influence the Index just a wee bit.

On to the internal process data for Sporting and the PWP Attacking Player of the Week:

Observations:

Critical data in the PWP analysis hinges on (but doesn't solely rely upon) Possession percentage, passing accuracy and the ability to leverage those two primary statistics in 'creating and scoring goals'; Sporting were 4th best in accuracy, 2nd best in possession, and 2nd best in scoring goals based upon shots on goal.

Those outputs had strong influence in them being top of the Index this week.

The individual team leader in Possession percentage this week was Columbus (shaded somewhat given the red card to Traore) - Passing accuracy was tops with DC United at a whopping 93.50% while Chivas USA made the best of their chances by scoring one goal from one shot on goal while the other five were blocked...

Graham Zusi is my top PWP Attacking Player of the Week #4:

Observations:

If you had Graham Zusi in your Fantasy team you should have gotten some pretty good points from him - I don't, so I have no clue how well he really did.

It's not hard to see how outputs like that correlated to a big three points in Colorado.

And even more compelling was his motor - he had two interceptions, one clearance and two recoveries in the defending half - some good evidence that he played on both sides of the pitch today.  Saborio will probably get all the notoriety this week - so be it. Sometimes things work out that way...

On to the defending part of this game. Recall RSL were top in the overall Composite Index - here's why:

Observations:

A clean sheet is a clean sheet is a clean sheet - and when you can go a whole game without conceding one foul in your own defending third, it's no wonder Toronto were held scoreless. Even more so when considering how many PK's have already been awarded this year (16) {is that a record already?}.

Bottom line here is the bottom line: Toronto, a team not known for liking to possess the ball, did not really possess the ball, and indeed had just 3 shots on goal with 15 shots taken. Playing counter against Real simply doesn't work - just ask the Timbers of 2013.

Here's how Real Salt Lake scored in the PWP Defending Process:

Observations:

Pretty compelling - but what stands out most to me is not the Real Salt Lake defense as a whole, but rather that Toronto have yet to break the 70% Passing accuracy percentage total this year - they had 67% accuracy in Seattle, 59% accuracy against DC United and 54% accuracy against RSL. If anything, perhaps those first two wins for Toronto were more of an oddity than a trend of things to come? Guess we'll have to wait and see about that.

One other, more devious consideration, is that Toronto are simply refusing to make attempts at engaging a possession-based approach. Instead one might offer that, if the conditions aren't right for a counter-attack, they simply just push it back into the opposing teams' half any way they can, and then 'wait' for the right moment to engage an attack when the opponent is a bit more disorganized.

I'll have to watch for that a bit more closely - and given Nelson has been in Europe for a while, he may have picked up a few things that are a wee bit different, tactical wise, than how things have been played here in the States.

The PWP Defending Player of the Week was Kyle Beckerman - and here's why:

Observations:

Gotta love that picture - anyhow - some very compelling information here with Kyle on both sides of the pitch - he's in the central defending midfield role with perhaps the most responsibility of anyone on RSL, and here he is with 2 key passes, 80% accuracy in passing, with 6 interceptions and 14 recoveries.

Bottom line this week is that Kyle Beckerman basically ate Toronto for lunch.

All that said, there is always next week, Toronto; for now this game and others already played this year by Beckerman do him well in his opportunities to continue to play for the USMNT.

In closing...

In about a day or two I'll be offering up the Cumulative PWP Composite Index and all that goes with it.

All the best, Chris