Cumulative PWP: Four-Horse race to the Shield? / by Drew Olsen

Early indications show it may be at least a four-horse race (at the near quarter-mile post) with FC Dallas, Columbus, Sporting, and LA leading the way. Other favorites as Week 8 begins should include Colorado, Seattle, Real Salt Lake, and maybe a real sleeper (statistics wise) Toronto.

Note any early-season favorites missing? The obvious here are the two incumbent conference champions, New York and Portland. Defensive woes highlight their early season takeaways.

New York's stategy last year (get more goals than the opponent) has only worked once this year and Portland's strategy, patience and accuracy in their possession with purpose has taken a back seat to the poorly performing back-four. And in this case, even though four goals against come from Penalty Kicks (set-pieces) what that really means is the back-four (and some defending midfielders - Zemanski in particular) have not done their job.

If PWP is new to you here's a link to the Introduction and some explanations - another link that may be useful is my new Expected Wins (XpW) article getting down to the basics - winning and the tendencies of teams that win.

Given the early stages of this horse race, here's my traditional diagram for consideration:

PWP Composite Index Through Week 7

Prime movers this week include LA Galaxy dropping three places with that draw to Vancouver and two goals scored per each team.

Others taking a hit to their Index rating were DC United dropping two places with their hard fought draw against Columbus; Portland with that gut wrenching loss (superb saves by Rimando) away to Real Salt Lake and Montreal - a continued drop of two places after getting spanked by Sporting.

Bottom dwellers continue with San Jose and Chivas moving nowhere - while some might feel keeping Chivas (with a new name) in LA is a good thing I'd offer that moving them out may REALLY help kill the stigma of them simply not being a team that will compete regularly for a Playoff position.

Maybe St. Louis or some other city is better placed to host that organization?

Anyhow, FC Dallas, Columbus (almost by default) and Sporting KC all moved up a notch at the expense of LA while RSL continued their move up the Index as they leapfrogged Vancouver, DC United and Philadelphia.

Bottom line in this is that some teams continue to jockey for overall position but the moves up and down were less dramatic, as a whole, this week, than in previous weeks.  Solid play breeds confidence and confidence breeds success.

In looking at the Attacking side of the equation here's the teams from top to bottom:

PWP Composite Attacking Index Through Week 7

Can anybody really question Pareja's approach in Dallas so far this year?  Probably not - a Toronto side came to town with their brand of away football and came away with nil-pwa.

Of the eight top attacking teams seven of them exceed 50% in possession percentage with Real Salt Lake (49.77%) being the lone wolf; go figure that one?!?  That being said four of their first seven have been away games and three of those four away games saw them at ~49%, 43%, and 45%.

So back to some general indicators on the attacking side - all four of the top teams in attack exceed 40% in goals scored from shots on goal - yet none of those teams is in the top four for Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken; those four teams are Montreal, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver and Sporting.  A trend more noticable in my Expected Wins article...

Teams making the most effective use of penetration into the Atacking Third are New England (~29%), Houston (~24%), Philadelphia (~23%), and Columbus at (~23%).  Bottom dwellers in percentage of total passes inside the Attacking Third are Montreal (~17%), Colorado (~17%) with Sporting and FC Dallas at (~18%).

A good indicator for Portland (based upon last year's averages) is that 18.83% of their possession has been in the Final Third.  What has lacked is controlling individual mistakes and positional play in Defense.

Will Johnson had some frustrated words to offer after that loss in Real Salt Lake (that I won't quote) - hey - give the guy a break - he's a fierce competitor and like most any of these guys he simply hates to lose...  but he's right; professionals get paid to put up their best in tight situations.

If training doesn't help some get better than it's time for personnel changes...

Moving onto Defense and the PWP Composite Defending Index:

PWP Composite Defending Index Through Week 7

Like last year Sporting KC is simply tough in defense; and after 7 weeks of play they have now found themselves leading the pack... about time I expect...

Other top performing defending teams include LA, Colorado, Columbus and New England.  A continued presence by DC United should give warning that Olsen seems to be doing better in stopping their goals-against rot from last year.  Is it Boswell who's made the overall difference?

In looking at the tail end both Chivas and Montreal continue to wallow at the back of the pack while Chicago, under Yallop, can't seem to gallop at full stride yet either.

A few other notables here; FC Dallas, Seattle and Real Salt Lake are in the bottom ten on the defensive side of the pitch - that strategy was an indicator of New York simply outscoring their opponents.

A run of bad luck, shoddy shoes, dodgy goal keeping, or getting hamstrung with injuries could have a huge impact in their overall outputs.

The teams that should scare people the most are Sporting and LA Galaxy... and with Colorado and Columbus looking to gain confidence (and chemistry in their attack) they too may put paid to rest this idea that a team can simply win more games by outscoring their opponent.

That approach got New York the Supporter's Shield last year but not the Championship - I think the teams going for it this year want the Championship and/or first place in their respective Divisions'.

In closing...

The plot thickens as does the muck and the mud on the track at the first turn in this yearly Derby. Hurdles await as does time spent at the World Cup, where the stakes for some players are so much higher than others.

Looking forward to an exciting weekend of MLS, and really wish the DC United match against FC Dallas was televised on National TV!

Best, Chris