MLS Proactive Score through May: The league’s most tactically diverse team is…. / by Jared Young

By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

It’s time for our Monthly review of which teams play proactively and which teams play reactively in Major League Soccer (read this article for more background on how Pscore works). Three months into the MLS season and I’m ready to anoint the most tactically diverse team in MLS: the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps are one of just three teams that currently have above average points per game, regardless of which style they play; reactively, proactively or somewhere in the middle. The other two teams are New England and FC Dallas. Vancouver wins the award because their distribution of games playing different styles is most evenly spread out.

For this May recap of the proactive score (Pscore), I’ve looked at the distribution of each teams’ games and rolled the score into three buckets; reactive (a Pscore between 1 and 3), medium (4 and 6) and proactive (7 and 10).

But before we get there, here are the current standings for proactivity. I’ve also added a table for just May. Orlando City keeps their top spot on the list and FC Dallas maintains their spot as the most reactive team, but they inched closer to other teams this month.

Here’s the chart through the end of May:

Team May Pscore May Pscore vs March/April May PPG
Orlando 7.8 0.3 1.2
Seattle 7.3 1.6 2.2
Montreal 7 0.8 2
Houston 6.5 1.9 1.2
DC 5.9 0.6 1.6
RBNY 5.8 -0.8 0.8
Portland 5.5 0.1 1.7
Los Angeles 5.3 -0.3 1.3
Chicago 5.2 -0.7 1
Columbus 5.2 -1.2 1
Toronto 5.2 -0.6 2
Kansas City 4.8 0.7 2.2
Dallas 4.6 1.1 1.4
New England 4.5 -1.1 1.2
NYCFC 4.4 -2 0.4
Philadelphia 4.4 0.1 1.2
Salt Lake 4.3 0.4 1.1
Vancouver 4.2 -0.8 1.4
San Jose 4.2 -0.5 1.5
Colorado 3.8 -0.5 1

Observations:

  • The blue teams increased the most over their average through April – Seattle, Houston and Dallas changed the most proactively. Seattle was the only team of the three who had a particularly strong month.
  • Columbus, New England and NYCFC (in red) were increasingly more direct in their style of play and none of them had particularly strong months from a points per game perspective.

Here is the ranking for the entire season through the end of May:

TeamRankLastPscore Home Pscore Away Pscore Home Away Split
ORL 1 1 7.6 7.6 7.7 -0.1
MON 2 2 6.5 7.5 5.5 2
SEA 3 8 6.5 6.3 6.7 -0.4
NYRB 4 5 6.3 6.7 5.8 0.8
CLB 5 3 5.9 7.3 4.5 2.8
NYCFC 6 4 5.6 5 6.3 -1.3
DC 7 12 5.6 5.4 5.8 -0.5
CHI 8 6 5.6 6.5 4.6 1.9
Tor 9 7 5.5 3.7 6.3 -2.6
LA 10 9 5.5 6.6 4.5 2.1
HOU 11 16 5.4 5.9 4.8 1
POR 12 11 5.4 4.8 5.9 -1
NE 13 10 5.1 5.4 4.7 0.8
VAN 14 13 4.7 5.3 4 1.3
SJ 15 15 4.5 6.6 3.1 3.5
SKC 16 18 4.4 4.3 4.5 -0.2
PHI 17 17 4.4 5.8 3.3 2.6
COL 18 14 4.1 5.9 2 3.9
RSL 19 19 4.1 3.5 4.5 -1
DAL 20 20 3.9 3.1 4.8 -1.7

Observations:

  • Orlando continues to instill a proactive philosophy with the ball and now holds a very strong lead over Montreal and Seattle.
  • It’s common to be more proactive at home and more reactive on the road but only seven of the league’s teams consistently play that way. Montreal, Columbus, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, Philadelphia, and Colorado all average two or more PScore points more at home than on the road. Colorado plays the most differently home and away.
  • The biggest positive mover of the month was Seattle moving up to the 3rd spot in the rankings. Seattle posted three games in May with over 600 passes attempted. DC United also moved up five spots to 7th.
  • Colorado was the biggest reactive mover, dropping four spots to 18th.

Here is a look at the distribution of style played by each team for the entire season:

Before we get to the observations, here is a chart of points per game by style of play across the whole league.

Again it appears that committing to one style of the play is slightly advantageous compared to playing somewhere in the middle. The argument could be made that game states are driving this outcome. Perhaps intra-game shifts in styles due to changes in scoring force teams to play more in the middle on average. If a team was playing reactively and goes down a goal, they will have to play more proactively to catch up. Conversely a team that is playing proactively and goes up a goal may play more conservatively and go up a goal. Teams that play a medium PScore game are in fact about 6% less likely to play to a draw (34% versus 28%). They are more likely to lose and equally likely to win compared to the other styles.

Observations:

  • Orlando, Montreal, Seattle and New York Red Bulls are the only teams that have not played a reactive game this season.
  • Houston’s more proactive May is somewhat curious given they’ve had little success playing that style, while they are an above average team when playing reactively.
  • Toronto FC is the team that plays the most at the extremes, however they have yet to have consistent success while playing proactively.
  • None of the top eight teams have averaged more than 1.4 points per game while playing reactively. They average just .85 PPG combined.
  • Eight of the next twelve teams in the rankings average more than 1.4 PPG while playing reactively.
  • Sporting KC is currently 16th in the rankings but actually play relatively few games reactively. They rank so low because they play so few truly proactive games.

You can see from the distribution chart that FC Dallas, Vancouver and New England have success no matter what style they play, which could become important down the stretch and in the playoffs. It’s very close but Vancouver gets the slight nod over New England as the league’s most tactically diverse team.