By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)
MLS is two months into it's eight month regular season and tactical identities are beginning to emerge. Some identities are obvious, but others are surprising. The PScore is an attempt to analyze aggressiveness both with and without the ball, and you can read about how it was developed and see the 2015-2017 results here. On offense, the goal is to examine whether a team is playing directly or indirectly and trying to possess the ball. Indirect teams attempt shorter passes that are more horizontal and more likely to be on the ground, for example. Direct teams do exactly the opposite. On defense, the goal is to look at defensive pressure being place on the opponent in the attacking half. We look at the passes allowed per defensive action to assess that pressure. A higher number means low pressure and a lower number means a team is pressing more frequently.
Here are how the teams look through the first two months of the season.
- In 2017 both Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City were offensively the most proactive teams. That would be true again this year if it weren't for the Philadelphia Union. Last year the Union were on the reactive side but this year they have been far more aggressive with the ball and imposing their midfield's will on games. That hasn't translated into goals, but becoming a proactive team doesn't happen over night.
- The Red Bulls were consistently the most proactive overall team a few years back, but they have been becoming a more direct offensive team while maintaining their trademark defensive pressure. This type of soccer is all the tactical rage and it's fun to see a team evolve in this way. Last year the Red Bulls' average pass attempt went 7.3 percent up the field vertically. This year that number has increased to 8.6 percent.
- NYCFC has been the most aggressive team defensively. When you consider their +9 goal differential, that's even more impressive as game states would suggest they might sit deeper with their leads.
- There is a big blob of nondescript teams in the middle. It's worth noting that LAFC only has the one game at home, which means they'll will likely shift down and to the right as the season moves on. Teams tend to play more reactively on the road.
- Vancouver appears far away to be the most reactive team in the league. The list of reactive teams looks pretty familiar with DC United, San Jose, Colorado and Montreal in the upper left. But the addition of Portland to that group might surprise some. They've never been a team for relentless pressure but they've generally had a possession oriented attack. This year that appears to have changed.
In future updates we'll take a look at home and away tactics as well as the impact of game state.