Game of the Week

Game of the Week: (A Rather Late) #LAGvsNYRB Review by Drew Olsen

We've talked quite a bit about game states on the blog over the last few weeks, both linking certain articles as well as talking about it on the podcast. The ability to take specific events and associate context with them to provide a better understanding of the match results is helpful. However, there are times when I think Game States need to be refined based upon the situation. Take for instance our "game of the week" selection, New York Red Bulls at home against the potent Los Angeles Galaxy. There is a lot I could say about leaving Mike Magee behind in LA and losing Juninho just 10 minutes into the match. Attempting to use the typical goal game state doesn't really work simply because of the lone goal was scored at the 91 minute mark.

If we were looking at this in a season long context and we wanted to see how good a team was in the "even goal state," or maybe how long they played in an even goal state, 90+ minutes of data this match would go towards that game state and presumably help speak to each team's ability. The problem is that on an individual game basis sometimes there is a need for another way to really apply context to this game.

Naturally, with the injury to Juninho the first thought is to apply game states to substitutions rather than goals. The problem with that---omitting Juninho's substitution---is that substitutions take place in bunches in the second at the end of the game. It's becomes difficult to separate where exactly there was a specific difference maker.

So I kind of abandoned the thought of single game states in this scenario and instead looked more for another pattern.


Above is a bit from the MLS site chalkboard. Events on the timeline have been taken from each team, and each has a corresponding event associated with it on the map of the pitch. I specifically used offensive-associated filters to help give me an idea of the effectiveness of each team and how often it was involved.

The specific filters used were: Through balls, Crosses (both successful and unsuccessful), Key Passes, Shots on target, shots off target and lastly, blocked shots. These are all decisively aggressive methods that appreciate a teams ability to drive towards the opposing goal. I'm not exactly sure what to make of all it, there are almost distinctive time blocks that belong to each team as they would hold the ball and look for their own attempts on goal.

You can see that each team had a couple of chances in the last 10 minutes and it came down to a bit of luck in the circumstances of the lone goal. The timeline itself looks almost like heart beat rhythm between each team and their respective attempts towards the opposing goal. This is kind of the pattern I was looking to find, but I don't exactly know what to do with it.

In summation of the actual game, you could make some Carlos Cudicini references---see: Matthew Doyle for snark---and put a nice little bow on it. Yes, I do agree that LA's Italian keeper should have come out of his goal to clear the attempt, but I happen to also think that this single game came down to a rather random occurrence. A simple mistake from a goal keeper who has been in residence at some prestigious clubs.

The league average team finishes a shot roughly once every 10 attempts. The New York Red Bulls scored on what was their 10th attempt at goal. While LA was stuck at 9. I know it's not popular but I believe that sometimes it's not necessarily about strategy or anything deep tactically. Instead, maybe it's about fighting for 90 minutes, putting up as many (good) shots as possible and hoping one of them goes in. That sounds a bit Charles Reepish... I know, but sometimes it's true. Sometimes the ball just finds its way into the back of the net.

Humans make mistakes and even the best goal keepers do, too.

Game of the Week Recap: Dynamo at Galaxy by Drew Olsen

The Los Angeles Galaxy’s Landon Donovan blew a PK in the 25th minute, and the Houston Dynamo managed a goal in the 56th, stealing three points in LA. Definitely not what our expert panel of misfits projected on Saturday’s podcast.  The Galaxy controlled possession (59.3%), won more duels (55%), and earned more attempts (19 to 14), but earned nothing in the standings for its work. Here’s a chronological summary of Houston’s shots:

Houston Dynamo shot times - May 5 2013

There are actually two shots taken in succession there before Houston’s opponent missed a PK, but the disproportionate bulk of Houston’s shots, including its goal, still came after it almost went down 1-0. That’s probably just random, but interesting nonetheless. Here’s something that’s almost surely not random. Though the Galaxy won the attempts battle, many of those attempts were blocked, and many of those blocked attempts occurred after Houston took the lead. Observe:

LA Galaxy's blocked shot times - May 5 2013

It seems the Galaxy began to get desperate, and this brings up the concept of game states which we discussed in the above podcast. Teams are likely to employ different strategies depending on the score of the game. While the Galaxy out-attempted the Dynamo during the game, many of those attempts appear to have been of the low-probability type.

The Dynamo jumped up to third in points per game, and the updated tables can now be seen here!

*Thanks to Opta and MLS Soccer for the sweet images!

Game Of The Week Recap: New England Revolution vs. Philadaelphia Union by Drew Olsen

It's Monday morning! Hope you've had your coffee, been to your morning meetings and are ready to catch up on the MLS weekend. We're not probably at the point to where we're going to review games or teams on a consistent basis. That's not really our thing... at least, not yet. But Saturday on the most recent podcast, Matty and I talked about our game of the week, featuring the New England Revolution at home versus a high powered Philadelphia attack. The Union boys are a club that, in general, doesn't keep possession long, nor win it back. But they rely specifically on creating as many chances as possible and finishing the ones they are supposed too. It's partially why they are an improved club this year and one that has a legit chance to get into the playoffs and do some damage in the East. They were coming up against a New England team that averaged less ball possession, won the ball back less and took a whole lot less shots---and the Revolution was even allowing its opponents twice as many opportunities as it earned for itself.

What it came down to was that Philly was a borderline good team that sat near mid-table, and New England was arguably one of the worst-seeded among those in the bottom. The surprising thing, and partly what made us choose this game as our game of the week, was simply how split the analysts were at Two were for a draw, two for a Union win, and two had the Rev's with a win. All the way around it was kind of an interesting match-up of a slumping team against a club that seemed to be on it's way up.

If you didn't hear the podcast, I had the Union 2-1, and Matty went even further with a 2-0 Union beating on the road in Foxborough. Both of us look a little silly this morning with the Revolution pulling out the win. So, how exactly did this band of struggling MLS misfits steal 3-points? Simple, they finally took and finished shots.

The first capture below is the Revs and their chances created in the attacking third. This is shots, key passes and corner kicks and successful free-kicks leading to attempts.


The next shot is clearances, interceptions, recoveries, tackles, blocks, saves and punches made by the the keeper/back defensive four of the Union inside their own box... it's kind of a mess.


The bottom line is that for the first time, possibly all season, the Revolution were dangerous on the attack and they not only put shots on target, they legitimately tested the opposing defense. Then, once they had a lead, they allowed their strong defense to carry them home for the full 3 points.

Almost as convicting, the Union were only able to create 6 real attempts on goal in the second half and only 4 after the Rev's finally broke the stalemate. While they weren't bad on the attacking end, it just simply didn't match what the home team was accomplishing, and it left Philly out points at the end of the day.

I think this sort of game underlines the amount of parity that is in this league right now and also the fact that you have to consider a team's incredibly poor finishing rate as not being an indication of true talent---at least, not this early in the season. New England basically out-Union'd the Union, by beating them while playing their own style of play on the pitch. Overwhelming them with shots and finishing opportunities. Both teams will face exceptionally tough tasks by playing Northwest clubs (Portland and Seattle, respectively) next week, and it should be interesting to see what comes of it.