On Saturday the U.S.A. cruised to a 6-0 victory over Cuba in the Gold Cup quarterfinals and advanced to play Jamaica in the semifinals. When a country with the population and the financial resources of the U.S. pounds on a country whose players are much more intrigued with the idea of leaving the team, it’s hard to get too excited about the victory. It’s an even harder match to break down statistically. How do you analyze a drubbing? Let’s just all feel good, right? Believe it or not I’ve found some statistics that will sober you right up.Read More
Last World Cup cycle, Mexico was an utter mess. The once kings of CONCACAF found themselves finishing in the last qualifying position, after the United States came from behind to beat Panama and handed their bitter rivals to the south a lifeline.
But Mexico wasn’t qualified just yet and still had to play a play-off series with New Zealand. It was at this time that Mexico hired then Club America coach, Miguel Piojo Herrera, to save Mexico. Herrera pretty much just brought his Club America team to New Zealand, a gamble that payed off, but nobody was really sure what the future of Mexico was going to look like going forward.
Who is their Head Coach?
American fans basked in hilarity of hearing stuff like this coming from their rivals, but El Piojo quietly rebuilt Mexico into the team they ended up being at the World Cup. His 5-3-2 system was not only novel, but it was incredibly nuanced in its attack and proved hard to break down. What’s more, it managed to allow Mexico’s stars to flourish in a way they simply weren’t in the previous system.
And as good as Mexico was in the World Cup, the team they are bringing to the Gold Cup is easily more talented which is why Mexico is considered by many, including myself, to be the tournament favorite.Read More
By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)
The USMNT took on Switzerland Tuesday, their 9th friendly since the World Cup, and in the process relinquished their 6th second half lead. The 1-1 draw wouldn't have been as much of a disappointment if the result didn't tell the same story about a team unable to hold a lead against top competition. The USMNT is now eleven goals against and just one goal scored in the second half of these friendlies. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. Here are three other stats to take away from the latest International weekend.
9: Is Klinsmann too conservative? Jurgen Klinsmann’s team didn't escape Europe with double digit shot attempts, as they finished with just nine. Is the team too conservative when it comes to shot selection? Three goals in nine attempts is an excellent conversion and there were a few shots that could have easily been converted, Michael Bradley’s sitter against Switzerland being the most notable. But are there too few shots taken? Consider that eight of the nine attempts were taken inside the box and even more crazy, inside the area of the spot. There was only one shot attempted from outside the 18-yard box, and that was Brek Shea’s laser goal off of a free kick. In other words, the team didn't attempt a shot outside the box in the run of play. Pause on that one for a moment.
This weekend the USMNT attempted 18.7 passes in the final third for every shot while their opponents attempted 10.8 passes in the final third per shot. Considering the US was playing a more direct style on offense that does imply they may be too picky once they get the ball in position. The results this weekend weren't terrible, especially offensively, but it does beg the question: does the US have the right shot selection balance offensively? More in part III of this post.
19.8: High energy, low team pressure. Colin Trainor has been publishing work on a metric that attempts to measure how much a team employs the high press. The metric takes opponent passes attempted in their defensive half plus about 20% of the offensive half of the field (so about 60% of the field that is the farthest away from their goal) and a team’s defensive actions in that same area. The lower the passes per defensive action, the more intense the high press. A measure of mid-single digits would indicate a consistent high pressure strategy. Here is the PPDA metric chart by team and area of the field.
You can see from the chart that Switzerland was much more aggressively defending up the pitch than the US. When the action was in the defensive end, both teams employed similar pressure. This resulted in the possession being strongly in favor of Switzerland at over 60%. The US did have high individual energy in their opponent’s offensive half but mainly that running around was just to disrupt the Switzerland offense as much as possible. The team as a whole was willing to wait to employ significant pressure. We didn't see a particularly aggressive US team this window and it makes you wonder if Klinsmann isn't perhaps going for results instead of pushing his team to be proactive like he was doing during the last World Cup cycle in these friendlies.
2: Blocked shots against UEFA teams. I now the late game defense is the big issue, but I’m not done harping on the shot selection. In this nine game stretch the USMNT has taken to the road against four European foes and have managed a 1-1-2 (W-D-L), but could easily have been 3-0-1. They did this attempting just 29 shots in the four games, an average of 7.3. The crazy stat is that only two of those shots were blocked, or just 6.9% of the total shots. A typical blocked shot percentage is roughly 25%. You can’t argue with the 17% finishing rate in those four games, but it does make you wonder the team is too picky on offense.
Let’s do a little thought experiment to see if this trend is something that should change. Back to the latest window and games against Denmark and Switzerland. What if the US took shots as frequently as their opponents but also finished their shots at their opponents’ lower rate. The numbers would look like this:
The US would have only scored 2.6 goals had they been as selective as their opponents, and so while the sample sizes are clearly small, at least it looks from here that Klinsmann isn't too crazy.
Next up for the US is the rowdy rivalry with El Tri in what will hopefully be a Gold Cup Final preview (said by the guy living in Philly, home of the Gold Cup Final).
Admittedly, it hasn't felt like Brazil has played all that well this World Cup.
The referee seemingly made its two-goal victory over Croatia a more relaxed finish than it should have been; against Mexico, the fourth-place team from CONCACAF, it only managed a draw; and Cameroon was just low-hanging fruit. The host team then took a lot of flak for its play in the Round of 16 against Chile, especially for its performance after halftime. Indeed, Brazil conceded a silly goal on a defensive giveaway, and Chile had chances to win that game.
But I'm here to tell you that Brazil has played better that it has looked. Too often, it seems, the scorelines heavily influence our praise and criticism of what's happening on the field.
Brazil dominated Group A in terms of Expected Goal Differential (xGD), and recorded the second-highest tally of any team during the group stage. Brazil's 1.05 xGD during even (tied) gamestates ranked fifth among the 32 teams. You might have expected better from the hosts, but most teams only played about 130 minutes in such gamestates. That's a big enough sample size to get a general idea of which are the best teams, but too small a sample to split hairs over the top five.
Croatia - June 12thAgainst the Croats, a penalty awarded to Fred on what appeared to be a dive marred what was actually a solid performance by Brazil. Up to that controversial call, Brazil had earned 1.4 Expected Goals (xGoals) to Croatia's 0.4, dominating in quantity and quality of shots. Even after taking the lead on the penalty, Brazil still edged Croatia in xGoals the rest of the way, 0.30 to 0.24---a differential that matches what we'd expect of teams that were leading in this tournament.
Mexico - June 17thMexico is a better team than their last-second World Cup qualification (and that commentator) would suggest. It led the CONCACAF Hexagonal (the Hex!) in shot ratios and is currently ranked 13th in the world in the Soccer Power Index (though some of that improved ranking is because of their tie against Brazil). Despite a disappointing 0 - 0 tie on the scoreboard, Brazil's 1.4 xGoals again dwarfed that of its opponents. Mexico totaled just 0.5 xGoals.
Cameroon - June 23rdThere's not much to say about this one. Brazil's 1.9 xGD against Cameroon was the third highest discrepancy thus far in the tournament, trailing only France's drubbing of Honduras and Germany's handling of Portugal. It should be noted that both France and Germany enjoyed a man advantage for the majorities of those games.
Chile - June 28th
For Chile, the scoreboard and their well-developed rapport with the woodwork are clear indications that they could have won this game. However, the opportunity creation department informs us that Brazil probably should have won, as it did. 94 percent of this game's shots were taken during an even gamestate, either 0 - 0 or 1 - 1, and Brazil outpaced Chile during that time by a full expected goal. Even after halftime, when Brazil looked disorganized and sloppy, it still edged Chile 1.1-to-0.7 in xGoals.Perhaps Brazil has not "looked" the part of tournament favorites during its first four games, but its shot creation numbers suggest it is definitely playing like one of the best teams. Add that to their pre-tournament resume, throw in the home-field advantage that's not going away anytime soon, and there is little doubt that Brazil is still the favorite to win this World Cup---maybe not with a majority of the probability, but definitely with a plurality.
This was suppose to be a quick 15-to-20-minute podcast that turned into an almost 52-minute single segment ramble about all things US in the past week. It was just Drew and I, covering just about everything conceivable over the course of the loss to Costa Rica on the road to the win in Columbus against Mexico. No spoilers; just have a listen. [audio http://americansocceranalysis.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/asa-episode-xxi.mp3]
Matthias to Drew by text after CR's second goal: [Howard didn't look ready for that one. I think he could have done more.]
Matthias to Drew by text after CR's third goal: [The defender definitely got beat, but the Costa Rican player didn't even get to the ball until it was 23 yards out. That's Howard's ball.
Drew on Podcast: "...and Matthias was texting me...Matthias was like 'what's he doing in there? These goals are all his fault.' "
In a private interview with the Matthias, the editor was assured that Matthias never thought the goals were 100% Howard's fault, as Matthias---a student of probability---rarely believes anything is 100%.
Oh, and Drew is a poophead.
**Editors note part 2:
Matthias edited is the editor of the site, just in case you didn't realize that.