Michael Parkhurst

Atlanta United 2019 Season Preview by Tiotal Football

Join me for a moment in a Lovecraftian horror in which time is an illusion and the events of life as we know it, or the meaningful events at least, (soccer matches) progress not sequentially by the steady consumption of the present as measured in minutes and seconds but by the experience of passes being attempted from open play. In this nightmare, as the fates dictate the average MLS team experiences 900 such passes attempted during a match (the total of both teams over 90+ minutes), and using passes experienced as the unit of account, the average 2018 MLS team spent 46% of its matches with a level score line (27% leading and 27% trailing).

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Expected Narratives Week 33: End of Year Awards 2018 by Ian L.

It was a pretty light weekend in Major League Soccer featuring a match seeking to answer that age old question “what happens when the opposite of an immovable object meets the opposite of an unstoppable force?” The answer? Colorado wins 2-0, I guess. That match will probably be remembered more for the altercation following the final whistle which featured two players being showed red cards FIFTEEN minutes into stoppage time so I guess Colorado and MInnesota aren't’ best friends now, which could be problematic as previously they seem to be the only destinations that would actually want some of the other’s lackluster players. I sure hope they work it out. I’ve got $5 on a Franz Pangop for Yannick Boli trade.

But also, Oh my god DC United are just so irresistible right now. It’s like watching Michael Jordan in that flu game but instead of Michael Jordan it’s more like BJ Armstrong and instead of the flu it had something vaguely to do with raccoons. I predicted a few weeks ago that this team would find its way to the postseason and I’m feeling more and more confident about this every week. Watching people eat their crow flavored Pot Noodle about Wayne Rooney has become appointment viewing during office hours. To say Rooney has been a revelation is only true if you’re one of these people who have apparently never once watched Wayne Rooney play soccer. You aren’t seeing some surprising late career renaissance version of a softer more reflective Rooney, you’re getting the same bullish kid in a dad’s body with an innate ability to grab a game by the scruff of its neck and drag it wherever he wants.

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Atlanta United FC 2017 Season Preview by Jared Young

Writing a data based season preview for an expansion team is an interesting proposition. The only data available are individual player statistics with other teams, but projecting how those players will work together in the new whole is nearly impossible. What data we do have for Atlanta United is that owner Arthur Blank, currently the most depressed sports mogul in the universe, has spent significant money to bring excitement to the city of Atlanta.  Exactly how much remains to be seen but given the names on this list it’s safe to say that Atlanta United will be among the spending elite in MLS.

They started by signing a big name coach in Gerard “Tata” Martino, most recently the coach who oversaw Argentina’s drubbing of the United States in the Copa America Centenario. The roster is impressive as well. They signed Kenwyne Jones, the Trinidad and Tobago striker who scored more than 70 goals in England. There’s the young Venezuelen DP striker Josef Martinez, and USMNT left back Greg Garza, on loan from Liga MX. On the wing will be Hector Villalba, another DP from Argentina’s San Lorenzo. Blank also shelled out to have USMNT keeper Brad Guzan arrive in the summer. Oh, and I almost forget their prized signing, worth a reported $8.5 million transfer fee, the Arsenal target Miguel Almiron, a 23 year old attacking midfielder. This list keeps going with MLS veterans Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz, and more. Arthur Blank might be feeling better real soon.

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Columbus Crew SC 2017 Season Preview by Kevin Minkus

By most accounts, the 2015 MLS Cup runners-up had a pretty poor 2016. A team that was generally expected to contend for a Supporters’ Shield and a championship finished the season 9th in the East on 36 points. During a stretch to start the year that saw them win just two games in 11, they jettisoned their Best XI forward, Kei Kamara, for feuding with their best chance creator, Federico Higuain. Higuain then sat out 14 games throughout the rest of the season with injury issues stemming from a sports hernia.

In spite of this turmoil on offense, the team’s real problems were on the other end of the field. The Crew gave up three or more goals 11 times, and their 58 total goals allowed was second worst in the league, though they were only fifth worst in expected goals allowed. The fact that Columbus is a possession oriented team means that they generally surrender few shots- in 2016, they allowed only about 12 shots per game. But the shots they did give up tended to be higher quality chances.

Ola-tta more after the jump.

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2015 ASA Preview: Columbus Crew by Harrison Crow

*xG = expected goals, xA = expected assists, xGD = expected goal differential. For more information see our xGoals by Team page.

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

I'm not sure you all remember, but last off-season about this time I talked up Columbus. I liked Federico Higuaín a lot more than was healthy (I've since sought help—only to run away) and low and behold I stumbled across a pretty good (read as: lucky) prediction.

This year we all know about Will Trapp, Higuaín is still Higuaín, Steve Clarke may be a top-three keeper in MLS and they've got perhaps one of the most underrated defenses of MLS. Oh, and they added a bunch of pieces too.

The Coach

Gregg Berhalter is back in 2015 and contrary to last season, people aren't questioning his peculiar methods and tactics. Last year he pushed his full back hard into attacking areas, focused on wing play, and did it all by possession based soccer through the middle and allowing a 20-year old to pick out passes to his attackers down field. The result saw much of his team grow from potential into a systematic and fundamental line-up that flourished immensely under that tutelage.

His ability to not just find 'MLS guys' and fit them into his system, but to plug and play the lineup when needed and to even lose guys like Alavaro Rey, and Giancarlo Gonzalez along the way shows his ability not just as a manager, but also as someone that has a keen insight into his players.

Berhalter, in just 15 short months, has taken a club that looked to be on a very sharp declining trajectory after the 2013 season and injected them with new life that saw them take third in the East in 2014 and reached the playoffs after two seasons of missing out. For now, forget about what happened in the playoffs and the dismantling they took at the hands of Lee Nguyen and company. This is a coach that showed his team should be taken seriously in 2015.

The Goalkeeper

Steve Clark was always someone that sat on the periphery of American Soccer, succeeding over in Norway with Hønefoss BK, a team he help get promoted to the Tippeligaen and then watched be relegated the year he left. While he was a returning US international, he was a quiet returner and there were some, such as myself, that may have questioned whether Andy Gruenebaum's exodus was fair. That being said, Clark had an outstanding year being credited with saving nearly six goals more than should have been expected.

Clark's advanced numbers such as available 90, reach 90 and height 90 all closely mimic that of the season Bill Hamid had, but with more shots on goal. Much like how Hamid's accomplishments were questionably attributed to the DC United Defense, much of Clark's performances are heaped upon the Crew's defense—though with much more validity. Columbus posted both below average shots against and shots on goal per match. Additionally, his Dist10, which is The 10th percentile distance to goal (in yards) for shots faced, was in the bottom-three among starting keepers.

An easy way of saying this is that Clark had a good year and was further helped by having a good defense. It's extremely difficult to say what this 2015 season has in store for him, but as of right now I'd put him as a candidate for Keeper of the Year.

The Defense

The defense was good in 2014, and it's possible it got even better in the offseason. While he has been great for them, the Crew may have the chance to upgrade Tyson Wahl at centerback. It's not that Austrian Emanuel Pogatetz wasn't around at the end of last season (remember how well Berhalter did at actually providing leadership rather than simply managing) so much as it was just not the best timing to shake up the starting lineup with Wahl performing well.

This offseason, “Pog” aka Mad Dog didn't leave Columbus but stayed and trained and focused on being a member of Crew SC, which is an incredibly encouraging sign of someone that not only wants to be at the club but wants to do well.

Pogatetz will likely have the starting job this season with Wahl as depth, and he'll be coupled with Michael Parkhurst. I've never been a huge Parkhurst fan myself, and his sub three duels won p90 along with the rate at which he won headers (45%) raises further questions. But should Clark be able to dominate the aerial challenges when they come, every thing should be fine.

The biggest story to coming out of the offseason for the defense is who starts at fullback. Waylon Francis and Hernan Grana would typically start, but through a series of fortunate events during the MLS SuperDraft they landed Chris Klute, too. All three are capable of starting at fullback, with Klute capable of being played on either side. Just one year ago Klute produced a 3.69 expected assists (xA) from the left full back position. Likewise, Francis posted a 3.18 xA in 2014. It should be a tough decision all the way around.

The Midfielders

I'm not sure what to say about the midfield besides that it's one of the most gifted and deepest in MLS. Toni Tchani, Justin Meram, Ben Speas, Hector Jimenez, Ethan Finlay, Wil Trapp, Romain Gall, Kristinn Steindorsson and, yes, even Kevan George have starting XI potential in this group. While it's pretty simple that Tchani and Trapp will have the middle on lock down, the outside wide-positions are less certain.

Trapp is amazing and I don't think there is anything more that I want to say on the subject of him except I can't wait to see what he does another year older. Tchani is a duel winning machine (5th in total duels won, with 203) and pairs brilliantly with Trapp in the midfield.

Looking outside, Meram will start the season with a suspension and thus probably give way to Steindorsson for at least the first match. Despite all the love that people have given Meram this off-season, it's Finlay that has my attention. His 10 expected goals with change compiled in only 1800 minutes is impressive and I'm very interested in seeing him get more time this season. Beyond a flash of the obvious, Gall (who was loads of fun to watch during the U-20 CONCACAF tournament) along with Speas and George will push their counterparts for playing time.

The Forwards

Anyone that knows me or listens to the podcast is probably pretty familiar with my love of Federico Higuaín. Is he a midfielder? Is he a forward-type? False nine? Who cares? I put him in the forward category and I'm sure someone on Reddit is going to rip me for it. Whatever. My bottom line: Higuaín makes goals happen, pure and simple. Let's just take a moment not to care how we define it.

We have a data set with four years of data, and despite only playing three of those seasons, Higuaín finishes 12th overall in total expected goals created (46.58). Which is bananas. His shot-to-key pass ratio, which gives us a small bit of insight into whether the individual is inclined as a shooter, a balanced creator, or simply a provider, is heavily in favor of him creating shots (0.78). That being said he's still accumulated 25 expected goals scored over 6,000 minutes. Again, this is bananas. These are video game type numbers and it only serves to prove he's easily a top-five player in MLS.

In years past, Higuaín has either worked underneath a striker or teamed with one that takes a volume shot approach to scoring. Basically they take everything that Higuian gives them and try to make something out of it. Guys like Jairo Arrieta and Dominic Oduro have not been to the liking of Berhalter for one reason or another.

I'm not against the idea of quantity over quality as it's not necessarily a terrible approach, considering the base level finishing skills by the average starting striker in MLS. And I'm not convinced either Arrieta or Oduro were terrible experiments. I have long toyed with trying to figure out what happened to Arrieta in Columbus and if he was misused or underused or what. Oduro gets a bad rap, but he contributed 47 goals out of an expected 45 over 9,400 minutes the last four seasons. He's done this with four different teams (now a fifth) while being pushed and pulled between midfield and striker. I'm a fan and I think Montreal got a very good player on the cheap.

Looking to 2015, Berhalter and company look to partner Higuaín with Kei Kamara... we think. Most people seem to continue thinking Kamara can't play striker because he was largely used a wide forward during the past few years. I don't think it matters what he did previously in Columbus because Berhlater has used him up top in the pre-season, and most pundits believe he'll continue to be used in that role. It makes sense.

The scary thing for Crew fans is that Kamara has shown worse shot positioning during his time with Sporting KC than either Arrieta or Oduro, though that's possibly more to do with the position and role he was fulfilling. Looking at our data set (so excluding the likes of Kaka, David Villa, ect), Kamara finished 10th* in expected goals for this season, contributing 15 total goals.

Additionally, I have a strong feeling that one of Aaron Schoenfeld or Adam Bedell will have some big performances. Both are well liked by the minimal data that we have and having a guy like Higuian that can put them in great positions to take shots only amplifies the likelihood of their success. I also feel the need to reference Sagi Lev-Ari, who I know nothing about besides his history playing at California State Northridge and being born in Haifa, Israel. It'll be interesting to watch his young career.

Summary

Last season Columbus was an average attacking team. Largely lead by Higuaín, the emergence of Finlay, and a bit of luck, too. Their expected goals was only 1.39 per game, tied for ninth with New England. The addition of both Kamara and Steindorsson should hopefully bring more offense over the next year and with more time for the club to meld it could all lend to some really positive results.

That being said, the club was led to a third place finish because of their defense and on pure talent weren't the third best team in the Eastern Conference. Their expected goal difference in even game states was actually in the negative, and could indicate that the nice narrative I gave at the beginning of this introduction might be a bit skewed.

The club held 54% possession and turned that into 12% possession in the attacking half. They took the fight to their opponents with a possession in the final third ratio of 1.13, meaning they averaged more control in the attacking in than their opponents did on the opposite end. So who knows. Overrated? Underrated? Maybe just rated?

The Crew have the potential to take the number one seed in the East, and really, they probably could even be a dark horse for the Supporter Shield. But while I'm a huge fan of a lot of the parts and coach Berhalter, I feel that something a bit more down to earth is in store for this season. My guess they regress to the mean on their expected goals and end up fourth in the East.

 

*I excluded Diego Valeri from this data set for a couple reasons, first because we're not really sure when he'll return this season and second because at this stage I don't project him to play 2500 minutes.

ASA Fantasy League Update Round 1: Gotta Have Higuain by Drew Olsen

MLS Fantasy players, it's that time of the week to make your transfers--if you haven't already--and get that starting XI ready for the weekend. Obviously the big winners of the week are basically anyone who owned either Mauro Rosales, Mario Diaz---or to go in a different direction, less 'M' related direction---Federico Higuain. Didn't have any of those picks? Not a big deal, now is a team to reload and get cleaned up. We've got round 2 this weekend with some interesting match-ups. Here is the dream XI for last week:

DreamTeam-week1

And here are the current league standings as of round 1.

# Team   Manager    RD   %AARd    TOT     Team$     Captain    Points
1 Khal Jogo Bazzo 79 1.927 79 119.3 Rosales 12
2 This Stuff Kicks Cris Pannullo 75 1.829 75 120.7 Keane 4
2 Major League Clowns Tom Worville 75 1.829 75 118.8 Higuain 22
4 Bridgeburners FC Chris Gluck 74 1.805 74 120.2 Valeri 4
5 Cal Poly FC Emil Barycki 73 1.780 73 115.2 Higuain 22
6 En Fuego e margolis 70 1.707 70 120.3 Nagbe 6
7 LingeringwithIntent Jason Onorati 69 1.683 69 119.1 Higuain 22
8 The Other Higuain Jacob Beckett 64 1.561 64 119.7 Urruti 4
8 A.S. Trincamp Martin F 64 1.561 64 119.3 Higuian 22
10 DallasTilIDie Benjamin Hester 62 1.512 62 116.6 Keane 4
11 Real Sporting Utd FC Eric J. Walcott 60 1.463 60 118 Valeri 4
12 WOMBATZ Casey Cannon 59 1.439 59 114.6 Higuain 22
13 NotToBeFeared Harrison Crow 53 1.293 53 119.6 Keane 4
14 PasarChino! Jason Poon 48 1.171 48 120.2 Higuain 22
15 Amrodg Mick Lathrop 44 1.073 44 116.2 Martins 4
16 PDX Hoosiers Brad Snook 39 0.951 39 120.2 Nagbe 6
16 Draft Code United Louis Pardillo 39 0.951 39 119.5 Beiler 0
18 PortlandatHeart Forrest Ellis 34 0.829 34 118.7 Valeri 4
19 Tootie Urruti Drew Olsen 33 0.805 33 118.6 Magee 0
20 letskillrobots Bill Vegas 22 0.537 22 117.6 Magee 0
 Averages 56.8 1.385  56.8 118.62 9.4

RD: Round Points

%AARd: Percentage Above Average Round Points

Team$: How much the team spent on their players

A quick thought---and my heart goes out to our own PasarChino! for this one---you gotta start Rimando, buddy! You sat the highest point total in the league. Ouch! As for our crew here at ASA, most of us (Jacob, Drew, Jason, myself and poor Bill) did okay, with the most notable stand out of the bunch being Cris Pannullo and a bit farther down Chris Gluck. We'll head to the next round and see if those two can distance themselves from the rest of the ASA community.

Again, this is for an undisclosed, not-yet-valued prize that is available to all whom play. It could be a Meatloaf interactive blu-ray, it could be a soccer ball, it could be a scarf of your choosing. Matty might spend a couple hours on Skype teaching you how to use R. Who knows what we'll come up with. The only promise is that it won't be terrible. Code to enter is 9593-1668, should you care to join in the fun/recklessness that is fantasy sports.

The three teams that are noticeably absent this round are Columbus Crew, DC United and LA Galaxy. I'm sure this will kind of cause a bit of reshuffling to occur as many, including myself, had been sporting Robbie Keane as their captain, and it will most certainly require some movement along the bench. But this is where you earn the coveted prize. No, not the Sheva, though I'm sure we can come up with an equally inspiring annual trophy name.

I'm sure you all have better advice/thoughts than what I have for MLS fantasy, so I'll point you towards a couple of sites that have some stats and feed back on last week.

- Mr. Fantasy, Ben Jata, recaps the hap's with round 1.

- Big D Soccer does a nice preview of not just Dallas FC players but also some thoughts on MLS as a whole.

- Sticking with the Texas theme, Dynamo Theory has some fantastic numbers/stuff that deserves recognition for their work. Great job by TraviTheRabbi and I would say give him a follow on twitter but I don't see any such thing connected to his account, and that makes me a sad panda. Anyways...go read the article here. Solid, solid stuff.

I leave you with the current top-50 hottest players being selected as of 10:30 last night. I've equipped you to make some good decisions. Now go forth and conquer. The catch is that only one of you will win. Anyone have any top secrets for how they plan on winning the league? I hear finding people that stop goals and in return score goals are really good to have? Any other methods or suggestions?

Player  Team   Pos   Selected   Price   Round   Total 
Sarkodie HOU DEF 33.9% $6.6 9 9
Remick SEA DEF 33.8% $4.1 8 8
Fagundez NE MID 28.9% $8.0 3 3
Yedlin SEA DEF 26.0% $7.5 7 7
Kennedy CHV GKP 25.6% $4.5 4 4
Fondy CHV FWD 24.9% $4.0 0 0
Rimando RSL GKP 23.3% $6.1 15 15
Magee CHI FWD 21.5% $10.5 0 0
Bruin HOU FWD 21.2% $8.2 15 15
Zusi KC MID 20.6% $11.0 3 3
Plata RSL FWD 20.1% $7.0 9 9
Griffiths COL DEF 19.3% $4.0 0 0
Moor COL DEF 18.6% $7.0 0 0
Collin KC DEF 18.0% $10.0 3 3
Loyd DAL DEF 17.9% $5.5 0 0
Jewsbury POR DEF 17.7% $6.5 2 2
Nagbe POR MID 17.1% $9.5 3 3
Juninho LA MID 17.0% $7.0 3 3
Keane LA FWD 17.0% $10.9 2 2
Cronin SJ MID 17.0% $6.5 0 0
Porter DC MID 16.7% $5.0 1 1
Ricketts POR GKP 16.7% $6.0 5 5
Harrington POR DEF 16.5% $7.5 3 3
Jimenez CLB MID 16.0% $5.5 6 6
Rosales CHV MID 14.7% $7.6 12 12
Hall HOU GKP 14.3% $6.0 8 8
Valeri POR MID 14.1% $10.5 2 2
Wondolowski SJ FWD 13.6% $9.5 0 0
Higuaín CLB FWD 13.5% $10.5 11 11
Burling CHV DEF 12.7% $5.1 9 9
McNamara CHV MID 12.6% $4.6 7 7
Ashe HOU DEF 12.6% $7.1 11 11
Malki MTL MID 12.6% $4.0 0 0
Donovan LA MID 12.5% $11.0 7 7
Moffat DAL MID 12.2% $5.9 0 0
Palmer-Brown KC DEF 11.6% $4.0 0 0
Defoe TOR FWD 11.6% $10.5 0 0
Horst HOU DEF 11.5% $5.6 8 8
Melia CHV GKP 11.1% $3.0 0 0
Parke DC DEF 10.7% $6.9 2 2
Martins SEA FWD 10.7% $9.5 2 2
Bradley TOR MID 10.4% $10.0 0 0
McBean LA FWD 10.0% $5.0 0 0
E. Miller MTL DEF 9.8% $4.5 2 2
MacMath PHI GKP 9.6% $5.0 3 3
Manneh VAN FWD 9.6% $6.5 1 1
Urruti POR FWD 9.4% $7.0 2 2
Messoudi MTL MID 9.0% $4.0 0 0
Henry NY FWD 8.9% $11.0 0 0
Franklin DC DEF 8.8% $7.9 2 2

MLS Possession with Purpose Week 1: The best (and worst) performances by Drew Olsen

Greetings one and all as the new season begins in MLS. In case you missed it I published an article on here not to long ago that dives into my Possession with Purpose Indices to include a general introduction on what it is and means as well as some explanations behind the Indices. If you haven't gone through the article before or if you need a refresh click here.

Here's how the teams fared, compared to each other, in Possession with Purpose Week #1:

POSSESSION WITH PURPOSE STRATEGIC COMPOSITE INDEX WEEK 1 RESULTS

Observations:

This Index is not influenced by previous season results; it's a new year and a fresh/clean slate for teams to build from as they all challenge each other to make the Playoffs. So all you supporters of teams that didn't do so well this past year - fahgetaboutit!

Next thing to consider is that positive numbers indicate the team performed better in attack and defense than their opponent - in looking at the diagram note that Columbus is at the far left while their opponent is on the far right.  As the season unfolds these overall positions should change.  As noted Columbus had the best overall attack compared to all other teams this past week; here are their percentages in the six steps of PWP:

BEST PWP RESULTS FOR WEEK 1 IN MLS - COLUMBUS CREW

Another top performer was Houston - some consider, last year, they were a sleeping giant that simply didn't wake up in time for a solid Playoff run - I do - in their first game this year they burst the flood gates with 4 goals and some solid and superb defense led by a guy I absolutely hated to see leave Portland - David Horst.

Some may gaffaw at this but this time last year - before his injury - I thought David had a superb chance to get a wee bit stuck in (some minutes) on some USMNT training like Michael Harrington did this off-season.

I still think David has great pedigree as a stand-up defender with great timing and good vision to see gaps and create gaps. So if you are a Houston supporter know that I have a special interest in seeing David do great things.

As for reading the diagram - there's a note there to read it from left to right (best to worst). The composite Index is the difference between the team Attacking PWP Index and the team Defending PWP Index. The overall total represents the ratios of success each team had in performing the six basic steps, possession, passing accuracy, penetration, creation, targeting, and scoring a goal. It's not perfect but last year it was very representative.

Before getting to the other PWP Indices...

This is the first week and like most things that are measured, to begin with, there may be wide variation in the first 10 or so samples analyzed - so like last year Chivas began with a good start.

Does that continue or do we see them tail off - likewise - DC United ended the season near bottom in almost every single PWP category - so far they are right where they left off. Will time show that Eddie Johnson was a good purchase - we'll see.

As for the leaders from last year like Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC and Portland. It's no secret now that RSL opened up with a solid three points away to LA Galaxy - is it rude to expect that Robbie Keane will miss another penalty shot this year?

How about that torrential downpour in Portland - rain is not unusual for that part of the country - does it rain a bit more on the Timbers this season or will the sun begin to shine as Fernandez, Valeri, Nagbe, Urutti and others really get there gears engaged with what many feel and think might be the most potent attacking system/scheme/player personnel package in the league?

In considering what Sporting KC has on their plate early in the season, 5 games in the course of 15 days I think - is it too much to expect that they will show early indication of dominance again?

In looking at the PWP Attacking Index here's how those teams rated:

PWP STRATEGIC ATTACKING INDEX WEEK 1 2014

Observations:

It's no secret that goals scored will heavily influence the outcome of a game - that's to be expected - so those teams that scored a brace or more of goals this early in the season will rate higher than some that didn't score as many goals.

Another new feature this year will be a PWP Attacking and Defending Player of the Week - where some key individual statistics are highlighted that helped influence overall team performance.

For this past week the PWP Attacking Player of the Week is Federico Higuain.

PWP ATTACKER OF THE WEEK #1 2014

In looking at the PWP Defending Index here's how the teams fared:

PWP STRATEGIC DEFENDING INDEX WEEK 1 2014

Observations:

Since this is the first week the top defending team also happens to be the top attacking team.

For each specific week (not cummulative) this will be the case - for me there is nothing wrong with that - it takes a solid defense to win games as well.

At the end of the season there might be a pattern on who's the top performer, week to week, that is influencing the outcomes of team performances better than others; we'll see.

For this past week the PWP Defending Player of the Week is Michael Parkhurst.

PWP DEFENDER OF THE WEEK #1 2014

In closing...

As the season progresses (right around week 15 or so) I'd offer that the PWP Strategic Composite Index should help paint a picture/expectation on what teams are working towards making the Playoffs and what teams are the doormats.

By week 17 last year this Index had accurately predicted 8 of the top 10 teams to make the Playoffs and by seasons end this Index had offered up 9 of the top 10 teams to make the MLS Playoffs; exceeding, in accuracy/prediction both the Squawka.com and Whoscored.com Indices - hopefully that level of predictability shows up again this year.

A couple of housekeeping things - my first and foremost source for data remains, like last year, the MLS Chalkboard developed and provided by Opta. Second - as the year continues I will attempt to peel back some more detail on 'defending' by teams in the final third.

Not sure how that will go but know that in a few weeks time I should be able to offer some additional team defending performance indicators for all MLS teams...

All the best, Chris

Season Preview: Columbus Crew by Drew Olsen

There have been ups, and there have been downs for the Crew over the last four seasons, perhaps even more so than with other teams. Since winning MLS Cup in 2008 the departure of coach Sigi Schmid, the club made Robert Warzycha head coach. But then a steady fall ensued that has seen the club completely miss out on the playoffs each of the last two seasons. This led to the dismissal of long-time fixture Warzycha, who had been a part of the club since it's inception in 1996.  Add this to the Hunt family finally selling off its ownership of the club, and you have a full docket of changes that have occurred around Crew Stadium. Unfortunately for Columbus, none these are indicators that the club will improve, at least in the short term. 2013 Finish: 41 Points, 8th in the Eastern Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs

ColumbusLineup

Player Added
Position From Player Lost Position To
Steve Clark GK traded from Seattle (Hønefoss BK) Andy Gruenebaum GK Traded to Kansas City
Brad Stuver GK
Unattached
Chad Marshall D Traded to Seattle
Ben Sweat D USF (SuperDraft) Drew Beckie D Option Declined
Giancarlo Gonzalez D Free (Valerenga) Gláuber D Option Declined
Michael Parkhurst D Free (FC Augsburg) Kyle Hyland D Option Declined
Ross Friedman D HPG Danny O’Rourke D Option Declined
Waylon Francis D
Free (Herediano)
Eddie Gaven M Retired
Matt Wiet D HGP Matías Sánchez M Waived
Kingsley Baiden M SuperDraft (Cal-Santa Barbara) Konrad Warzcha M Option Declined
Daniel Paladini M traded from Chicago Fire Aaron Horton F Waived
Hector Jimenez M traded from LA Galaxy
Matt Walker M HGP

Roster Churn: 72.03% returning minutes (7th lowest in MLS)

roster-crewThe Crew didn't exactly stand still this off-season. Columbus found new homes elsewhere for both Chad Marshall and Glauber, courtesy of new head coach Gregg Berhalter's tactics and spending style, which in turn opened up salary cap space.  With those maneuvers, it created a void that was filled by returning US National Team figure Michael Parkhurst, followed up this week with the addition of Giancarlo Gonzalez---obviously placing an emphasis on the rebuilding of the backline to a point of strength. Taking Ben Sweat during the SuperDraft added to that growing defensive depth, and he may even end up the starter by the beginning of the season, depending how the position shakes out with Tyson Wahl. These changes make up much of the 72-percent roster turnover.

There is a gaping hole in the midfield due to the stunning retirement of Eddie Gaven. The acquisition of Hector Jimenez helps to mitigate some of that loss, and there is a reason to believe that youngster Will Trapp is ready to take that next step forward. However, Gaven has been an integral, if not an altogether vital, piece of the midfield---for more than just his leadership. His departure stings and will reverberate throughout the season.

The forward tandem of Federico Higuaín and Jairo Arrieta remains intact, and CLBINFOdespite a rough season, Arrieta should look forward to some positive regression to the mean. 2013 was a season where he took more shots (64 vs. 41 attempts) in more playing time (1862 vs. 1534 minutes) than in 2012, yet he scored six fewer goals with at finishing rate of just 4.7 percent. That finishing rate is likely to rebound toward the league-average rate of 10 percent. This is somewhat the opposite outcome from we saw with Dominic Oduro, who "regained his form" in 2013 after a down year in Chicago.

What Crew fans saw from Oduro in 2013 is what they hope to see from Arrieta in 2014. Oduro had more playing time, more shots taken with more of them hitting the target, and he saw his finishing rate jump to 14.1 percent. All he is doing is proving himself with the ball at his feet, and creating shots and scoring opportunities. As we're learning more and more, it's less about the supposed skill of the shooter and more that he's taking high-percentage shots. Couple quality and volume, and it leads to more goals.

Looking to the 2014 season there are a couple of different ways that you can look at this club and judge how their season might end up.

First, it's a club that has had its issues with allowing high-percentage shots. They've added to their defense and seemingly upgraded their keeper, adding American abroad Steve Clarke and making him their conceivable number one. Though I'm not sure that it will change the amount of goals they're going to give up, given that Andy Gruenebaum rated quite highly himself in our Goalkeeper ratings 1.0. With a modified backline and a new set of tactics, you never know how the change of approach might reduce opponents' possessions in advantageous locations, but it's an uphill battle for the Crew.

Yet, despite the defensive leaks, they still took more shots in 2013 than they allowed, and their expected goal differential was actually better than that of New England and Montreal, two playoff teams. Should they continue that trend of producing more shots than their opponents, there does still remain a possibility that they score more goals than they allow. Despite posting a -4 goal differential this past year, there is a chance that going forward their luck improves, and they ride a high PDO to some extra goals in opportune moments.

Columbus, like the rest of the league, has talent. They have some perennially underappreciated talents. Federico Higuaín is consistently an MVP candidate, and while I haven't taken much time to talk about him, he's easily the best player on the club and possibly in the league. The shocking thing is, and I often forget this, he's only 29. The biggest thing surrounding the Crew with Higuian is whether or not they can keep him. There was talk that a club in Liga MX was gearing up to make a move for him.

The best-case scenario for Columbus in 2014 is that it finds a way to get into a #4 or #5-seed position. It would play out something like this: the Crew gets lucky with limiting opportunities, and then on the other side of the pitch they strike it rich on goal-scoring chances. However, the possibility of the Crew reaching those heights at this point seems a rather lofty aspiration at this stage. Too many balls would have to bounce their way, and it leads most fans to believe that this will likely be another season that teeters on the wrong side of the playoffs.

The worst-case scenario, and the one that I find to be the most likely, is that the Crew end up the anchor of the standings, sitting near the token Toronto FC position and fighting for respectability through the season. I remain on the fence that both conferences are going to have an incredibly high amount of parity. On the right side of the country, the Crew could pull out a season much in the vein of the past two years where they continue to press for a playoff position, falling short about two or three weeks prior to season's completion. Or they could just be a club that gets bossed around, taking bad shots, limiting their true goal scoring opportunities, and surrendering too many goals.

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 10th place in Eastern Conference; 102 of the 404 10th-place votes (25.25%).

*ExpGD is the same as our metric xGD.

Thanks to reddit user xynto for pointing out we had initially given given Warzycha credit for the Crew's MLS Cup, when it actually came in 2008 under Schmidt.