In a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs, any season in which you don’t get there has to qualify as a disappointment. That said, it would be unfair to be too harsh on the 2018 Montreal Impact. The Impact made big changes headed into last year, including significant roster turnover and the appointment of Remi Garde as manager. A slow start wasn’t completely unexpected, though losing 11 of their first 15 games was probably a slower start than even the most pessimistic fans had envisioned. By June it was looking like the Remi Garde experiment might not be working out. The Impact were bottom of the table, hadn’t hadn’t scored a goal in four games, went a nine-match stretch where they lost eight games and were outscored 24-9, and were getting into fights in practice. Garde was calling players out individually in press conferences and it all just seemed to be falling apart.Read More
Montreal is maybe the most under-the-radar club in MLS, highlighted by amount of times (or lackthereof) they are included in national broadcast games. Even if you attend games in Montreal the atmosphere is more like a lower league game in Europe than traditionally the experience of MLS. These aren't insults - they've been an advantage for the Impact as the environment has allowed them to recruit both senior and youth players to their club that other MLS clubs would struggle lure.
2016 would generally be regarded as a success for the Impact, although their final game in Toronto was a huge disappointment, as they were up two goals and held the away goals tie-breaker, only to collapse in Toronto and miss out on the MLS Cup Final. Montreal's older legs and defense capitulated, allowing Toronto to score five goals and ending the Montreal's season. With limited moves in the off-season these issues are still concerns for Montreal going into the 2017 season as well.Read More
The 2016 Montreal Impact will be eager to discover whether they can sustain the late season form that propelled them into their second playoff appearance in MLS. There’s hope in the rumor-defying return of Didier Drogba, who carried the team to a 7-1-1 record in his nine starts (scoring 11 goals) to close 2015. Nevertheless, five of those wins came at home, and three came against Colorado and Chicago. Mauro Biello imposed relatively few changes to the roster in his first offseason as head coach, likely indicating some confidence that the changes made last fall are sustainable.
2015 in review
ASA’s 2015 season preview of the Impact projected a position roughly between the cellar and the last playoff seeds – a fair summation of the team’s performance before Biello took over at the end of August. A defensive overhaul cut 14 goals off 2014’s abysmal total of 58 – third worst in the league – with new arrivals taking charge of the defensive midfield and all four positions along the back line. Laurent Ciman (CB), Marco Donadel (DM), and Ambroise Oyongo (RB) arrived perhaps with the greatest fanfare. 23 year-old Angentinian centerback Victor Cabrera, on loan from River Plate, seized the permanent starting role alongside Ciman in late June, and the Impact allowed only 18 goals in his 16 starts from that point.
Before Drogba’s arrival, Montreal’s offense was susceptible to stagnation, overly reliant on the individual skill of Ignacio Piatti in the attacking midfield. Neither Dominic Oduro (poor in distribution) nor Jack McInerney (terrible at everything else) was able to present a consistent threat from striker. Oyongo produced little to show for his promise as an attacking fullback. Dilly Duka and Andres Romero provided only modest support from the attacking midfield. Despite the defensive improvement, the Impact remained at a negative GD before the late season surge.
A look at the goalkeeper and defense after the jump.Read More
By Matthias Kullowatz (@mattyanselmo)
In preparation for the beginning of the MLS Playoffs on Wednesday, we're rolling out projections for each subsequent round. Throughout the playoffs, you can find them under the "Projections" tab in the upper right. First, let's take a look at what our simulation spit out, and then I'll explain what the simulation was thinking.
The simulation is designed to follow the new MLS Playoffs format. Two-legged series, which occur in the conference semifinals and finals, are modeled using simulated scores from a bivariate Poisson model. This allows us to both precisely project outcomes, and to update the probabilities after game one of such a series. 50,000 iterations of the MLS Cup Playoffs are run, and the outcomes from those iterations are summarized to produce the projections you see above.
It should come as no surprise that the Red Bulls are far and away the most probable team to win the Cup. They have dominated our power rankings for weeks, and their 32.6% chances at winning the cup line up very closely with what we gave 2014's favorite LA Galaxy (33.4%) and 2013's favorite Sporting KC (30.2%). New York led the league in both actual goals scored and expected goals scored, and the model has found that goal scoring is more predictive of future success than goal allowing. This is why they have topped our power rankings for so long.
It should also come as no surprise that D.C. United received our worst probability of winning the Cup. Despite home-field advantage, DCU is only given 50.4% chances of beating New England in their play-in game. DCU's expected goal differential is bad, and their actual goal differential is surprisingly bad. They are the only playoff team with a negative xGD, and the only playoff team with a negative GD. In other words, even if you don't subscribe to how xGoals handles DCU, actual goals doesn't like them either.
I think seeing Columbus and Montreal with the next-best chances of winning the Cup is a bit confusing at first, but it actually makes perfect sense. If either of those teams has to face NYRB, they will do so in a two-legged series where home-field advantage is largely stripped away. On the other coast, whichever Western Conference team makes the final has a good chance (44.5%) of playing in New York in that one-game championship. Essentially, when and how you play New York largely determines your probability of winning the Cup.
Speaking of home-field advantage, we account for it with two processes. First, the model knows who's playing at home, and adjusts outputs accordingly. That has been true with our Playoff Push all season. Second, the two-legged series are set up such that if teams tie on goals, and on away goals, they will play two 15-minute overtime periods followed by penalty kicks if necessary. Additionally, that will only happen on the higher seed's turf. Our simulation determines if such an aggregate-tie occurs, and then indirectly gives the home team (also the higher-seeded team) a slight advantage in extra time. We regress the home team's 90-minute probability of winning, conditional on not-tying, halfway back toward 50%. This is an approximation to what FiveThirtyEight has done with extra time, where the better teams are still given advantages in what is not a 50-50 outcome.
Anyway, enjoy the playoffs! And check back for updated projections.
Change was good for some teams in July and not for others. FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids had perfect months while playing more proactively than earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Orlando City SC and Seattle Sounders had difficult months and were more reactive than they had ever been.
Below is the latest P Score table. Orlando still maintains their top spot, but Montreal caught up by being the most proactive team in July. This month I added each team’s opponent's P Score. Interestingly but not surprisingly, teams play more reactively against the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City.Read More
By Matthias Kullowatz (@mattyanselmo)
I thought my computer had spit out an error when it told me Toronto FC was the best team in MLS. To the right you can see the power rankings that I was too scared to publish in their typical location without an accompanying article. These are the number of points teams would be expected to earn if the 34-game season started today and each team played a balanced schedule. Toronto may or may not be one of the best teams in MLS, but here's why the computer thinks so.
After last weekend's 1 - 0 win in Philadelphia, Toronto finally completed its seven-game road trip to start the 2015 campaign, a difficult way to start the season which was necessitated by construction to expand BMO Field. That type of road trip typically only happens in MLB or the NBA if the rodeo is in town. The model gives teams bonuses when they have played fewer than half their games at home, assuming that, had they gotten more home games, their expected goals stats would be better.
While it's a bit crazy to think that Toronto will break the MLS points record with more than 70, it's not crazy to think that maybe they're even better than you, our readers, thought when you ranked them second in the East. Toronto is, after all, fifth in the league in expected goal differential (xGD) despite the fact that--as mentioned before--it hasn't played a single home game.
Let's play around with some more-intuitive math. In the past five seasons, home teams have outscored away teams by an average of 0.41 expected goals, and this season Toronto has outscored its opponents by an average of 0.18 expected goals per game. If we give Toronto a 0.82 xGD swing, weighted over 3.5 games, then their xGD jumps to 0.59. That would rank them first this season, and either first or second in each of the previous four seasons.
Toronto is an outlier in both not having played any home games, and having played fewer games than most teams overall. This tends to break regression models. You might notice that the Montreal Impact is also toward the top of the rankings, and not surprisingly, they have played just one home game (25%) and only four total games. Small sample sizes, relative to the rest of the league, are more likely to create outlying results, and that's why the computer is insanely high on those two Canadian clubs. That said, Toronto has put together a very impressive season thus far, even if it doesn't look like it in the standings, and I think it justifies our readers' beliefs that Toronto would be good in 2015.
By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)
In preparation for this weekend's games (they're actually happening!), we've been writing two team previews per day for the last two weeks. Going in reverse order of 2014 finish, ASA and our (very) small band of writers have published 20 articles, covering each team's 2014 season, their offseason changes, and their prospects for 2015. If you haven't read them all yet, AND WE KNOW YOU HAVEN'T, then you can catch up here.
Chicago Fire by Mike Fotopoulos
Columbus Crew by Harrison Crow
DC United by Jared Young
Montreal Impact by Harrison Crow
New England Revolution by Drew Olsen
New York City FC by Drew Olsen
New York Red Bulls by Harrison Crow
Orlando City by Harrison Crow
Philadelphia Union by Jared Young
Toronto FC by Jason Poon
Colorado Rapids by Harrison Crow
FC Dallas by Jason Poon
Houston Dynamo by Harrison Crow
LA Galaxy by Sean Steffen
Portland Timbers by Drew Olsen
Real Salt Lake by Matthias Kullowatz
San Jose Earthquakes by Tom Worville
Seattle Sounders by Harrison Crow
Sporting Kansas City by Matthias Kullowatz
Vancouver Whitecaps by Drew Olsen
A superb run with five wins and a draw in six games; by most standards that is a compelling argument for consistency. I agree and their overall Composite Possession with Purpose Index rating continues to climb. They've (New England) climbed from 17th in PWP (week 5) to 7th after week 11; a superb shift of 10 full places in 6 weeks.
So in considering this giant push forward I'd like to take a different approach in how the data points from PWP can be viewed.
This is new so please bear with me for a minute or two as I set the context.
Below are a number of diagrams referencing my PWP indicators for a few teams; the diagram being used this time is the 'doughnut' diagram from Microsoft Powerpoint.
The interesting thing about this diagram is that it allows me to offer up a view on my PWP data points that isn't relative to the exponential relationship (a line). Instead, it allows me to picture the overall tenor of PWP data points in relationship to themselves as being a part of a 'whole'; with the 'whole' being PWP.
I feel confident I can take this approach since my Expected Wins 2 correlation for my data points is ~.97 (R2) --- as near to rock solid as you can get.
Other context points include:
- The teams used in this analysis are Seattle, New England, Montreal, Portland and last years' Supporters Shield winner (New York) plus last years bottom dweller (DC United)
- Reminder in case my explanation was a bit wordy above - the percentages indicated in the doughnut are not the percentages of those activities relative to the game; they are the percentage of those activities relative to each other with 100% being all those activities added together.
- Source - as usual the MLS Chalkboard and the MLS Statistics Sheets
- Gold Stars on the diagrams are intended to show you where differences occur.
- The team name on the outside of the doughnut is the outer ring of data and the team name on the inside of the doughnut is the inner ring of data.
The volume of Final Third passes successfully completed by New England (29%) is 3% points higher than Montreal (26%). Note also that Montreal has a greater percentage of PWP outside the Final Third (30%) than New England (28%). Both of these indicate to me that New England is more focused on penetrating and creating than Montreal.
For the future I will check into these three areas when looking to see if a 'direct attacking approach' can be better differentiated from a 'ground-based' (short passing scheme) approach.
The actual volume of penetration is higher for New England as well (11%) versus (7%). And like my regular PWP analysis the data here also supports the fact that teams who are more patient in creating shots taken (6% for NER versus 11% for MIFC) end up with more goals scored.
I did ask Matthias Kullowatz about the specific shot data for New England and Montreal; ~60% of Montreal's shots on target have come outside the prime scoring zones 1 & 2 while ~68% of the Revolution shots on target have also come outside of zones 1 & 2. So what's different?
I think it's down to time and space again; though it could be the Revolution have better strikers - but when you see the DC United doughnut diagram a bit later I think it's back to time and space; and with fewer shots taken and more patience in the final third that seems reasonable to me.
Now for a contrast that might be better at explaining individual mistakes and bad fortune more than a bad 'style/system'...
Notice no 'gold stars'; why? Because there really isn't that much difference between how these two teams execute the six steps of PWP.
What separates these two teams in the league table are individual mental mistakes in defense - Portland sit on ten points while Seattle have 25. Through the course of this year the Timbers have dropped 7 points due to red cards and penalties - they did both against Columbus Saturday night!
In considering the 'sameness' of the data I expect as time passes an output similar to this could highlight 'individual mistakes' and perhaps 'good/bad luck' when it comes to rebounds and deflections - again recall Saturday night when Futty Danso deflected a shot and notched an 'own-goal'
All told things went pretty well for Columbus, a red card by their opponent, a foul in the penalty box by their opponent for a PK and a deflected own-goal by their opponent. If I were a Columbus fan I'd be pretty pissed they didn't win - bad luck for the Crew!
However viewed I'll revisit this diagram later when the Cascadia Cup battle heats up.
So here's the doughnut view of New York compared to DC United last year and then a bit further down how they look compared to each other this year.
First off - let's not forget Ben Olsen was not fired and perhaps this doughnut diagram can also help explain why given the overall poor performance in results last year for DC United.
Notice that the team does exceedingly well in comparison to New York with respect to Passing, penetration and creation; they actually exceed New York in the first two categories and only fall off when it comes to goals scored (7% for DC United versus 15% for New York).
So I'd offer that the system Ben Olsen ran last year worked - what he lacked was a pair of good strikers. And if you recall the Montreal doughnut earlier the outputs from DC United do not mirror those of the Impact!
They added Espindola and Johnson and shored up their defense a bit; that also included adding Amos Magee to the staff. Remember him as the Defensive Coordinator for Portland last year (I think - others can confirm or deny that I'm sure)
Bottom line here - the system didn't change and the Head Coach didn't change and I'd offer that was appropriate... now for the same diagram this year:
Note the increase for DC United in the final category - goals scored versus shots on goal - pretty compelling information to reinforce that the system used last year is the same system used this year and the difference - major difference - is the addition of two quality strikers.
I'm just in the learning stages on how this new doughnut diagram will take shape - I'm pretty sure it will have at least one hole in it - I'm hopeful there aren't a lot more.
Some changes afoot with OPTA and MLS - I see OPTA incorporated the Final Third Passing Accuracy suggestion - just need to find out if crosses are included in that metric???
As for the new MLS Chalkboard - I'm not sure how that will work if the 'numbers' of activities are not available to count when it comes to defensive activities and 'touches' for players...
And yes, the old Chalkboard still appears to exist given a separate link within previous articles but it's unclear if this change will be a permanent change for next year - or even the World Cup for that matter...
As for This Week in PWP; if you saw my tweets yesterday you know the top Attacking and Defending PWP teams of the week; New England in attack and Toronto in Defense with the Reds taking the Composite PWP Index top spot for Week 11.
Sporting KC, along with LA Galaxy remain atop the Composite PWP through Week 11 while the Revolution moved to 7th and Columbus dropped to 4th as Real Salt Lake are now in a comfortable position of 3rd best overall.
Finally, this view also gives you and idea of what percentage each team gleans from each of the PWP Six Steps data points in the calculation for the overall Index number.
The scorelines of the three games I caught this weekend had a very "binary solo" feel to them: 1-0, 1-1, 1-0. There were impressive performances from young wingers, outstanding goalkeeping, and irresponsible defending - and that was just in these three games. Here's how it happened for six teams last weekend. Columbus Crew 1 - 1 New York Red Bulls
Stat that told the story for New York: 5 terrific chances in the first 10 minutes
This was certainly the premier game I tuned into this weekend: two teams fighting to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference and who play entertaining soccer. Both teams played pretty well, too, for the most part - a notable exception was the first ten minutes when Red Bulls were terrific and Columbus was sleepwalking. NYRB would look back on these first ten minutes with great angst, as great saves by Steve Clark and near misses by Eric Alexander and Thierry Henry made them all go for naught. New York would eventually get their goal through the red-hot Bradley Wright-Phillips, but also gave up their share of great chances that required big saves from Luis Robles. All in all, this was probably a game where both teams left fairly content with the result and how they played.
Stat that told the story for Columbus: 7 first time crosses from wide players
I went over the game from both team's perspective above, so I'm going to use this space to talk a little general soccer strategy. Each and every game I ever watch, a wide player will receive a ball in the attacking third with forwards and attacking midfielders streaking into the box. And probably 80% of the time, the winger slows down and takes a touch to steady himself before crossing it, thereby forcing his teammates crashing the box to stop or delay their runs, and allowing the defense a chance to get set and defend the cross. Every time this happens, I get inexplicably angry. Crossing the ball with the first touch is admittedly more difficult and not always the right play, but it overjoys me to see Crew wingers (especially Hector Jimenez and Josh Williams) send in these first time crosses. Of the 23 the team recorded against New York, I counted 7 that were on the wide player's first touch. Oh, and the one that led to the team's lone goal? First time.
Montreal Impact 1 - 0 Philadelphia Union
Stat that told the story for Philadelphia: 15 giveaways in their own half by Union defenders
I used this stat for one of the games last week, and it's a bit of a tough one to quantify. I included the above image to show how I figure: 15 of the unsuccessful passes by Philly defenders ended in their defensive half (one of which led directly to the game's lone goal). For a team who have as impressive moments as the Union have early in the year, this kind of sloppiness out of the back really hurts. I don't want to heap all the criticism on Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams and the other defenders, because the truth is part of the problem stems from the midfield. As good as Maurice Edu and Vincent Noguiera look at times, there's often a conspicuous lack of anyone getting open in the middle of the field for the back line to pass to. The point is this: Philadelphia has certainly looked like a playoff team at times and probably deserves to have more points than they do, but at the same time are usually their own undoing.
Stat that told the story for Montreal: only 41 passes in attacking half by defense/midfield; 51 by four attackers
When watching the Impact this weekend, I was struck by the fact that four attackers in their formation were actually pretty creative and fun to watch. Jack McInerney, Marco Di Vaio, Felipe and Justin Mapp do a lot of good work interchanging and creating chances (especially on the counter). But their defense is fairly fragile, and because of that they play two central midfielders who concentrate on defending first and foremost. This leads to Montreal never really pushing up the field and keeping possession in the attacking half, which ends up putting a lot of pressure on them to defend for heavy minutes. This is one of many reasons that Montreal are near the bottom of the standings; on the other hand, those four attackers can be good enough to win some points on their own at times.
San Jose Earthquakes 1 - 0 Chivas USA
Stat that told the story for Chivas: 7/17 crosses completed by Leandro Barrera
Chivas had to be disappointed to lose this game. They outplayed the Earthquakes, particularly in the first half. They had more possession and more chances than San Jose on the whole, but they were really lacking in quality for the final ball/shot. A prime culprit on this was also one of their best players on the day, young electric winger Leandro Barrera. He mostly plays with the same strategy as guys like Fabian Castillo or Teal Bunbury; that is, run really fast past the defender and try to cross or shoot. Unfortunately, the end of that sequence is a struggle for Barrera: you can see from the image above that his crosses were as likely to fly well over the goal as they were to find a teammate in the box. If he can improve his service, Chivas should see an uptick in their goal scoring.
Stat that told the story for San Jose: 12 midfield recoveries + interceptions in the first half; 17 in the second
San Jose wasn't overly impressive in earning their first win of the year, but the second half was markedly better than the first. Admittedly, some of this was due to Chivas playing the last portion of the game down a man, but I think the largest reason for the second half improvement was the introduction of Yannick Djalo to the game. Bringing in a true wide threat stretched Chivas' midfield quite a bit, which was stocked with 3 center mids and two wide players who were wont to tuck inside. This led to the Goats controlling the midfield and winning a lot of balls in the first half, but they were spread thin and had a harder time in the second stanza. To wit: Chivas had 20 recoveries/interceptions to San Jose's 12 in the first half, but were out-dueled 17-14 by that measure in the second. Once Djalo is healthy, he needs to be on the field all game: it's clear that his presence brings a threat not only on the ball, but it also helps the team in other ways.
Agree with my ideas on these games? Think I'm an idiot? I love to hear feedback. @MLSAtheist
Okay, I'm sure by now that, given you follow our site, you've also probably been made aware of the fact that the Philadelphia Union (an underrated team in my opinion) traded their young 20-year old striker Jack McInerney to the Montreal Impact for their young 22-year old striker Andrew Wenger. The trade has a very Matt Garza for Delmon Young feel to it, leaving me with an odd taste in my mouth. Are the Montreal Impact selling low on Andrew Wenger? It's, at the very least, presumable that they know something that we don't about him and his nature. The question becomes, then, is that assessment accurate? Obviously the idea of a poacher is one that is met with a bit of contention, in the sense of how do you measure being in the "right place at the right time" for an individual? However assessing the 86 shots taken by 'JackMac' from the 2013 season, we can know that no fewer than 57 of them came from inside the 18 yard box, courtesy of digging around on the MLS Chalkboards. It's obvious that he's a player that can get the ball in advantageous locations. Already on the season he's put together 12 shots and 11 of them have come inside the 18-yard box with 6 coming directly in front of goal. He's been appropriately tagged on twitter as a "fox in the box"---hold the sexual innuendos---and I think the term poacher probably comes naturally with that association. Unfortunately, that term may harbor and imply the idea that he's more lucky than good. I'm not sure I entirely buy that approach.
Meanwhile with everyone's attention directly focused on McInerney--audaciously stamped as 'The American Chicharito'--having already being called in the USMNT Camp for training during the Gold Cup, people are forgetting about Wenger and his potential that once made him a #1 overall MLS draft pick. Back in 2012, Wenger was painted as a potent and rising talent in MLS, named to MLSSoccer.com's 24 under 24 roster, coming in 7th overall. Just one year later McInerney jumped onto the list himself, rocketing to 4th overall, while Wenger was left off. The perpetual "what have you done for me lately?" seemed to come out in these rankings.
Wenger--despite all his talent--has run into a slew of various injury-related setbacks the last two seasons; it's so much failing to perform. The talent is still there, and I fully expect John Hackworth to tinker in an effort to get as much out of him as possible. The easy narrative here might just be the returning home to "revitalize his career" or something like that. Instead I think Philadelphia possibly got an undervalued piece in this move.
Looking at the last two years and a total of 31 shots Wenger has taken, 24 of those came from inside the 18-yard box, a higher percentage than that of JacMac. With that you can see above with xGpSH (expected goals per shot) that Wenger's average shot has been more likely to become a goal than that of his counterpart. Now, understand that this all comes with the requisite small sample sizes admission. Wenger has played less than half the amount of time as McInerney and has less than half the amount of shots. However, estimations based upon their current performances with creating shots has them near the same level as that of Eddie Johnson, Will Bruin and Chris Rolfe in years past.
Creating shots isn't everything. Creating shots in important positions is something. As we attempt to analyze the value of certain events on the pitch and how certain players are responsible for those events, we'll see some things and maybe understand how to assess performances. It's easy to overact to certain things that come with doing this type of analysis--- Such as McInerney, Wenger, Bruin and Rolfe all averaging about 4.0 shots created per game individually. That seems rather important, but there is additional data that is missing. How much was each shot that they created worth? What other attributes do they bring to the match? This is just an simple break down between two players and comparing how they've impacted their respective clubs.
Personally, looking at all of this data, I'm of the mindset that Montreal got the better player. However, it's extremely close and that isn't taking into account the rosters in which they are joining or how they might be utilized on the pitch with their new teams (4-3-3 concerns vs. 4-4-2 placement). I would say at this time the difference between the two is that one is younger and has more experience. That might be a bit simplistic approach but honestly both create shots the same way in the same space. McInerney does so at a higher rate but Wenger has made up for taking less shots with taking advantage of his more experienced partner, Marco Di Vaio, and feeding him opportunities.
This may be one of the more interesting trades in recent memory. I'm fascinated to watch what happens next and how each of these two players develop. Their career arcs will go a long way in providing the narrative for this trade and I'm not so certain that this is as one-sided as some people might think. Referencing baseball again, the Tampa Bay (then, Devil) Rays were largely regarded as having "sold low" on Delmon Young. We can now see, looking over the past decade, that he never managed to put together all those tools that we once believed he had. The lesson being: don't be too quick to judge Philadelphia. This isn't necessarily going to be something as easily evaluated by just a single season, and time will reveal the significance of this day.