Portland Timbers

Expected Possession Goals GameFlow: Taking a Ride Into the Danger Zone by Jamon Moore

A few weeks ago, we introduced Expected Possession Goals (xPG) GameFlow, a visualization of the momentum of a soccer match from kickoff to final whistle of each game. xPG GameFlow uses the accumulation of Chance xPG to measure the strength of an opportunity for a team to get a shot. The higher the Chance xPG differential between the teams, the longer the bar for that minute for the team with the higher amount. Quite often goals are scored when the momentum bars on the xPG GameFlow chart are at their longest.

Many people have asked us, “what is the difference between xPG and xG?” or “how does xPG translate to xG or to goals?” To aid xPG GameFlow in answering questions such as “which team had the better chances?” and “when should a team have scored?”, we introduced a couple improvements after the first week of tweeting MLS game charts on @GameFlowxPG. I wanted to provide more context for these improvements and dive deeper into them.

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Little Things from Week 22: A Healthy TFC, the Galaxy defense, and Adi's Farewell by Harrison Hamm

By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)

Gregory Van Der Wiel and Toronto FC

Toronto FC started their 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire playing a 3-5-2, finally with their best players (Jozy Altidore, Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga) back. They played fairly well in the first 45 minutes, for the most part stopping Chicago’s attack and avoiding sloppy mistakes at the back. But it was still 0-0 at halftime.

All three goals came after Greg Vanney pulled wingback Ashtone Morgan for center midfielder Marky Delgado, switching the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. With this change, they were able to get Jonathan Osorio on the ball in the attacking third (he scored the second goal) without sacrificing distribution deeper in the formation. Delgado could shuttle, Michael Bradley could stay home, and the fullbacks could hug the touchline.

Gregory Van Der Wiel, who was the right-sided center back in the first half and the right back in the second, had tried to fill the Delgado role from his center back position. It was an interesting tactical gamble from Vanney, who likely hoped that Van Der Wiel could step into midfield and let Osorio stay forward, keeping the various benefits that the 3-5-2 allows.

Van Der Wiel is an efficient passer — he completes seven percent more passes than expected, and his score is 56.2 — but he doesn’t break lines or distribute the way that Delgado does. Pushing defenders into roles like this is consistent with the Guardiola inverted full-backs trend, and it was a worthy experiment from Vanney. Credit for adjusting in the second half.

The Dutchman’s pass maps from each half (first half is on the left) reflect the change in tactical positioning:

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

TFC looked really good in the second half, as good as they’ve looked since the CCL final. Hard to say whether they can sustain it, but with their next two games at Atlanta and at home against NYCFC, they’ll have to.

The LA Galaxys defending

Excluding own goals, the LA Galaxy have given up 32 goals on 32.2 xGA, a below-average figure, if not at the futility level of MLS’s worst defending teams. They give up 14.4 shots per game, the worst of any current MLS playoff team.

There’s no doubt that the Galaxy’s defense is a prevalent weakness. No game passes without “what were they thinking” moments out of Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik.

They’ve settled on a 3-5-2 as their preferred formation, trading defensive solidity (they weren’t going to have much anyway, a known fact that probably went into the thought process) for attacking firepower. All four of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Giovani dos Santos, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini can plausibly play together in this set-up, the only alignment that comes close to getting them all together.

They risked that alignment against LAFC and survived long enough to storm back in the last 10 minutes for a wacky 2-2 draw. They risked it again — albeit with Chris Pontius (a natural winger, of course) in for the suspended Alessandrini — on Sunday against Orlando, and they produced a 4-3 win that lacked any viable defending.

The game against Orlando revealed a lot of the Galaxy’s defensive weaknesses. They were often disorganized and struggled to put pressure on Orlando’s attackers around the box. Defending from the front was always going to be a problem for this LA team, and that major weakness only compounds weaknesses deeper in the formation. They looked a lot better after Servando Carrasco came on as a sub.

42 percent of Orlando’s attacks came down their left side, attacking right-sided center back Dave Romney. Central defenders in a three-at-the-back have to defend in space, meaning they have to possess some measure of athleticism. Romney doesn’t fit the bill. Mohamed El-Munir (usually a left back!) roasted Romney on numerous occasions:

Amidst all the defensive incompetence in Carson, they still managed to give up just 0.91 xG, per Ben Baer, though our model showed them giving up 1.54 xG. They also only gave up 1.61 xG to LAFC. They’re bad, even if recent numbers favor them, but the attack is sparing them a surplus of attacks to blunder.

Adi’s final Timbers goal and the value of emergency defense

As you’ve heard plenty about by now, Fanendo Adi scored in his final appearance as a Portland Timber. His goal proved the difference in a 2-1 Timbers win over the Dynamo, and it exposed more Dynamo defensive weakness:

Houston inexplicably played a five-at-the-back formation against the counter-attacking Timbers. (Wilmer Cabrera’s conservative nature is losing the Dynamo points.) Sebastian Blanco brilliantly dragged Adolfo Machado out of his center back position on this play, forcing wingback Andrew Wenger to step to Blanco and unlock a cheeky give-and-go between Blanco and Zarek Valentin.

Blanco’s first touch in the box was a bit sloppy and forced him to scramble, giving further advantage to the numbers-heavy Dynamo. They shouldn’t have let the Argentine through to begin with, but they had everyone marked by this point. No goal should have been scored from this position.

However, Machado went sliding in on Blanco and missed badly, allowing him time on the ball at the edge of the six-yard box. Blanco’s slip pass to Andy Polo pinged around until Adi managed to have the ball bounce off him into the net. An ugly goal if there ever was one. But emergency defense is a skill, and Houston have decidedly lack that skill.

Earl Edwards Jr. is a weekly starter

This save was lost in the Zlatan show, but Orlando’s Edwards Jr. made the best save of the week on Ola Kamara:

Getting the top-hand to that shot is difficult, and probably the only way he could have saved it. He’s taken Joe Bendik’s job and run with it.

That’s it for this week, check back again after the post-All-Star Game weekend

Savarese’s Christmas Tree and the Pair That Make It Work by Joseph Lowery

Across the Major League Soccer landscape, there are some exciting attacking duos. From Atlanta’s prized combo of Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, to LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, to RBNY’s Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kaku, attacking players grab headlines. In this week’s analysis article, we are going to break down a less heralded, but possibly more intriguing, duo than any of those previously mentioned. We are going to look at Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, the Portland Timbers dynamic, creative attacking pair. 

In order to properly appreciate the work that Valeri and Blanco are doing this season, first we need to take a step back and look at the bigger, tactical picture in Portland.

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Chalk Talk: Unpacking the Three Course Mother's Day Feast of Soccer Games by Jason Poon

Last Sunday, MLS treated us on paper with a fabulous looking triple header for all the Mom’s out there. (Happy belated Mother’s Day to all you ASA moms!) The day started slowly with the 100th meeting between Portland and Seattle which sounded like a very promising appetizer but ultimately fell short of expectations. Thankfully, things quickly got better with the main course featuring Orlando and Atlanta, and we were treated to a delightful nightcap from LAFC and NYCFC.

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Portland Timbers 2018 Season Preview by Drew Olsen

On the back of  humanitarian and league MVP Diego Valeri, the 2017 Timbers won the Western Conference and thought they had a chance at a second MLS Cup. Unfortunately, injuries struck at the worst time and they bowed out of the playoffs with barely a whimper. With a new coach and some shrewd offseason signings, Portland will try again to end their season with an addition to their trophy case.

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Portland Timbers 2017 Season Preview by Drew Olsen

The Timbers are one of the biggest clubs (trust us) in MLS, and they have an owner, coach, and fan base with consistently high expectations. After winning the cup in 2015, very few changes were made to the roster and the league got better around them. They missed the playoffs last season and never found the spark that took them to the championship. Changes had to come, and some big additions (and subtractions) were made to improve the team. While it's too early to say if those moves were the right ones, one thing is clear: the Timbers want another MLS Cup.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: PORTLAND TIMBERS by Drew Olsen

Coming off of an epic end-of-season run that ended in the Timbers hoisting the first trophy in the club’s 40 year history, expectations are high among the Rose City faithful. While significant changes aren’t usually expected for a championship winning side, Portland has seen quite a few. If everything falls into place for the new arrivals, the team can stay healthy, and Caleb Porter’s patented single-pivot midfield continues to unlock defenses, this club could join Houston, Los Angeles and DC United as the only teams to ever repeat as champs. If all the pieces don’t click, we could see a repeat of the 2014 season when the club’s lofty preseason expectations were met with a finish outside of the playoffs.

2015 in review

The best team during the long MLS season doesn’t usually win the playoffs, and last year was no exception. If you consider the full length of the season, the Red Bulls and FC Dallas were unquestionably the best teams in their respective conferences. And while the Supporter’s Shield is nothing to shake an energy drink at, it’s certainly not the most coveted prize.

So if the Timbers weren’t the best team in MLS last year; they were the best team in MLS when it mattered. With three games remaining in their season and daunting road games in Salt Lake City and L.A. ahead of them, our own playoff odds gave them a less than 50% chance to make the playoffs. After a great run of results in the spring, it looked again like their status was “same as it ever was” and the team was doomed to just miss the playoffs for a second season in a row.

More on the epic run to the cup after the jump.

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MLS Cup 2015: Where the goals come from by Kareem Williams

The purpose of this post is to investigate the origin of regular season goals conceded and scored for both teams. I have aggregated the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew’s goal locations in order to shed some light on their defensive and offensive strengths. 

The Portland Timbers are one of the best defensive teams in the league with 39 goals conceded and five goals conceded in the playoffs. Conversely, the Columbus Crew are one of the best offensive teams in the league with fearsome firepower in the likes of Kei Kamara. They conceded 52 regular season goals and three more in the playoffs. 

When looking at the ratio of goals scored to goals conceded, Columbus Crew’s attacking strengths compensated for their propensity for leaking goals with a 1.096 ratio. The Portland Timbers finished with a regular season ratio of 1.051. 

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Model Projections: Crew Favored to Win MLS Cup 2015 by Drew Olsen

As you probably know, after each playoff game we've been projecting the remainder of the MLS Playoffs 50,000 times using our expected goals model. Yesterday we did it for the last time in 2015. The odds for both Portland and Columbus are listed to the right.

There are plenty of limitations to our model - it doesn't account for injuries, it doesn't care about formations (Nagbe in the single pivot, anyone?), and we still can't predict weather patterns - but on the whole it has been pretty accurate.

Given those limitations, to some 65% odds for Columbus may seem high, and they are certainly pretty favorable odds in a game pundits are calling a fairly even matchup. Consider that the Crew had the 4th highest expected goals against (xGA) this season,  which was worse than Chicago, Orlando, and Philadelphia, and you may be even more confused.

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Conference Final Home Teams Have A First-leg Up by Drew Olsen

As you probably know, we've been projecting the MLS playoffs after each round of games. Using a bivariate Poisson model, we simulate goal scoring based off our expected goals model. Given that goals are an essential ingredient for emulating soccer's two-legged system, this has proven quite important, and the conference finals are no different.  

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