The Tactical Proactivity of each MLS Team by Jared Young

The MLS playoff drama is peaking with all but a half dozen teams dreaming of postseason glory. All the teams have played their tactical cards by now and the chess matches from here on out should be very entertaining. It’s therefore high time to look at a model whose goal is to examine the very chess moves that teams are making and look for insights. The Proactivity Score (Pscore), an attempt to numerically represent a teams basic tactical approach, has been updated through August 27th and there are some interesting new trends. Here’s a chart of where teams stand:

Read More

MLS PScore Update: The most proactive and reactive teams in 2018 by Jared Young

MLS is two months into it's eight month regular season and tactical identities are beginning to emerge. Some identities are obvious, but others are surprising. The PScore is an attempt to analyze aggressiveness both with and without the ball, and you can read about how it was developed and see the 2015-2017 results here. On offense, the goal is to examine whether a team is playing directly or indirectly and trying to possess the ball. Indirect teams attempt shorter passes that are more horizontal and more likely to be on the ground, for example. Direct teams do exactly the opposite. On defense, the goal is to look at defensive pressure being place on the opponent in the attacking half. We look at the passes allowed per defensive action to assess that pressure. A higher number means low pressure and a lower number means a team is pressing more frequently.

Read More

MLS PScore Update: Why tactics should be tied to a team's budget by Jared Young

Those of you that have been hanging around American Soccer Analysis for a while might recall a metric that measures a team’s tactical proactivity. Despite efforts to come up with something catchier, it’s been dubbed “PScore”, and the goal is to develop a simple way to examine the aggressiveness of teams from both an offensive and defensive point of view. In essence it separates the bunker and counter teams from the Liverpool-esque possession oriented teams, and also calls out the teams with no discernible identity.

PScore has undergone many tweaks over the years but now it’s been scored consistently for MLS covering the last three seasons. The following is a look at how the league is shifting tactically at a macro level and also how specific teams have been evolving over the years. 

Read More

PScore: Modeling Tactics in MLS by game state - August 2016 by Jared Young

Friday August was 12th was Elephant Day and it’s seems like as good a time as any to free some elephants from our rooms and get them back into the wild where they belong. What elephants? What rooms, you might ask? Glad you asked. The room we are in right now is one where soccer tactics are turned into numbers. For those new to the Pscore series the idea is to very simply describe soccer tactics with two numbers, one offensive and one defensive. What tactics are quantified? From an offensive point of view we want to know if a team desires possession of the ball or is more direct with their play. From a defensive point of view we want to know how high up the pitch a team pressures their opponent. All styles can be effective but two in particular are generally used in combination. On the proactive side you have your Barcelona’s of the world that look to work possession on offense and counterpress when they lose the ball to get it back quickly. On the reactive side there are examples like Leicester City that will sit their defense deeper and then play directly on the counterattack once in possession. As you’ll quickly see Major League Soccer sports a handful of those type of clubs and a few different styles. If you are curious how these numbers are developed I’ve written about that in detail before and you can read it here.

More after the jump.

Read More

Modeling Tactics: Finding the most proactive team in MLS by Jared Young

Last season the New York Red Bulls took the crown as the league’s most proactive team. The standing was generated by compiling two scores, one offensive and one defensive, that measure a team’s proactivity both with and without the ball. Generally teams gravitate to either a fully proactive approach, pressing high on defense and focusing on maintaining possession of the ball, or a reactive approach, sitting back on defense and taking a more direct route on offense to take advantage of the space behind the ball. Both methods can work as evidenced by league champions Barcelona and their proactive style and of course Leicester City’s reactive style. These scores are have been created with a goal of determining which teams are proactive and reactive in Major League Soccer, but could be applied to any league.

Before this season’s initial reveal, a change has been made to the offensive tactics model. More passing data was used in the process of defining whether or not a team is passing directly or indirectly. Here is a look at the profiles of the two extremes.

Pretty graphs after the jump.

Read More

2015 Final PScore: What happens when both teams high press? by Jared Young

The end of season numbers have been tabulated and there are some final observations about how MLS teams played tactically this season. In case you’re new to PScore, the goal is to describe numerically how a team plays tactically. There are two numbers that make up the score; one that assess how directly or indirectly a team passes the ball and another that measures where a team sets up their defensive line of pressure. Looking at the team offensively and defensively we can observe their tactical tendencies and ultimately determine which style of play is most effective for each team.

Read More

September PScore Update: Are the Red Bulls the Arsenal of MLS? by Jared Young

This month’s Proactivity Score (PScore) post takes a giant leap toward reaching the initial promise of the metric, which is to describe numerically how a team plays tactically. The original vision was to look at teams across two dimensions – how high up the pitch do they press the opposing team and how direct or indirect are they with their passing. Indirect passing teams, for example, are primarily concerned with maintaining possession and use shorter passes and more backwards passes in order to do so. Direct teams are trying to get up the pitch as quickly as possible. The theory is that direct teams will play their defensive block lower while possession oriented teams like Barcelona or Arsenal will press higher up the pitch. 

Read More

August PScore Update: LEGOs, True Detective and the Bible by Jared Young

What does the LEGO Movie, HBO’s True Detective and the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes have in common?  Everything. The world is obsessed with condensing this chaotic world into mid-afternoon snacks and we’ve reached the logical end of summarizing everything. There is the famous LEGO Movie song “Everything is Awesome” - which is of course wildly optimistic. There is True Detective’s infamous and terrible line in episode 5 where a prostitute claimed that “Everything is F*cking” - which is wildly disturbing and pessimistic. And there is the wisdom of King Solomon, who in the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, said that “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” According to Hollywood we now know that Stephen Hawking developed The Theory of Everything and there’s the classic sports diehard “winning is everything.” It sounds like everything is being reduced to well, everything. 

Read More

PScore, Tactics and game theory in MLS by Jared Young

Once we get an understanding of a team’s tactical preferences we can start to examine the best ways to respond to their approach. Using simple game theory we can start to look into the mind of a coach as he prepares his team. For example, the Seattle Sounders have consistently been a proactive team the last few seasons (and currently rank 2nd in the P Score Index in 2015). If you are a proactive team as well, and you’re about to visit the Sounders, do you go toe to toe with them and try to win the possession battle? Or do you play more reactively, sit back and play longer balls over the top of their aggressive defense?

In the June recap of the PScore (click here for May's recap), which scores a team’s proclivity to be possession oriented versus more direct in their approach, I’m going to analyze some tactical decisions and use game theory to determine the best mode of operation. I’ll even check to see if Nash Equilibriums exist (where both teams should definitely play a certain style regardless of the knowledge of what the opponent is doing). I do need to start by saying that sample sizes are still pretty small despite MLS having played 173 matches, so all conclusions must be taken with a grain of salt, or at worst not be considered conclusions. But at the very least I hope to lay the groundwork for future exploration in this area. It also serves as another check to see if the P Score is actually making logical sense.

Read More

MLS Proactive Score through May: The league’s most tactically diverse team is…. by Jared Young

It’s time for our Monthly review of which teams play proactively and which teams play reactively in Major League Soccer (read this article for more background on how Pscore works). Three months into the MLS season and I’m ready to anoint the most tactically diverse team in MLS: the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps are one of just three teams that currently have above average points per game, regardless of which style they play; reactively, proactively or somewhere in the middle. The other two teams are New England and FC Dallas. Vancouver wins the award because their distribution of games playing different styles is most evenly spread out.

Read More