Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC 2019 Season Preview by Harrison Crow

In the Sporting Kansas City playoff preview last year I wrote that for SKC in 2018, the bottom didn’t fall out. That doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy, but it has been an ongoing theme through the years with Peter Vermes’ teams. His up tempo and high press style has often faced scrutiny due lack of rotation. It’s led some to question whether Vermes’ tactical approach is viable for 34 to 40 games per season.

But their late season volatility isn’t all that surprising when you consider how a lack of depth during an MLS season can cause issues. It’s even less surprising that SKC would have encountered it considering their organizational constraints over the years.

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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. 

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Sporting Kansas City 2018 Season Preview by Kevin Shank

The 2017 campaign saw Sporting Kansas City bring home silverware in the US Open Cup while simultaneously having a confusing, and ultimately disappointing MLS season. On the back of a rebuilt attacking corps, they're hoping for a return to MLS Cup in 2018.

2017 in review

It is hard to define the 2017 season as a success or failure because SKC was a team that had the league’s best defense but was also paired with an underperforming offense whose top attacker was traded midseason. In addition, Kansas City backed into the playoffs and lost their fourth straight knockout round playoff game, but all in all, they still managed to win a trophy.

Let’s start the 2017 season analysis with the impressive SKC’s defense that led the league with 33.77 xG conceded and 27 goals against (excluding own goals). Looking at the backline, SKC was the only team to allow fewer than one expected goal against per game by limiting their opponents to few and low-quality shots. The graphic below shows just how good the defense led by Goalkeeper-of-the-Year Tim Melia and an injury-free Ike Opara was compared to the rest of league.

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Sporting Kansas City 2017 Season Preview by Jason Poon

The 2016 campaign for Sporting Kansas City ended on a .500 note (13-13-8), but it was not a team that went through the season that picked up wins, losses or draws on a consistent basis. It was a campaign that saw the team enjoy the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and everything in between. 

Sporting roared at the start of the season, picking up four wins out of five, seemingly ready to put behind the demons of that gut wrenching penalty playoff loss to Portland in 2014. But after flying out of the gates, SKC immediately washed away those gains by picking up just one win in the next 11 matches. SKC would limp into the playoffs as the fifth seed, only to be knocked out by the eventual MLS Cup winners (again) on a late header from Seattle Sounders' forward Nelson Valdez.

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How Long Does It Take a Team to Mesh? by Kevin Minkus

By Kevin Minkus (@kevinminkus)

While beginning a season 0-3-0 does not a happy fan base make, Sunday's win over Philadelphia has some Chicago Fire fans feeling at least a little better about the team's rebuilding process. Throughout the beginning of the season, coach Frank Yallop has frequently stressed that the team needs time to adjust to each other. After all, they brought in three new designated players during the off-season, and are returning players who accounted for only 63% of last year's minutes (the league average over the last four seasons is around 71%). It should take a while for all of those new pieces to mesh from the somewhat disjointed side we've seen into a coherent whole. But, given the Fire's level of roster turnover, how long should we expect the meshing process to take?

The term “meshing” is a slippery one, and can be defined in any number of ways.  Is it when a team's roster turnover no longer informs its results? Is it when a team's results sufficiently indicate its performance for the rest of the season? Is it when a team reaches the level of performance it will remain at throughout the rest of the season (if, in fact, a team can ever be expected to do so)?

Each of these definitions could be argued as valid, and I'm sure there are many other possible definitions not considered here. As it stands, though, these are the three I will analyze, using MLS data since 2011, in hopes of arriving at an answer to the question of how long it takes a team to mesh.

Let's start with the first definition- meshing defined as the number of games in which roster turnover still directly informs a team's results. 

This graph shows the correlation between points after x number of games and the percentage of a team's field minutes returned from the previous season. 

A positive correlation suggests that as roster stability increases, so does points earned. Numbers below the red line are not considered statistically different from zero (at 90% confidence). Note that the correlations in general aren't huge, but they do exist. As you can see, the correlation between roster stability and points peaks at game three, and remains statistically significant until game five (after which it remains insignificant until close to the end of the season).

A similar pattern exists if we look at defensive stability, though the correlation becomes doesn't become insignificant until after 8 games:

These two graphs, then, suggest (though perhaps not convincingly), that it may take as few as three or four games for a team in general to mesh, while it may take as many as eight for a defensive unit to come together.

Now let's take a look at the second definition- meshing defined as the point at which a team's results through some number of games “sufficiently” indicate what its results will look like for the rest of the season.

To do this, I've split teams into two groups- those with “high” roster turnover (in the top 50%), and those with “low” roster turnover (in the bottom 50%). I then regressed the team's final points total on the team's points total after x games, for each of the two groups. The Rsquared values for each of these regressions are graphed below, with the linear models from the set of all teams included as well. So essentially what we are looking at it is how well we can predict how a team will finish the season, based on what they've done after a given number of games.

Through six games, each game is about as predictive for each group, meaning that how well a team with high roster turnover does through six games is just as indicative of how that team will finish as how well a team with low roster turnover does through six games. That is to say, we don't gain any extra predictive power by knowing a team's level of roster turnover.

By game seven, though, high turnover teams begin to out-pace low turnover teams- by game seven we have a better idea of how high turnover teams will finish the season than low turnover teams. 

By game nine, the R2  value for high turnover teams is at .546, which is pretty high. We would expect predictions made using this nine game point total to be on average only about seven points off the final season total. That gets us pretty close for being barely a quarter of the way into the season.

 Though it's a normative statement not a positive one, and you could really draw the line anywhere, I would probably suggest that nine games is as good a place as any to set the limit on meshing based on our second definition. At the very least, we can say that after nine games we should have a decent idea of whether the rebuilding process will be successful in year one.

Finally, let's turn our attention to the third definition- meshing as the point at which a team reaches its consistent level of performance.

Let's investigate this phenomenon a little bit. 

Here's a graph of the three game rolling expected goal difference (at x = 4, the value on the y axis is the xGD from games two, three, and four, for example) for Sporting Kansas City last season- a decently representative mid-table team.  Expected goal differences provide a pretty reasonable statistic for gauging how good a team is.

It's pretty much all over the place. 

A three game rolling points per game graph of another mid-table team from last year, the Vancouver Whitecaps, tells a similar story:

These graphs point to something which I think is an important (though perhaps obvious) point to make; it's mostly unreasonable to expect game by game measures of a team's strength to converge over the course of a season. (Metrics like xGR (expected goal ratio), TSR (total shot ratio), and points per game will converge, but usually only when they're being calculated on aggregate.) There are a lot of reasons for this. Injuries, international call-ups, strength of schedule, and mid-season transfers are all factors which affect a team's consistency of performance. Teams, save maybe the very dominant and the very bad ones, just go through peaks and valleys throughout the year. They have good games and bad games. 

What does this mean for meshing, then?

Well, we've already seen that how a team performs at the start of the year can be predictive of where it finishes, particularly for teams with high turnover. The point above, though, suggests that how a team starts the year isn't necessarily indicative of how it will perform throughout the year. 

For teams who haven't quite come together yet, then, there is certainly still hope of righting the ship. Given the above analysis, I would expect the effects of having new players brought in to the system to begin to wear off by game four or five (though this may take a bit longer this season because of international call-ups). By game nine or ten, a team should have a decent idea of how well it has done in rebuilding its roster. If things remain bleak at that point, there is still the possibility of finding some success, but it may come only in limited doses.

ASA 2015 Season Previews. Every daNG one of them! by Drew Olsen

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.

Eastern Conference

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

Western Conference

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

Sporting KC still has edge in the capital by Drew Olsen

If you come in from a certain angle, you can hype this evening's DC United-Sporting KC game as the Eastern Conference's clash of the week. The two teams enter this game tied for the second seed with two of the best goal differentials in the conference. With DCU playing at home, and Sporting missing half its team, the edge would appear to go to United. But not so fast. Despite being inseparable by points, DCU and Sporting are about as far apart as two teams can be by Expected Goal Differential. Sporting sits atop the league at +0.62 per game,* while DCU is ahead of only San Jose with -0.33. If we look to even gamestates---during only those times when the score was tied and the teams were playing 11-on-11---the chasm between them grows even wider. Sporting's advantage over DCU in Even xGD is more than 1.5 goals per game.*

To this point, as early as it is in the season, I have found that winners are best predicted by Even xGD, rather than overall goal differential. Though the sample size of shots is smaller for each team in these scenarios, the information is less clouded by the various tactics that are employed when one team goes ahead, or when one team loses a player.

Of course, Sporting will be missing the likes of Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, and Lawrence Olum, as they have for the past three games. The loss of those key players has mostly coincided with their current four-game winless stretch, and it would be tempting to argue that they are not in form. However, over those last three games, Sporting overall xGD is +0.27 per game,* and its Even xGD is +0.68.*

Making predictions in sports is generally just setting oneself up for failure---especially in a sport where there are three outcomes---but I will say this. Sporting is likely better than the +180 betting line I'm seeing this morning.

*I use the phrase "per game" for simplicity, but xGD is actually calculated on a per-minute basis in our season charts. Per game implies per 96 minutes, which is the average length of an MLS game.

PWP: Chicago lights up New York while Montreal feels the Impact of Sporting KC by Drew Olsen

As noted in my headline, the Chicago Fire simply lit the fireworks with the youngster Harry Shipp leading the way; good for him and well done, son!  As for the new leader in Montreal--and ex-Fire coach--things weren't quite as rosy. You'll recall early last week I published this article on MLS Coaches - showing statistics, not pure speculation, on which coaches have teams that aren't performing to standard in MLS at this time.  Frank Klopas was one of those Head Coaches mentioned, and sadly his team was the only team in the bottom four of that list who didn't win this past weekend.

Mark Watson did with San Jose, Frank Yallop did in the obvious thriller in New York, and Wilmer Cabrera saw his Goats absolutely stun Colorado.  Sooner or later the wheat will separate from the chaff.

But back to Chicago.  They didn't take the PWP Attacking Team of the week by much; Sporting KC was a close second while Cabrera and the Goats were 3rd best and New England rounded out the top 4 with that blowout against Seattle.

PWP Attacking Player of Week #10 - Harry Shipp - surprised?  Not likely, for only the second time this year my PWP Attacking Player of the Week was the same as the MLS Player of the Week... as odd as it may sound I take pride in my PWP Players of the Week not matching those from MLSSoccer.com.

PWP ATTACKING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

A busy day for the young lad, and almost too much information to go into my standard PWP Player of the Week.

That said Sporting KC got back on track with another smashing win against Montreal.  And while they scored three goals what stood out most was their smothering defense; a leader in helping that effort was my PWP Defending Player of the Week; Chance Myers.

PWP DEFENDING PLAYER OF WEEK 10

Duly noted that some players had some superb passing statistics in this game; here's a diagram of all the successful passes for Sporting against a hapless Montreal side... and even more intriguing is this diagram (also from the OPTA Chalkboard) of all the unsuccessful passes by Sporting.  WOW!  Not sure I've ever seen so sparse a chalkboard as that for unsuccessful passes!

In looking at the defensive side of the pitch Montreal offered up 45 total passes in the Sporting defending third - of which nine were throw-ins... in the area here (just atop the 18 yard box) Montreal had 5 unsuccessful passes and 3 successful passes with two of those successful passes being throw-ins.

Moving on... So this week who's top and who's not in Possession with Purpose after 10 full weeks of play in MLS?

PWP COMPOSITE INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

As a reminder, the top five Western Conference teams in the End-of-Season PWP Composite Index were the top five Western Conference teams to make the Playoffs.  In addition, the top five Eastern Conference Teams in the same Index were the top five Eastern Conference teams to make the Playoffs.

Last year's Champion has finally reached the top spot; will they be able to hold on?  I don't know, but still-unbeaten Real Salt Lake has shifted from 7th to 4th this week.

Columbus is starting their painful drop while Seattle, LA, and FC Dallas hover, and New England continues to push higher.

What is unique about this Index is it's not influenced by the "next bright and shiny object" syndrome.  Teams will fade and teams will push higher, but not on a whim; I hate whims...

With respect to the bottom teams in this Index - there is no question that the worst performing team in MLS is Montreal.  I'm not sure how anyone can consider their pathetic team output - across all categories measured - anything other than worst.  

Chivas got a notable win, but one win does not a streak make - falling a bit further this week was Toronto - moving from 6th worst to 4th worst.  Are some other teams in MLS catching on to that 'mistake driven' football that Nelson might be working towards?

Hard to say, but with some MLS stars moving off to prepare for the World Cup, there will definitely be important lineup change, and possible some big changes to this Index in the next six weeks.

In closing:

Another busy week coming with the Canada Cup Championship plus two more games for Sporting and Philadelphia.

Two diagrams for your consideration:

PWP ATTACKING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

This is the Cumulative PWP Attacking Index after week 10.

Note that the separation between the top attacking team (FC Dallas) and the 10th best attacking team (Vancouver) is 2.4984 - 2.3365 = .1619.  So when you see the overall Composite Index there really isn't that much that separates the tenth place attacking team from the 1st place attacking team...

However, small movement is still expected given that a number of teams will be without some key players for at least 5 weeks - we can hope for more for the USMNT's sake.

PWP DEFENDING INDEX THROUGH WEEK 10

This information reflects how well the combined opponents of these teams performs in the Defending PWP.

In looking at the diagram what the last place team offers is that the opponents of Chicago Fire, by and large, possess the ball, pass the ball, penetrate with the ball, take shots with the ball, and score with the ball more than Chicago does... if that trend continues it is likely that Chicago will have a very poor record by the end of the season.

In considering Philadelphia for a minute - they are in the bottom half but they are not being dominated by their opponents - sometimes games won and lost or drawn end up being more about a single mistake or... multiple mistakes as opposed to poor team performance.  It's data like this that tells me, as an analyst, that Hackworth has a reasonable system and plan - its' just not working because something on the pitch is broken.

I think many would offer that is the same case for Portland this year - most know that 5 points were lost due to PK's early this year, and perhaps three points were lost this past Sunday when some players simply forgot that they were soccer players and instead decided to be ball watchers...

All for now, Chris

How it Happened: Week Nine by Drew Olsen

Welcome to my few-days-old review of the weekend in MLS, where I recap three games that I watched in their entirety (well, usually) by picking a stat or Opta image that tells the story of the game for each team. This week I fell short of my usual three games, and I apologize to the legions of Red Bulls and FC Dallas fans who will no doubt be disappointed to read the following paragraph. FC Dallas 0 - 1 New York Red Bulls

Stat that told the story for both teams: 26 minutes for which I was able to watch this game

This game was hideous. Not necessarily soccer wise: Thierry Henry will be fun to watch when he's pushing a walker around on opposing half, and this was a very competitive match, from what I saw. But I couldn't even make it past 26 minutes of this game before I had to give up and turn it off. Between Je-Vaughn Watson's karate kick of Tim Cahill, the referee's less-than-stellar control of the game, and players, fans and coaches alike going insane showing their indignation at every whistle, it was absolutely painful.

Sporting Kansas City 2 - 0 Columbus Crew

Stat that told the story for SKC: the ability to switch the ball in one pass

skc9

First, an aside: re-capping the national TV game from NBCSN is next to impossible, but for a good reason. Kyle Martino on the broadcast team does such a fantastic job breaking down the tactics of the match, that it's incredibly difficult for me to pick out anything that hasn't been said yet. So I'm going to just roll with something he mentioned, and that Matthew Doyle also mentioned in his weekly column. One of the major differences between KC and Columbus is Matt Besler's ability to switch the field of play with one ball. It's an ability that led straight to the first goal (buildup pictured above according to Opta), and it's one that USMNT fans have to hope pays off in the World Cup. Columbus, for all their admirable qualities, don't really have a player with the quality to hit that ball. Federico Higuain can do it, and Wil Trapp will from time to time, but with SKC if it isn't Besler switching fields, it's Graham Zusi or Benny Feilhaber or Seth Sinovic. All in all, they're just a more complete team at the moment.

Stat that told the story for Columbus: Jairo Arrieta's actions

clb9

There's one other really big difference between the Crew and Sporting KC that spells out why Columbus doesn't measure up, at least not yet. Jairo Arrieta plays as a lone striker for Columbus. This probably isn't the greatest role for him, because he's at his best when combining with others. Sometimes this works well with him and Higuain, but sometimes (like Sunday), he ends up isolated and completely ineffective. Seriously, his action that was closest to the goal against SKC was still about 30 yards away from the endline. The Crew did have some solid moves, generally involving Josh Williams overlapping and sending in a dangerous cross, but the lack of a quality striker really did Columbus in.

Chivas USA 1 - 4 Houston Dynamo

Stat that told the story for Houston: interchanging midfield in the new formation

hou9

I'm gonna play a little trivia game here and see if you can guess which heat map belongs to which midfielder from Sunday's game for Houston. The telecast called Dom Kinnear's formation a 4-3-3, but it looked a whole lot like a 4-1-4-1 to me, taken straight out of Jay Heaps' playbook from last season. I really liked the move: the Dynamo have multiple midfielders who can tuck in or pose a threat out wide, and Giles Barnes and Will Bruin just haven't worked well together up top. So, might as well drop Barnes into the midfield. It was only Chivas, but the early returns were pretty tough to argue with: the midfield dominated every facet of the game from winning balls to creating chances. We'll see if the Dynamo stick to the formation, but I liked the innovation from Kinnear. By the way, the answer from top left to bottom right: Davis, Garcia, Driver, Barnes, Carrasco.

Stat that told the story for Chivas: first half midfield struggles: 16/19 recoveries/interceptions in their own half

I've written about Chivas a few times in recent weeks, focusing mostly on the midfield. Against the LA Galaxy, they got run over and never stood a chance. Against San Jose, they held their own and really made it a game (seeing the Quakes' struggles against Vancouver this weekend makes that seem like less of an accomplishment). Against the Dynamo on Sunday, it was back to getting run over. The five midfielders put together a total of 19 recoveries + interceptions in the first half, but 16 of them were in their own half and the other three were miles from the attacking goal. Basically, the Goats couldn't make up any ground and just got pushed around by the more talented Houston midfield. On the bright side: the second half started better, until another goalkeeper red card finished off any Chivas hopes at a comeback.

PWP Week 7: Zusi has a Sporting impact as Moor Rapidly manages threat of Earthquakes by Drew Olsen

Week 7 got an early start with a first for New York this year - a win. Was there anything else that stood out this week, and who managed the top spot? To kick off my PWP for Week 7, and only week 7, here's my traditional diagram showing the highs and lows and everyone in between..

The Capt. Obvious here is the 4-nil thrashing that Sporting KC put on Montreal; if there is a Head Coach on the hot seat, in the early days of 2014, it's likely to be Frank Klopas; wow...

What may be surprising to you is that Dom Dwyer did not get my PWP Attacking Player of the Week; why?

Because most good strikers score goals - what's critical in my view is the amount of set-up and overall interaction that goes with creating those goal scoring opportunities.  And as much as I'd like to favor Dom Dwyer, he had just 58 touches with 11 passes, 5 of them unsuccessful for a 54% passing accuracy...  good but not great in my view.

Other teams getting worthy results this week were Seattle, Real, and Dallas in addition to New York, hopeful of taking three points but somewhat satisfied with one point are New England, San Jose and DC United; disappointed with draws were most probably Chicago, Colorado and Columbus.

In considering Sporting KC scored three, plus got an own-goal by Montreal, how did their Six Steps in the PWP Process play out?  Below are the overall outputs:

PWP Attacking Process Sporting KC Week 7

In case you missed it one of my newer focus areas this year is passing accuracy.

For now I think there is great value in recognizing how much influence 81% passing accuracy has across the entire pitch; even more so within the Final Third.

For this game Sporting were successful in completing ~71% of their passes in the Final third; that accuracy led to having 58% of their shots taken go on goal and a 57% success rating in having those shots on goal score goals.

In simple terms it almost didn't matter where the shots were taken that scored (2 outside the 6 yard box and 1 outside the 18 yard box) - plus an own goal (from between the corner of the 6 and 18 yard box).

To get a better picture on that relationship between passing, penetration and goal scoring you may want to read this latest on Expected Wins.

For now here's my PWP Attacking Player of Week 7:  Graham Zusi.

Some pretty comprehensive play by Graham Zusi.  His volume of touches, passing accuracy, and work within the midfield (in defense) as well as his accuracy (final third) was crucial in creating scoring opportunities for Sporting.  What speaks more to me about Graham is his continued growth in playing on both sides of the ball.  That rigor and discipline will do well to help him and his teammates in the World Cup this year.

Of note is that Graham offered up five successful crosses; that's more than the per game average for all these teams in MLS this year: Colorado, Chivas, DC United, FC Dallas, New England, Portland, Philadelphia, Real and Vancouver.

By the way, the most successful team in delivering crosses this year is LA; with a 34.06% success rate.

Toronto is next at 32.21% while Sporting is 3rd best at 31.69%.  Bottom of the league in offering up successful crosses per game is Portland at just 16.34%.

Moving on to the Defending PWP team of Week 7:

PWP Defending Process Colorado Week 7

This one may have come as a surprise but in looking at the attack of San Jose it's no wonder Colorado looks this good when defending against them.

All told San Jose had no shots on goal and no goals scored with minimal penetration generating just 6 shots, 2 of which were blocked.

Bottom line is that Colorado basically snuffed out just about everything San Jose had to offer.

So who is my PWP Defending Player of the Week?

All told O'Neill, Piermayr and Klute all had great games with O'Neill completing 49 of 52 passes playing right fullback.  Hard choice this game by my award goes to Drew Moor.

In a league where top flight Center-Backs are needed, Moor did a great job controlling the 18 yard box against a team that loves to cross the ball.

San Jose completed just 5 of 23 crosses - and for a guy like Wondolowski, who lives of crosses, Moor did a stand-up job.

Here's the highlighted statistics I picked out for him this game.

In Closing...

Week 7 has come and gone and the chase continues; some look to be dropping back a bit further while others rise to the top on a regular basis.

Next up I'll get into the Composite Index for all games played to date.

For now know that it's getting pretty packed up top - but clarity on the five playoff spots for each conference will take a while to sort itself out, as it should.

Best, Chris