Saturday, March 7, 2015

LA Galaxy 2-0 Chicago Fire: Assorted thoughts & analysis

Chicago Fire vs L.A Galaxy - Galaxy Vs. Fire - Football tactics and formations

It's here! It's finally here! After several tense weeks of waiting the players and the league finally came together on a new CBA deal. And what's the match deemed appropriate to end the negotiations and start the 20th MLS season?! The LA Galaxy and the Chicago Fire...on Unimas. Yeah, it's not exactly a barn-burner, but any chance to watch the reigning champs is welcome. Plus, we got a look at the Fire's new blueprint going forward. As will be the custom this season, I'll be providing some assorted opinions and analysis (mainly tactical) of what I saw. Let's get into it.

Diamond V. Pivot

A quick glance at the formations above will tell a lot about the main battle in this game. The Galaxy fielded the aggressive midfield pivot of Juninho and Kenney Walker while the Fire went with a diamond. Now I'm sure we've all seen midfield diamonds before but this one was peculiar. Wunderkind Harrison Shipp and the athletic Matt Watson flanked holding midfielder Chris Ritter, while new summer signing Shaun Maloney floated in behind the strikers. At least that's what I thought. From the opening whistle it was clear Maloney was in full "Roaming Playmaker" role. Mainly ranging down the left-hand side, he consistently cramped Shipp's space. Shipp already looked a little out of place in the deeper role, and Maloney's movement further compounded the problem. Furthermore, Maloney isn't who I'd think of as an ideal roaming playmaker. He's small, and should be popping up between the lines to create chances. 

Part of the reason Maloney couldn't find space was the Galaxy's pivot of Juninho and Kenney Walker. Juninho's skill set is well known but Walker's is probably new to most. At 26, Walker been in the Galaxy system for a while without breaking through to the first team. Now, with Marcelo Sarvas summer departure to the Rapids, his scrappy, no-nonsense style serves as an ideal pairing with Juninho all-action play. The Galaxy center midfielders shut down service into Shipp and Maloney, nullifying the Fire's attacking outlet, and allowing the rest of the team to press the back line. The Fire had no answer for this. Holding midfielder Chris Ritter shows potential as a destroyer, but lacks the passing ability to play through the lines. This meant Maloney or Shipp had to pick up the ball deep in their zone, creating acres of space between them and the forwards. Matt Watson was simply a non-factor. With Juninho and Walker holding down the middle, the Fire could never get a hold of the match.

The Galaxy attack the wings

With the midfield battle firmly won, the Galaxy could afford to keep their wingers high up the field. This pinned back the Fire's fullbacks, and allowed Stefan Ishizaki and Jose Villarreal constant 1 v 1 opportunities. Ishizaki in particular used this to devastating effect. With the attacking-minded Harrison Shipp in charge of supporting the left wing, left back Joevin Jones found himself isolated against Ishizaki far too often, resulting in situations like the first goal. On the other side, the wing duo of Robbie Rodgers and Jose Villarreal represented the Fire best option for attacking, but too often right back Lovel Palmer found himself pinned back facing dangerous overloads. 

Fire increase pressure

The second half saw a different approach from the Fire. Instead of sitting back and trying to thread balls through to Shipp and Maloney, the Fire stepped higher up the field, trying to cut off service into Juninho and Walker. The approach was admirable, and resulted into some good play before two excellent Galaxy finishes put the game to rest. Shipp got involved on the ball, and Maloney finally started to involve the strikers. Quincy Amarikwa proved once again he's capable of going into full bull-dog mode if given the right service. If Yallop doesn't tinker with the formation, he should at least shift to a more pressure focused defense to try and get his best players running at goal.

Outlook

This wasn't that bad for the Fire. If anything it was a quality test to find out what's working and what's not. Any team in the league shouldn't expect points at the StubHub, let alone the Fire. Yallop main goal going foreword is how to best use Shipp and Maloney, especially when big summer signing David Accam takes the field. As for the Galaxy it's business as usual. This team is still damn good, and we already knew that. Bruce Arena's task is too keep the momentum rolling, and ponder how to best use a certain Steven Gerrard when he arrives this summer.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Moyes' era at Manchester United starts with a whimper.

For the first time in seemingly forever, Manchester United started a preseason campaign without Sir Alex Ferguson on the sidelines. The Scotsman's illustrious managerial career came to an end with a premier league title, leaving replacement David Moyes with the biggest imaginable shoes to fill.

Moyes began his first preseason with United against Singha XI, a collection of the best players from the Thailand domestic league. The match took on added significance as a glimpse into what kind of side Moyes will be looking to put out this year. A 4-3-3 was chosen for the occasion, sending out Welback, Januzaj, Giggs, Anderson, Cleverley, Carrick, Fabio, Ferdinand, Evans, and Buttner.

Surprisingly, the plucky Singha XI side regularly troubled the United back line. Johnny Evans and Rio Ferdinand often failed to contain players from running in behind them at center back. Given the circumstances, it's not something to be worried about, but it is something to pay attention too in the upcoming preseason matches.

Manchester United's attack throughout the entire game was pretty slow, defined by casual possession between the three center fielders. If there's any main point to take away from the match its that United need a new center midfielder, badly. Carrick is class, we knew that, but Anderson and Cleverley aren't good enough to take on the best of Europe (and England). Anderson has improved, he used to be dire, but I still see him as a very effective player to bring off the bench. Roma's rumored to be selling De Rossi, United should be all over that, a Carrick-De Rossi pivot would do a world of good to the side as a whole.

Another interest in the match was Adnan Januzaj. The young Belgian was lively, full of tricks, and generally a bright spot in the attack. Twitter was going crazy anointing his arrival, which is a bit much, but he is a player that needs watching. The same cannot be said for Danny Welbeck. His subpar goal scoring is often excused by pundits, claiming his superior  movement and build up play. I just don't see it, he's had his moments (namely the goal against Real Madrid), but ultimate is lacking in possession. Any idea that he'll rise to a starring role in the side is overly ambitious in my mind. 

All the other Man U players were average, including new signing Wilfried Zaha. The stifling heat and the sleepy nature of preseason weighed on the player in all likelihood. The following preseason games, as the side builds sharpness and camaraderie, should reveal more clues as to how Man U's side will shape up this year.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

D.C United unveil new players vs. Chivas

Friday night saw a similar theme, D.C United giving up a result with shoddy defending, thankfully this was just a friendly. The benefactors were Chivas Guadalajara, the "Father" club of Chivas USA. However the result wasn't really what this match was about, it was more a chance for United fans to catch a glimpse of the future of the franchise.

Ben Olsen's starting lineup was Kemp, White, Woolard, Korb, Thorrington, Jeffrey, Pontius, Nyassi, and Townsend up top. A decent lineup for a friendly, Kemp at left back and Jeffrey in the center midfield were the main interest points. Throughout the first half United had pretty solid possession but no finishing product, which sounds painfully like the MLS campaign.

John Thorrington and Jarred Jeffrey were effective in maintaining simple possession, but lacks any real incision going foreword. In many ways Jeffrey mirrors a younger Thorrington, which isn't bad, but means that they didn't have the necessary yin and yang to unlock Chivas.

Pontius continued to show why he's one of the best attacking talents in the league (even if the stats don't say so), he fashioned the best chance of the first half, playing Thorrington in on the left side only to have his centering attempt blocked away. On the other wing, Sainey Nyassi remains a maddening player. His motor is exceptional but his one-dimensional style can be hard to watch at times, I've yet to see him cut back in a 1-on-1 situation this year.

Espn's announcers weren't thrilled with Casey Townsend's performance up top, claiming he wasn't making the necessary runs. This is true to an extent, however Townsend's hold up play was fine and he could have done with some more balls over-the-top of the defense. I'd still like to see him get minutes over Pajoy.

The back line in the first half was solid. Daniel Woolard continues to convince me that he's better as a center back. Ethan White had some sketchy moments but continues to look a fantastic prospect with his combination of size and speed. Taylor Kemp had some accurate service into the box, but lacked that wing-back style of play that he had at Maryland. Perhaps this was under orders from Ben Olsen, even with that I still would have liked to see him get foreword more.

After a scoreless first half, Olsen brought on Jakovic and Shanosky for White and Woolard. Jakovic looked tremendous, United fans should hope he returns to the starting lineup soon. Shanosky has less of a impact, I still think he should be a center midfielder, even with United's packed depth chart. Kemp remained at left back while James Riley came on for Korb, Riley had yet to show the form he had in Seattle but had a better outing tonight.

The game dragged on until the 70th minute when Olsen decided to bring on his fleet of youngsters. Micheal Seaton, Collin Martin, and Syasmir Alam all entered the game. Seaton's impact was immediate, the 17 year old setting up Carlos Ruiz's goal with a great hustle play, sliding to keep the ball from rolling over the endline. Martin got maybe two touches in his 20 minutes, so we'll have to wait until another time to see what he brings to the table. Alam was dissapointing. I had low expectations but his failure to rotate over to the winger on Chivas' equalizer was pretty dire.

One last thing, Luis Silva looks to be a player United can build their side around. All night his intelligent touches and movement opened up space. I'd be very interested to see a United attack including Pontius, Deleon, De Rosario, and Silva. United's season is lost, but that would show some positives for the future.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thoughs on USA-Belize

After thrashing Guatemala 6-1, the U.S men's national team traveled to Portland, taking on the nation of Belize. 6 goals later, US emerged as the dominant force in the matchup, which was completely expected. The matchup provided more or less a look at a different lineup combination, a chance to see how a different set up of players worked together.

Klinsmann trotted out Rimando, Parkhurst, Orozsco-Fiscal, Goodson, Beasley, Beckerman, Diskerud, Torres, Corona, Donovan Wondolowski. The shape was a 4-1-3-2, more attacking because of the smaller opponent. Kyle Beckermann was enstrusted with shielding the defense, a role he performs at a mediocre level for the National team level.

The match start off predictably with USA domination in the possession statistic, Belize were always going to sit back and try to counter through McCauley. This possession period allowed for us to see an ample amount of touches everyone in the side, as well as what they could do with some space. The majority of touches were on the right side. Right back Michael Parkhurst was afforded seemingly limitless space, yet failed to take advantage. Winger Joe Corona had the same problem, lacking invention and often picking the safe pass, and often not even making that.

Beckermann again looked to be a serviceable option against lesser opponents. His passing range is limited but he makes up for it by going very strong into tackles. In front of him Diskerud was having a nice day creating and spraying the ball out wide. I could see him being the type of player that can be brought off the bench later on in games for energy.

On the other side Demarcus Beasley continued his remarkable transformation into a excellent left back. Very speedy, Beasley constantly offered a threat and got behind the defense several times, Jose Torres combined well but at times looked like a spitting image of Corona on the opposite side. 

Donovan had an easy time up top against the meager Belize defense, scoring a penalty and providing two helpers. Wondolowski's first half hat trick will not doubt cause some to vindicate his role in the national team, but I'd wait on that. What I did like was his tremendous anticipation and runs off the ball, something that he's shown in the MLS for quite a while now.

The backline wasn't troubled all evening. Fiscal and Goodson's distribution was as expected, with Goodson showing some promise as a center back that can step out the defense. The lone goal for Belize was down to poor marking on Parkhurst's part. 

Bedoya and Shea had average performances off the bench, both show a lot of potential (particularly Shea) but just needs to add some positional savvy to their games. Stu Holden came on at halftime and looked to have picked up where he left off. Sprayed passes and a nice finish minted a superb performance.

Guatemala and Belize were always going to be easy wins for the US side, the true battles will lie ahead, especially a very tough Costa Rica side.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sporting Kansas City 4-0 Chivas USA: Match Analysis

A dominant Sporting Kansas City welcomed Chivas USA into the cauldron that is Sporting Park on Sunday night, steamrolling them into a commanding 4-0 victory. The performance saw SKC take a share of the top spot in the Eastern conference, along with a reminder that they're a ruthless team when on form. Chivas may feel that the red card for Dan Kennedy help flatter the score line, however SKC's dominance was in effect well before then.

Lineups:

Sporting Kansas City
 
NK Celik Zenica 4-3-3 football formation
 Sporting trotted out their usual attacking 4-3-3, complete with high pressing, recycled possession, and creative play. In the back, Seth Sinovic as usual is the selection at left back. Rookie Mechack Jerome started at right back. The towering pair of Ike Opara and Aurelien Colin may be the most aerially adept in the league. SKC's three man midfield often resembles that of Juventus', two hard working box-to-box midfielders flanking a calm, passing regista. Oriol Rosell fills what has often been dubbed the "Pirlo role" using his Barca bred passing skills to great effect. The front three started roughly with that shape seen in the graphic, however Graham Zusi is so influential he basically goes where he wants, often making Peterson switch flanks, or just causing an overload on one side. Designated player Claudio Bieler fills the striker role as expected.

Chivas USA:
 


CD Chivas USA 3-4-3 football formation
Differing from the 3-5-1-1 they went with last week. Head Coach Chelis decided to switch up and go with a 3-4-3, which offers more help in wide positions than the 3-5-1-1, provided the wide forewords track back effectively. The back three this game consisted of Carlos Borja, Joaquin Velazquez, and Bobby Burling. In another shuffling of the deck from Chivas' last game, Chelis moved Burling out to right center back, given the Joaquin Velazquez the center back role that Steve Purdy had last week. Carlos Borja moved from center midfield into left center back, which Velazquez played last week. Chelis moved Mario de Luna into the midfield, he started at right center back last week. With the back line well and truly flipped around, Chelis continued the rotating, inserting Edgar Mejia into the starting center midfield role alongside de Luna. Jorge Villafana kept his place at left midfield, however Eric Avila was moved from center midfield to right midfield. The attacking trident at the top saw Jose Manuel Riviera, Julio Morales, and Tristan Bowen spread left-to-right across the field.

Goals: 

40th Minute Claudio Bieler (Graham Zusi) 1-0: The play started with Chivas in possession on the right flank in SKC's defensive zone. Eric Avila attempted to slip a pass in between Oriol Rosell and Seth Sinovic, Sinovic picked it out and Rosell carried it out of SKC's zone. Rosell played a quick ball to Graham Zusi, keeping the play on the same side. Zusi tried to switch the ball, on the ground, across the middle to Bieler, his pass was too long and picked off by Carlos Borja. Instead of hoofing it out of danger, Borja tried to pass it back to either Burling or Velazquez, the ball ended up splittling the two of them. Burling corralled the errant back pass just in time to steer it away from Jacob Peterson, however his touch fell into the path of the on charging Graham Zusi. Zusi picked his head up and found Bieler, who had pulled off the back of Borja, finding himself wide open on the right side. Bieler controlled the ball, danced around the keeper, and slotted home coolly. Burling could have dealt with the danger better, but it was ultimately Borja who but him in that precarious position. It was also Borja who failed to track the off ball movements of Bieler, allowing him to pull into the truck load of space vacated by the pressing Jacob Peterson. Eric Avila turnover caused the ruckus in the first place, but his mistake was subject to lightning quick counter attacking from SKC, so I'm less inclined to bash him for the play.

56th Minute Claudio Bieler 2-0: SKC's second goal began with under pressure Rosell passing out of pressure. No surprise there, Rosell often exudes a higher class in the midfield. His pass found left back Seth Sinovic. Sinovic then played Zusi, checking back to the ball. Zusi then turned and played a stunning no-look ball through the Chivas defense to Paulo Nagamura. Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy had fully committed himself and fell prey to Nagamura's quick feet, giving up the penalty. Kennedy received a red card for his troubles, leaving reserve keeper Patrick McClain the task of saving the ensuing penalty. He couldn't, Beieler coolly sending him the wrong way, giving SKC an insurance goal as well as a man advantage. The came about because Burling and Veleazquez couldn't get their offside line together, allowing Nagamura to skip through. Nevertheless this is the type of goal where the majority of attention should be placed on Zusi, who played an outstanding through ball, further showing his seemingly limitless class.

65th Minute Graham Zusi (Josh Gardner, Paulo Nagamura) 3-0: The third goal always felt inevitable, with the man advantage aiding SKC's already high production attack. Oriol Rosell was afforded time in the back to pick an entry pass to Claudio Bieler, who had checked back 25 yards to find the ball. He turned and played Paulo Nagamura. Nagamura found life pretty easy, waltzing through the depleted defense, eventually finding Josh Garner wide open on the left side. Mario de Luna couldn't get out quick enough to challenge the cross, leaving Gardner time to pick a sumptuous ball across the middle to Zusi, who promptly first timed it past the keeper. Burling was in front of Zusi but couldn't reach the low cross, leaving Zusi unmarked to turn it home.

87th Minute C.J Sapong 4-0: The final goal to cap off the night began with Velazquez clearing an errant cross aimed to Sapong. The clearence was picked up by Sinovic and played to Rosell, he produced a lovely cross field ball to the open Mechack Jerome. Jerome, a mostly defensive fullback, played a perfect ball, splitting Carlos Alvarez and Velazquez to find Sapong, who volleyed home with aplomb. Fault for this one could really go to any of Alvarez, Velazquez, or Burling. They all failed to get anywhere near to Sapong, however at this point the game was pretty much over.

Topics of interest:

Sporting pressure causes problems: Chivas' wanted to employ their typical counter attacking style, however SKC's combative style and pressing gave them consistent problems. In last weeks game, Chivas passed with an  accuracy of 69%, completed 204 passes. Pretty poor numbers, but somewhat excusable considering their intent to counter off of San Jose. This Sunday's game saw much worse, a 59% passing accuracy while misplacing 122 passes. Combine that with Chivas' 1 shot during the entire game and you have a pretty abysmal performance, chalk this one up not only as a win not only for Sporting but also their pressing system.

3 beats 2 in the midfield: The first half was catastrophic for Chivas with Sporting's domination in possession. The midfield trifecta of Peterson, Nagamura, and Rosell single handedly bossed the game, fluidly feeding the front three. Often allowing Graham Zusi crucial space to work his creative abilities. Peterson, Nagamura, and Rosell completed 149 passes at an 85% clip, a ridiculous domination. It wasn't all pretty passing, the three collectively made 6 tackles and 7 interceptions, as well as winning plenty 50/50. SKC only allowed Chivas' midfield make 51 passes in the entire game, reducing the visiting side to long balls and hopeful 1-on-1 play on the wings.

3-4-3 still gives SKC advantage out wide: Chivas' formational change was intended to give them some extra help on the wings while adding some potency up top. All it ended up doing was taking away players from the center, allowing Chivas to be dominated in the center by SKC's midfielders. Sporting completed a whopping 178 passes in the wide areas, doubling Chivas' 78 passes. This dominance allowed them to try 19 crosses, landing 6 of them. Having an extra man in a wide position did nothing for Chivas, as Riviera and Bowen weren't too keen to track back and even up numbers.

 Chivas formation change: After recognizing the beating Chivas were taking in the midfield, head coach Chelis switched to a 3-5-2 formation. Mario De Luna shifted to right center back, Riviera went into the midfield, and the newly inserted Miller Bolanos went up top. Having three in the midfield helped Chivas out marginally, somewhat slowing the fluidity of SKC's rapid attacks, but the gap in class was too much to overcome on the day.

Red Card forces Chivas change: Adding to Chivas' misery on the day was the red card to Dan Kennedy early in the second half. This forced Chivas to further alter their shape, molding into a 4-4-1. The necessary goalkeeping sub required Riviera to come off, moving Bolanos to the wing, leaving Morales up top alone. The new formation forced Chivas to go with two in the midfield again, leading to the utter domination seen in the first.

SKC see out the game in style: Predictably, SKC simply increased their stranglehold on the game after Chivas went down to 10 men, scoring two more goals with plenty potential for more. Josh Gardner's introduction provided more or less the same width as Peterson did, except with more classic winger aspects. Staying wide, and whipping crosses in behind the defense, setting up Graham Zusi for a tap in in the 65th. C.J Sapong came on for Graham Zusi in the 65th, taking up a position wide on the right. Though raw, Sapong gave a great audition for inclusion over Peterson next match, constantly taking advantage of space in wide places. Feilhaber came on for Nagamura with Sporting in full cruise mode, Feilhaber isn't very defensively capable but at that point it didn't matter much.

Zusi looks like an MVP: One of the early season favorites for the MVP award, Graham Zusi is putting in some performances fitting of the award. A goal and an assist today, coupled with the pass that lead to the penalty, stakes his claim firmly as a early season front runner. In addition to the obvious box sheet contributions, Zusi was literally everywhere in Sporting's attack, linking up neatly with his midfielders and attacking partners. Easily the most influential attacking player in the league.

SKC can win without half of their starting back line: SKC played tonight's game without two of the league's best defenders in the league, Chance Myers and Matt Besler. However couldn't tell that from Sunday's game. Both Ike Opara and Mechack Jerome deputized fantastically, never allowing Chivas to catch them on the counter, as well as keeping clean possession in the back. Obviously Chivas isn't the greatest side, but they can threaten on their day, and SKC's patched up back line defended beautifully.

Time for Chivas to do away with three at the back: It's exciting to see a team in the league deviating from the normal four man defense, but Chivas just don't have the tools to run three at the back. De Luna, Velazquez and Burling showed some individual defending ability, but not the communication and distribution needed to run an effective back three. Chivas' wide players are talented, but aren't sufficient enough in both attacking and defending to manage an entire flank. SKC's 4-3-3 actually might work well with Chivas, provided a staple of three players in the midfield as well as the solidarity of a back four.

Player Ratings:

Sporting Kansas City:
Jimmy Nielsen: 6, Didn't have anything to do.
Mechack Jerome: 6.5, Deputized well for Chance Myers, very athletic player.
Ike Opara: 6.5, Partnered well with Colin to provide an aerially dominating pair.
Aurelin Colin: 6.5, Normal fantastic self.
Seth Sinovic: 7, Attacked tremdously, providing countless overloads on the left side. Usual solid defending as well.
Paulo Nagamura: 7.5, Box-to-Box abilities are exceptional, runs out of the midfield often confused the Chivas defense.
Joseph Peterson: 6.5, Not as clean in possession as his midfield mates, but does provide strength in the tackle along with boundless injury.
Oriol Rosell: 8.5, Beautiful distribution, started countless attacks.
Graham Zusi: 9, Brilliance explained above.
Claudio Bieler: 8.5, Shows his designated-player class on a weekly basis, two goals today.
Jacob Peterson: 6, Industrious, but lacked the technical quality of his partners in attack.
Benny Feilhaber: 6.5, Very creative, could be a difference maker to bring off the bench in tighter games.
C.J Sapong: 7.5, Came on in a very easy situation, up a man with the match in control, but still showed undeniable talent with his raw athleticism and polished finishing.
Josh Gardner: 7, Assist for Zusi was a beauty, provided consistent wide play.

Chivas USA
Dan Kennedy: 5, Tough game.
Bobby Burling: 4.5, Struggled mightily in the back against the imposing Sporting attack.
Joaquin Velazquez: 5, Marginally better than Burling.
Mario de Luna: 5, Looked better in the midfield than in defense.
Jorge Villafana: 4, Had limited effect on a Sporting dominated wing.
Eric Avila: 5.5, Showed some attacking flair, more so than anyone else, but it still wasn't much.
Edgar Meija: 5.5, Better of the midfielders, was still reduced to a limited defensive role.
Carlos Borja: 3.5, Day to forget, caught out multiple times in defense.
Jose Manuel Riviera: 4, Didn't get any service but also failed to effectively track back.
Miller Bolanos: 4, No effect after being subbed in.
Julio Morales: 4.5, Played striker, but I couldn't really notice him,
Tristan Bowen: 5, Didn't get the open space he thrives on, also failed to create any chances to shoot.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

Taking statistical cues from hockey

Alongside my passion for the MLS, is my passion for the NHL. Too many, Hockey is a game of brute strength, a test amongst the most macho of men. A grueling exhibition, eliciting the most punishing hits and grotesque injuries. Basically, a game for the barbarians.

However its also a game for the fleet of foot, for the creative, and for the determined. Not to far from a certain sport called soccer. A goal in hockey, like soccer, often involves a team effort. All five men on the ice contributing towards a common product. Goals and assists are the statistical results of the goals scored, just like soccer. However these are tallied in a starkly different manner.

Soccer has always been statistically stingy, one of the last sports to adopt advanced statistics. Some attribute this to the sports heavy sense of nostalgia, a loving connection to a past that needless to say lacked any statistical nous. Baseball had a similiar situation in the 90's, an older fanbase that didn't see the need for stats they only saw as strange abbreviations, foreign algorithms as complicated as rocket launch codes. Nevertheless these Stats pressed on, developing further, ushering in a new age of fans connected through these same stats.

In soccer, this new stats era has begun to come about. Widely available sources online and on mobile make advanced statistics readily available. As a student of the newer soccer generation, I heartily welcome these numbers as a chance to deeper analyze the game, to further understand players and teams. Despite this, I do see the grandeur in evaluating with your eyes, taking in the beautiful game from a more aesthetic level, celebrating the individual players genius, all while getting less caught up in the cold hard numbers. As with most things in life a balance is the best way foreword.

Hockey doesn't have the prototypical generational gap seen in sports like baseball and soccer, but it also has seen newer stats come in vogue during the last couple of years. Obviously stats like zone entry percentage and halfboard efficiency have no place in soccer, but goals/assists certainly do.

Goals and assists are nothing new in soccer, in fact their quite old. The simple stats that are the foundation for the game. I still revel in this, even being in a generation that tends to move towards a more freshened stats realm. Goals and assists represent the simplicity that separates soccer from other sports, removed from the occasional statistical muck.

Hockey also represents this similiar simplicity, further showing the similarities between the two sports. Both involve smacking projectiles into a net without using your hands. However hockey is much more forgiving with its distribution of goals and assists. Own goals don't occur, with the closest opposing player awarded the goal. Assists are also distributed freely, and, more importanly, in pairs.

First lets start with own goals. In soccer, shots that are going wide and deflected in are given as an own goal for the defender that deflected the shot. Shots that carom off the post, off the goalie, and into the net are said to be the goalies own goal. These scenarios represent a unnessary striping of recognition from the attacking player. If they forced the error, why shouldn't they be credited with the goal? We should be awarding these players for their initiative, and attacking verve.

In a sport where players are so often compared on their goal outputs, shouldn't we give credit to instances where they are the reason another goal is on the board? Take this weekends game between Chelsea and Manchester United, Juan Mata scored a goal in the late stages of the game to secure a win for Chelsea, that goal was quickly ruled as an own goal, with an unknown party determining that the shot was going off target before it deflected in. While this had no affect on the euphoria in the capital of London, it did strip Mata of statistical credit for his clutch shot that, while a tad fortunate, gifted his team the three points. Even more unfair was that Oscar didn't get credit for his first time pass to set up Mata, a piece of skill that wasn't lucky in the least, and deserved numerical recognition.

Along with own-goals, secondary assists should be heavily considered for inclusion. In a sport where build up play is so celebrated, why do we insist on not giving credit for the pass before the assist? Midfield maestros like Xavi and Luka Modric thrive on making the pass before the assist. A seemingly simple but all to important event that leads to the goal. The MLS has talents like Shalrie Joseph, Osvaldo Alonso, and Kyle Beckerman that all serve crucial roles in goals that often don't show up in the box score.

I understand there's a certain romance with being an unsung hero, a catalyst who's name doesn't show up in the stats sheet, but we as fans and analysts need these landmarks. When looking back years later on players careers, landmarkes as simple as assists could help as starting points when assessing a players impact on a game. Statistics like assists weren't needed to prove the brilliance of legends like Garrincha, but wouldn't it be neat to known just how many he set up with his mesmerizing dribbling. How about how many secondary assists Carlos Alberto had, or just how many times Franz Beckenbauer had a direct imprint on his teams goals? I sure would like to know.

These changes wouldn't really fit into the advanced stats revolution currently underway, they're too simple for that. What they would represent is an immediate change recognizable for all generations of fans, an easy statistical improvement meant to more clearly illustrate the brilliance of those midfield registas, and back line distributors.   


Friday, May 3, 2013

Houston Dynamo 1-1 Colorado Rapids: Match Analysis

The Colorado Rapids rolled into Houston on Sunday afternoon looking to disrupt the Dynamo's 35 game home unbeaten streak. They couldn't do that, playing out a draw at the BBVA, but did manage to snatch a useful road point for a team languishing in the depths of the Western conference. A draw was always going to be the most fair result in a game that saw both teams experience periods of success.

Lineups:

Houston Dynamo (4-4-2 Diamond): The Dynamo went with a 4-4-2 Diamond formation instead of a 4-4-2 with a flat center mid pairing, a change initiated because of Boniek Garcia's incorporation into the middle. Starting with the back line, Corey Ashe has become one the more consistent fixtures in the league at left back. In the middle Eric Brunner steps in for Jermaine Taylor at center back, partnered with the veteran Bobby Boswell. Young Akron product Kofi Sarkodie slides in at right back. In the center midfield, Ricardo Clark played an anchor role, with Oscar Boniek Garcia filling a more free creative role. A diamond midfield would imply Garcia playing directly infront of Clark, however with Giles Barnes often dropping into that attacking midfield space, Boniek Garcia was often pushed back to a more even position with Clark, with only his tendencies distinguishing him as a more attacking player. The aforementioned Barnes filled that "off striker" role, with Will Bruin becoming the more traditional target foreword. Tally Hall, as always, filled the goal keeping position.

Colorado Rapids (4-4-2): The Rapids played the same formation as the Dynamo except with a flat center midfield pairing. In the back line, academy graduate Shane O'Neill partnered captain Drew Moor in center defense. Young Chris Klute was given the look at left back, while the versatile Brian Mullan played at right back. Hendry Thomas and Dillion Powers formed a interesting partnership in the center midfield, Thomas' holding capabilities mixing with Powers' box-to-box dynamism. On the wings former Portland Timber Danny Mwanga held down the left while Jamie Smith roamed the right. Up top, Kemani Hill played the same role Giles Barnes did for the Dynamo, floating off the other striker in order to create for others. Atiba Harris played in front of Hill, but not as a traditional target man, he more or less used his athleticism to run into the flanks and pick up the ball moving towards the goal.


Goals: 

46th Minute Drew Moor (Dillion Powers) 1-0: Right before the end of the first half the Rapids struck on a corner. A goal was that classic type that makes the managers change their halftime talks, with the Oscar Pareja's taking on a more positive tone. Up until that point the game had been relatively even, making a goal scored on a set piece especially tough to take for the Dynamo. The goal started, obviously, with a corner kick of the left side. Rookie Dillion Powers took responsibility for providing the corner, as he prepared, eventual goal scorer Drew Moor was being marked by Giles Barnes, a generally responsible defender. Moor began his move by breaking off the back shoulder of Barnes, Barnes had this covered well initially. Danny Mwanga, engaged with his own marker, began to circle back around to the front to the front post. Mwanga then, unintentionally I believe, set a massive screen on the helpless Clark, laying him out on the ground. A now free Moor had a free run at the in-flight ball. Bobby Boswell, who had been marking Atiba Harris, had begun zonally marking space at the back post. Nevertheless Boswell was slow to recognize the hard charging Moor, and when he did was no match for Moor's elevation. Moor then promptly powered the ball into the net, putting the Rapids ahead just before halftime. As for who's at fault I can't assign to much blame, Clark was unlucky to get screened and Boswell wasn't marking Moor in the first place.

65th Minute Giles Barnes 1-1: The game fell largely into the same patterns of he first half, with the Rapids failing to grab any noticeable boost from their late first half goal. The tying goal came from some classic route one soccer. Tally Hall blasted the ball up field from a goal kick, Will Bruin didn't actually win the aerial duel but he disrupted Shane O'Neill enough to prevent a powerful clearing header. The rebound from the aerial duel fell to Giles Barnes, who beat Nathan Sturgis in a 50/50, allowing him to stride unimpeded towards the goal. As Barnes ran towards goal, center back Drew Moor back peddled, clearly trying to stop Giles Barnes from skipping past him and going clean through on goal. However Moor allowed Barnes too much space, allowing him to blast a shot into the top corner from outside the box. Barnes had a phenomenal strike, that's a given, but Moor should never have allowed him that much space. The balance between stepping off and diving in is always tough to find, but closing down even slightly would have prevented Barnes from getting his shot off. Partial fault should also be given to Sturgis, who was weak in the 50/50.

Topics of Interest:

Teams very even early:
Both teams had plenty of chances early in a pretty even affair. The Dynamo were winning the battle in the midfield with their technically fluent pair of Boniek Garcia and Clark, the Rapids Hendry Thomas and Dillion Powers were industrious, but lacking the quality to possess around the Dynamo. Canceling that advantage out was the Rapids advantage in wide areas. Danny Mwanga and Jamie Smith had plenty of the ball in wide areas, with that possession extending to their fullback partners Chris Klute and Brian Mullan. Danny Mwanga in particular was having a nice day on the wing.

Rapids lack of efficiency in wide positions:
Despite this advantage in possession in wide regions, the Rapids failed to translate it into anything meaningful. Jamie Smith's crossing in particular struggling, going 1/6 on the day. Danny Mwanga on the other side failed to cross in general, often choosing simpler passes over crosses  although may have proved to be a better decision given Smith's troubles on the other flank.

Davis' drifting causes problems for the midfield:
Often times when Brad Davis feels he isn't seeing enough of the ball he drifts inside. This happened plenty in the first half, causing an imbalance in the midfield and keeping the Dynamo from getting into a rhythm.  Davis is a player of immense quality, so his roaming shouldn't necessarily be discouraged, but if it happens to much it takes away from his ability in wide positions. Furthermore, Davis proves to be more efficient when he combines with his left back Corey Ashe, the two of them creating problems opens up space in the center, where the likes of Giles Barnes and Boniek Garcia can create problems. Striker Will Bruin is also a rather effective option aerially, meaning he could conceivably thrive off Davis' elite crossing skills. Davis' positioning largely dictates the rest of the offense.

Rapids fail to capitalize on goal:
The Rapids late first half goal could have led to a increased grip on the game in the second, but alas it didn't happen. The Dynamo's offense became more.........dynamic (too easy). Brad Davis moved into a wider position and showed his fantastic skills there (30/34 passing, 3/5 crossing), opening up space for Garcia and Barnes to create chances. Bruin's proficiency as a target man should also not be overlooked, making four key passes from his post at the top of the formation.

Battle of the playmakers:
Both the Dynamo and the Rapids employ floating creative players that work of their foreword partners. Rookie Kemani Hill showed heaps of promise in this role, completing 25/30 passes and making multiple key passes. He dropped back extraordinarily deep at times but he never appeared invasive towards his midfielders, an important positional skill for false nines. Barnes has been earmarked as a breakout player this year and so far he's been showing that promise. Barnes doesn't influence as much as Hill but that's down to Boniek Garcia's creative powers behind him, often taking more of the ball. Hill had Dillion Powers and Hendry Thomas/Nathan Sturgis behind him, who both don't demand as much of the ball as Garcia. Both players are key, but in different ways. Barnes is capable of moments of brilliance, but isn't as integral to the Dynamo's sytem. Hill has been a recent addition to the lineup, but was at times vital to the fluidity of the Rapids attack, linking Mwanga and Smith into the attack.

Player Ratings:

Houston Dynamo:
Tally Hall: 7.5, Fantastic performance kept the Rapids from snatching all the points, making three key saves.
Kofi Sarkodie: 7, Clutch interception off the line from a Mwanga shot highlighted an active game for the young fulback.
Bobby Boswell: 6.5, Solid aside from his part in the Rapids goal.
Eric Brunner: 6, Very shaky early, eventually grew into the game.
Corey Ashe: 6.5, Didn't get involved in the attack as much as I'm sure he'd like. Solid otherwise.
Ricardo Clark: 8, Tremedous game from Clark, started most attacks for Dynamo along with providing a great shield for the defense.
Oscar Boniek Garcia: 7, Consistently positive in the attack, remains one of the best foreigners in the MLS.
Brad Davis: 6, Had a performance deserving of a 7, but committed a daft foul late that resulted in a straight red, which will cost the Dynamo going foreword.
Andrew Driver: 7, Offers a different style than Boniek Garcia, more direct and industrious.
Giles Barnes: 8, Strike was a thing of beauty.
Will Bruin: 7, Ability to play off his teammates is very underrated.

Colorado Rapids: 
Clinton Irwin: 8, Impressive throughout, couldn't do anything with the ball.
Chris Klute: 7, Appears to be a very promising player in that role at left back. Positive going foreword and strong in the tackle, only thing that could use work is positioning.
Shane O'Neill: 7, Strong performance from the homegrown player, one to keep an eye on.
Drew Moor: 7.5 Partially at fault for Barnes' goal, but had a thumping header that allowed for the Rapids to earn a point.
Brian Mullan: 6.5, Decent in possession, could have gotten more balls into the box.
Hendry Thomas: 7, Looked solid in an enforcer role in the middle, shame he had to go off due to injury.
Dillon Powers: 5, A little flustered in the middle, still learning the tricks of the trade.
Danny Mwanga: 7, Dynamic as always, flashed some delicious dribbling skills.
Jamie Smith: 6.5, More or less the same as Mullan.
Kemani Hill: 8, Fantastic in my opinion, needs to be starting every game.
Atiba Harris: 6.5, Athletic and creates off of his hustle, could use more link up more with his teammates.