Portland Timbers

San Jose – Do they know the way?

Like Chicago, it was a tough season for the Earthquakes as they just missed making the playoffs. And no doubt some find it intriguing that Yallop got sacked (early June) and now finds himself leading the effort in Chicago! 

However viewed by others I find it odd that the Chicago press were offering up that Yallop would bring his (Earthquake) brand of direct attacking football to Chicago.

What??? Klopas pretty much ran the same direct attacking system that Yallop will run; a reasonable expectation is that absolutely nothing will change in Chicago next year except that they might add a few more strikers who are taller than 6’1″.

Or…. Perhaps Yallop was midstream in changing the system he wanted San Jose to work to and it was that potential system change that got him sacked? If so then the four diminutive strikers Chicago have on their roster might not get replaced?

Anyway, this isn’t about Chicago; it’s about San Jose. So how did the results differ this year, for the Earthquakes, compared to last?

If you’ve been following MLS longer than I have you’ll know they crushed most everyone in the league last year taking 66 points with a +29 goal differential to go along with 19 wins, just 6 losses and 9 draws.

As for this year; Yallop got sacked June 6th after leading San Jose to a 3-6-6 record (15 Points).

With Watson in charge they finished out by taking 36 points from their remaining 19 games.  All told their goal differential was -7 while they finished with 14 wins, 11 losses and 9 draws.  I suppose the results indicate San Jose got better with Yallop getting sacked.

But did they?

Under Yallop San Jose averaged 48.89% possession per game, an average of 362 passes completed per game resulting in a 71.47% passing accuracy rating.

With Watson they averaged 47.89% possession, with 361.84 passes completed per game and an average accuracy rating of 76.32%.

It would appear that team performance in passing accuracy improved considerably (5% increase) while having slightly less possession percentage and merely one pass less completed per game.

For most that’s a pretty good difference but how’d San Jose change performance in the attacking third from Yallop to Watson?

In the attacking third, under Watson, SJFC averaged ~63 passes completed versus ~ 60 with Yallop.  Shots taken and shots on goal were slightly higher with Yallop at 13.47 & 4.20 compared to 12.42 & 4.00 under Watson.  Oddly enough San Jose scored more goals, an average of 1.16 per game under Watson as opposed to .87 with Yallop.

Is it reasonable to offer that the attacking scheme, within the final third, improved with Watson leading the Earthquakes?

Perhaps, but here’s some interesting information that is worth considering before reaching that conclusion.

In checking game logs Lenhart played more than 60 minutes, with 4 goals scored and 2 assists, in 11 of the 19 games under Watson while only playing 60 minutes (0 goals/assists) in 3 of the 15 games under Yallop.

During that same time span Gordon exceeded 60 minutes and 4 goals scored 11 times under Watson while only hitting over 60 minutes of playing time 5 times under Yallop with no goals scored..

As for the rookie Adam Jahn, he exceeded 60 minutes playing time 6 times (4 goals) under Yallop while only getting into 4 of the 19 games under Watson.

And if interested Wondolowski, under Watson, scored 6 goals in 14 games from 44 shots taken with 22 of them on goal.  Under Yallop, Wondolowski scored 5 times with 3 assists in 15 games from 57 shots with 22 of them being on goal.

So while it appears the Earthquakes were more productive, as a team, under Watson it’s deceptive that the principle strike partner for Wondolowski, under Yallop was the rookie Jahn and not the veterans Lenhart and/or Gordon.

So how did San Jose compare, as a team, to the rest of the Western Conference?

San Jose, like Chicago, just missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker.  In addition, like Chicago, they performed quite well against teams within their own conference.

All told San Jose took 37 points off Western Conference foes; third best behind Real Salt Lake (42 points) and Portland with 41 points.

As for possession; they were 7th worse in possession percentage (48.33%), 7th worse in total passes completed per game, and 4th worst in passing accuracy across all of MLS.   So even with a change in leadership San Jose still lagged far behind teams who did and didn’t make the playoffs.

Interesting in that both Chicago and San Jose played direct attacking football last year and even with significantly lower team performance indicators they both still came within inches of making the playoffs!

It would seem reasonable that as long as teams like this come close to making the playoffs the objective to direct attack, as a first option, will remain alive and well in the MLS.

So how well did San Jose perform on the team defensive side of the pitch and were there team performance differences between Yallop and Watson?

With Yallop San Jose averaged over 42.73 defensive actions in their defending third, per game, with a goals against of 1.53.  Under Watson, San Jose average 44.89 defensive actions per game while only yielding 1 goal against per game.

That increase in defending activities, under Watson, wasn’t just within the defending third.  Across the entire pitch San Jose averaged 66.21 actions under Watson while averaging only 62 under Yallop.

So San Jose were not only more attentive to team defense in their own third they were also applying more pressure across the entire pitch; I wonder if that less attentive defensive posture, driven by Yallop, will see Chicago have an increase in Goals Against?

In comparing the Earthquake defense against other MLS teams it appears San Jose were average; they had just under 44 tackles, clearances, interceptions and blocked crosses per game in their defending third; that’s three less per game than Vancouver (tops in MLS) and three more per game than LA Galaxy (lowest in MLS).

As for defensive performance across the entire pitch SJFC were slightly more active (64.35) than the majority of MLS teams last year.  As a quick comparison; Sporting KC averaged 72.46 defensive actions this past year (tops in MLS) while Philadelphia averaged just under 60 actions (lowest in MLS).

In Closing…

Under the leadership of Watson San Jose didn’t really improve their attacking performance but they did improve their defensive performance – bottom line is improved defense led to lower goals against, and lower goals against increased the opportunity to take more points.

For next year… I wouldn’t be surprised to see San Jose add another striker or two – Gordon, Lenhart and Jahn are all 6’1″ or taller, slow footed and around 185-190 pounds each.  Too much the same in my view and far to easy for the opponent to defend against…

As for other actions this off-season; they’ve made the move to add defenders Barklage and Francis while trading Morrow to Toronto and transferring Baca to Cruz Azul…

Chris Gluck

I have been covering the Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer, as a community blogger/analyst for the Columbian Newspaper, since June, 2012 and occasionally write for Soccer Yanks. A recent highlight in my short time as an MLS Analyst was being invited to present my Possession with Purpose MLS Soccer Analysis at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. With the increased visibility of my work I have created a new Domain at www.possessionwithpurpose.com. My background in soccer started in the United Kingdom, where, as an American, I was the General Manager and President of an English Youth Football Club just outside of Thetford, England. (Barnham Bulldogs FC). I also served as a head coach for U-11/12's, and obtained my English FA Youth License Certification through Norwich City FC. Upon returning to the U.S., I was an Assistant Coach and eventually a Head Coach within the Ajax Youth Football Club organization, Kent Washington. I have recently started a small business ...Possession with Purpose (Soccer Analysis & consulting) and I retain COPYRIGHT on The Possession With Purpose ideas and research published on these sites.

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