Portland Timbers Budgetary Investments versus Bottom Line Results Part 1

A tough season for the Timbers so far this year and a critical decision for the team looms with the hiring of a new head coach soon. I have not heard any rumors or propaganda behind the news other than the team will probably look to fill the shoes with someone who is familiar with MLS. What all that means I don’t know but it’s the latest info I have heard.

So while this search continues I decided to do some searching on my own and here’s what I decided to take a look at:

My data sources for the salary information is can be accessed through this link: http://www.mlsplayers.org/files/May%2015,%202012%20Salary%20Information%20-%20By%20Club.pdf

My data sources for goals scored and assists for MLS teams was accessed through this link: http://www.mlssoccer.com/

Team budgets/investments versus bottom line team results.

So what do I mean by this? Well soccer is a business just as much, if not more, than a game. In considering that here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to look at results of the Timbers as well as other Western Conference teams and see if there are any relationships between what those teams budget/invest in building their team versus results on the pitch. It may not be linear, but I hope you will find the results of this analysis interesting.

To do this I have split the budgetary investments into three categories; what the Timbers invest/budget for defenders versus midfielders versus forwards. Defenders do not include goal keepers for this analysis. So what I have done is collected the cumulative salaries of players that primarily play defense, versus midfield versus strikers.

But Before going further I want to clarify one thing; this is not an evaluation of individual player’s performance against the individual salaries that they garner from PTFC. PTFC has, on its own, determined that the salaries of players are what “they” (PTFC) are willing to offer a player to play for their organization.

To put it another way; this is an evaluation of the business strategy that Timbers may or may not have as they sit down to determine what ‘return of investment’ they might expect when they consider the budget they develop to pay for defenders, versus midfielders, versus forwards.

To the chase.
The combined salary (budget/value) that PTFC has invested in defenders is ~ (about) $800,000.00

The combined salary (budget/value) that PTFC has invested in midfielders is ~ (about) $1,230,000.00.

The combined salary (budget/value) that PTFC has invested in strikers is ~ (about) $2,120,000.00.

So in other words when assessing the overall combined salaries of PTFC the Timbers have decided that the investment (budget) in securing defenders for this team is roughly 3 times less than the value PTFC has decided to invest in its strikers and about 75% of the value that PTFC has decided to invest in midfielders.

So what does that mean? Perhaps, from a business point of view, that might mean the Timbers have rated that the budget value of a forward scoring a goal is three times more valuable (important) than it is for the Timbers to defend against a goal score. That’s a pretty linear statement so let’s peel back the onion a bit more.

  1. I fully understand the value and benefit to goal scoring and acknowledge that you can’t win a game (get three points) unless you do score a goal. But the logic of purchasing the power to score a goal doesn’t match the logic that you can always get one point if you draw a game.

  2. So let’s consider how much of a role midfielders have in defending versus how much of a role they have in attacking. Midfielders are absolutely responsible for closing down space above and atop the 18 yard box; they are also responsible for closing down the wings in reverse overlaps as much as being responsible for providing crosses for strikers to live off to score goals. Midfielders are also primarily responsible for possessing the ball and keeping it away from the opponent; in other words they have a big role in defending because keeping the ball from the opponent is just as important as getting the ball back when you don’t have it.

  3. In considering that, it might be reasonable to expect that the single group of players that have the greatest impact on the outcome of a game might actually be midfielders if you assume your defenders do ‘good’. Has anyone else worked towards that? More later…

  4. So what is the value that PTFC puts on its midfielders compared to strikers? Midfielders for PTFC are valued at about half the value of strikers and a little over 75% more than defenders. So does this make sense when considering the idea that you score goals to win games but, in the worst case, you prevent goals to not ‘lose’ games?

  5. IMHO, again the distribution on the value of the investment that PTFC places in it’s midfield versus its strikers is lacking. So in business terms is it really reasonable to expect that PTFC would anticipate that they would score more goals and win more games with there investment strategy? Yes; have they done that? No. Has anyone else? More later on that…

  6. In offering a path forward as this team finishes the year and looks to improve, with a new head coach, I would offer (for the wolves to feed on) that PTFC needs to seriously re-evaluate their investment strategy in players and consider that perhaps a better business model might be to invest more money in midfielders and defenders and less money in strikers. Does anyone else do that? More later…

  7. How might that stack up against goal scoring opportunities for the future? Well, results are a funny thing and the inane move of one player in a ten second span can result in a goal. So let’s throw ‘inane stuff’ statistically out the door and expect that that will be expected every once in awhile.

  8. What else do we know about goal scoring, well we know a large number of goals are scored from re-starts and set-pieces and in almost all of those cases primary players brought in to attack during those set-pieces include who? Center-backs. So for a good number of set-pieces the top players who present a great threat to score a goal are usually defenders when that set-piece results in a free kick where the ball can be delivered into the 18 yard box.

  9. But most goals are scored from crosses not set-pieces; roughly about 50% of those crosses come from a take-away in the attacking half of the pitch which means that anybody, even a midfielder, might get on the end of the cross to score a goal. So midfielders can have as much of a direct role in scoring goals as strikers. Does the data support this? More later…

  10. So what next? Well I decided to look at combined scores by defenders, midfielders and strikers for PTFC here’s what it shows for this year; so far.

We have 9 goals scored by our strikers.

We have 9 goals scored by our midfielders.

We have 4 goals scored by our defenders.

  1. So we have 33% more goals scored by our midfielders and defenders than our strikers so one could argue that the two groups that have had the lowest investments by PTFC have provided the greatest value and benefit to our goal scoring capability.

  2. In considering assists here’s how we pan out on the distribution of assists from our three different categories.

We have 1 assist from our strikers.

We have 14 assists from our midfielders.

We have 4 assists from our defenders.

  1. So again it is our midfielders and defenders who have had the greatest impact on our ability to score a goal.

  2. In considering just this very small data set this year for PTFC I would offer that a compelling case can be made that if this team is going to be more successful in the future it needs to reinvest in its midfield and defense and invest a whole heck of lot less in its strikers. Has anyone else done this? More later…

  3. Finally, let’s quickly look at goals differential. We have a -17 in goal differential. It is reasonable to assume that the lack of budgetary investment in defenders directly relates to our high goal differential? More later…

Now for my “more later”:

  1. Let’s start with the bottom teams first. Chivas, Dallas, and Colorado. Both Dallas and Chivas have the same investment strategy as PTFC and if not for that 5-0 win against PTFC earlier this year the goal differential for Dallas would be -7 while the goal differential for Chivas is -11. It would appear that the performance of Dallas and Chivas is just about the same as PTFC. It also appears reasonable that there goal differential and lower investment in defenders follows the pattern of PTFC.

  2. And when you look at the standings and results it would appear that the same budgetary investments by Chivas, Dallas and PTFC have all resulted in the same overall end-state; bottom of the conference performance.

  3. So what about Colorado? They allocate budget expenditures on defenders more than any other team in the Western Conference; so why are they so low in performance? I honestly do not know; perhaps they have had injuries or perhaps their scouting department really lacks good scouts? However you stack up Colorado they are not only the exception to the budgetary investment analysis they are also the exception to everyone when considering their expenditures.

  4. Even though that may be the case let’s take a quick look at who scores the goals for Colorado. Here’s how their goal and assist distribution pans out.

Def = 5 goals and 7 assists

Mid = 16 goals and 18 assists

Str = 11 goals and 4 assists

  1. So like PTFC the Midfielders on this team have had a much greater impact on goals scored and assists than the strikers. But of note is that their defenders have also had a greater role in scoring than ours have. So perhaps what conclusion you could draw from Colorado is that the budget investment they make in defenders is related to buying players who are more offensive minded than defensive minded? I don’t know. Colorado folks will know this better than me. But bottom line here is that when looking at the value of midfielders for this team is remains the same as PTFC; midfielders have a greater role in scoring and creating goals than strikers.

  2. So what about the high performing teams in the Western Conference?
    Vancouver, San Jose, and Real Salt Lake are all in the top 5 and all invest a greater portion of their budget in midfielders than strikers or even defenders. In addition, two of these clubs, San Jose and Real Salt Lake have almost identical budgetary distributions for defenders, midfielders and strikers. Both teams allocate resources to purchase midfielders by about 1/3 to 1/2 as much as they invest in purchasing defenders and strikers.

  3. Is that enough to draw a conclusion that investing more in midfielders will ensure better performance in results? I’m not sure but from a statistical viewpoint it does provide initial compelling evidence that may warrant additional review. So you know; here are the budgetary outlays for San Jose and Real Salt Lake.

San Jose ; Goals ; Assists

Def = $620,000 ; 2 ; 14

Mid = $1,290,000 ; 10 ; 28

Str = $760,000 ; 35 ; 9


Def = $900,000 ; 2 ; 7

Mid = 1,340,000 ; 11 ; 20

Str = $930,000 ; 22 ; 8

  1. I’m not sure what sort of magic that Billy Beane has created in San Jose but I would offer that somewhere they got a really great scouting program that looks to focus on defensive minded defenders and really aggressive midfielders on both sides of the pitch who work on delivering as many crosses as possible into the 18 yard box.

  2. As for Real Salt Lake; their goal and assist distribution still points towards having midfielders playing a slightly greater role than strikers in goal scoring. But both clearly work from a strategy where the greatest budgetary investment in players is focused on the midfield.

  3. So what about Seattle and LA. Well for me it’s simply a matter of throwing LA out of the equation all together given the vast sum of investment they have made in superb players. But it is interesting though to note the poor goals against for this team. I’m not sure if the investment strategy has anything to do with it but they spend 6 times as much on strikers as defenders (high goals against) and 1 1/2 times as much on strikers as they do midfielders. $6M versus $4M so it would appear that their strategy is to simply use money to buy strikers to get goals because they believe they are going to score more goals than they are going to give up.

  4. Now for Seattle. Like LA they are a top 5 performer but here’s where they are the same as PTFC. They invest the smallest amount of budget on defenders and the greatest amount of budget on strikers. And oddly enough their overall budget is about the same as Portland. What is the difference then? Statistically the biggest difference rests with output. Their midfielders and strikers have generated 1.5 times the amount of goals and given up 1.5 times less goals.

  5. I would offer that these are merely statistics about the overall collective results of some analysis and they are not intended to ensure 3 points versus 1 point versus no points on any given day. But when viewed through a much larger time lens this type of information may have added value and benefit as this team moves forward in getting better.

But in conclusion it would appear that:

  1. Higher organizational budgetary investments in midfielders ‘may’ have greater value in the success of an organization than higher investments on defenders or strikers.

  2. Organizations that have invested more in midfielders than strikers or defenders ‘might’ score more goals and have a lower goal differential. (One exception being the LA Galaxy; an obnoxiously rich team that spends money like the Yankees organization compared to everyone else in baseball).

  3. PTFC ‘should’ balance this information with other knowledge and perhaps reconsider and re-evaluate how they budget their investments for defenders versus midfielders versus strikers.

  4. Bottom line at the Bottom Line: For now though it seems reasonable that a readjustment of budgetary allocations, by the Timbers front office, towards midfielders and defenders, as opposed to strikers, will have value and benefit.

Now that you’ve finished Part 1 here is the link for Part 2: http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/port…

Chris Gluck

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. Since then my involvement in soccer analysis has expanded to include participating in the Regional Emmy Award Winning Soccer City PDX TV Show (Comcast Sports Northwest). My unique analytical approach has been published in Europe and presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. I also appear regularly as a co-host on Rose City Soccer Show and the Yellowcarded Podcast. You can find my work on PossessionwithPurpose.com, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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