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Portland Timbers Budgetary Investments Part 2

Get a glass or cup of your favorite bevvy, grab a biscuit or two and settle in.

Here’s the second part of my analysis on the Portland Timbers budgetary investments versus bottom line results. In this part I will be pulling information from the previously cited sources to look at performance of Eastern Conference teams, and MLS as a whole, like I did of those in the west.

Before starting, if you have not read the initial blog that this one follows please jump over there first and when finished there will be a hot link to bring you back to this blog. Here is the link: http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/port…

As a caveat before I start; it has been somewhat difficult to reach a decision on whether or not some players fit into one category or another as some players can play multiple positions ‘or’ are classified by MLS as playing one position but on game day they play another one.

To handle this I have tried to do is review previous match analysis to get a better understanding of where a player is likely to be categorized. NOTE: I am only one person, I have not reviewed the lineup of every single game but, instead, have taken a random sample (for the stats folks) to try and confirm category.

Also, to keep things simple I have rounded up to the nearest thousand. I do like details but this information is to inform and offer that it “might” have value or benefit in a decision making process, if not otherwise considered before.

As a quick review here are the four takeaways from the first blog:

  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.

So off we go to look at the Eastern Conference:

  1. Top performing teams in the East at this time are: 1) Kansas City, 2) New York, 3) Houston, 4) Chicago, and 5) DC. Bottom feeders are 10) Toronto, 9) New England, 8) Philadelphia, 7) Columbus, and Montreal.
  2. All five top performing teams in the Eastern Conference appear to invest more in midfielders than defenders or strikers; albeit it’s a close call with NY as they spend even more on players than LA but the investment strategy holds true. An oddity encountered here is how to classify Thierry Henry. More later on that…
  3. In summing up that’s 8 out of the 10 top performing teams in MLS budgeting more for midfielders than strikers or defenders.
  4. So let’s look at the bottom feeders; how are their budget investments distributed? Well apart from Columbus it appears that four of the five franchises have the same budget structure as the top five in the East. So that is 12 MLS teams that budget more for midfielders than strikers or defenders.
  5. What about Columbus? I’m not sure to be honest; like Colorado they are an odd one out. Without knowing more I won’t offer any additional thoughts; perhaps someone that knows Columbus better can offer some thoughts? Perhaps I missed that a player who is classified as a defender plays midfield more often than defense?
  6. My next step was to take a closer look at which category is providing more value relative to results (goals and assists). When reviewing the top 5 performers in the East it appears that 2 (KC and Chicago) both have more goals and assists from their midfielders than their strikers. The other 3 (NY, Houston and DC) all, at first glance, have more goals from strikers than midfielders. In the case of NY and DC they have over 2 times as many goals from strikers as midfielders.
  7. But here’s where things go slightly ‘pear shaped’. If you understand a wee bit about football you know that Thierry Henry plays as deep and as wide and as high as any midfielder yet he is called a ‘striker’. The 11 goals he’s scored this year could be considered as midfielder goals. What happens when we move his 11 goals to midfielders and take them away from strikers? The 26 goals they have for strikers’ drops to 15 and the midfielders’ goals increase from 11 to 22.
  8. Now I’m not trying to do that to skew data; it’s more to do with offering up a perspective that some players, on some good teams, can play multiple roles at any given time. This is not unusual for soccer and if you recall the Spain vs. Italy in the Euro 2012 final this year you should recall that Spain played a 4-6-0 formation. That pretty much means that at any given time any one of 6 midfielders can play the role of a striker. And when you consider the developing weight of evidence here it is no wonder they performed so well.
  9. One additional side note on something I discovered while panning through the NY game statistics. I am seeing that they are playing a 3-5-2 more often and for those who follow footy in Europe the trend to run a 3-5-2 continues. Manchester City has played every game leading up and including their first regular season game using a 3-5-2. If this trend continues across Europe PTFC should seriously consider gobbling up as many young players as they can who have the characteristics and traits of central defenders. Very soon I imagine they will be at a premium.
  10. Now on to DC. While I don’t know that team very well they have Chris Pontius listed as a midfielder as well as striker. I have never seen him play and I did not go through every game they played to see if he has a similar role to Henry. But I would offer that if you take his 10 goals away from striker totals that puts DC striker goals at 12 and shoots midfielder goals up to 20. So again the positional play on the pitch of one player can skew the data one way or another.
  11. With respect to Houston; there is a small advantage in goals scored by strikers versus midfielders. It will be interesting to see how that plays out the rest of this season.
  12. A quick blurb on goal differential; the teams with the best goal differential (KC, Houston and DC) all budget more for midfielders than strikers or defenders and the two highest performing teams (Houston and KC) both budget more for defenders than strikers. A significant caution here is not interpreting this data incorrectly. Ball possession is critical to defending; if the opposing team does not have the ball then you are defending because your opponent cannot score without the ball. So after some additional thought about this data set I’m inclined not to rely upon it as much as I first thought since ineffective midfielders can skew this data as much as a weak fullback or center-back.
  13. Now what about the bottom feeders and their goals? Well Toronto (10th) appears to have almost 3 times as many goals from strikers (18) as midfielders (7); New England (9th) has about twice as many goals from strikers (15) as midfielders (8); Philadelphia (8th) is equal between the two (11); while Columbus (7th) has 12 goals from midfielders and 9 from strikers; and Montreal (6th) has 21 goals from midfielders and 15 from strikers; So for the bottom feeders it appears that their strikers (on average) have more goals than their midfielders. But, the interesting note here is that both Montreal and Columbus are higher in the table than the other three. So one might offer that those teams who traditionally score more goals with midfielders in the Eastern Conference get better results than those that don’t.
  14. As for assists; every team with the exception of three have more assists from midfielders than strikers. Oddly enough Columbus has more assists from defenders than midfielders or strikers. NY, almost like Columbus, has a high assist output from defenders (14) as compared to midfielders (14). Here again is where fuzzy logic comes in; if you move assists and goals by Henry into the midfield category it not only skews the goal totals but it also skews assist totals.
  15. Finally, there is Toronto. A poor performing team, (now with a new head coach) that has 9 assists for defenders and 10 each for strikers and midfielders. More later on Toronto.

So with all those numbers and your patience in wading through them to get here what sort of bottom line things can we pull from looking at all of the MLS teams? Here’s what I would offer for the wolves to feed on:

  1. It appears, even with additional data from the east, that the weight of evidence indicates that the better performing teams invest more in midfielders than strikers or defenders. As with many things there are exceptions. The two that come to mind for me are LA Galaxy and NY Red Bulls. Both have obnoxiously huge budgets and both seem prepared to “buy” a championship. For the other 18 teams in this league I truly hope that they lose. I would hate to see MLS drive towards the same business model where only the big get bigger and the small get smaller.
  2. As a refresher, no team in the Eastern conference has the same budget investment pattern as Portland. But from an overall investment strategy there are three teams in the MLS who have invested a higher budget amount for players than Portland. They are the New York Red Bulls, the Los Angeles Galaxy, and… one guess? Toronto. Yes; Toronto. I said I would come back to these guys. So here’s the rub. The two most likely teams to reach the MLS Championship game this year are the two teams who have spent the most money this year; New York and Los Angeles. And, the two teams that have spent the next highest amount of money this year, Portland (~$4.1M) and Toronto (~$7.5M) are the two teams most likely to battle it out Wooden Spoon this year. Talk about irony!
  3. What does this mean? Well for me it means if you are going to spend, spend big and spend BIG on GREAT players who can win a game single handedly. If you are not committed to that obnoxious approach then spend wisely and spend on midfielders who produce and defenders who defend.
  4. I’m not a betting person but if I were I’d take a flutter on NY to win the MLS Championship game this year because they have spent more and have fewer goals against in a higher scoring conference than LA.

So let’s bring this back to Portland and the takeaways from my initial look at the Western Conference and whether or not those offerings are still reasonable:

  1. Higher organization budgetary investments in midfielders may have greater value in the success of an organization than higher investments on defenders or strikers. I would offer that after reviewing the entire MLS, this observation still holds true and I am even willing to insert the words most likely where the word may sits in that sentence.
  2. Organizations that have invested more in midfielders than strikers or defenders might score more goals and have a lower goal differential. I would offer that after reviewing the entire MLS, this observation still holds true and I would also insert the words most likely here in lieu of the word might.
  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. I would again offer that this observation continues to hold true and that the word should continues to have relevance.
  4. Bottom Line at the Bottom Line: Given the information presented, for the entire MLS, it continues to seem reasonable that the Timbers front office re-evaluates what they bugt for defenders and midfielders versus strikers. $1M in a striker budget might get you 3 very good defenders for $333K a piece, of 5 solid midfielders at $200K a piece.
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.