Caleb Porter Introductory Press Conference – some thoughts…

Most of you by now have read any number of articles about the Press Conference yesterday and the majority of those discussed the interesting offerings submitted by Caleb Porter about Kris Boyd and Darlington Nagbe. If you haven’t read any of those I suggest you start by checking out the Portland Timbers web site.

For me, I’ll speak to those prior to the beginning (and throughout) the season this year.

For now I’d rather speak to the ‘other new signing’ for PTFC this off-season.

PTFC hired a new employee by the name of John Galas; the new Sports Performance Analyst. I’m not too sure of the exact date of his signing on but in my view John is an extremely valuable addition to PTFC as they move forward living and breathing the methodology Caleb Porter is looking to instill.

Here is a quick snapshot of his primary roles and responsibilities that he will be conducting for Timbers this year:
1. Video Analysis,
2. Scouting,
3. Training Data Analysis,
4. Individual Player Analysis,
5. Road performance Analysis,
6. Home performance Analysis, and according to Gavin
7. “Absolutely breaking down the game down to every single detail as possible”.

While this might seem less important to some I would submit there is significant value in knowing and having the data to substantiate trends in player/team strengths and weaknesses both on and off the ball.

And it becomes even more compelling as each year unfolds and the data piles up for additional trending and analysis. Unlike baseball or football or basketball; this game is non-stop, in-your-face, full-time, full-speed, full-contact for 45 minute stretches of time where no ‘time-outs’ can be called.

How teams adjust is usually done on the fly, a bit like ice-hockey, but there is also value in being able to slow down and / or stop the video to look for things that might get missed during the heat of the game.

Another opportunity this addition to the team provides is an ‘eyes wide open view’ of the pitch from the press box. It’s no secret that the seats provided high up in a stadium provide the best view to see the whole game at once. There is a distinct disadvantage, as a coach, to sit on the sidelines as you miss the three dimensional aspects of this game. This is not to say there isn’t goodness in having the coach on the sideline to make immediate adjustments, as necessary.

But in some cases that view from a crow’s nest might actually provide more compelling data to make on field decisions completely different than from what is seen at the field level; especially during that critical time out between halves.

But back to the analogy of this game versus other ‘national sports’; there are distinct similarities between ice hockey and soccer. Goals get scored and assists get awarded (sometimes two) for players who have a direct participation in creating that goal scoring opportunity. The game is frantic with many stops-starts (resets), fouls, and penalty shots.

There is playing time, and player performance data characteristics and stronger players usually take up roles different from more diminutive players. There is also a basic statistic maintained in ice hockey that isn’t maintained in MLS soccer that I will begin to track and trend this year.

This statistic is (plus-minus) for each player I will track (regardless of position because strikers do defend against set pieces in/around the 18 yard box) whether or not they are on the pitch when a goal is scored for the team versus whether they are on the pitch when the opponent scores a goal against the team.

For some this might have no meaning whatsoever but in ice hockey it does; it speaks to how well certain players ‘perform’ with certain other players that are sometimes considered an ‘intangible’. In addition, this statistic might not have value with an immediate return but he may lend credence to some gut feeling a head coach gets about certain players when viewed over the course of 5, 10, 20 or even 34 games.

I also sense this new PTFC signing is important when it comes to scouting; there might be specific data points that are deemed more important than others – so getting any edge to help make a decision (for or against) in quicker fashion will help this team get better.

This approach is not new though, there are other teams in Europe that leverage statistics more and more so with the advent of GPS and additional OPTA type data this signing helps secure better opportunities for the future.

In seeing that PTFC play western conference teams three times a year; that’s three permanent data sets to begin to track and trend about the opponents strengths and weaknesses; the more info you have on your enemy the better the opportunity to beat them.

Bottom line is — any and all data that can be leveraged to eke out continuous improvement in sustaining the ability to win is a great investment and for an organization to ‘not to do this’ is folly in my opinion. It is good, very good to hear about this signing by PTFC.

In closing, I’m not advocating data is the know-all, end-all, if you’ve read my articles before you know I’m a firm believer that data represents only one piece of the decision making matrix.

But when/if you can find data that can substantiate an ‘intangible feeling/sensing’ it’s huge, if not inordinately large, for the person who is looking to make a decision on a path forward. And yes, there is such a thing a paralysis by too much analysis; I know PTFC are keenly aware of this potential pitfall.

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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, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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