Portland Timbers – Pre-season Begins!

Excitement for the season to begin was obvious on Monday at JELD-WEN; just a whole lot of Press viewing and interviewing the lads as the ‘gellin at JELD-WEN’ begins.

If you’ve been following the off-season at all you’re well aware of all the transactions that have occurred.

I’ll get to those moves and some thoughts from Caleb Porter on ‘building from the back’ but also wanted to let you know I’ll be touching on some data points I sense will provide very good data to track and trend how successful this team is in ‘repaying the fans’ for last year’s terrible season.

If you read the recent interview with Jurgen Klinsmann (Mediocrity will not be tolerated) I would submit for your consideration that the same views Klinsmann has about the USMNT are the same views PTFC fans have about the Timbers team; perhaps others have a different view on that? Here’s a link to that article in case you missed it: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323940004578258072832363036.html

As in previous articles here’s my traditional early suggestion for you to grab a cup or pint of your favorite bevvy before settling in…

Changes and thoughts from Caleb on ‘building from the back’…

  1. So far we’ve seen the addition of Michael Harrington, Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Mobi Fehr, Steven Evans, Milos Kocic, Ryan Miller, and renegotiated contracts for Danny Mwanga, Jose Adolfo Valencia and Rodney Wallace. Mikael Silvestre is on trial for a few weeks, at least, and the three new draft picks are Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, Chris Hegngi, and David Meves. Still more moves coming???

  2. On the outs were Eric Brunner, Kosuke Kimura, Steve Smith, Mike Fucito, Steve Purdy, Lovel Palmer, Freddie Braun, Charles Renken, Franck Songo’o and Joe Bendik. The sad saga on Kris Boyd continues; hopefully things work out for the best with both sides – but Boyd had issues with his last team before joining PTFC; is it any real surprise that issues have arisen here?

  3. As pre-season training gets into full swing I’ll offer up some additional thoughts on how the new players are melding with those who stayed this off-season. For now it remains early in the development of this team as they learn the ‘blueprint’ from Caleb. What I can offer so far is that the separation at training has begun between probable first teamers versus reserves and those potentially filling singular roles or places on the bench. There remain a number of practice games and training sessions and if I see one player transitioning from within one of the three main training groups I’ll pass that on.

  4. In considering those that have stayed on; competition will be high for the first 11 and no doubt those that make the first 18; Milos Kocic will battle for the #1 Goal Keeper position and as we’ve already heard Darlington Nagbe is not a shoe-in to start; though with a loss of Franck Songo’o it does make things a bit easier for him. For right now Nagbe is training as a primary forward and I think that position suits him best based upon what I saw from him last year.

  5. So far Silvestre, Kocic, Valeri, the two Johnson’s, Miller, Evans, and Fehr are settling in practicing with those staying from last year’s team. I have not been available for all interviews but those I’ve been in on have gone smoothly and each have genuinely expressed their desire and look forward to playing at JELD-WEN in front of the home crowd. From what I can see it appears each player will be individually introduced to the press over the course of this week but I was unable to attend training on Wednesday or Thursday. Others have offered up some interview quotes so I won’t cover those for you here. As for Caleb, I did have a quick chance to chat with him about providing more clarity on what ‘building from the back’ means for PTFC this year.

  6. Here’s what he had to offer along with some additional thoughts: “Let’s build out of the back if it makes sense, you have to always balance in the risk for safety because you can’t just naïvely build from the back and give up possession and chances to the opponent. But, if we are going to be a team that controls games then we need to be a team that has the ball on the ground and that means starting attacks using our goal keeper if we need to. But it needs to make sense for that situation and we can’t be naïve. Its’ more of a philosophy – we don’t just have to launch the ball long.”

  7. He went on to further elaborate that he is ‘looking for intelligent play that makes sense in the game and how that changes (tactics) based upon what the opposition is doing. The best teams consistently have a bit more of the possession because clearly they are controlling the game; clearly they are the aggressive team and clearly they are the most talented teams.

  8. Solid words envisioning patience, control and confidence in developing PTFC into an MLS Playoff caliber team. The use of the word evolve speaks volumes to me and intuits that expectations are not immediate – that it will be a ‘building process’.

With those good thoughts from Caleb about building from the back here’s a reminder of what key words Merritt Paulson left with us at the end of last season. “To the league’s best fans; we will repay you.” So far the Timbers have made some very strong off-season and pre-season moves and with the horrible results of this team last year that’s good – very good.

But how do we know how well this team is progressing on the pitch, during game time and in comparison to previous years? It’s easy to simply look at the league table and evaluate based upon score-line and position in the table; but this change is more than just the league table. This change is about working a new philosophy and as Caleb mentioned building from the back, keeping the ball on the ground, and retaining and sustaining pressure and ball possession; tough things to measure when only looking at the won, draw, loss columns.

So to try and get to evaluating (tracking and trending) overall progress on the game within the game (improve based upon last year’s outputs) I’d like to set the stage for you on how that might occur.

First, here’s a quick rundown on what I believe are some pretty good indicators about team and individual performance on the pitch that can be readily reviewed and analyzed when tracked game to game. My data source for this info comes from the 2011 and 2012 MLS statistical archives found on each MLS team website.

  1. In 2012 the Shots Taken for PTFC was 421.

  2. In 2011 the Shots Taken for PTFC was 432.

  3. In 2012 the Shots delivered ‘on target’ for PTFC was 133.

  4. In 2011 the Shots delivered ‘on target’ for PTFC was 142.

  5. In 2012 the Goals scored for PTFC was 34.

  6. In 2011 the Goals scored for PTFC was 37.

  7. The average number of shots taken by PTFC (per game) in 2012 was just over 12.

  8. The average number of shots taken by PTFC (per game) in 2011 was just over 12.

  9. The average number of Shots delivered on target by PTFC (per game) in 2012 was ~ 4.

  10. The average number of Shots delivered on target by PTFC (per game) in 2011 was ~ 4.

  11. The average number of goals scored by PTFC (per game) in 2012 was 1.

  12. The average number of goals scored by PTFC (per game) in 2011 was just over 1.

By the way; for those that are curious there was very little to no difference in the 2012 MLS statistics above when comparing the time PTFC was under the direction of John Spencer versus that of Gavin Wilkinson, so to the parent of an Academy Player who asked me a few months ago ‘would there have been a difference if John Spencer had stayed on?’ — Probably not good sir; probably not.

A few additional observations between those two years:

  1. It didn’t matter how the ball was delivered into the 18 yard box; the 2011 PTFC strikers were more productive (individually as a collective) than the team in 2012 under the direction of either Head Coach.

  2. The most effective team in creating goal scoring opportunities these past two years was the team lead under the direction of Gavin Wilkinson.

  3. There really isn’t much wiggle room between the Timbers under the direction of John Spencer or Gavin Wilkinson.

  4. It would appear that the philosophical differences quoted last year were most likely do to ‘how the ball’ was moved in order for the team to create goal scoring opportunities for their strikers. Most have already drawn this conclusion with the hiring and observations provided to date by Caleb Porter; perhaps another Capt. Obvious statement is that the Timbers did not have the right mix of players skilled enough to beat the opponent; regardless of location or weather conditions.

  5. In speaking to that there have been clear player personnel changes this off-season; my offer was there might be as many as six new players on the pitch this year to include a forward, two midfielders (one of them an expensive one), and two defenders; one CB and one FB (a new starter). And that it wouldn’t be shocking to see at least (if not more) 10 new players on the Timbers this year (we have at least 11 new players not counting trialists).

  6. As things have developed the nail was hit squarely on the head. Now in considering additional moves I would submit that maybe another 2-3 players get added but changing out as many if not more than 15 out of 30 odd players might cause other locker room concerns; perhaps there are other views on that?

With that said Caleb Porter has indicated results matter but this will be an evolving effort as the team progresses in executing his blueprint.

So are there other results besides the league table to give us an idea of how team and player performance improve this year compared to 2012? Here’s what I would offer and here’s what I will speak to in my regularly published match analyses this year as the season unfolds:

  1. I will track and trend those data points identified above as the games pass and measure them against 2012 PTFC data, game to game, for comparison. So in other words a reasonable expectation (if this team is better than the 2012 team) would be that the game to game averages for PTFC this year will exceed those of last year.

  2. I will also track and trend the 2013 game to game data points against the averages of the top 8 performing teams that made the MLS Playoffs last year in order to establish a ‘target’ that might help indicate early on whether or not this team is developing into a playoff team.

  3. In reviewing the data from last year here are the averages for the top 8 MLS Playoff teams:

    a. Average Shots Taken was 459. (PTFC difference of -38)

    b. Average Shots delivered ‘on target’ was 162. (PTFC difference – 29)

    c. Average Goals scored was ~53 (PTFC difference – 19)

    d. Average Shots Taken per game last year ~14. (PTFC difference – 2)

    e. Average Shots delivered ‘on target’ per game last year was ~5. (PTFC difference – 1)

    f. Average Goals scored per game last year was ~ 1.55 (PTFC difference -.5)

  4. In addition I will also track and trend the 2013 game to game data points against the ‘top performers’ from last year in order to identify a ‘stretch goal’ that might help indicate, early on, whether or not this team is developing into an elite team with a likely shot at making the MLS Cup Final.

  5. In reviewing the data from last year here are the top performers:

    a. The best ratio of shots on goal versus shots taken was 38.83% (New York Red Bulls) (PTFC difference in 2012 – 7.24%)

    b. The best ratio of goals versus shots on goal was 37.50% (San Jose) (PTFC difference in 2012 – 11.94%)

  6. So while tracking these statistics I’ll not only track PTFC versus the average for MLS Playoff teams last year and ‘best performers’ but I will also track and trend (more importantly in my opinion) the successes and failures of how our opponents perform game to game this year.

With all that said there are two sides to this game; creating goal scoring opportunities and scoring goals is one half of this game; the other half is preventing goal scoring opportunities and, subsequently, goals against.

So the reasonable approach in my view is to also track and trend PTFC, and the enemies, in how well they minimize goal scoring opportunities as well as goals scored (shots saved). While this may not mean so much early on in the season it may have greater benefit when we play Western Conference teams again three times this year; especially those within the Supporter Group Trademarked Cascadia Cup games…

Some additional thoughts for your consideration:

  1. What I found interesting, and needed to check, was the Correlation between shots taken and shots on goal was .77; in other words this is a pretty strong indicator that the increased frequency of shots taken will generate increased shots on goal.

  2. In addition, the correlation between shots on goal and goals scored was also pretty strong (.75); in other words the same logic seems to apply in that the more times a team takes’ a shot on goal the more goals they will score.

  3. What I didn’t expect was that there is only a .50 correlation between shots taken and goals scored; in other words taking more shots doesn’t mean a player (team) will score more goals. And as the field was narrowed down to just the Top 8 team who made the MLS Playoffs last year this correlation dropped down to .16 from .50. For me perhaps this may indicate differing skills relative to the shot takers but I’m not sure; there’s more there to evaluate as time passes.

  4. For now though the relationship seems good enough to track it at this time; more data will tighten the value of the correlation one way or another so I will press on in that area and see how things progress.

  5. An oddity was discovered when checking this data for all 19 teams; what peaked my curiosity was the high percentage (highest in MLS) of the New England Revolution in putting shots on target based upon shots taken (39.12); even higher than New York. But when looking at how many goals were scored versus shots on target their percentage was 2nd worst in the league (only Chivas was worse). Two things I would submit here are 1) New England needed to get better strikers this off-season and 2) also slightly improve their defense (44 goals against was better than most and less than both LA and New York).

  6. So a quick check on activities this off-season indicates New England didn’t pick up any new (veteran) strikers through trade or purchase/transfer but instead are relying on improvement from players in last years’ squad (Sene and Bengston). Oddly enough there very first draft pick was Andrew Farrell; an MLS ready defender/midfielder who is expected to compete for the starting right fullback spot.

  7. With respect to the other rookies; they picked up a total of 4 forwards from their remaining 6 picks; Donnie Smith, Luke Spencer, Chris Thomas and Latigue.

  8. In conclusion it appears that some analysis on this very simple data point could provide some insight of value in what types of players the Revolution (and other teams?) would/did consider during player acquisition this off-season. (Perhaps?) others have additional thoughts on this?

In closing:

  1. While the season passes I will continue to keep a close look on the correlation (or lack thereof) between creating goal scoring opportunities and goals scored. At this time I think it simply reinforces my view that the ratio on productivity for individual strikers has more value being measured as an individual statistic as opposed to team statistic.

  2. I’m not yet convinced there is ‘no relationship’ between shots taken and goals scored and another twist I’ll add to this is ‘time of possession’ over the course of the game. While I don’t advocate that time of possession is ‘the definitive data point’ it does have value. Where the value on possession time runs into issues is when the score-line changes from nil-nil to 1-nil or when a visiting team comes in and looks to ‘wait out’ the first 15 minutes of a road game and play for the counterattack as opposed to the bold faced attack.

  3. Even worse with the time of possession data point is when score-lines increase from 1-nil to 2 or 3-nil; then the critical data point for the team trailing may instead be frequency of possession; not time of possession — especially since the more time they ‘possess’ the ball the less ‘time’ they are taking in ‘putting shots on goal’ to bring the score-line back to a draw?

  4. For now I cannot offer anything definite (with statistics to back it up) and I’m not sure if anyone tracks possession time relative to a score-line; if teams don’t perhaps there is value; for me this statistic would be entitled “possession with purpose” (PWP). The specific details of this statistical data point will be something I will try to flesh out a bit better this year. For now though, when I offer up analysis relative to possession and score-line I’ll use PWP.

  5. I have a few other data points to track and provide for your consideration as the season unfolds; trust me they won’t end up being some magical index like the Castrol MLS Index where a player like Kris Boyd ends up being identified as the 15th Most Productive Player in the MLS. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read that juicy article on the MLS sponsored Castrol Index you should; it’s probably not the first time MLS has offered up something that doesn’t appear tasteful to folks in Timberland: http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/port…

  6. I am really stoked about this season starting and hope you are as well; this IS the greatest city to participate in soccer across this country; evidence continues to pile up day by day as an indicator of that. CONCACAF have now identified JELD-WEN as a football stadium to host their Gold Cup tournaments and that means the USMNT must play here if required by CONCACAF. It would be rude now for the USMNT not to etch in stone JELD-WEN as an official team game stadium!

  7. With the fog of war still surrounding Kris Boyd and Franck Songo’o there may yet be some more moves before the pre-season ends. We now know Mikael Silvestre is training with PTFC and having lived in England while he played for ManU he brings some inordinately large experience to this squad if he remains and helps fill a center-back role. As indicated elsewhere Silvestre did have an offer to join Dodsal FC in India, since their season kicks off in January. It appears he declined that offer and instead has chosen to play the worlds greatest game in the United States greatest stadium.

  8. Word from Werder Bremen (Bundesliga) indicated that Mikael was a step too slow as a fullback for them. In considering that, my initial offering is that a step too slow in the Bundesliga could translate to him being on par with many of the players in this league. In two – three years time that might not be the case but the value he can bring now (this year) would be huge to our developing back-four and since Porter has pedigree in running sides with low goals against totals, Silvestre should do well this year provided he’s fit. I wonder who wins a foot race between Silvestre and Jewsbury ?

  9. Merritt Paulson and the Portland Timbers have made significant changes to the team both on and off the pitch; how those alterations take shape still remains unclear but we do know that making the MLS Playoffs is the target.

  10. For those interested I will be traveling to Tucson to take in a couple of games and training sessions; I’ll do my best to keep you up to date on twitter as events unfold. You can follow me on twitter at https://twitter.com/ChrisGluckPTFC

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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