Portland Timbers

Vancouver Whitecaps – Drowned in their own wake…

If you’ve read this previous article you know that Vancouver were a very good attacking team last year; team performance indicators throughout the season exceeded those of Playoff teams New England, Houston and fellow Cascasdian foe, Seattle.

And if you’re like me; when the season started out (first ten games or so) I thought Rennie and Vancouver would be a dangerous team and compete exceedingly well for a top Playoff position.

In particular I liked how Rennie rotated his side and managed his players meeting minutes to try and sustain a strong, conditioned side, that would last throughout the 34 game schedule.

Alas things didn’t work out that way even though Sanvezzo led the league in Goals Scored and Vancouver broke the fifty goal mark; with only New York, Real Salt Lake, Portland and LA Galaxy doing the same!

But this game isn’t just about attacking – there is a defensive side to this game as well.

In considering that balance here’s how Vancouver compared to other teams in MLS last year starting just within the Western Conference and working outwards.

Against Western Conference foes Vancouver took 26 points (2nd worst in the West) from 72 available (~30%) with just six of those points coming on the road. Only Chivas was worse in the West; 12 points out of 72 with just 3 points on the road.

In looking closer Vancouver had 35 Goals Scored versus Western Conference teams (4th best in the west) but they also had 35 Goals Scored Against – that total was tied for 2nd worst in the west.  Clearly their position in the table was not relative to Goals Scored – it was relative to Goals Against.

In a long discussion thread with other members of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America this is another example that reinforces the concept that the game of soccer is not all about scoring goals

So where did Vancouver fall in with the rest of the League in Defending team performance indicators?

Opponents of Vancouver averaged 52.64% (5th worst) of the ball; with 410.28 passes attempted (3rd most) and 327.11 passes completed (2nd most) for an opponent Accuracy rating of 79.73%.

That’s a pretty high Passing Completion percentage (highest opponent passing rate in MLS).

To put that in context, their opponent passing accuracy rating of 79.73% exceeds the average passing accuracy completion percentage by Real Salt Lake last year (79.41%).

Bottom line here is that the defense for Vancouver appeared to face an average attack by Real Salt Lake every single game last year…

Is it any wonder they gave up as many goals as they did?

As much as I’d like to answer yes to that question now there remains the need to look closer on how well they defended their own Final third.

Defensive activities, prior to opponents entering their Final Third, were 4th best; Vancouver averaged 67.28 actions (tackles, interceptions, clearances and blocked crosses) per game and they were top across all of MLS in defensive activities within their Final Third (47.18).

So what went pear-shaped?  Well they might have been pretty active in applying pressure across the pitch as well as within their final third but the volume of passes seemed to take their toll.

All told the opponent Passing Accuracy within their defending Final Third was 67.29%; 3rd highest/worst in MLS and the average number opponent Shots Taken against their goal was 2nd highest/worst (15.09).

In finalizing the defensive end Vancouver were 11th worst in allowing Shots on Goal and 8th worst in Goals Scored Against.  With Ousted (69%) and Knighton (70%) being pretty strong in save % last year perhaps the weakness rests with the center- backs, fullbacks, or combination thereof that includes their midfielders?

In closing it would appear that the volume of passes and accuracy of the opponent in making those passes was exceptional; and although their was pressure applied both inside and outside the defending third it didn’t really translate to a lower Goals Against.

How did things play out on the attacking side of the pitch?

With the opponent’s averaging 52.64% of the possession that leaves Vancouver with 47.36% possession; 5th lowest in MLS.  Their Passing Accuracy rating of 76.13% was 9th best and their ability to penetrate was near average at 22.10%; 11th in MLS.

As for Shots Taken; they averaged 12.88 shots per game with a creation of GSO’s of 20.82% (8th best).  Their % of putting Shots on Goal, compared to Shots Taken, was 6th best at 35.39% and their ability to Score Goals versus Shots on Goal was 34.19% (3rd best in MLS).

Bottom line here is Vancouver did quite well in attacking and penetrating in order to take shots and score goals; they were average or above average in every category but Possession and in my combined Index (both Possession with Purpose Attacking Index and Dispossession with Purpose Defending Index Vancouver came out 11th best;

Since my Index is new and is only now being published I wanted to check other independent Data Analysis sites to see how they rated Vancouver.

Here are the web sites for those Indices by www.whoscored.com and www.squawka.com.

Whoscored.com ranked Vancouver Whitecaps as the 7th most effective team last year and Squawka.com ranked them 8th best.  In my own analysis, using my own stubby pencil logic, Vancouver ranked 8th best in my Possession with Purpose (Attacking Index) and 6th worst in my Dispossession with Purpose (Defending Index) for a combined calculation of 10th best in MLS.

Overall Whoscored.com matched 8 out of the top ten teams making the Playoffs with their odd ones ‘in’ the top ten being Vancouver and Columbus while the Playoff teams left out were New England and Montreal.

For Squawka.com they matched 9 out of the top ten teams making the Playoffs with their odd one ‘in’ the top ten being Vancouver while the Playoff team left out was New England; who they ranked as 16th worst out of the 19 teams!

In looking at my final Index (combination of Possession with Purpose and Dispossession with Purpose) Vancouver was my odd team ‘in’ the top ten (10th) and Houston was the odd one left ‘out’; final ranking for me had them 12th.

Editorial – a fractional error was found in my data calculations resulting in a minor change in the top ten – Vancouver finished 10th, FC Dallas 11th and Houston Dynamo 12th; overall that fractional error in my calculation did not impact the combined accuracy rating of my Index compared to either Squawka.com or Whoscored.com. 13 January, 2103.

In closing..

Games are not won on goals alone and somewhere there remains a weakness in either the back four or the midfielders responsible for supporting them; others who perform more detailed analyses could probably point out a player or two that lacked compared to others.

They have two GK slots available with Cannon and Knighton both gone; whether they pick up a new #1 or keep Ousted between the pipes is hard to tell but the back-four is likely to change.

Sanvezzo appears to be on the way out (what a complete balls-up that tale is!) while both Kobayahsi and Young-Pyo have departed.

All told they have 19 players on their roster and the immediate challenge is probably finding someone to replace Young-Pyo and his productive 2700 odd minutes and 6 assists at fullback.

Question – with a strong attacking presence by Young-Pyo down the right side did his vacating the right fullback slot negatively impact the defense more than his 6 assists positively influenced the attack?

Paul Robinson now has the helm; their defensive weaknesses last year overwhelmed their success in attack; the only takeaway last year was winning the Cascadia Cup!

Next up Philadelphia Union in my End of Season Analysis…

You can follow me on twitter 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.