MLS Week 1 – Possession with Purpose Recap

Major League Soccer opened it’s 2016 season last weekend and the goals were flying; reports indicate it was the most productive goal scoring kickoff in history.

So how did the teams fair?  Who started with a bang and who didn’t?

Using my Possession with Purpose analytical approach I’ll give you my view.

First off – the five teams with the best team attacking performance (APWP) were:

MLS APWP Index 2016 Week 1

  1. LA Galaxy – Shock!  Over 50% of their shots taken were on goal and over 50% of their shots on goal ended up in the back of the net.  This dominance in the attacking final third, as well as their 82% passing accuracy across the entire pitch, pretty much says it all.
  2. New York City FC – Now that’s a real shock – or is it?  Patrick Vieira knows football….. their outputs were pretty similar to those from the Galaxy; the question remains – can NYCFC sustain those high attacking percentages on their postage-stamp sized pitch?
  3. Montreal Impact FC – Steady as she goes – the Impact will influence the Eastern Conference this year.
  4. Houston Dynamo FC – It’s all about the attack for Houston, at least it was this game.
  5. New England Revolution – Ibid…….

Three of these five teams got three points while Houston and New England slugged it out in a 3-3 goal scoring fest; I wonder where they sit in DPWP?

Next up – the five teams with the worst attacking team performance were:

  1. Seattle – Even without the red card I thought the Sounders really struggled in attack – Martins will be missed – at least for awhile.
  2. New York Red Bulls – They dominated every aspect of the game except the most important one – scoring goals.
  3. Philadelphia Union – I’m sure the Sons of Ben won’t want that to continue.
  4. Colorado Rapids – Some things never change.
  5. DC United – An early indication that the swoon of 2013 returns?

Looking at the defending side of team performance; here’s your top five teams after week 1:

MLS DPWP Index 2016 Week 1

  1. Sporting Kansas City – go figure – with that city up north seeing red within 30 minutes is it any wonder they offered up nearly 560 passes that game.  A great example of defending with the ball.
  2. Toronto FC – They bent but didn’t break – ceding possession can be a good thing – provided you have the talent to keep a clean sheet and score on the counter.  What worked last year is already showing itself as working this year.
  3. FC Dallas – Ibid.
  4. San Jose – This shouldn’t shock anyone – the Earthquakes were pretty solid in defending last year and it should be impressive that they ceded nearly 130 passes more to Colorado, along with five additional shots on goal, and still came away with a clean sheet.  Or is it impressive?  It is, after all, only Colorado.
  5. LA Galaxy – With the talent they have it was surprising that they even gave up one goal – but as we saw last year – you don’t win a championship with paper alone.

As for the worst of the worst in defending; here goes:

  1. Heading the list is DC United – Is it any wonder, they scored the first goal and then completely blew up.  Still, it’s harsh to judge them after just one game and that game coming against the fresh-legged Galaxy.  Wrong time to play them I imagine.
  2. Chicago Fire – 40% of NYCFC shots on goal made it past the keeper and 50% of NYCFC’s shots taken ended up on goal.  I didn’t watch that game but highlights seem to indicate the Fire didn’t play the same tactical formation (3-5-2) against NY that they did last weekend against Portland?
  3. Vancouver Whitecaps – Many think the Whitecaps will score well and get plenty of points this year – I’m not sure I agree.  Their speed in defending is solid on the wings but slow in the middle.  With the transition to more counter attacking in this league I’d offer this may be an early indication Vancouver is not quite as solid as many think.
  4. New England Revolution – New England opened the scoring and closed the scoring.  Going a goal up on the road is a good thing.  Wasting that lead and waiting until stoppage time to salvage a draw, after yielding three goals, is not a good thing.
  5. Houston Dynamo – Giving up an early goal, at home, is not a good thing.  Coming back to take a 3-2 lead with 77 minutes gone should signal the team will play tighter across the back and look for the strong counter.  That didn’t happen – in stoppage time they gave up the equalizer and lost 2 points.  I hope those two points lost don’t come back and haunt them in the very tightly contested Western Conference.

The answer about Houston and New England? Fourth and fifth worst in DPWP too…

What about the Timbers; the reigning MLS Champions?


  • In DPWP they finished mid-table; just like they did in APWP.
  • It wasn’t a bright and shiny attack even though they ceded possession and still ended up with more shots taken and more shots on goal.
  • As for the defense – still work to be done – Taylor was okay on the left side but he’s not Jorge Villafana.
  • It was workmanlike and got done what needed to get done.
  • My concern is depth, the Timbers did extremely well in developing players and using their bench this year.  Only Jack Jewsbury got the call this game and I wonder how long the legs of the first 11 will last as the Timbers balance the league schedule, with the US Open Cup and the CCL this year.
  • However viewed, and questions aside, it was a solid start for the defending champions and the first time Caleb Porter has won in the month of March.

When viewing the entire weekend of attacking and defending team performances, the teams who finished top of the table this week were:

MLS CPWP Index 2016 Week 1

  1. FC Dallas – Pareja has his team in fine form already.
  2. LA Galaxy – Would anyone really expect to see LA Galaxy not near the top this year?  Is it too early to speculate that if Arena doesn’t drink from the Cup this year there could be a change in leadership next year?
  3. Sporting KC – Their success is all about Vermes and his ability to bring in and develop players.  Without Mapp, Feilhaber, Davis, Nagamura, Opara, and Sinovic they still got three points.  Wow!
  4. Toronto FC – Money spent in Toronto is showing results on a regular basis (finally)…
  5. New York City FC – Ibid?  Or is there more to this team than money?  For one – Vieira knows football – especially after playing for one of the greatest football minds of all time – Arsene Wenger…  I didn’t pick them to do well this year – primarily because they play on a postage-stamp sized pitch.  If Vieira can solve that riddle teams in the Eastern Conference need to be afraid – very afraid.

In the statistical department:

  • The correlation (r) of CPWP to points earned this week was .86.
  • The correlation of TSR to points earned this week was .52
  • Home teams took 10 points, as did away teams…
  • Away teams averaged 52% possession, had a 1% edge in passing accuracy, 1% edge in penetration, a 2% loss in shots taken per successful penetration, a 5% loss in shots on goal per shots taken, and a 3% edge in goals scored per shots taken.
  • On the whole – teams who possessed less of the ball got just as many points as teams who possessed more of the ball.
  • Passing accuracy across the league averaged 75.75%; last year the league average was 76.63%

In Closing:

I’ll track how well this Index shows again this year.

The takeaway from last year led me to believe this Index can also be used to parity the level of parity in a league – the lower the correlation (r) to points earned in the league table the greater the parity in that league.

Here’s the CPWP Index from last year:

MLS CPWP Index 2015 End of Season


The red bars are the teams who didn’t make the playoffs.

For the most part teams who finished on the worst end of this Index, as in previous years, did not make the playoffs.

Best, Chris

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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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