Thursday, November 11, 2010

November EPL Power Rankings: The Big Three

We've at long last found time to gather the data and crunch the numbers, and although the rankings might raise a few eyebrows, some of the more interesting tidbits can only be found by drilling down a bit deeper into the actual numbers themselves.  First things first, however.

The Rankings

The Big Four is no more. This year, according to our metric, it's the big three and then the rest of the crowd.  Chelsea, Man U and Arsenal  are top of the table, and are all 1.5 or higher in the Z-score for the LM.  Below them are Man City, Everton, Newcastle (yes, Newcastle) and Bolton (yes, Bolton). one could throw Spurs in with this group group, but at .12 STDEVs they don't quite fit in with this second tier of teams.  We root for Spurs in Europe, and think they are clearly a quality squad, but we also think playing in two major competitions (EPL and Champions League) is taking its toll. Whatever the case, the drop off from the top three suggests that the EPL is really comprised of about five sets of clubs, the elite (Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal), the good (Everton, Newcastle, maybe Bolton [we'll see]), the above average (Spurs, Sunderland, Liverpool), the below average (West Brom, Fulham, Villa, Blackburn, Blackpool, Birmingham, Wigan, Stoke), and the dregs (Wolves and West Ham).

Now, although we obviously love numbers, we're not slaves to them.  It's hard to accept Bolton as being better than Spurs. But they're tied in the table, at least on points without considering any tie breakers, and we have them slightly better in our rankings. Bolton is a bit of an odd bird, however, as although they're scoring goals at a respectable clip (above average in virtually every offensive stat we track), they are also a bit leaky (below average in virtually every defensive stat we track).  But on the road they've have been doing exceptionally well, drawing or winning a whopping 84% of their away matches.  You can't argue with those results. But they've only won 33% of their home matches, below the league average at the moment of 43% and well below the historical average number of home wins which is generally around 50%.  Whatever the explanation, Bolton is certainly a solid side, at least through 12 fixtures.

A Bit Deeper

Here are a number of observations from a bit deeper in the data:

Chelsea has only given up a total of 5 Goals Against, which is best in the league. However, they're giving up Shots Against and Shots on Goal Against at a fairly normal rate: 10.92 SHTA/GM and 4.08 SOGA/GM; the league averages right now are 12.2 and 4.26.  This means that the percentage of goals scored against them relative to the number SOGs they give up is a very low 10%.  The league average right now is 31%, which is around the historical average for the league and world football generally. In other words, the average team in the EPL gives up one goal for every three shots on goal it allows.  Chelsea gives up one goal for every TEN shots on goal it allows.  The next time someone you know disses either Petr Cech or Chelsea's back four, punch them in the mouth.

You think Arsenal has a goalkeeping problem? Duh. But here's some numbers worth throwing around: Arsenal gives up only 2.58 SOGA/GM.  That's the fewest Shots on Goal Against per Game in the league.  And they are only giving up .92 GA/GM, which is well below the league average of 1.31.  But they're ratio of GA to SOGA is .35 (the league average is .32). In other words, when teams manage to put a shot on goal, it goes in 35% of the time.  So even though they give up fewer shots on goal than the rest of the league, which accounts for their low GA/GM, if you do manage to create a chance, your odds of it going in are actually better than average--because their goalies blow.

Incidentally, Arsenal also leads the league in the ratio of G/SOG at 53%.  This suggests that they are very efficient and are also good at creating quality chances rather than mere dribblers that roll to the feet of the keeper.  Put a true, world-class keeper in the net and they'd be top of the table.

Finally, what ails Spurs?  Given the number of Shots and Shots on Goal they've managed to create, their Expected Goals For is 19.  The number of goals they've actually scored is a mere 14.  In other words, if they scored goals at the league average rate for every chance they managed to create, they would have 5 more goals than they've actually scored--and goals, boys and girls, equal points in the table.  This suggests that the number of true quality chances they create is actually quite low compared to other clubs. One culprit? How about Crouch? Yeah, he's nine feet tall, so it's much easier to put the ball on top of his head, but perhaps all those headers aren't nearly as dangerous as Harry Redknapp wants to believe. I'd build a franchise around van der Vaart, who wouldn't? But clearly, Spurs is much less dangerous on the attack--at least in the EPL--than you'd expect.  The numbers, and the dearth of points, don't lie.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Luchametric EPL Power Rankings Updated: Chelsea is a Beast

After a long hiatus, we're finally back with our EPL Power Rankings.  The top of the rankings look much like the actual standings--the real insights are a bit further down table. We'll get to those in a second.

First, we'd be remiss not to point out just how dominant Chelsea, in fact, is.  They obviously won't end up with 106 points when all is said and done, but our rankings indicate there is some real separation between Chelsea and even the top clubs.  Currently, they enjoy a 1.45 advantage over the next closest club (Man U) in the Z-score.  Over the last three seasons in the EPL, a difference of 1.0 has indicated a strong difference in relative strength between any two clubs.  Chelsea are averaging over 3 Goals For per game (the league average is 1.34; Man U and Arsenal are both at 2.29 ), and they have given up only 2 Goals Against in seven matches.  They also are scoring 44% of the time when they put a shot on goal.  The league average is currently 29% (historically in the EPL, a SOG results in a goal about 20% of the time). That's a huge advantage over other clubs and a measure of both the quality of chances Chelsea are creating and how efficient they are--that is, they don't need nearly as many chances as other clubs in order to put the ball in the net (how many strikers would have converted the chance Drogba did against Arsenal last Sunday?).  You can look at all the numbers here.  The bottom line is that we think the gap between Chelsea and the rest of the league, including that between Chelsea and the top clubs, is much greater than it was last year. If they can maintain this level of play  for another 7 or so fixtures, we honestly don't think anyone will be able to come close to them this year in the Premiership.

Down table we'd point out just a few things.  First, we've got Blackpool just south of mid-table, and we think that's where they belong.  But their LM tells us that their 10 points, although certainly a big surprise, are not a fluke--as their win at Anfield proved.  On Saturday the Seasiders looked great and played organized and attack-minded football.  And they're overall production thus far has them out of the relegation zone--where most pundits, including us, put them at the start of the season.  Given the fact they've played five out of their first seven games on the road suggests that barring injury they have a good chance of sticking.

We've also got Everton well out of the relegation zone, suggesting that results finally might start coming for the Toffees and soon.  Last year they started slowly and then steadily climbed the table.  Their rate of overall production suggests this year could be similar.  The results haven't been there, but they've been playing decent football.

Newcastle is slightly better than they look in the official standings.  And we think they, too, will start to move up closer to where they belong--mid-table and out of danger of dropping.  West Brom we'll continue to monitor.  They're 6th in the standings and 7th in our rankings, suggesting that their points are no fluke.  However, everyone in the preseason had them dropping, and it will be interesting to see how they do over the next five or so fixtures.  Perhaps one of the stories in the league this year is going to be the resilience of the newly promoted.  We'll see.

Finally, Wolves are going down. Go put money on it.  But what about Liverpool?  We're not about to predict that the Reds will be in a relegation fight come March and April, nor do we think they won't move up table.  However, make no mistake about it, they have played horribly over the first 7 games, suggesting that they're lucky to have the points they do and not that they've been unlucky.  In other words, the numbers make it clear that the dearth of points for the Scousers are no fluke--the production, the effort, just hasn't been there, and the Reds are exactly where they should be in the table--on the bottom.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Luchametric English Premier League 2010-2011 Preview...of Sorts [updated]

Final 2009-10 EPL Luchametric Power Rankings

 The EPL Resumes play in earnest on Saturday, and we at the Luchametric Institute rejoice in the return of early-Saturday-morning football.

To the left are the final Power Rankings from last season.  As a measure of where the teams are at the start of this year, however--they are fairly unhelpful.  As a general rule in sports ranking systems and prediction, the previous season's standings and performances are poor predictors of the subsequent season's performance.  But they at least provide us with a sense of how things stacked up at the end of last year, and so offer a baseline for evaluating to what extent, if any, the clubs have improved or slid back.  Here are just a few observations as we look forward to Saturday's fixtures.

Our Power Rankings did not penalize Pompey for going belly-up financially.  And in our rankings, they were not the worst team in the league--that honor went to Hull.  But as has been pointed out by other observers, there were other teams that might just have easily gone down if not for some good fortune here and there.  Wigan, Wolves, West Ham and even Bolton were all in danger of dropping at some point, and this suggests that at least one of these four teams will be facing a relegation battle in the Spring.

In our view, Blackpool will be this year's Burnley--Hello! Goodbye!.  And although we expect some entertaining football out of the Tangerines, who just signed four young players, their chances of staying up are slim.  The signings suggest Blackpool see this year as an opportunity to develop the club in the long term.  Note that the Tangerines finished sixth last season in the Championship, and only made it to promotion as a result of a playoff.  We think they're very much out of their league.

West Brom's chances of staying up are only slightly better, but look for the baggies to be tough at home, as all indications are there will be some defensive if not completely negative football (depending on your perspective) played at The Hawthorns under the guidance of Roberto di Matteo.

Newcastle, however, will be shooting for mid-table this season, and they have a strong enough club to do it. The year spent down in the Championship gave them an opportunity to reorganize financially and in the clubhouse.  We see them being similar to Stoke and Sunderland--solid, mid-table, average.

This leaves our final relegation team to come from among West Ham, Wigan, Wolves and Bolton.  West Ham has serious questions in the clubhouse and in the front office.  They need to get their finances straightened out and soon.  We like Wolves' chances to stick given Mick McCarthy's proven ability to find line-ups and tactics that earn points, including resting players in games when the odds are longest against them (against Man U last year) to insure points are earned when chances to earn them are more reasonable (against Bolton about a week later).  Wigan, however, is in trouble. They finished just above relegation last year, and they've lost far too many players.  In all honesty, they belong in the Championship. Which is where we think they will be next season.  Our bottom feeders this season: 20. Blackpool, 19. West Brom 18. Wigan.

At the top of the table, it's the usual suspects.  If Arsenal matures and stays healthy, they are capable of challenging for the league title.  There is much talk about Chelsea being a bit long in the tooth, but we think rumors of their demise are smack.  Unfortunately, both Chelsea and the Gunners will have to keep pace with Man U, who looked deep and deadly in the Community Shield.  When Sir Alex sent in three subs at the start of the second half, and the three were Berbatov, Chicharito and Nani, one could not help but marvel at just how deep are the Red Devils. As such, we regret to predict that both the Gunners and the Blues will be chasing Man U this season.  We'll see.

The rest of the field really comes down to Man City, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton.  We see Spurs dropping a bit from last year's form.  Redknapp recently complained that the club needed to act during the current transfer window if they hoped to make a run further up the table, and on top of the pressures of the EPL, the team is in the Champions League.  We don't think that Spurs are deep enough to survive a prolonged competition in Europe AND improve on last year's record in the league; nor do we think their back line will be able to shut down the other top clubs enough to earn many points from Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea, and Man City, which they'll need to do to make any headway.

There is trepidation and hope at Anfield, but we don't see Liverpool challenging seriously for anything more than fourth place.  Torrez is simply not the player the world thinks he is, and Hodgson could be out of his league as manager--despite his stints at Inter (over 10 years ago).

The real beast this year is Man City, who added to an already-loaded club, signing David Silva off an outstanding World Cup for World Champions Spain.  We think Adebayor represents everything that is wrong with contemporary sport---arrogant, talented, lazy, obnoxious--and there are even some signs he might not start alongside Tevez in Mancini's XI.  Regardless, we think City will be better than last year.

As such our top four are: 1. Man U 2. Gunners 3. Man City 4. Chelsea.  We, of course, could be dead wrong.  The one thing we feel very confident about is that Arsenal, City and Chelsea will be scrapping for second place this season, with Spurs dropping in to fifth.

One last point, you need to watch the transfer news every day, as a single big signing could change things.  Chelsea is now (Friday the 13th) reportedly close to signing Neymar, the Wunderkind for Santos in Brazil who looked incredible against the USMNT on Tuesday. Should they sign the young and highly-promising star we'd think it would be worth at least three points in the standings by season's end. Last year, Chelsea beat out Man U by only one point.  And this just in, (seriously, it came up on my browser as I was updating this) Man City have just signed Balotelli from Inter.  Wow.  So it goes...

Below are some links worth checking out if you haven't already. They are in no particular order, other than that we think World Football Daily is the best source out there for US fans of the beautiful game. But we also like the others very, very much.  Hagalo Villa! Te Amo Gunners!
  1. World Football Daily
  2. EPL Talk
  3. UK Guardian EPL Preview Series
  4. Football Weekly with James Richardson

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Klinsman for Bradley: Change We Can Believe In


Last night's dismantling of a veteran US squad by a young Brazilian team bursting with talent proved just how deep Brazil is and just how badly the US needs a new coach and a new direction.

Brazil advanced further than did the US in this summer's World Cup, and their coach, Dunga, was fired.  The USSF has held on to Bradley at least through last night's friendly, but the performance of the US teams begs the following question: why?  Alexi Lalas is not our favorite commentator. It's one thing to spout your mouth off and be opinionated. We like that in Maradona because the man is flat-out hilarious...and a genius.  But it's another to run your mouth and repeatedly make stupid and uninformed comments that are mere opinions--and get paid for it.  And yet Lalas got it right last night when he pointed out that the USSF should have fired Bradley after the World Cup.  Doing so would have allowed his replacement to begin the next phase of US soccer development at the national level against Brazil.

That the USSF did not at least served the following purposes: it showed just how unimaginative Bradley is as a tactician and just how desperately the US needs a new vision--perhaps a decidedly Germanic vision.

Running out a 4-4-1-1 for the first time this summer looked brilliant in the first ten minutes or so, as the US dominated the young Brazilians and Donovan especially looked outstanding.  Putting the best player the US has produced in the center of the field was reaping great dividends, as John Harkas excitedly pointed out.

But once the youngsters for La Samba settled down they proceeded to dismantle the US, sending ball after ball down the US's left side, and the 2-0 score at half time could easily have been 3-0 or worse.  And, once again, there were the usual problems for the US: our midfield was unorganized and outgunned, and our back four looked completely out of their league.  The Brazilians sent wave after wave at our back line and yours truly completely lost track of how many give-and-gos and through-balls the US was giving up.  It was a nightmare.

At what point does a coach alter not only his team's tactical organization to achieve better results but its makeup and vision?  Harkas pointed out that while the Brazilians had been able to play a bunch of new players to see who might possibly make it into the XI for the next South American Championship and eventually the next World Cup, Bradley ran out essentially the same team that had played so unevenly in South Africa.  More importantly, other than putting Donovan up top and in the middle, Bradley showed no new ideas whatsoever, as if South Africa had been a tremendous leap forward for US football.

Let's be clear. Bradley is the man who led the US to the final of the Confederations Cup last year, to the top of the CONCACAF during World Cup qualifying, and to the final 16 in South Africa.  But we think he's taken the USA as far as he's capable of taking it.

In our view, we have the players to do better.  As such, it's not that we lack talent, it's that whatever talent we do have is not being utilized to its fullest.  Donovan and Bradley (the player, not the coach) are outstanding midfielders who can start in the top divisions in Europe.  We have depth  at keeper and, finally, even at striker (Buddle, Altidore, Gomez, Findlay).  Gomez in particular is just the first of what will prove to be a whole slew of Mexican-American strikers in the years to come, as the sons of immigrants (legal and extra-legal) grow up in the US and choose to play for their homeland and not return to Mexico. In fact, we think once Gomez and his brethren come of age en masse, the US will finally have arrived internationally, with truly International-class keepers, midfielders and FINALLY fast, skilled strikers.

We have seen no indication over the last 12 months that Bradley (the coach) understands any of this, or that he understands how successful tactics are a direct function of the skills of the players on the field and the game at hand, i.e., the challenge posed by the opposition.

For example,  a 5-3-2 with Edu playing just in front of the back four in a central position, with a midfield of Bradley, Donovan (middle) and Feilhaber with Atlidore and Buddle up top would have given us a five-man back line with a flexible midfield allowing either/both Donovan and Bradley to push up.  We certainly missed Dempsey last night.  A midfield of Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley with Jozey and Edson up top would have packed a punch, and the five-man back line, with Edu pushing up into a holding-midfield position could perhaps have done better than the 4-4-1-1 did last night.  Finally, the 5-man back line can quickly  morph into a 5-4-1 or a 5-4-1 with a diamond in the middle if need be.  The point is, ANYTHING was better than what passed for tactics last night.

There was talk at half time by Lalas about Jurgen Klinsman coming in to take over for Bradley.  And this morning on Sky Sports News, Bradley was described as the "leading candidate" for the vacancy at Aston Villa.

Klinsman coming in to reshape the Yanks and Bradley graduating to greener pastures, the first US manager to ever manage in the EPl, would be a win-win for US football.  Let's hope it happens.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Luchametric MLS Handicapping: Dallas and Seattle at Home


A lot of MLS matches between Thursday and Sunday.  Some should be very entertaining.  The Crew at Philly should be quite good given the atmosphere at PPL Park, as should be New York and Henry at Chicago.

For punters, however, there are really no good values.  The two best bets are Dallas at home over Philly, and Seattle at home over Houston.

Philly will have played the Crew on Thursday before flying to Dallas.  Look for them to get trounced in the Texas heat playing with only two days rest against a Dallas team that is currently third in our Power Rankings and which has won or drawn 88% of its home games this season.

At slightly-less-than-even odds, Seattle at home against down-table Houston is, dare we say it, a very SOUND bet. LOL! Get it? "Sounders" and "sound" bet! That's freaking gold Jerry! Gold!

Anyway, that's all we got this week.  Look for our inaugural 2010-2011 EPL recommendations sometime next week.  Meanwhile, dig on this.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Crew Houston Post-Game Quickie

Our Number 9
  • We're going to call RW's lineup a 4-4-2.  It didn't look like a diamond in the midfield to us, as the boys played rather flat in the middle.  Also, GBS dropped back pretty early on, so although the shape was sort-of a 4-4-2, the team didn't play like it for most of the game once Schelotto's instincts took over.
  • Speaking of which, why does RW insist on pushing GBS up top? He didn't contribute much tonight and looked frustrated.  He needs to play back and be given free reign to roam the middle of the field. Playing Renteria as the lone striker seems like a no-brainer to us.
  • Renteria is big and tough so why try to draw fouls? We love him up top though.  Neither NY nor HOU could really handle him and he draws a lot of attention creating space for other players. Let's hope he keeps his starting job when Lenhart gets back.
  • We like Ekpo on the left. He really held that side of the field down and was unselfish and creative during the attack phase. He plays smart and has skills.  We think both he and Renteria have shown they belong in the XI.
  • We think this might have been the best Crew lineup of the year; granted, we were playing an inferior opponent.  But if GBS could have been dropped back in the center from the start, we think we would have been tough and organized and dangerous.
  • Rogers looks out of position on the right.  Not to keep hammering him, but sometimes he looks like he doesn't have a clue what he's doing or supposed to be doing.  In fact, both he and GBS seemed out of position. Against teams like LA and RSL, the team can't afford not to be getting full production out of each and every player.
  • Houston is a mess.  They've got some dangerous players who can attack but they simply aren't as organized as the Crew nor are they as big physically, which we thought was causing them problems (three yellow cards, for example). It will take a miracle for them to make the playoffs, nor should they unless they show marked improvement.
  • I'm not sure we were running up the score, but the third goal certainly will be remembered by HOU and their fans.
  • Te Amo Columbus! Columbus Te Amo! 'Till I die!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crew vs Houston Statistical Comparison: Dynamo Dangerous on Attack; Porous on Defense

As we indicated yesterday, the percentages favor the Crew heavily in today's match against the Dynamo.  A closer look at the numbers reveals some nuances worth mentioning.

First, the Dynamo are dangerous on attack.  Both they and the Crew score about 1.3 GF/GM.  But our measure of Quality Shots on Goal, which essentially measures how much better than the league average is a team's ratio of goals to SOGs shows that Houston is substantially ahead of the Crew.  Houston scores a goal 38% of the time when they manage to create a SOG.  The Crew's percentage is 30%; the league average is 27%.

Houston currently has five players who have scored 3 goals or more this year; and 4 players with double-digit shot totals.  And Brian Ching is tied with Brad Davis as the team's top scorer with 3 goals each.  Over the last four games, Ching has played with 3 different players up top--a mark of depth and/or of a team looking for answers given the absence of Davis (he injured his hip flexor but as far as we can determine, should start tonight).  If Davis resumes his duties as the attacking center-mid, the Crew will have to defend sharply to avoid falling behind, especially given the fact the Hejduk is out with a red card suspension and Carroll is out with an injury.  It will be interesting to see if Warzycha goes with Renteria and Ekpo rather than with his more traditional and conservative XI which includes Gaven, Rogers and Garey.  We'd love to at least see Renteria start if Rogers gets yet still another chance to show he can play consistently enough to start every match on the left wing. Regardless, with Davis back, the Dynamo's attack will be balanced and formidable.  They are, however, winless in their last six games.

The real problem for Houston is their defending.  They give up nearly 1.4 GA/GM.  What's interesting is that they don't give up more SHTA or SOGA than the Crew--they actually give up fewer.  But they've allowed far more goals.  One explanation is that teams are able to create more QUALITY chances against them than is typical in the league.  Another explanation is that their keeper, Pat Onstad, stinks.  His save percentage is around 62%.  Our man Hesmer is at 76%.  Hagado C-Bus! Te amo Crew! 'Til I die!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Luchametric MLS Handicapping: Crew and RSL to both Win at Home

We've modified our handicapping table to now include the actual win, loss and draw percentages of each team.  This allows you to compare the teams not only in terms of the LM power score, but also compare the probability of a home win, away win, or draw offered by the books, to the actual performance of each team thus far.

So, this weekend, the books have the Crew at -120 and Houston at +400.  This means that the books are giving the black and gold a 55% chance of a win, Houston a 20% chance of a win, and the draw a 27% chance probability.

As the chart indicates, however, the Crew this season have won 78% of their home games, Houston have lost 57% of their road games, and the Crew have NEVER drawn at home.

This means we think the draw is the least likely bet in this match.  More importantly, we think the Crew to win is a great value bet.  The books have lowered the chance of Crew win by over 20%.. We think they're on crack.  Take the Crew to win and head to the Nordecke. Hagalo Columbus! 'Til I Die!

We also very much like RSL at home.  We think the numbers again speak for themselves.

Luchametric MLS Power Rankings Updated: Dallas you say?

Current Luchametric MLS Power Rankings
Dallas sits atop our Power Rankings.  We've spent the last hour or so trying to figure out if there is a mistake somewhere.  There isn't.  Before you blow a gasket in disbelief, note that the LM is based on production per gameAnd if you compare Dallas' PTS/GM to the Crew, RSL and LA, the four teams are much closer than might appear just from looking at the single table.  Plus you have to factor in that Dallas has the best recent form, which we're perhaps weighing too heavily.  We need more time to look at that possibility.

The R-Squared when we regress the LM to point production in the league currently stands at .76.  This means that our metric explains 76% of the differences among the teams in terms of point production.  That's pretty good, but not as good as the R-squared for 08 and 09 combined, which is .83.  And our R-squared for point production in the EPL is around .90.  So, we're still examining why the MLS metric is not as sharp as the one we developed for the EPL (both are virtually the same).

Further, we'd point out that Dallas has only lost 13% of its games this year.  This puts them second in the league behind LA at 11%, and makes them over twice as good as RSL (26%) and well below the league average of 38%.n  They currently lead the league in draws.  In short, they are very, very, very tough to beat. They have drawn or won 87% of the games they have played thus far.  Our metric treats draws and performance in draws as significant evidence of a team's power--what we call "production."  The American proclivity to ignore draws as nothing more than "kissing your sister," we think ignores what draws tell us about a team. As such, Dallas gets more credit for how well it plays in wins, losses AND draws, which probably accounts for their place in the standings.  If they can maintain their rate of production, they should start getting some clean wins.  But it could also be that they've peaked at mid-season, and by the end of the year will drop back down in our rankings.  We'll see.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wanted: Nordecke Chant Recordings--Hagado Columbus! Do it!


We were excited to find the following site:

which is one of the best, if not THE best collections of football chants on the web.  But, alas, although the lyrics for Crew chants are well represented, there is only one recording of the Nordecke in full warble.  Consider this a request to any and all of the Crew faithful to record and submit Crew chants pronto.  Show the rest of MLS who rules.

In that spirit: here's a new one.  You know the Seattle Sounders chant? See-aaaaaaaaaaaaaa-tle, Sounnnnnnnnnnnn-ders?   Well here's one straight from the lab at the Luchametric institute: 

Te Amo, Columbus, Te amo!


Over and over and over and over again.  It's mesmerizing.  Roughly translated: "I love you, Columbus, Columbus, I love you"  Word!  Or, alternatively:


It's basically a variant of the chant sung by fans of Cruzeiro FC, which I listened to tonight while watching a replay of a Copa Libertadores match--a tourney, by the way, whose semi-finals are upcoming and should help ease the pain until the EPL starts up in mid-August.  The chant sung by the Cruzeiro hoard was beautiful and made me an instant fan of La Bestia Negra! Azuis Celeste!

Hagado Columbus!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crew Win with Luchametric Formation; Thierry Henry Gets What's Coming to Him

Jack Ruby style, like a thief in the night, El Luchador tonight confronted the cheating Thierry Henry at Crew Stadium after the Red Bulls' humiliating defeat at the hands of the Black and Gold.

Robert Warzycha took the advice of the Luchametric Institute and played the 4-2-3-1 formation in the attacking phase with Renteria up top, and the Crew won handily 2-0 on goals from Renteria and Brian Carroll. Although they "lined up" in the 4-4-1-1 to start both halves, GBS played back deeper than in previous matches and Renteria was the lone marauding striker up front.  And the starts by Expo and Renteria, as we had suggested, clearly gave the crew the attacking prowess they had been lacking.

But the highlight of the evening was when El Luchador spoke truth to power, made Mark McCullers' Security Forces and Columbus Police nervous, and scouted out The Cheater's location to charge in and achieve justice for the people of the Republic of Ireland.  El Luchador did what any sensible football fan would do and called  Henry out on his despicable handball that cost the Irish a place in the World Cup this year.

After France's disgraceful but predictable collapse in South Africa, Henry announced his signing with New York, and he flew to Columbus to witness his team lose to the Crew from a luxury box on the northwest corner of the stadium.

Thierry Henry: As a Frenchman, you know how to surrender. Go ahead and do so  now. Based on what we saw from the Red Bulls tonight, even your cheating ways will not save you or your newly chosen comrades.

Hagalo Columbus! DO IT!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Columbus Crew Tactics: It's Time for a Change


A quick glance at the Crew lineups for the current MLS campaign reveals that Warzycha is in a rut.  Let us tread carefully.  RW is a solid manager; more importantly, he's our manager.  And it's not that the Crew aren't doing well. It's just that they don't look like a championship club at this point.  And if the record at is to be believed, part of the problem, and certainly part of the blame for last night's loss to down-table Kansas City, must lie in the fact that the Crew have become woefully predictable.

The Crew have played a 4-4-1-1 each and every game this season, with relatively minor changes to the starters.  And the 4-4-1-1 has its merits, which we've outlined in an earlier post.  But we're starting to think that at this point in the season, fully half-way through the Crew's campaign, teams in the league have thoroughly scouted the Black and Gold and know too well how to defend against us.  And it's also clear that although the typical starting lineup gives us strength in the midfield and keeps teams at bay (before last night's match our GA/GM was at .86), it sacrifices attack for caution.  Fine. Warzycha is the coach and he gets paid to make the important decisions.  We sincerely respect that.

But we could not help but notice last night that once the attacking subs got in the game, the Crew's energy level went up (understandably), and all of sudden we were swarming all over the KC goal.  On some of the Crew discussion sites, notably Big Soccer, complaints about Schelotto's role in Warzycha's scheme have been around since the start of the season.  Our view is that he's much better used held back, more like a traditional #10.  And in Warzycha's 4-4-1-1, we think Schelotto is pushed up too far and is thus unable to function either as an effective forward/striker, OR as an effective attacking-mid ala World Champion Spain's Xavi.  Last night, late in the match, Ekpo and Renteria were able to create havoc on the Wizards' left, and both showed great flashes of skill both shooting and setting up others.  Plus, we love Renteria's size and his ability to serve as a target for the mids: a striker ala Drogba who can hold the ball, shoot, create. Forza Crew!

As such, here's our dream line-up, at least at home against inferior teams:

In our 4-2-3-1, Renteria moves up top and has license to roam laterally across the top of the Crew's shape.  Rogers starts on the left and is a traditional winger.  Ekpo starts on the right and can fly down the right side or move toward the center to create. Most importantly, Schelotto hangs back as a true center attacking-mid whose job is to create and destribute (ala Xavi), collecting and distributing the ball from his cruising ground in the middle of the field.  Hejduk and Padula will push up as usual depending upon which flank the Crew's attack is building.

This is not a complicated schema.  And it would do much to get the boys out of the rut they've fallen into, making them less predictable and more dangerous from the first minutes of the match rather than just the last 20 or so.  Hagalo C-Bus! 'till I die...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Crew vs Wizards Postgame Quickie

  • Lenhart's one tough mofo.
  • The officiating blew.
  • The Crew needs to quit trying to draw calls, it's stupid and puts too much of the outcome of the game in the hands of a bunch of tools posing as professional referees. 
  • When we put in our attacking subs late we lose our midfield.
  • There's no way we should lose to the likes of KC at home at this point in the season, Warzycha needs to get the boys' heads straight for bottom feeders like KC playing on the road after three straight losses.  
  • We looked tired in the second half. Do we need a new fitness coach? Too much partying during the World Cup break? US Open Cup games taking their toll?
  • Decent crowd for a mid-week game against the likes of KC. Buck a brat; dollar draft. 
  • Renteria and Ekpo deserve more playing time, they have more technical prowess up front than Gaven or Rogers. It would require a different tactical approach, but RW's current starting formation, although not negative football, is too conservative. Put Renteria up top and give Ekpo a start in attacking mid.  We'd lose Rogers' speed, but tonight he didn't do dookie. We might lose something in the midfield, but if you're not going to open things up and attack at home when are you? How about Ekpo for Gaven and Renteria for Garey to start? You'd then have Rogers' speed on the left wing and Expo and Renteria and GBS' technical and creative abilities up front.
  • Columbus 'till I die.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Manu Chao on Diego Maradona

Manu discusses the first time he met Maradona, why he is the greatest player ever, and the meaning behind the song "La Vida Tómbola" which was featured in the documentary film Maradona by Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica

"It is not easy being Diego Maradona."

Monday, July 5, 2010

World Cup Semifinals Handicapping: Party Like its 1974


We don't see Germany trouncing yet another strong world football power, as Spain will match up against Der Mannschaft much better than did the tactic-less, unorganized Argentinians, but we still think the Germans will overpower the Spanish over 90 minutes.  The Germans' ability to patiently and effectively defend and then burst forward en masse with precision makes them a very tough opponent for the Red Fury.  Spain will dominate possession but will find few cracks in the German Wall--of course, if they defend well, they only need one crack, as David Villa continues to demonstrate with aplomb.  But physically the Spanish will have a hard time.  Look for Spain to earn many set-piece goal-scoring opportunities as Iniesta and Villa get pushed and shoved to the ground--oh, and the Spanish will certainly flop too if not dive outright.  Regardless, Spain will need a clean sheet or close to it if they hope to get through to the final.

The disgraceful way Uruguay made it past Ghana has been much-written about, and so we won't add our two pesos.  But the soccer-gods are very angry; and the Orange are now an instrument of divine retribution (in addition to being a very, very good side).  Netherlands 3 Uruguay 1.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup Quarterfinals Handicapping: Favorites...or Germany

At this point in the world's greatest sporting event, there are no bargains to be had.  We look into the Luchametric crystal ball and see only favorites...except Germany...except the odds at this point are lame. If you can get odds at +350 or above on Deutschland, go for it.  Otherwise, even though we absolutely can see the organized, workaholic young Germans following Ozil all the way to the final and the world championship, the early odds don't make it a tantalizing punt.  In fact, the books have everything in their favor going into the tournament's final seven matches.

Can the Dutch beat Brazil in a one-off? Of course. Portugal showed that if you fall back and defend your half, Dunga and Co. run out of ideas and have to resort to the defenders making mistakes and/or their skill and athleticism coming through over 90 minutes.  Regardless, the rewards aren't worth the risk. Plus, Brazil at slightly better than one-to-one odds is always a good bet.

Neither Uruguay nor Ghana will be in the final.  But they could easily tie over 90 minutes.  If punt you must, then punt the draw on this one, or the under.  Ghana is young but athletic and fairly well organized; and Uruguay is organized and has some talent--but it's either Uruguay or the draw on this one.  Given how cautiously Uruguay has been willing to play, we like the draw.

Argentina is our favorite to win it all at this point, but the Germans are fully capable of a disciplined and systematic 2-0 win.  Their defense, combined with a deadly counter attack, are formidable.  Their absolute destruction of England showed that not only are they in the running this year, but that the German Youth are in line for the both the European championship in  2012 and the WC in 2014. Damn.  But La Albiceleste are in fine form and could give the German's fits.  Both teams will respect each other, and if you think either squad has fate on its side, go for it.  Team Nordecke Luchador feels this is Maradona's year to secure his place in football history in a way The Chosen One could only dream (Mourinho couldn't play for shite.)

Finally, the very early odds on Spain are irrelevant.  The Red Fury will dismantle Paraguay.  Spain versus Argentina will be epic.  The winner will face La Samba.  Wow.  An all-Latin final; possibly an all-South American final.  Imponente! Que barato! Hagalo mis hermanos! Hagalo!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

El Clandestino, El Vision and El Escheleto Combine on the Attack to Help Make it 2-0 Columbus over DC United

Three New Characters made their way onto the Luchametric scene on this epic day that also saw the Crew predictably trounce DC United.

Clandestino represents the North Side. El Escheleto bares his bones. And El Vision is elusive and  effusive as always.

The Red White and Blue fell short this day, but the Black and Gold were never in doubt.

Hagalo Columbus! Do It!

Friday, June 25, 2010

MLS Power Rankings Updated: World Cup and MLS Handicapping

Certainly, all eyes are on tomorrow's match between the Yanks and Ghana, with the clash between England and Germany a close second.  But the MLS picks up again starting tonight, so we've updated the entire blog (while watching the highly disappointing match between Brazil and Portugal).

The MLS Power Rankings have LA and RSL at the top with the Crew, Colorado, Dallas and Toronto rounding out the top of our table.  The drop-off below Toronto is enough to suggest that the top six right now are the cream of the league.  It will be very interesting to see how the long lay off for the league affects play.  Teams will surely be rusty, and so matches could be sloppy and the results unpredictable.  To the right are some recommendations for punters.

This weekend's World Cup Matches will surely be outstanding football.  Our predictions are limited.  We certainly like Uruguay over South Korea, but the odds could be better.

Emotions are too high for the US match for El Chupa to be even remotely objective.  The odds and probabilities seem spot on, and with extra time and penalty kicks now in play, teams that are relatively equal could play cautiously late in the second half.  This perhaps makes fulltime draws more likely, including the US match.  But again, our hopes are too high and our hearts are full--so we demur.

The English psyche is fraught with memories of losing to Germany in PKs in big tournaments.  We think both teams are beatable, and given England's performance in group play give a slight nod to Germany, especially with Mesut Ozil up front, whom we quite like.  However, we can see both teams playing cautiously, especially in the second half.  If punt you must on this one, punt the draw.

Finally, perhaps the most anticipated match from a pure love of the beautiful game standpoint, we have Argentina v Mexico.  Argentina is heavily favored, and we give them the nod as our pick of the weekend's matches.  But we think the odds on Mexico are highly skewed, and if you're looking to slap down 10 bucks for the hell of it, you can't do any better this weekend than dropping the price of a few pints on Mexico, who have been playing well since the pre-WC friendlies.  We don't think a Mexican hat dance over Messi and Maradona Inc is probable, but it's certainly possible.  Arriba Mexico! Our brothers in the CONCACAF!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Luchametric World Cup Handicapping: Brazil to Samba Over Portugal

Our predictions for today's matches are to your right.  Our predictions for tomorrow's matches are above.  We like Brazil for both its potential as a great match to watch and for its value.

First of all, in case you missed it, Portugal and Brazil have a rather long history, Brazil gaining its independence from Portugal in 1822 (but not from the Portuguese royal family) and then eventually becoming a republic in 1889.  Slavery was only abolished in Brazil in 1888, and there are still racial tensions in Brazilian society today, given its inherently mestizo social fabric (Portuguese/European; African; South American Indian).  As for Portugal, let's just say it has a certain attitude toward it's former colony, typical of former imperial states that have seen better days. Plus, um, Portugal has its own inherent racial attitudes typical of former imperial states that have seen better days.

Needless to say, these team will both want to beat each other....very, very badly.  It is essentially a World Cup Derby, which is one reason the books have given such good odds for Brazil.  Even without Kaka, the opportunity to bet on Brazil in a World Cup match with better-than-even odds is hard to pass up, and we think this match offers great value to punters, with the books undervaluing Brazil's superiority over Ronaldo and Co by as much as 7%.

Yes, a draw would send both teams through, but we just can't imagine either team playing for the draw from the start--too much history, too much pride, too much talent on the field.  And Portugal could be knocked out by a loss combined with a big Ivory Coast win. You think Brazil has any incentive to do just that?

In short, take Brazil and enjoy some outstanding football.  Do it.

As for Chile vs Spain, we think it's best to avoid this other post-colonial derby, as Chile is very tough and organized on defense and fully capable of stifling the Spanish.  Chile needs only a draw but a win sends them through, while Spain absolutely must win if they want to guarantee passage to the knock-out phase.  The likelihood of a Swiss win means their will be pressure on both teams and passions will run high.  Wouldn't Chile love to knock Spain out of the tournament?  And failing to advance to the final 16 would be a humiliation of epic proportions for the talented Spanish side.  We think Portugal is a paper tiger and Brazilian skill will prevail over 90 minutes, but this other match fraught by history is too close to call.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Luchametric World Cup Handicapping: Yanks and Argentina Best Bets


Barely in time for today's early matches, we give you our updated WC 2010 suggestions.

There are no real value bets today or tomorrow.  But we think Argentina over Greece and tomorrow's Yanks vs Algeria offer the highest probabilities and the highest pay outs.

Notice we've added draws to the probabilities and we have added a column indicating what each team needs out of the match in order to advance (or in some cases, to have any chance at all to advance given other results).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Luchametric World Cup Handicapping: Our Upset? Paraguay Over the Azzurri

By MJD and El Luchador

All eyes at Nordecke Luchador are on Gooch's knee, Donovan's mental stability, and the back four (who would have thought at this point we'd be worry about our defense and not our strikers?).  But in fervid and besotted anticipation of South Africa 2010 we offer our meager advice for several opening matches at this year's world cup.

All US fans of the beautiful game look to Saturday's match against England with bowel-shaking anticipation.  We firmly believe the US is being given short shift in this match.  Best odds have the US at a mere 13% chance of a win. This is abject nonsense.  We set this match at a  solid 50% England win; 25% US win; 25% draw.  But, we advise American punters to keep their hands in their pockets.  A US win is just not a good bet--but we absolutely do not count our Yanks out.  Further, English confidence is misplaced.  They are overlooking a team filled with solid professional talent well-seasoned in Europe's top leagues.  And Buddle, Gomez, and Findlay have demonstrated that North American soccer can no longer be discounted out-of-hand

We like Paraguay over Italy as our upset.  We looked closely at Denmark over Holland and Uruguay over France, but we think that France's talent is being overlooked by a world press hungry for stories and that the Dutch without Robben are still one of the top five teams in the world. Still, we think these will be great matches to watch.

Finally, we can't help but conclude that the German machine will roll over the Aussies (Oi!) and that Argentina will win handily over Nigeria in spite of Maradona's abject freaking lunacy.  Lastly, we see Cameroon perhaps falling behind Japan early but coming back to win pulling away.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Luchametric MLS Weekend Fixtures Handicapping: Crew, Houston, RSL, and San Jose


Nordecke Luchador has evolved over the last year into its own unique brand.  From the heady daze of Gonzo Crew fanaticism, we now offer EPL and MLS statistical analysis, EPL, MLS and World Cup handicapping as well as tactical insight into the beautiful game.

In the spirit of Kaizen, the Japanese virtue of "continuous improvement," we offer our latest data chart for our loyal readers.

To the left are this weekend's fixtures in the MLS.  For each match we provide the moneyline and the decimal odds.  Next, we provide our readers with how these odds translate into probabilities.  For example, in the first fixture, D.C. is being given +175 or a 36% chance at a home win;  Chivas is being given +192 or a 34% chance of an away win.   IMPORTANT! Punters should always remember that these percentages should be compared to the historical probabilities that 50% of all professional matches end in a home win; 25% in an away win; and 25% in a draw--unless there is a substantial difference in team strengths.

So, for this fixture, the books have lowered the chance of a D.C. home win by 14 percentage points and raised the chance of a Chivas road win by 9 percentage points.  The chance for a draw is thus around 30%.

But we go even further.  The fourth column tells the prospective punter the percentage payout of their wager.  Thus, a successful bet on D.C. will earn you 175% of your initial bet; a successful bet on Chivas will earn you 192%.  So a $10 bet on D.C. gets you 17.50. Nice.

But wait! We then provide you with our own analysis of the value of the wager.  As a general rule of thumb, smart punters should compare the probability offered by the books to their own estimation of the probability of bet being successful.  Continuing with our example, we need to ask ourselves the following: "Ok, all things being equal, the home team should win 50% of the time. However, D.C. is a weaker team than Chivas.  That means that the chance of D.C. winning is less than 50%. The books say that it's as bad as 36%.  Do I think its worse or better than 36%?"

Answer?  If you think there is a 5% or higher difference between the probability offered by the books and your own independent estimation of the probability of a team winning, then that bet is most likely what the professional punters call "a value bet."  Here's why.

If the books say D.C. has only a 36% chance of winning, but you think their chance is actually 41% or higher, then the amount of money the books are offering you is actually higher than it "should" be.  Remember, the higher the probability of a win, the lower the books pay out.

Further, a value bet is one where the amount of risk is "worth" the potential payout.  Bookies want to offer you less money for your risk than is "fair" or "real."  So, if you can find a match where you believe the books have it wrong and the actual probability of your team winning is higher than they've determined, then you've found a bet that will pay out more for your risk than the books would pay out if they had gotten the odds right in the first place.  In D.C.'s case, the books have set the odds at 36% and are offering you a payout of 175%.  If the books thought the probability was 41% or greater, they would pay winners less than 175%  As such, if you've decided that D.C. actually has a 41% chance or higher (let's face it, Chivas isn't very good) then taking D.C. to win at home would be a value bet. 

But what does Nordecke Luchador think about this match?

Our final column provides you with our advice for every match this weekend.  Our recommendations are based on A) our determination of the value of the odds being offered; and B) our usual statistical comparison of the two clubs including the Luchametric power rankings.  If we recommend a team, we think its a value bet with a high probability relative to the risk.  This week, we think C-Bus, Houston, RSL and San Jose all fit the bill.  And we think the D.C. v Chivas match should be avoided like the plague.

And remember, we don't recommend parlays ever.  Do your homework and pick your spots.  For example, Donovan is up with the USMNT.  We think that makes the Crew an even more valuable bet against LA than the numbers alone might suggest.  However, Houston is being given a 68% chance of a win, and we think it's definitely even higher. Indeed, this match probably represents the bet with the highest probability and the lowest risk of the weekend.  But the probability of both Houston and the Crew winning in a parlay is a rather low 30%.  If you bump the Crew's probability up to 51%, the parlay would still only be at 35%.  The probability of Houston, the Crew AND San Jose all winning? 17%.  RSL actually represents the wager with the highest value (in our view) as the payout is 69% on your wager (compared to 46% for Houston) and we think the probability of a RSL win could be as much as 10 percentage points higher than what the books have it at.  That's some sweet action.

Finally, it's important to note that we've excluded draws in our chart because draws never, ever offer high percentage probabilities nor value bets.  That's a maxim of betting on soccer we've learned from our secondary research (seriously).  And you can take that to the bank. C-Bus 'till I die!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Luchametric USMNT Tactical Analysis: What to Look for Against Turkey

Alright, so now we know which Yanks will be heading to South Africa, but what should we expect to see tactically, hopefully starting Saturday against Turkey?

We've looked through the lineups at for both the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers, and what follows is our tentative projection of what to expect from Bradley in the two upcoming friendlies and against England on June 12th.  We went with the above two sets of matches as we think the Gold Cup in 2009 and the various friendlies over the last year don't accurately represent our best XI (in fact, we think our B-team was a grave disappointment in virtually every match it played).

The first graphic (above) is our prediction if Bradley runs out a standard 4-4-2.  In such games, he has historically put Dempsey and Donovan on the right and left flanks respectively.  Clark and Bradley are the two most common holding/defensive mids in Bradley's various lineups.  We think Altidore is a sure starter, and we're going with Gomez up front with him. Why? We think the combination of Altidore's physicality and ability to hold the ball combined with Gomez's speed and technique will give the US two very different looks at striker--which we dig like dirty rice. Note that Goodson could start for Onyewu and Bocanegra for Bornstein. In our review of Bradley's lineups, the back four were very frequently changed up and moved around. We don't think that will change.  If Gooch isn't ready by June 12th, you could very well see Bornstein, Bocanegra, DeMerit and Spector filling out the back four.

Next, Bradley has also used a rather uncommon 4-2-2-2.  In the graphic to the right, you'll see that in this schema, Bradley and Clark drop back in front of the back four, and Donovan and Dempsey switch sides.  Donovan played mostly on the left with Everton this winter and spring, and this may affect Bradley's tactical decisions.  Regardless, we've still got Gomez and Altidore up top.  At Puebla, Gomez was typically the lone striker, and for the US Altidore has played on the both the right and the left, so it will be interesting to see how Bradley decides to use the two forwards (if he goes with Gomez and not Buddle or Findlay).

Finally, we came up with our own lineup, featuring the return of the prodigal son, DaMarcus Beasley.  He's been in our doghouse since the last World Cup, and he's been in Bradley's for about a year, but he looked very, very good against the Czechs.  The last graphic is our hypothetical XI with Beasley in the mix--in this case, a 4-4-1-1.

In this formation, we put Beasley on the right wing, moving Dempsey over next to Donovan with Clark as the sole defensive mid.  Up top we push Altidore ahead of Gomez, allowing Gomez space to create.  We think this is a great attacking formation for the Yanks.  We look forward to seeing what Bradley's actually going to do with Beasley.  For example, Bease could replace Clark or Bradley in the 4-4-2 or the 4-2-2-2.  Also, we haven't even considered the option of pushing Dempsey or Donovan up top as one or both strikers, which would give the US another and very different look.

Needless to say, it's nice to see that the US has some very tantalizing options.  Word.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MLS Power Rankings Updated: The Big Two


I've been out of the office for the last week but have finally had a chance to catch up on things in the MLS. We suggested in an earlier post that MLS parity might be a thing of the past, and the updated numbers continue to support that claim.

Both LA and the Crew enjoy a substantial advantage in the LM and especially in their respective Z-scores relative to the rest of the league.  Note also that there seems to be a large number of middling teams and three to five absolute bottom feeders.  Here's how we'd divide up the league:

The Big Two: LA and C-Bus
The Great Pretenders: RSL, SJO.
The Mighty Middle: Dallas, Colorado, Houston, Chicago, Toronto, New York, Seattle, Chivas, KC
The Vanquished if Not Relegated: Philly and D.C.

You can slice and dice it however you'd like, but there clearly has been a shift in the relative strengths of the different clubs.  Finally, the West continues to dominate the rankings and the single table.  Six out of the eight top teams in the LM are from the West; as are five out of the top eight in the single table.  Again, it ain't about the two conferences, which are a joke, it just adds to the overall impression that the era of parity in MLS is over.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Crew vs Chivas USA Statistical Breakdown


Yesterday we gave you a breakdown of the Crew's tactics, today we give you a quick statistical comparison of the two clubs.

This game is not a sure 3 PTS for C-Bus, but it is 3 PTS the Crew certainly should earn.   Last year Chivas USA had only 6 draws, lowest among the 8 playoff teams.  This year they have 3 wins and 4 losses  and only 1 draw.  But they've scored 5 goals at home and 5 goals on the road.  In short, Chivas is a club that so far has been inconsistent--but they are dangerous depending on which club shows up for that particular match.

Notice that Chivas allows fewer SHTAs and SOGAs per game than does the Crew. As we said earlier in the season, the Crew's defense gives us cause for concern, and last week did nothing to alleviate those anxieties. However, the rest of the numbers tell us that the Crew enjoy a substantial advantage including GF/GM, GA/GM and PTS/GM. Most importantly, in the LM Power Rankings, the Crew enjoys a considerable advantage of over 1.5 STDDEVs.

Here's hoping that Hesmer has his head screwed on straight, that the Crew's attack gets more efficient (several players last week failed to finish exceptionally good chances) and that during the defensive phase the Crew begins to show signs of being able to completely shut down lesser teams . Columbus 'til I die.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Crew Tactical Breakdown: What to Look for Against Chivas


The Crew will most likely line  up in their standard 4-4-1-1 on Saturday night, with Rogers and Gaven on the wings, and Padula and Hejduk as the outside backs.  Iro, Marshall or O'Rourke will start as one of the center backs opposite Brunner.  And look for Carroll and Moffatt to play as the holding center-mids.

In this formation, GBS plays rather high, which has been the subject of some discussion in the Crew blogosphere.  The argument is that Guillermo is better utilized as a more traditional number 10, roaming the center which allows him to create more.  In such a formation, the Crew would most likely go to a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2-- in the latter they'd need to go with two forwards or a forward and striker combo: Lenhart and Ekpo, for example, or Lenhart and Gaven, or Lenhart and Garey.

However, as the next graphic shows, even in RW's present schema, Schelotto is still being used as a creator.  Most importantly, the Crew's attack is a little more complicated and (we think) more dynamic and thus more difficult to defend.

In the graphic to the right, you see the Crew in the attack phase. The graphic represents what the club was trying to do last Saturday against New England and can be considered RW's basic approach on attack, at least with these players.

Notice that in this particular version of the Crew's 4-4-1-1, either Padula or Hejduk pushes up, in this case we'll push up Padula.  But the left back is not merely crashing down the wing.  Rather, in this scenario, the Crew is really playing a 3-2-3-2 or some might call it a 3-2-4-1. Regardless, the system is designed to get the left or right back to work with the holding mids, the wing AND the number 10, creating multiple passing possibilities and thus maintaining possession.  All the while, they are building up the attack gradually, looking to get Rogers and Lenhart to angle in on the box and finish, with both Padula and Schelotto providing service.

As you can see, the interaction among the back, the mids, the "10" and the wing creates multiple and dynamic passing combinations, and can easily be shifted to the opposite wing with the right back (Hejduk) moving forward instead of the left.

Note also how this approach allows the team to get 5 players forward and that GBS is still in a central position.  Further, if a run takes Rogers over to the right, Gaven and GBS can rotate left.  Finally, Carroll and Moffatt are in a position to both support the attack and to drop back in front of the back three if the Crew lose possession.

Three things to take away from last week's game in light of the above analysis.

First, the striker absolutely must finish efficiently for the formation to produce goals.  Lenhart did not do so last week in spite of some excellent service from both GBS and the wings.  Overall, Lenhart has converted 40% of his SHTS to SOGs, but has scored only 1 goal in 4 SOG total or 25%.  That's average for the league overall and below average for forwards.  Perhaps last week was on off night.  But maybe RW should start Ekpo up top instead of the big blond..

Second, the Crew looked vulnerable on the counter-attack last week, and so the two central mids have to be fast enough to respond quickly when the team is forced to defend.

Finally, this approach leaves the Crew with only a three-man back line.  If the team can delay up high and thus allow players to get back and defend as a unit, this is not so dangerous.  But make no mistake, this is an attacking formation that relies on possession and a quick retreat by the mids and the attacking back(s)  to insure the opposing team doesn't overwhelm the three defenders.

Chivas has played a 4-2-3-1 its last two matches, and RWs back line will need to be sharp, even at home, if the Crew hopes to avoid another see-saw match against a lesser club. It will be interesting to see if the combination of Chivas' two mids in the 4-2-3-1 and the Crew's attacking 3-2-3-2 creates space in the middle of the field and thus a lot of movement and wide open play.

Our prediction? Look for the Crew to continue to gel as they get more games under their belt and for Chivas to give up 2 goals at least.  Note that historically Chivas does not draw very often.  Final score 2-0 Crew.  Massive. Hagado C-Bus.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

MLS Power Rankings Updated: Go West My Tan-Faced Children

We loathe the International House of Soccer's insistence on the two divisions as it distorts the league standings and has virtually no impact whatsoever on who gets into the playoffs.  And although relegation is a long way off (if it ever happens in our lifetime--hopefully another 40 years or so), we hope the league will go to a single table much sooner.  But this post isn't really about any of that.  It's about MLS on television and the land of great Mexican food, medical marijuana, and the EPL "late" game with breakfast.

Take a look at our Power Rankings and the Single Table and you'll notice that the western teams currently dominate the league.  In the Power Rankings, 5 of the top 8 teams are out of the West; and in the single table 6 out of the top 8 teams play their home games west of the Mississippi.  Again, we have disdain for MLS' marketing strategy, but we think it's worth noticing that the best football in the league is currently being played far away from the Northeast corridor.  Other than the Red Bulls, the top teams in the "East" are actually in the Midwest.  And the majority of top teams in the league are either in the same time zone as Chicago or even further away from the nation's most densely populated region. Of course, the big standout exception is our beloved Crew who continue to contend for a third-straight Supporters Shield, which would do more than anything to demonstrate the invalidity of the two-division playoff scheme. (That's a post for another day).

MLS' business model is designed to insure big market teams like DC, NY, New England (Boston), Philly and Toronto can carry the load when it comes to television market share.  Let's face it, the Crew vs. New England on a Saturday night is one thing; the Crew vs. KC is something else.  The former includes greater Boston as one half of its potential audience, which is the nation's 7th largest television market; the latter includes the nation's 34th and 32nd largest markets respectively (who knew KC was bigger than C-Bus?).

All of this is simply to say that you can bet the suits at the IHOS are sweating a bit as the season unfolds.  Philly looks like they genuinely stink.  DC is drawing fewer of its rabid white-collar suburbanites out for a night of pseudo-hooliganism than their reputation would predict, and NE looks like its headed for yet another season of marginality.

As such, you might think we'd see more games on FSC from the major markets in the West this year than we would in the East.  Unfortunately, it's more likely Don Garber and the Sports Admin majors in the league offices will decide that mediocre football that caters to the fans in the Northeast corridor is a potentially more profitable product than great football that caters to the fan of the beautiful game.

Which brings us once more to the patron saint of American soccer: Papa Walt

Come my tan-faced children,

Follow well in order, get your weapons ready, Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes? Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here, We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger, We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend, Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you youths, Western youths, So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship, Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost, Pioneers! O pioneers!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Luchametric Power Rankings Updated: The MLS Big Three and the End of Parity


It's early, it's early, um, AND it's still early. But the latest update of the Luchametric tells us that LA, the Crew, and the revived Red Bulls sit atop the league and have opened a substantial gap between the top three and the rest of the league.

The top three are all within .65 of a STD DEV of each other in the Z-Score and are all above 1500 in the actual LM score.  The rest of the league is below 1500, with Chicago closest at 1199, and only the top three are over 1.00 STD DEVs above the league average.

One thing we like about the LM is that it takes into account the different factors which distort the league point standings (most importantly, Games Played) and provides a single score that allows for a comparison of all the teams in the league that is more representative of a team's success than mere points or even Points per Game can provide.

We'd also point out that Chicago and San Jose have moved up in the rankings and should be treated with seriousness by team managers and punters alike.

Finally, the bottom three (Toronto, Philly, and DC) remain at the bottom and still are playing substantially poorer than the rest of the league.  There is much parity in the middle, but at this early stage, there is less parity across the entire league than we've seen in recent years.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Crew Shots Against Grid Updated

We've updated our chart tracking the Crew's SHTA and SOGA. The boys are still giving up more SHTA and SOGA than the league average (13.25 vs 10.77 and 4.5 vs 4.37 respectively), and their actual GA compared to their Expected Goals Against remains good (3 GA vs 5 EGA).  But as the chart indicates, they're still allowing opponents to create quality chances against them--look at all those chances right inside the box--14 total right in front of the net.

The question, then, is two-fold, is the Crew's strategy to bend and not break and then counter-attack?  Or does the team need to address its defensive issues quickly, as they cannot hope to continue to allow this many chances per game over the course of the remainder of the season and not start giving up goals?  What if Hesmer goes down and his form drops a few notches?  Our hunch right now is that RW needs to look hard at his back line.  One solution would be to hold Hejduk back, for example, at least from run after deep run up the wing.  A few judicious runs forward? Fine.  But using him as a real attacking back?  I don't know.

Finally, we've updated the power rankings and made them simpler.
The LM is now a single score normed so that the worst team in the league is now a zero.  We hope it makes more sense.  And in spite of our misgivings about the Crew, they are still second in our rankings, which is a measure of production per game, not simply overall production.  As such, they are still right up there at the top of the league.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Crew at Seattle Preview: A Test of Both Teams


This weekend's fixture between the Crew and Seattle is a tough test for both clubs.  Seattle badly needs three points.  They've only earned 8 PTS over 6 games thus far and are 2-2-2 on the season.  With a full 20% of the season elapsed for the Sounders, they need to step it up or kiss their playoff hopes and its revenue goodbye. Currently, Seattle is at 1.33 PPG. This would get them to 40 PTS for the season, which historically for the MLS has been the cut-off point for getting into the playoffs.  However, our metric is slightly more dour for Sounders fans.  Our current projection is for Seattle to top off at 34 PTS for the season, given their current rate of projection.  Regardless of which measure you prefer, the Green Wave can't afford to drop anymore points at home.

Meanwhile, the Crew have earned a semi-massive 7 PTS in three games, and at 2-1-0 would appear to be the favorite.  Alas, things are not that simple.

It's certainly true that of the the three opponents both teams have faced (TOR, DAL and RSL), the Crew are 2-1-0 with 7 PTS earned while Seattle is 0-2-1 with two PTS earned.  And the Crew are averaging 1.67 GF/GM to Seattle's 1.17.  And thanks to His Royal Majesty King Funk, AKA Billy Jack, AKA William Hesmer, the Crew is giving up only .67 GA compared to Seattle's 1.17.

Overall, however, Seattle has faced a tougher schedule, and one must be careful in assuming that the Crew's numbers are a true indication of their performance.  Seattle's six opponents have averaged 1.2 PPG or -.48 on the LM.  The Crew have faced three opponents who have earned an average of .92 PPG or -1.09 on the LM.  And as we've indicated in an earlier post, the Crew's defense is suspect.

Note also that the table above tells us that the Crew give up more SHTA and SOGA per game than the Sounders, while the number of SHT and SOG each team produces per game are relatively the same.  And both teams are producing less than the league average number of SOG per game.  The Crew does have an advantage in our measure of Quality Shots on Goal, however, suggesting that they need fewer chances to capitalize.  And the Sounders have given up 1 more goal than expected (EGA in the table above) given how many chances opponents have produced against them.

To sum: here's hoping Hesmer keeps up his excellent work, that the Crew's attack gets production from more than just Big Willy Schelotto (who may not even play), and that the Sounders "struggles" (hey, they're currently fourth in the league in the single table) continue.  Unfortunately, this one looks headed for a low-scoring draw.  Take the under at -114 (1.88) if you really feel the need to put some money down on this one.  Or throw the dice on the Crew at +200 (3.00) if you think the Black and Gold's attack is finally going to break through and do some damage.  But honestly? I'd avoid it like the plague.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crew Defense Stats: Another Luchametric Exclusive


Yesterday we looked at the Crew's attack, today we look at the team's defense.  What we see is troubling.

The grid to the left provides us with every SHTA and SOGA the Crew have faced over the first three games. It does not include PKs or free kicks.  Notice that virtually every SHTA and SOGA is right in front of the goal and inside the penalty area.  In other words, far from forcing teams to shoot from outside or take low-percentage shots, teams are getting right up in the Crew's grill.  The other numbers look even more problematic.  Check out the table below:

The Crew have given up only 2 GA so far.  Obviously, that is a good thing.  "EGA" is Expected Goals Against, or how many goals the team would be expected to give up, given how many SOGA they've allowed.  This is calculated by taking the number of SOGA the team has faced and multiplying it by the percentage of SOGAs that result in goals across the league on average.  Currently in the MLS, 18% of SOGAs result in Goals.  This is low and will go up over the course of the season to anywhere from 26% to 30%--the latter are the historical averages from 2008 and 2009 combined.  So, the Crew have actually given up fewer goals than expected given the number of shot opportunities they have allowed to be created against them.   Why?  Two words: William Hesmer.

The data clearly shows us that the Crew's back four aren't preventing scoring opportunities and are, in fact, allowing more scoring opportunities than the average MLS club.  Further, the very quality of shots they're giving up is alarming.  And yet the number of GA is low and the Crew have eked out two wins and a draw.  The only explanation is our boy Hesmer, whose save percentage of 80% puts him third in the league as does his .67 GAA.  William, we dub thee Billy Jack.  Thou art truly massive

The other important numbers in the last three columns support our assertion and love for His Royal Majesty King Hesmer.  As you can see, although the Crew are giving up more SHTA and SOGA than the league averages, the percentage of SOGAs that result in GA is a very low 13%.  This is very good given the current league average of 18%, and excellent given the historic league average of 26% or so.  Once again, Billy, we salute you.  Hagado Columbus! Till I die....