Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sporting KC and Home Field Advantage in Soccer: A Luchametric Quickie


Last night Sporting KC got its first home goal and its first home win, beating a surging San Jose club at Livestrong Sporting Park 1-0. We had predicted a SJO win, what with their lead-leading 1.54 Goals For per Game average going into the match, and their excellent recent form: 4 wins and a draw in their last 5 matches.  But KC looked better than we've seen them all year and prevailed in what we thought was a tight match.  In thinking about what we had missed in our analysis of the match, we realized that we had forgotten the most fundamental truth about professional soccer and about wagering on professional soccer: the 50/25/25 rule.

What's that you say? The facts are that in top leagues across the globe, including the EPL and the MLS, all things being equal, the home team will win 50% of the time, the away team 25% of the time, and the teams will draw 25% of the time.  That this is so is just part of the deep fabric of the game, decreed by the soccer gods long ago.  There have been various reasons put forth for this phenomenon, to travel demands on players, familiarity with the pitch, to the energy of the home crowd supporting the home team.  But we'll save any in-depth discussion of home field advantage for another post.

Here's the quickie.  Going into last night's match, KC had played 12 games, 11 of them on the road. In a normal season, half of those 12 games would have been at home, where (again, all things being equal) they would have won a full 50% of those matches (let's call it 6 home games just to make our back-of-a-napkin analysis easy).

Applying the 50/25/25 rule, KC's point total from 6 home games and 6 road games would be 10.5 pts from the home matches (3 wins and 1.5 draws) plus 6 pts from the road matches (1.5 road wins, 1.5 road draws) for a total of 16.5 pts total, not the 10 they were sitting on going into last night's match.

The point is that playing on the road for 11 games to open the season has distorted KC's record considerably, by about 34% or more.  This means they are a considerably better club than they've been given credit for.

Playing on the road in any league is tough, resulting in fewer chances created, more chances allowed, more mental mistakes, etc. KC has more home games left in their schedule than any other club.  Their PTS/GM will inevitably go up.  They will beat clubs at home that are substantially higher than them in the standings.  The only caveat to the 50/25/25 rule is that if two teams are not equal in strength, then the percentages get adjusted to the point that with two very uneven teams, the numbers change to 65/17/17 or even higher.

Our claim is that KC probably belongs in the middle of the pack, not down at the bottom with the likes of New England, who have no excuses.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Aston Villa FC, Birmingham City FC, Alex McLeish, Al Lerner: Nordecke Luchador Weighs In

By The Luchametric Staff

The  Daily Mirror is a tabloid, a rag, if you will. Let's face it. It's shite by NYTimes standards. But this report caught our eye.  If you haven't yet heard, the Scottish PL had some serious football related violence go on over the last season--including the threat of bombings and the actual realization of pitch invasions, including the on-pitch, during-the-game assault of Celtic manager Neil Lennon. So let's be clear: our view is that such violence, stemming as it does from sectarianism, alcoholism, economic stagnation, and a host of other factors, is perhaps explainable by historians--but utterly unacceptable.

So to see the reemergence of attitudes in the EPL reminiscent of the dark, dark days of the Hillsborough disaster and the latest season of idiocy in Scotland has forced us to weigh in.

By every measure, from news reports, to the podcasts we follow, to our own gaze along the sidelines week in and week out, Alex McLeish is a stand-up man, a mensch--the kind of guy you hope marries your sister. He's had success on the pitch in the SPL and the EPL. Yeah, his teams have twice been relegated, but no one can deny that he has a proven record (two SPL Championships, promotion  to the EPL, FA Cup) of doing well with the clubs he's been handed. Most importantly, he's a decent, upstanding, successful, professional, human being.

Last season (2011-2012), unfortunately, his team went down again. And in spite of that failure, he's been hired by the American owner of Birmingham City's cross-town rivals Aston Villa to get the Villains back to the top third of English football and back into the Europa Cup (could Villa possibly get to the Champions League?)  And now he's getting death threats from both Villa fans and Blues fans.

Really?  Freaking death threats? Bullshit.

And here's where this post comes from: we root for Villa. We have Cleveland ties that run deep; we love football; and although we have our preferences among the bigger clubs, we reserve a special place for Villa in our soccer sancta sanctorum.  We understand the passion Birmingham and Villa fans must be feeling, but the vilification of McCleish is utterly dispicable.

No team scored fewer goals per game in the EPl in 2010-2011 than did the Blues.  And we are disappointed in Lerner's decision--we think Villa could have done better.  But the current reaction by "fans" of both clubs is disgusting. You know what? As US supporters of Villa we welcome Mr. McCleish and wish him our best.  Those "supporters" who've lost perspective on a game and a MAN need to step back and reevaluate their priorities.

Sir Alex, we salute you:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

USA vs Guadeloupe: Tactical Analysis


According to our favorite scholarly source, Guadeloupe is "an archipelago located in the Leeward Islands, in the Lesser Antilles, with a land area of 1,628 square kilometres (629 sq. mi) and a population of 400,000."  

Contrastingly, the USA, "at 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and with over 308 million people [is] the third or fourth largest country by total area, and the third largest both by land area and population," in the entire world.

And yet the US managed only a minimal 1-0 win at home in an important tournament. 

Let's be perfectly clear.  The US looked very good overall and much better than the previous three matches (including the Spain friendly)........against Guadeloupe. And at times, the US even looked excellent...........against Guadeloupe, an archipelago located in the Leeward Islands with a land area of only 629 square miles and a population of only 400,000 compared to a country (US) with 3.9 million youth players in a country of 308 million total.

So what gives? 

As a good friend recently remarked, when a team (USMNT) comes out flat and gives up early goals game after game across two major tournaments (World Cup and Gold Cup), the coach has to shoulder a considerable amount of blame. Further, one would not be too off base to blame that coach's tactics.  In short, given the fact that the USMNT has come out flat in two games in the current Gold Cup, repeating a pattern that goes back to the early goals given up in last summer's World Cup, it would not be too off base to question whether Bob Bradley really knows WTF he's doing in both choosing and lining up his starting XI.  Here's what we've seen over the last four games (against Spain, Canada, Panama and tonight against Guadeloupe) to suggest that Bradley, in fact, might be making unwise tactical decisions.

The US is not playing negative football. Which is great. But our high line and our attack-minded approach has left us vulnerable at the back.  As our favorite scholarly source explains, "A high defensive line allows teams to pin opposition teams into their own territory and apply pressure when chasing for a goal, however, it leaves the attacking team vulnerable to counter attacks by quick opposition players."

That last sentence explains much of what has ailed the US over the last four games, including last night's win over Guadeloupe.  Bradley's 4-4-2 requires both Dempsey and Donovan to pinch in and play as attacking central midfielders rather than as wingers.  The US gets its width from the two fullbacks.  In this system, Altidore and either Aguduelo or Wondolowski play as strikers, and both Dempsey and Donovan press forward from either flank, looking to create and shoot from central positions but generally arriving from the outside.  Neither player hugs the sideline, for example, or tries to get behind the opposing fullbacks.  Bradley plays as a type of box-to-box midfielder (although whether such a position still exists in the modern games is subject to some debate), with Jones as the true holding midfielder.  The point being that in the US 4-4-2, Bradley will press forward when he can and Jones will hold back (generally speaking).  Finally, both fullbacks, Bocanegra and Cherundelo, for example, push high up the field. providing support to the attacking four of Dempsey, Donovan, Agudeuelo and Altidore (although through three Gold Cup matches, Donovan has typically stayed deeper than Dempsey, while the latter has often started from deep but has then looked to get forward, mostly on the left but frequently switching sides with Donovan).  To see how the US shape changed as the Panama game went on, click here.

The end result is that the US typically has 6-7 players in the attack phase when they are in possession, which has been fairly frequent in the three Gold Cup matches (I can't find any time-of-possession data thanks to the continued lame statistical coverage of the US soccer media). This is inspiring and shows how much confidence Bradley has in the quality of the US side. But it must be pointed out that Bradley's approach leaves only 3 outfield players (plus Howard in goal) to defend.  And what every team over the last three games has shown (Spain just tore us apart from every angle possible) is that you can get behind our two fullbacks and create havoc.  Panama did it and won, and Guadeloupe and Canada each created quality chances.

Tactically speaking then, pressing our fullbacks high up the pitch combined with coming out mentally flat has left us vulnerable, with the end result being two shaky wins and one loss.

If one wants to fault Bradley for his tactics, you'd have to begin with the fact that the US system thus far has been too attack-minded, leaving us vulnerable.  The "mistake" is thus a result of either too much confidence in the quality of the US side relative to its opponents, and/or a failure to get them mentally ready for the opposition--probably both.  The key vulnerability is pressing our outside defensive backs too high up the pitch.  Jamaica and Mexico will kill us if it continues.

Against Guadeloupe the US created an incredible number of quality chances (19 shots and 10 shots on goal). They muffed some of those chances and others were stopped  by a quality goalkeeper in fine form who had a great night.  Regarding the latter--stuff happens.  Regarding the former--the US has run out of excuses.  If you think riding the bench in Europe means you can throw your jock strap out on the pitch and win against highly-motivated quality athletes in the most important tournament in CONCACAF, you're fooling yourself.  Dempsey and Howard start week in and week out in a arguably the best league in the world.  But the rest of the US squad aren't exactly locked into their respective European clubs' starting XIs.  Donovan plays in the MLS and hasn't done jack in three Gold Cup starts, although last night he was more of a factor than just on free kicks and corners. Dempsey has been stellar throughout the tournament but missed two gimmes last night.  

The point is that if Bradley is going to attack, he needs to get his players' respective and collective heads straight from the start. Respect  your opponent and come out and win the first 20 minutes--and win them hard.  I do not see the US quality as being so far above Panama, Mexico, Jamaica and other countries that they can play without a sense of passion and purpose for a full 90 minutes and be assured of a positive result.  In the next stages of the tournament, Bradley needs to consider dropping the two fullbacks back or even going to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-5-1.  Whatever the case, something has to change if the US hopes to advance to the final.  Panama showed that we are vulnerable physically and tactically.  We may have more skill and experience then the other teams (save Mexico), but it's clearly not enough if we hope to maintain our dominance of CONCACAF.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bet the Under and the Draw. Do It.

Once again this season, a great betting angle is to look for the draw and the under in MLS as the teams go through a mid-season slump accompanied by the international call-ups. Every MLS match yesterday was under 2.5 goals, meaning if you had laid down U.S. dollars in legal international betting markets on a 6-game under parlay, you would have made at least 40 to 1.

5 of the last 9 MLS games have been draws.

The reasons for this are simple. Landon Donavon and other goal scorers are on call-up. Teams have higher injuries, and the mid-season stagnation is setting in for certain clubs. Fewer goals means more under bets come in, and more draws are likely.

El Luchador will be looking closely at this week's matches and making recommendations on good value under and draw bets in the coming days.

First up is our own Columbus Crew at home versus the dreaded teetotaling polygamists of Real Salt Lake. This one is NOT a lock, but we will have analysis by 1/2 hour before kickoff once the odds are posted.

As the Luchametric Institute for Predictive Sciences has instructed the Faithful for years, the soccer draw is the highest value bet in the world because people don't like to bet it. You collect from all the suckers who bet one of the teams to win because they couldn't bear them losing.

Bet the draw. Do it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mark McCullers' Jack-Booted Thugs Export Their Brutality to Jefferson Memorial

Former Crew Stadium Security Officers apparently have landed jobs with the U.S. Park Service Police.

As El Luchador has previously reported, the goons who staff security at Crew Stadium look for reasons to throw people out and otherwise interfere with our God-given inalienable rights to public drunkenness.

El Luchador has now learned that this same approach to suppressing freedom has been exported to the U.S. Park Service, who this week arrested several friends of the Luchametric Institute for doing nothing other than dancing at the Jefferson Memorial, ironically a place enshrined to celebrate the value of freedom of expression.

Watch the incredible footage here:

To join the Jefferson Dance Party planned for this Saturday at the memorial in Washington, click here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Joseph S. Blatter

I Hate England For Her Greatness

Friday, May 20, 2011

Luchametric MLS Power Rankings: May 20, 2011

We've updated the Power Rankings for the first time this season.  We love a single table, but because there are so many differences among the teams in terms of how many actual games they've played, even a single table distorts their relative strengths, making things rather confusing.  Points per game gives you a bit of a better sense of who is playing well, but our statistical measure, which takes in a number of weighted variables, provides an even better measure of the differences (in our opinion). 

RSL is on top, which is as it should be.  At 2.29 Points per game they are playing extremely well by any of the traditional measures used to rank teams (Points and PPG). Notice that the Z-score for the LM indicates that a Big Four has emerged this season, at least to this point, with RSL, New York, Dallas and Los Angeles all at 1.0 standard deviations or higher  above the mean. Notice also that four clubs (Toronto, San Jose, Vancouver and K.C.) are as bad compared to the rest of the league as the top four are better. 
Hmmmmmm, perhaps the parity that used to characterize the league is finally gone. We'll see.  In any case, Crew fans can take comfort in the fact that our measure puts them above where they are in the single table, reflecting how disciplined and organized they've been thus far (except at San Jose).  Now if we could only start scoring some goals...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Five Plus Things We Learned about the Crew Last Night Against FC Dallas


The Crew definitely looked different last night when  they lined up against Dallas. has the Crew in a 4-2-3-1 while FSC called it a 4-4-1-1 (they actually called it a 4-4-2 but showed Ekpo lying deep in a 4-4-1-1.  I think on attack the shape was more of a 4-2-3-1 but when Dallas had the ball and maintained possession, which was seldom, there were two lines of 4 defending. So, on attack 4-2-3-1 and without possession 4-4-1-1.

Gone also were both Crew fullbacks pushing up the wings on the attack.  There was occasional overlap to be sure, which is always expected from the outside backs in the modern game, but the sort of sustained attacks Crew fans saw from Hejduk and Padullo in previous seasons were simply not there. Which is fine.  I thought the Crew looked organized in the defensive phase and I would much rather see us playing back than getting caught too far up the pitch and giving up goals.

 What We Learned

Ekpo is no Schellotto - It's perhaps not fair to compare the two, but if Warzycha is going to put Ekpo in the hole as the Regista, the Italian term for playmaker, then he needs to create and make plays.  He didn't do that last night. Perhaps he'll grow into the position, but goals will be few and far in between until he does so.  Gaven did more for CLB in the middle of the park than Ekpo, who frequently drifted to the left, made mistakes resulting in loss of possession, and was generally ineffective.

Gaven Will Come Inside - Eddie was our best player on attack, frequently darting in to the middle to create for others as well as make himself available for passes.  His goal in injury time was excellent.  Without his presence in the lineup we would have been woeful on offense.  We would probably not be too far off to label him a sort of Interiores, a winger who moves into a central position in the attack phase.

Mendoza is Columbus' Adebayor: Without the Quality - Mendoza was lucky to stay on the pitch as long as he did. His work rate was awful and contributed virtually nothing to the Crew's effort.  Cunningham replaced him  in the 61st minute and was much better at finding space and initiating attacks.  It's unfortunate that the latter is a bit long in the tooth to be starting every match, as Mendoza did not impress in the least. Even his penalty strike was awful.

Trade Rogers - If the rumors are correct, the Crew are shopping Rogers and Rogers would like out.  Well, given the fact he is yet to break out, his value is probably as high as it's going to go and now is the time to get something for him.  He has loads of skills but he, like Ekpo, was ineffective.  He strikes us as a true winger who doesn't look to cut inside in a more inside forward role. Which is fine, but his service was terrible, his passing terrible, his first touch horrible.  Watching the Crew in attack in the first half made us wonder whether a 4-3-3 was warranted.  We weren't really getting anything from our wide play, so why not go to a shape that sacrifices the flanks for a tighter more focused attack?  If West Ham can field a 4-3-3 against Man U, which they are doing as I write this, then certainly the Crew could do so on occasion, especially if our back four continue to play well (see below).

Rusmir Will See Red - We like Rusmir alot. He pushed forward in attack and was dangerous when he did so. He was also tough when the Crew didn't have the ball.  He and Burns bossed Dallas' midfield in the first 45 minutes.  It looks like he will play the sort of role Michael Bradley plays for the USMNT: a true box-to-box midfielder who is dynamic on offense and tough on defense.  Nice.  He's obviously very emotional, and the only reason he was subbed was that his yellow at the end of the first half meant RW couldn't risk the Crew going down to 10 men tied 0-0 at home when Dallas' Jackson's second boneheaded tackle within 5 minutes gave them an excellent chance to pick up all three points. 

Our Back Four are Better than Last Year - Hejduk and Padula will always be loved by Crew Fans, but our back four looked better than I've seen in recent years.  James and Marshall were tough in the middle and our fullbacks, although perhaps lacking the wide runs Crew fans are used to seeing from our fullbacks, made virtually no mistakes.  Our defense kept its shape and made good decisions and weren't ever really broken down by Dallas.  They also showed great pace when Dallas threatened on the break.

Bottom line: the demise of the Crew has been widely exaggerated.  I don't see us scoring a lot of goals, but I do see a lot of tight games, a lot of draws, a lot of 1-0, 1-1 results.  I certainly have hopes we can make the playoffs.  If the suits upstairs can make a move and get more quality up top, a true #10 Regista for example, allowing Ekpo to go back out to the wing, we could make a run come fall. We'll see.