Archive for October, 2011

MLS: More Possession, More Winning?


This column provided by Northwestern University seniors Sam Stejskal and Shashank Churukanti and the good folks at soccer analytics start-up, Chimu Solutions. Take a trip on over to Chimu Solutions (kind of like an Opta on steroids.)

We see possession numbers thrown around all the time in the soccer world.

It’s easy to understand why: the possession stat is simple to calculate and even simpler to understand.

Another reason for the number’s ubiquity: It seems like a good measure of which team will win a match. Hold the ball longer than your opponent and the chances of you scoring more goals – and thus winning – would seem to go up.

But is this actually true? Do teams that hold the ball longer really have a better chance of winning? Do possession stats tell us anything at all?

To find out, we studied possession numbers from every single MLS game this season. We gathered data from all 287 regular season matches through October 12th, first tabulating the goal differential for each game. Here are the results of that tabulation:

We then proceeded to calculate the difference in possession of the two teams.

For draws, we were simply interested in the absolute value of difference in possession, whereas in matches with winners, we subtracted the possession percentage of the losing team from the percentage of the winning team.  A positive number means that the winning team held the possession advantage, while a negative number indicates that the losing team held more of the ball.

After this, we calculated the mean value of the possession difference for all margins for victory.

If having the ball more often really does lead to scoring more goals, then winning by a larger margin should mean a larger advantage in possession.

Simply put, we expect a positive correlation between possession difference and margin of victory.

The following graph disproves this hypothesis:

Apart from the sole 5-goal game (New York’s thrashing of Toronto FC in early July), it is evident that such a positive correlation has not been present thus far in the MLS regular season.  In fact, after omitting the lone outlier, the data shows that the only margin of victory that has flirted with the 50 percent possession mark this year is the two-goal win.

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MLS: Working the Marketing Machine

More Seattlish stuff...

(First, apologies, if you just flew over from Twitter based upon a certain Megan Fox tweet that bent the truth. This is, afterall, a piece on marketing. Read on friend for the connector.)

A great tweet on Sunday for MLS: 64,140 people watched Seattle beat San Jose in MLS this weekend. Only Barcelona, Real Madrid & Bayern had bigger crowds.

That’s impressive. Whether it was in Seattle or not.

MLS did a great job of playing up both the crowd expected in Seattle for the match as well as Kasey Keller’s last regular season game at home.

It got me thinking to a few other ideas that might work to help raise MLS’s profile–mind you the marketing group at MLS headquarters is doing a great job of it already. (Seriously, what other league in the States has chalkboards, gets highlights and polls up in real-time and actively courts rivalry.)

Anywho, ideas:

» Work the LA connections and have MLS featured in a cool flick

Invincible. Who's the MLS Papale? Justin Braun?

Something similar here to The Natural or Invincible.

Not like, say, Fever Pitch or Major League–though the Major League theme might work there up in Beantown with the Revs. One major problem.

Not sure if you can have a cutout of Robert Kraft in the locker room and gradually remove his garments and unmentionables.

The movie thing has worked wonders for companies like Motorola who cited their “movie placement-management” in the 1990’s as one their keys to success for their Razr mobile phone. (Hard to find a contemporary Motorola phone in the movies these days.)

There is a precedent here for footie as well.

The “Goal” trilogies. Goal made a sound business decision by taking a Mexican star, “Santi” and interspersing Euro stars like Raul and Puyol in the flick. The “Goal” movie (and there are two after it in the series) made $5M in the United States, but $27M internationally at the box office.

So here’s how you, um, flip the script.

Take the inverse.

Take an English player who comes over to the States (not Andy Iro, can’t be a defender). He makes the choice because….because…his mother needs a special treatment that can only be done in a hospital in…in…Kansas City–the customary BBQ, steer, middle American stereotype montage can take up a few minutes and also provide a sponsorship opportunity.

Giggs the Elder would be perfect.

Then add in an aging nearly-over-the-hill Euro star. While Thierry Henry would work here, go for some new blood–the wise sage of an old #10 who plays possession, maybe Ryan Giggs.

Yes! Who–in Europe–wouldn’t at least think about watching a movie with a Giggs appearance. Reality star or no reality star, the Giggs brand still brings a sense of aristocracy and inspiration.

Now invent a fictional rule that allows MLS to have a team play in the European Champion’s League and Ryan Giggs and Joe European go up against Manchester United in the big game.

You’ll have to buy a ticket to see what happens here.

I like it.

» The Brek Shea Pizza

Shea, the new torchbearer...

The MLS needs to put some marketing muscle behind a new, young star. One who is uniquely American, plays everyday, and can score.

That’s Brek Shea.

Yes, the whole health issues thing on pizza, but how about this: Every “something-th” pizza box–by Pizza Hut of course–there is are free ticket(s) on the inside of the box.

And…and….and they’re not sold in Dallas. (So the Dallas folks who actually do go to  don’t buy up boxes for tickets.)

They’re sold at every other non-Texas stadium. New cities learn about this mythical gargantuan of a left winger in Brek Shea who will continue to get exposure on the international level and MLS gets more new fans, perhaps, to go to games. Oh and Pizza Hut feels a lot better about their MLS sponsorship.

The pizza becomes a test case for other products. Like Dax McCarty Pale Ale.

» Open up the data, everything to developers  — no brainer.

If I did this cheesy graph in 20 seconds on Excel--showing playoff likelihood by month of the Red Bulls vs. the Fire--imagine what a smart person could do.

Nerd alert!

Opta data is great and MLS did a fantastic job of using their data and chalkboards on the MLS Soccer web site.

Now for that nerd alert part.

MLS makes all the data it can–MLS proprietary data, Opta data–available to developers through an API to come up with stats like, “In 80% of the New York Red Bulls wins Rafa Marquez ran less than 22 feet.”

Or, “Teal Bunbury’s shooting percentage on his left foot against a team wearing white jerseys is 10 times better than what it is when he shoots on his right foot against a team wearing dark kits. And check this out, it’s 20 times when it’s a weekday game.” Okay, maybe not the last part.

However, by opening up the site, data, platform to developers, free content is created. Developers love to tell their friends about the cool thing they did in just two hours using this strut

» Bring celebrities (read: “hot chicks”) to the Portland-Seattle game

Another no-brainer here.

With MLS coming to NBC, you’re probably going to see a little of it anyway.

But seriously, there are sometimes decent celebrity camera shots during MLS games. Usually they are of a Euro star or MLS official or Drew Carey.

However, let’s plant some serious stars in stands, especially up in Portland–maybe put them in some Portland garb as well.

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The Weekend: Live Commenary

Sure, it’s Liverpool vs. Manchester United.

But the weekend belongs to one man Stateside.

About 60K on hand to watch one of the greats prepare his exit. Here...Kasey Keller for Millwall...

The Fan In You: An Irishman on Tyneside Angst

In The Fan In You (TFIY) series, TSG explores how a fan became fanatical about their favorite team. We’re nowhere near derby time which makes this piece by Ronan Quinn not reduced to noise in a sea of…vile.

Early roots...Newcastle vs. Sunderland

Watching Manchester United and Manchester City battle it out at the top for the first time has given the derby games between the two a new dimension. Watching the recent North London derby was compelling given the recent closure of the gap between Tottenham and Arsenal. And watching Everton versus Liverpool at the weekend re-enforced the passion surrounding the game which continues to feature more red cards than any other Premier League game. Derbies are the order of the day.

So…what is the best local derby in England’s Premier League? Let this unbiased Irishman decide: Newcastle versus Sunderland.

…Okay so I am biased. Despite growing up in Ireland I’ve been a Newcastle fan as long as I can remember and now I live in the area. As a football fan in general, it is impossible not to feel a sense of awe towards a city where the football stadium dominates the skyline. This emotion is replicated when walking through the streets, viewing hoards of black and white shirts. Walking through the streets today is no different

Quinn for Sunderland...

You may argue that to truly understand a local rivalry you have to be from the area, which to a certain extent is true. In fact, until a certain point my real issue with Sunderland was based on my brother’s following of them. In our house, and in my eyes the Tyne-Wear rivalry had started when Sunderland beat Newcastle 2-1 in Ruud Gullit’s last game and I was relentlessly teased ­­into a mad rage topped off by the fact Niall Quinn had scored, who happens to share my brother’s name. To me, Newcastle had a near equal rivalry with Aston Villa as they were supported by my other brother.

Unsurprisingly, the North-East doesn’t come to a standstill because of feuding siblings. Believe it or not, there is more to it than that.

The two places are divided by about 12 miles geographically, but the historic divide dates back to the English civil war with the Geordies in support of King George while Sunderland backed the House of Stuart. And a different chasm exists to this day still, which separates the two cities. There is a fierce pride in each respective local area from the native North-Easterners perfectly personified in football.

Each is a one-club city, and each is devoted to football much more than any other sport. There is a certain amount of isolation from any other major footballing city/town other than the aforementioned rival. (Feel free to debate the merits of Middlesborough.) The two teams are so close they are almost “in it together” in terms of representing the North East of England.

On top of this, city pride is something that Manchester United/City, Liverpool/Everton can neither completely defend nor achieve as the footballing communities are split within each. Many of these clubs have become massive global brands also, and encompass a massively cosmopolitan fan base. It is rare to find teams at the highest level in England who truly represent a whole community.

The rivalry is intensified as well by representatives from both areas on the pitch even in recent times, although both fans were let down by the lack of loyalty from Gateshead Geordie Andy Carroll and the hard working Jordan Henderson following their respective moves to Liverpool. However, Steven Taylor and Shola Ameobi among others still represent their part of the North East with fiery determination.

As it happens, Ameobi may be the perfect enigma to explain the derby. Quite frankly, his goal scoring record over his career as he approaches thirty is awful. And yet his popularity in some quarters of the Newcastle fan base is staggering. It is mainly built on consistent, passionate and indeed goal-capped performances against Sunderland. Not just this, but he is a local boy having grown up in Newcastle and for the Geordies to have “one of them” scoring against Sunderland adds new levels of ecstasy and elation.

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The Fan In You: How Portugal Changed My Heart

In The Fan In You (TFIY) series, TSG explores how a fan became fanatical about their favorite team. This piece about the sport itself.

Arguably Benfica's greatest....Eusebio...

By: RJ DeMello

The beautiful game enveloped me completely in the summer of 2006. A school trip in my sophomore year of high school to Portugal opened my eyes to the sport I had written off years before. It was pure coincidence and has turned into pure addiction.

Growing up in Rhode Island (you know smallest state, mobsters by the name of Joey Bananas, something written by the Farley brother, I get it) I had the typical American attitude towards the sport.

Joe Max for the Revolution...

My dad will always be the ultimate sports fan, if jai alai was on, he would find a reason to get behind one player and watch the entire match. He would turn on the Revolution in the late 1990’s to “support the home team.” He had zero concept of what was going on but nonetheless there we were sitting and watching the ball go back and forth, and back and forth. I just sat there, petulantly stewing all game long, complaining of how boring and stupid the game was.

Anything but this would be better to watch, give me jai alai, the Electric Company, FALCON CREST!.

Years of this went by until I hoped on a plane in May of 2006 with a few of my classmates to visit Portugal on a school trip.

All of a sudden, this weird game Europeans loved so much enveloped me. Driving down the main drag in Lisbon I distinctly remember seeing a giant banner draped over a building with Cristiano Ronaldo on it and thinking, “Who the hell is that pretty boy?”

Sporting Ronaldo...

Looking back at my naivety, I am embarrassed. One of the biggest stars of the sport, I am even in his home country, and I don’t have the slightest clue who this guy is.

It only gets worse from there. On our continued tour of the city, we stopped outside of the big red wonder that is the Estadio de Luz. One of the great stadiums the featured one of the greatest teams in Europe.

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Clint Dempsey Will Karatacize Your *ss

Matt Mathai. On a loaner camera after getting rained on in Miami.

I triple dog dare you to find a better picture taken of the USMNT this year!

Our next orator is Fulham’s Clint Dempsey, who will speak on the art of Ecuadorian Attack Philosophies in Contemporary Time. Clint?

"....but you knew he would try this"


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