I'm no statistician (or sidereal), but now that we're ten games in, I've decided to take a look at what the numbers tell us about the Sounders as a team and individually as compared to the rest of the league. Let me preface this by saying I hate numbers, have little to no training in them, and as a law student, am deathly afraid of them.
All photos and stats are from squawka.com.
The basic question is this: to what degree is our record correlated with measurable indicators, such as duels, total passes, passing percentage, tackles, defensive actions, etc.
First, the most obvious statistic is goals scored, where we lead the league:
The only interesting point to note is that all but one of our goals have come inside the box, with Dempsey's insane FK goal the only one from distance. The takeaway? We've been crashing the area with pretty good success. Here's a further breakdown of how many of the 22 goals are from set pieces:
Not too shabby: approximately 36% of our goals have come from set pieces, with the total of 8 good for second in the league. For comparison's sake, Dallas, with the second most goals, depend heavily on set piece goals at 63%, 25% of the total coming on penalties. The takeaway here? Fouling the Sounders as a general strategy will likely backfire. That and losing Mauro's free kick and corner service hurt more emotionally than it does objectively. Next, I'm guessing if we've scored more goals, that must mean that we're taking more shots and converting them at a higher rate, which the next two graphics show- we're tied for tops in the league for shot accuracy at 54%, and second in the league for total shots:
Also of note, we have the third most shots inside the area in the league, behind NYRB and Houston. Unsurprisingly, we have the third highest number of chances created, also behind NYRB and Houston (which makes sense, as they have more shots total than SSFC)
What does this tell me? Probably that Houston is better than their record reflects, and that while they've got the chances, they've not been converting their goals. This will probably correct over the course of the season, and I expect Houston to climb up the rankings accordingly. What else does this tell us? That because the Sounders are top of the league in terms of conversion rates, when matched with the high relative number of chances created, this team is on beast-mode. Or as my two year old says it, Beef-Moe!
Next let's look at goals conceded:
Unfortunately, we're in the top 10 here- with the 6th most goals conceded in the league so far. SKC and Colorado lead the league with the least goals conceded (for teams that have played at least 8 matches). As SaH writers have noted, a good number of goals have come on gaffes that *should* normalize out over the season. I'm an uneducated fan as far as soccer outside of MLS, but this looks somewhat like Liverpool's side this year- high powered quick-transitioning offense with a leaky defense. Let's dig a little deeper and look at defensive errors:
Here's a number one spot we don't want to occupy: we lead the league with defensive errors- both total defensive errors and errors leading to goal. I have to think and hope that this too will normalize as the season grinds on: we're too talented individually to have so many defensive errors. My personal take is that we've sacrificed space defensively with our attack! attack! go! mentality, requiring our defenders to get stretched too far individually. That and we've had some individual mistakes that probably won't get repeated (kenny cooper's backpass to anibaba, pappa's pass to defoe, etc.) Also, it seems like Ozzie and Pineda have occasionally both pushed up into the opponent's end leaving too much space for them to close down (even with Ozzie's tenacity)
Let's look at the brighter end of the defense- positive defensive actions: interceptions, blocked shots, and clearances:
I concede that a clearance may not necessarily be a net positive in defensive action in that it could actually increase pressure on the defense, but for argument's sake, it relieves immediate pressure to the extent that the opposing side has the ball at that moment. According to these stats at least, the Sounders are third in the league for these three stats (tackles are counted as a possession stat instead of a defensive stat). But here the highlight is that the Sounders are higher in the more positive defensive stats (interceptions and blocked shots) than the less positive defensive stat (headers). Take that into account, and you see we're actually second in the league for interceptions, and second in the league for blocked shots (thanks Chad!). What's the takeaway? We're forcing teams into bad possession and giveaways. Last resort defense stats like blocked shots and clearances are not as preferred as interceptions, and it just so happens that this team is forcing interceptions at a rate higher than just about the entire league. If we can harry opposing players instead of necessarily attempting to clean them out and possibly miss and get turned - that's actually a better strategy than getting stuck in too often.
Let's look at the individual stats for defensive actions:
Air Marshall, Ozzie, and Yedlin are in the top six for interceptions. I like this way of playing. Marshall is a beast, I can't repeat it enough. We expect this from Ozzie, but what I like is the fact that Yedlin is also up there on interceptions. part of that is due to his ridiculous speed, compared to Marshall and his positioning, but I think that we have to attribute some of Yedlin's numbers to better positioning. Now I was yelling at Yedlin for staying pushed up at the end of last night's game, when Castillo went Castillo down the right flank and Yedlin just stood there in no-man's land without the ball, but all in all, I think his positional sense has gotten better.
From defensive actions, let's turn to duels and tackles:
The Sounders are in a four way tie for first (with Houston, Draw City FC and that team from the bay) in terms of percentage of duels won. The Sounders are the only team where the record matches the ranking. Not sure if this is because the timbers and earthquakes are playing below their level, but that's what it may likely mean. I'm not sure what to make of these numbers other than the fact that we're winning most of the balls in the air despite playing through the ground more. I like the sound of that. If we win the long balls booted by the opposition and yet run and gun on the ground against other teams and are able to hold on to the ball in the opposition half, that makes me happy. What's concerning is how we are winning less than half of our tackles and take-ons, though I haven't read into how they count those statistics. I'd like to think that it's a result of the constant fouling (for which we're clearly first for fouls suffered- to be fair, we are also fifth for fouls committed).
If you look at who the individual leaders are for the same stats on duels, you'll find three familiar faces in the top five:
What's most impressive to me is Chad Marshall- winning 67% of his tackles and completely dominating in the air. Personally, I hope Jurgen does call Chad in because the guy is playing lights out (not that we need to be reminded) Ozzie does Ozzie things, and surprisingly Neagle is third in the LEAGUE under this metric. Admittedly, the take-ons are what we're used to from Neagle, and also a source of major headaches, but I think beyond our own frustration with what seems like boneheaded moves by Neagle- I suspect he's told to play aggressive- I'm thinking to his cross into the box in the Timbers match where Oba then flicked on to Dempsey's goal. Neagle turned Harrington, and I'm glad he went for it instead of going more conservative- we had nothing to lose at that point, and I personally think Neagle has value - even if it's the psychological advantage where the defender always has to know that Neagle is going to go at him.
Speaking of possession, let's look at passing stats:
The Sounders are third in the league for overall number of passes completed. Now, given that not all teams have played the same number of matches, the whole range is skewed downwards. That being said, the eyeball test tells me that this team is holding on to the ball slightly better than last year. We're tied for fourth in the league and possession percentage (51%), which honestly doesn't mean that much to me compared to the fact that we're tied for second in the league at passing accuracy (80%). That's where the good stuff is. Now, NYRB and SKC also are tied with us in passing at 80% accuracy, and the Crew and LAG are at 83%. That's pretty impressive.
Let's look at the individual stats for passing:
Ozzie is doing Ozzie things, with just about 600 passes completed, good for second in the league, and Pineda and Yedlin join him in the top 15 in the league. That's pretty good, considering who else is up there- Morales, Higuain, Laba, etc. Notice also that the Crew have three players in the top 7- indicative of how their playing style has changed this year. What matters to me, however, again, is the passing percentage:
Ozzie is obviously killing it with a pass percentage of 91%- and to think about that percentage in conjunction with the pass volume that Ozzie has is just mind blowing. Just about everybody else up there with Ozzie is a dmid or defender, but wait, who's there at number 11? Dempsey! Now this guy is playing pretty much as a withdrawn forward, and his pass accuracy percentage is 85%! That's just unfair. That's more than other dmids in the league, Chara, Hendry Thomas, and CB's like Olave. The fact that Dempsey is making 85% of his passes, many of which are deep in the opposition's half is probably making opposing defenses sick. It makes me sick.
Finally, let's look at squawka.com's performance score. This adds up defensive points and offensive points for metrics under each category and spits out a raw number. Not that enlightening, but a good look at where a team is at cumulatively.
Well well, what do you know. The team on top of the supporter's shield race also has the highest performance score overall. And that's because we have the highest attack score despite a negative possession score and a defense that ranks a better-than-expected fourth in the league (917 -which makes sense, cancelling out some of the outlier gaffegoals). Our attack score, 1435 is better than the second best by a margin of 285 points, whereas the difference between second and fifth in the league is only 92 points. That's how much better our attack is this season than other teams.
Let's look at the individual statistics related to overall performance score:
Well, it all makes sense now doesn't it? We have the players who are performing better than the rest of the players in the league. The top three players in the league based on the objective metrics are Dempsey, Marshall, and Alonso. We have four of the top 12 performing players. Note I'm not saying these are the "best" players, but these are the players that are performing the best. There's a significant difference.
The top three performing players in the League are Dempsey, Marshall, and Alonso. Oba is number 12, based on this metric. 25% of the top 12 performing players in the league play for Seattle. Pineda comes in at 28, Neagle at 30, Djimi at 60, Yedlin at 73.
There are 19 teams in MLS, each with a starting 11. That's 209 starting players on 19 teams. 6 of Seattle's outfield players are in the top 85th percentile of the starters in the league in terms of objective on the field production. That, my friend, is a number that we like.