Is it that time again already? Okay, it's actually been over a month. Plenty of time for the Sounders to rocket up the CPR, just like they've done up the standings and up the meatspace Power Rankings. Right? Or maybe not..
In the last edition it was — to no surprise — Kansas City, LA, and Dallas in the top three. We called out the biggest deviation from the real standings being the New York Red Bulls, who were 4th in the CPR but way down in the standings with only one win in their first six. Well, they won 6 of their next 8 and are now on top of the East. Score one for the CPR. We also called out Seattle, who were a middling team in the CPR but rock bottom in the standings. Obviously they've recovered nicely, as really everyone predicated based on the talent on the team.
So how do things stack up in mid-May? Here are the updated rankings:
|Sporting Kansas City||3.08||3.58||11.11||3.46||94
|San Jose Earthquakes||3.5||3.34||-3.48||4.52||82
|New York Red Bulls||1.87||2.13||4.39||2.71||77
|Real Salt Lake||-5.28||-0.38||8.45||0.06||51
|Seattle Sounders FC||3.74||-1.59||0.54||-4.6||45
|New England Revolution||-5.96||-2.33||-5.47||-1.6||27
It's interesting to note that most teams gained rankings points since the last update. They aren't mathematically 0-sum, so that's certainly possible, but it's rare. The biggest jump among the risers was San Jose's, who gained 39 points and rose from 11th to 2nd in the rankings. That's despite only 1 win in their last 9 and an 0-4 thumping at the hands of the Sounders. With 4 consecutive road games coming up, things probably aren't going to get any easier, but statistically they're playing well. Maybe they'll be the New York Red Bulls of the next update.
In the other direction, the Galaxy was one of only three teams to lose points, and they dropped from 2nd to 7th. They've lost three of their last four, so no surprises there. Their biggest advantage at this point may be that Landon Donovan isn't currently a national team player, so he'll be staying around when most of the other top clubs are depleted by international absences.
So about the Sounders.. When they were being crushed under their worst start in their MLS history, the CPR had them at 44 points. Now that they're flying high and destroying teams previously believed to be the best in the league, they have. . 45 points. The biggest anchor on their standing by far is that 17th ranking in net recoveries. Only Toronto and Colorado are doing worse in that stat. This is after being one of the best teams in recoveries last season. So what's going on there? Recoveries is among other things a hustle stat, and through the first handful of games this season there's no question Seattle had hustle issues. But those seem to have been resolved, so we'll have to dig a little deeper.
Here are the current player leaders in recoveries this season:
Well there's a pretty obvious pattern there. Those are all keepers. And the players at the top are on teams that give up a lot of goals. Goalkeeper is a unique position in a lot of ways and that's also true statistically. Keepers have a really terrible passing % for example, since so many of their 'passes' are 50/50 punts. It looks like another way they're unique statistically is that they dominate recovery stats. And while recoveries generally correlate positively with results, it looks like — just from eyeballing this list and the next 20 players in the league — that you don't really want your keeper making a lot of them. In fact the lowest regular keeper in the rankings is none other than Michael Gspurning with 97, and Seattle has had a stifling defense this season.
That suggests to me that when rankings teams by recoveries, we should leave keepers out of it. I suspect that Non-Keeper Recoveries is going to correlate even better with results (maybe substantially so, since keepers so dominate the stat), but that's a project for another week. For now, I made a quick change to the CPR script that removes keeper recoveries and it does have an impact on the rankings, but not a profound one. Some teams move 3 or 4 ranking places but there are no dramatic moves around the table. And Seattle is still 15th in the stat. Better than 17th, but not by much. I'll start publishing the CPR with that change in the next edition.
So to keep digging, here are the top recoverers after removing keepers:
Once keepers are out of the way, the rankings are clearly dominated by defensive midfielders. That makes sense, as their primary job is recovering possession in their own end. And Seattle knows a thing or two about defensive midfielders. The 2012 season leader for recoveries (again, excluding keepers) was none other than Osvaldo Alonso. The 2011 leader was. . Osvaldo Alonso. We didn't have Opta stats in 2010, but I think you see where this is going.
You don't need to nerd out on stats to know that Seattle's better with Alonso. Commenter Randy Meeker calculated that the team has a losing record without Alonso in their MLS era, which is remarkable for a team that's contended for the Supporters Shield every season. So one issue is that the team didn't have Alonso for 2 matches this year, neither wins.
Here are the recovery leaders for the Sounders through 10 games both this season and last season:
|Osvaldo Alonso||105||Osvaldo Alonso||82|
|David Estrada||62||Jhon Kennedy Hurtado||58|
|Fredy Montero||43||DeAndre Yedlin||47|
|Brad Evans||42||Djimi Traore||46|
|Marc Burch||41||Leo Gonzalez||44|
|Alvaro Fernandez||34||Mauro Rosales||36|
|Mauro Rosales||31||Brad Evans||30||Zach Scott||27||Andy Rose||30|
You can see the drop in Alonso's recoveries which is explained by his absence. but what stands out to me the change in the positional nature of the rankings. Last season through the first 10 games our #2 and #3 players in recoveries were forwards. David Estrada is known as a high work rate guy who'll chase down anything, but right behind him (okay, a ways behind him) was Fredy Montero, branded with the 'lazy' moniker by lazy fans and lazy commentators he was actually very effective at winning balls.
In fact, there are no center defenders on the 2012 top 10. But if we look at this year's rankings, after Alonso we have our starting backline at 2-5. We've seen that it's not good for your keeper to making a lot of recoveries. Maybe it's not good for your back line to be doing it too much either. This would suggest that what Seattle lacks most this season is someone (or someones) who will win loose balls in the midfield and attacking end. Brad Evans is a player who will do that. Lamar Neagle is a similar player to David Estrada in that he will do that. Maybe it's not a coincidence that Seattle's run of good form has come with Neagle and Evans on the field. And that presents a conundrum for fans (and probably coaches) who want to pack the lineup with players like Steve Zakuani and Obafemi Martins and Mario Martinez: tremendously talented offensive players, but not necessarily ones who will do the dirty work in midfield to take and keep the ball.