The case against Sigi

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with this: the only soccer team I ever managed was an intramural coed team in college. (we did well, but that’s immaterial) Sigi Schmid has forgotten more about managing a soccer team than I’m ever likely to know.

What I am an expert in is poker, which also means I am good at calculating probabilities and finding game strategies which maximize returns on assets in a given situation.

Let’s examine the situation going into the second leg of the Dallas-Seattle conference semifinal. If Seattle won, Seattle advanced. If it was a draw, Seattle advanced. If Seattle lost by one goal, but scored at least 2 in Dallas, Seattle advanced. There was exactly one single goal defeat that eliminated Seattle – 0-1.

When the game began, SSFC had the best position, but only by the absolute narrowest possible margin. One goal had the potential to completely reverse the situation for the worse.

For any given group of 18 players, there is an ideal line up, formation, and level of aggressiveness where the probability of the next goal being theirs maximizes. Let us call that the "ideal next goal approach." Depending on the relative stakes of surrendering the next goal, when and how far to stray from that approach to park the bus will vary. Some will argue that with the lead from the first leg SSFC would have been correct to park the bus all the way.

This is objectively irrational.

Let’s consider that a next goal between two teams will eventually be scored (90 minutes, 180, 270…eventually the probability is 1 on a long enough time line). For two very defensive teams, the time between goals might be very long (Vancouver – Portland). For more aggressive teams, like Seattle and Dallas, the interval between goals will be shorter. Given the defensive injuries, expecting a lower score line than the 2-1 from the first leg would amount to wishful thinking. If we use that as a base line, and there were 3 goals in the preceding Dallas-Seattle matchup as well, then we should begin with the prediction there will be three goals in the second leg.

That means we should expect at least one goal in any 30 minute period. That includes the last 30 minutes of the game, regardless of whether any have yet been scored. This means, when it was scoreless at minute 60 of the second leg, Seattle STILL should have remained in their ideal next goal approach. At that point, there’d been 6 goals in the preceding 240 minutes of play between these teams. Parking the bus is simply wrong, given this FACT.

This might be debatable, if the first 60 minutes of the game gave us a reason, beyond the lack of goals, to believe the predicted number of goals was wrong. If the opposition comes out doing unexpected things, a coach must re calculate what the ideal next goal approach might be on that day. This was not true in the first half of Seattle vs Dallas.

This makes it particularly shocking that Seattle abandoned the game plan that put them ahead in minute 46. At that point, the full backs became painfully conservative in their forward play. The midfielders as well. Seattle parked the bus. This would be right if one could, with rational analysis, predict the game would end 0-0. But how could anyone make that prediction? It defies logic.

It is tempting to say, "but don’t give up a goal, and you move on!" This is the kind of short sighted logic that allows me to make a living betting on a deck of cards. The problem comes because when you leave the "ideal next goal" approach behind to park the bus, you increase the chances that the next goal will be SCORED BY YOUR OPPONENT. While it’s true that parking the bus increases the interval between goals, the price for surrendering a goal is too high to ignore. When the relative chances of surrendering (as opposed to scoring) increases by taking a particular approach, the approach had better have a clear chance to succeed in defending the goal for the necessary time remaining.

With 4 of the best 5 defensive outfield players unavailable, what kind of expectation could a rational person have about holding Dallas scoreless for 45 minutes? Very low. Moreover, abandoning attack allows an opposing soccer team to neglect its own defense with low risk, further increasing the stress on the defending team.

What happened in the second half of the second leg was Sigi Schmid choosing to bet on the depleted defense rather than the largely healthy offense, even though it made sense, even if the defense wasn’t depleted, to maintain the level of attack from the first half. It was a bad bet based on either 1: failure to understand the strategic situation, or, 2: a failure to read the likelihood of goals in that game.

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