Monday, May 28, 2012

Saco Indoor Soccer Facility Being Upgraded

Portland Press Herald:
Kris Lamb sees gold in green turf soccer fields.Lamb's company, XL Soccer World, just bought Saco's Southern Maine Sports Zone for $2 million and spent an additional $1 million on upgrades to the 75,000-square-foot sports facility.Among the changes are replacing and upgrading the facility's two soccer fields, refurbishing the 24-hour gym and renovating the bar and restaurant area to create a more family-friendly, cleaner and modern facility.
- John C.L. Morgan

Friday, May 11, 2012

ODP Program Looks to Rebound

Bangor Daily News:
Scott Gillespie, owner of Saco Fitness and Sport, an ODP coach and a Premier coach, has spearheaded the change after the number of ODP teams dwindled to less than a handful. "I took over the program two years ago," said Gillespie, who said he was one of the first ODP players in the late 1970s. "The program was struggling. Two years ago there were only three teams. The year before that, there were four." Now there are a full 10, one of each gender in each of the five age groups--U-13 (1999 birth year) to U-17 (1995 birth year).
- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Revere's Ride: Revs Below Average in Scoring Efficiency

Andrew Weibe of Major League Soccer's Web site has written an analysis of the league's most efficient teams in terms of converting shots into goals. Since the start of the 2011 season, the Revolution have converted 17% of their 209 shots taken inside the penalty box into goals, while converting 4% of their 182 shots taken outside the penalty box.

These two numbers--17% and 4%--are below the league average of 19% and 5%, respectively. The rest of the graph can be seen here: (Click on image to enlarge.)

- John C.L. Morgan

Recommended Reading: Pele's Entropy

Grantland's Brian Phillips on his ambivalence about Pele and the reason for why the superstar can't really help being the way he's been (corporate shill, cranky opiner, etc.) in retirement:
You make people feel good, which makes you feel good, and you see that this is a kind of lovely feedback loop, that if you just keep smiling and talking about yourself the whole tone of the room lifts. You're like a drug, essentially. Only then one day you retire, and the day after you retire you're exactly the same person, and the week after, and the month after, only somehow something is different, some underlying universe-dynamic has gone very slightly wrong, so of course you try harder to compensate.
- John C.L. Morgan

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Observance of a Sad Holiday

Three years ago to the day, the University of Maine announced it was suspending its struggling men's soccer team.

According to an April 15, 2009 Bangor Daily News article, the men's soccer program had a $145,580 operating budget and doled out $175,000 per year in scholarship aid.* Besides one head coach and a paid assistant coach, the program included 26 players with 6.5 scholarships spread among them.

The university's 2009 decision forced Maine to become one of 13 states in the U.S. without a Div. I soccer program playing within its borders, according to the sidebar of this December 2011 piece in the The Birmingham News.

- John C.L. Morgan

*Another victim of suspension that year was the women's volleyball team. That team--which included a head coach, a paid assistant coach, and 15 players with 12 scholarships--had an annual operating cost of $232,564 and scholarship aid worth $343,238.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Revere's Ride: Castrol Index (April 10)

Below is Major League Soccer's rankings of the Revolution's players, according to the league's version of the Castrol Index: (Click on image to make it larger.)

- John C.L. Morgan

Monday, April 2, 2012

On Location: Epping, New Hampshire

I drove down to Seacoast United's field complexes in Epping, New Hampshire yesterday to watch a couple games between the hosts and the New York Red Bulls youth academy teams.

I hadn't fully appreciated the quality of youth soccer that's played just 75 minutes away from my home in Maine until I saw the Red Bulls rout Seacoast's U-17/18 team 5-0. The U-15/16 teams were scoreless when I left with a couple minutes remaining in the first half.

The Red Bulls' U-17/18 team, which is ranked by Top Drawer Soccer (TDS) as the No. 45 team in the country, features four players on their roster who are recognized as being in the top 65 in the U.S. by TDS, and their U-15/16 team features a couple players ranked in the top 20 in their age group:

No. 22: Brandon Allen (Georgetown)
No. 51: Ross Tetro (Rutgers)
No. 52: Mael Corbez (Rutgers)
No. 62: Scott Thomsen (Virginia)

No. 7: Adam Nejam
No. 16: Alex Muyl

After my experience yesterday, I've circled June 16 on my calendar. The New England Revolution's youth academy teams (ranked at No. 14 and 19, respectively) will be traveling to Epping to take on Seacoast.

- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Recommended Reading: The Secrets of Barca

Soccer journalist Simon Kuper on the seven little-known (until now) tactics FC Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola stresses:
Guardiola once compared Barcelona’s style to a cathedral. Johan Cruijff, he said, as Barça’s supreme player in the 1970s and later as coach, had built the cathedral. The task of those who came afterwards was to renovate and update it. Guardiola is always looking for updates. If a random person in the street says something interesting about the game, Guardiola listens.
- John C.L. Morgan

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Revere's Ride: Reis is a Bright Spot in Possession Game

Since he was hired last November, New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps has not been shy about his ambition to craft a team that plays possession-oriented soccer. There are good reasons for why the Revs have lost the battle for possession in each of its three games, but Heaps's vision of a ball-possessing side is nonetheless far from being realized.

There is one sign of encouragement in that department, though: Goalkeeper Matt Reis is among the league-leading goalkeepers when it comes to retaining possession when they distribute the ball. This is noteworthy, because a goalkeeper who's able to efficiently distribute the ball has been a trademark of teams that stress possession, whether it was Holland's Jan Jongbloed in the 1974 World Cup or FC Barcelona's Victor Valdes today.

Below are the distribution efficiency rankings of the twelve goalkeepers who've played all 270 minutes so far, according to Opta statistics. The number of passes completed and total passes over the three games are in parentheses:

1.) Jimmy Nielson, SKC- 75% (58/77)

1.) Nick Rimando, RSL- 75% (68/91)

3.) Ryan Meara, NYRB- 69% (49/71)

4.) Matt Reis, NER- 68% (69/101)

5.) Dan Kennedy, CHV- 67% (67/100)

6.) Donovan Rickets, MTL- 61% (60/98)

7.) Kevin Hartman, FCD- 60% (48/80)

8.) Tally Hall, HOU- 59% (51/87)

9.) Troy Perkins, POR- 56% (49/87)

10.) Matt Pickens, COL- 55% (47/85)

11.) Zac MacMath, PHI- 52% (44/85)

12.) Jon Busch, SJ- 46% (49/107)

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Three Final Thoughts on Revolution vs. Timbers

1. This was a game of milestones.

The New England Revolution won their first regular season game since September 10, when they beat FC Dallas at home. The 1-0 win over Portland was also the sixth consecutive home-opener win in franchise history. Matt Reis became the sixth goalkeeper in MLS history to record 1,000 saves, and Shalrie Joseph became the Revolution's all-time leader in minutes played. This was an important win in many ways, but it was nice to top it off with some team and individual milestones--even if, in the words of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, achieving milestones is mostly a sign of age.

2. The Revolution's flank midfielders tightened the exterior defense.

Sporting Kansas City (and former Revs) fullback Seth Sinovic was involved in all three of that team's goals against the Revs last week. He completed 85% of his 80 passes, and his heat map glows with activity up and down the left flank. If the Revolution were to win this game against the Timbers, they had to limit the impact of Timbers' fullbacks in the attacking third.

Fortunately, Ryan Guy, Lee Nguyen, and Alec Purdie were up to the task against fullbacks Rodney Wallace and Lovel Palmer. There were moments such as the 62nd minute, when Palmer found himself wide open on the right wing and was able to whip in an uncontested cross. But for the most part the exterior defenders did well minimizing the threat posed by Wallace and Palmer. Unlike last week, when Kansas City's fullbacks completed 61% of their 31 attempted passes in their offensive third, the Timbers' fullbacks completed only 41% of their 17 attempted passes in that area. Centerbacks Shalrie Joseph and A.J. Soares deserve credit for this improvement, but the wingers deserve most of it.

3. It will be nice when (if?) the Revs add an effective target striker to its lineup.

Blake Brettschneider played better against the Timbers than he did against San Jose a couple weeks ago. But he's not the long-term solution, and if he goes on to start at least two-thirds of the Revs' games like he has so far, then the Revs will have a tough time creating scoring chances.

Even though Saer Sene's body type (6'3" 185 pounds) suggests a player who's more comfortable playing the target forward than a dropping forward, his skill set and his heat map for the two games he's started indicates a player more comfortable playing in the hole between the attacking central midfielder and the target forward. That's where Jose "Pepe" Moreno comes in.

Moreno, the Colombian forward whose February 2 signing immediately inspired the Revs' marketing department to boast No. 9 jerseys featuring his name, finally joined the team earlier this week.

We haven't seen him play yet, but he's got to be an upgrade over what the team's thrown in its starting lineup in the No. 9 spot so far.

Let's hope that "So, a Colombian and Frenchman walk onto the field..." signals a punchy front line instead of the proverbial punch line.

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Revs Claim First Win

The New England Revolution won its first game of the 2012 season, claiming a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers in its home opener. Below are player ratings for the thirteen players who made appearances.

Player Ratings
(1=atrocious, 3=poor, 5=average, 7=good, 10=excellent)

(1) Matt Reis: 7

Reis wasn't tested too many times throughout the game, but he sure-handedly met each challenge he faced. His quickness off the goal line in the 46th minute nipped a breakthrough by Portland's Eric Alexander, and his smart parry on Franck Songo'o's 68th stinger was noteworthy not only because he kept the hard shot out of the net but also because he was able to channel the rebound out to the flank. His distribution was pretty good (61% on 36 distribution chances), and Revs defender A.J. Soares has to be thankful for Reis's calm-footed recovery on his potentially disastrous pass in the 46th minute. Reis's 50-yard throw late in the game to spark a counterrattack was a thing of beauty.

(5) A.J. Soares: 7

With the exception of the aforementioned soft pass in the 46th minute (above), Soares didn't make any obvious mistakes. He was once again the Revs' most active player in the air (12 headers), and he combined well with fellow centerback Shalrie Joseph to tame the Timbers' attacking duo of Darlington Nagbe and Kris Boyd. Soares completed a respectable 67% of his 34 passes.

(8) Chris Tierney: 6

Chris Tierney's cross on Saer Sene's 1st minute goal was his most remarkable contribution to the win, but the left fullback's service from the on free kicks threatened Portland throughout the game. You'd like to see more consistent distribution from Tierney (he completed only half of his 48 passes and only 53% of his 15 passes in the offensive half of the field), but his set pieces and the lack of defensive faults made this a pretty good showing by him.

(11) Kelyn Rowe: 5

The rookie Rowe slid more into a central role to compensate for the absence of the injured Benny Feilhaber, but he was largely anonymous throughout the game. His passing was okay (he completed 64% of his 28 passes, including 60% of his 15 passes in the offensive half of the field), but he should've done more with Saer Sene's clever through ball in the 42nd minute. His touch betrayed him on the play, and his frustrated reaction to the play depicted a player who's still trying to capture the his pre-season output.

(13) Ryan Guy: 6

Guy started the game as a wing midfielder, but was shifted to right fullback when Kevin Alston left the game due to an injury in the 70th minute. Like Tierney, Guy seemed to play better than his stats indicate. He was active throughout the game, but he completed only 52% of his 31 passes. Guy's real contribution was his versatility and his exterior defense. Unlike last week's game against Sporting Kansas City when the opposing fullbacks ran riot over the Revs, the Timbers' fullbacks--Rodney Wallace and Lovel Palmer--were largely unthreatening in the attack. Both players' heat maps suggest that wasn't for a lack of trying, so Guy and Lee Nguyen deserve credit for keeping those two in check.

(19) Clyde Simms: 6

Simms wasn't as reliable with the ball at his feet as he had been in the first couple games (his pass completion rate was 68% vs. 93% and 84%, respectively), but he was solid on defense. Portland's central midfielders Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury were unremarkable, as were their strikers Boyd and Nagbe. Simms's work in the center of the field contributed to this lack of threat posed by those players.

(21) Shalrie Joseph: 7

Filling in at centerback for an injured John Lozano and suspended Stephen McCarthy, Shalrie Joseph was solid throughout the game. With the exception of a play in the 62nd minute when Portland's Boyd shook Joseph's coverage only to squander a great opportunity on a header, Joseph stuck with the strong striker throughout the game. His distribution was good (he completed 71% of his 34 passes).

(23) Blake Brettschneider: 5

Brettschneider wasn't nearly as bad as he was in the season-opener against San Jose, but he wasn't that good, either. He had his moments--such as his involvement in a pretty counterattack in the 52nd minute--but he was largely ineffective throughout the game.

(24) Lee Nguyen: 7

For the third game in a row, it was Nguyen who had more sparkling plays in the attack than anyone else for the Revs. His through ball to Sene in the 10th minute gave Sene a chance to add another early goal to the scoreline, but it was his footskills when he split two Timbers defenders in the 56th minute and on the sideline late in the game that dazzled the crowd.

(30) Kevin Alston: 5

Alston left the game in the 70th minute after being kicked in the face by the Timbers' Song'o, but he had an Alston-like game until then. He lacked game awareness at times (such as the 4th minute, when he kept Boyd onsides then committed a potentially dangerous foul), was mostly reliable on defense, and was actively inconsequential in the attack (his heat map displays presence in the offensive half, but he completed fewer than half of his passes on that part of the field).

(39) Saer Sene: 6

His header in the 1st minute proved to be the difference in the Revs' 1-0 win and also showed he has the physical skills to play as a target forward. Despite his size, though, Sene is actually more suited as the second forward. As his heat map indicates, he spends quite a bit of time dropping into the midfield, which may have hampered Rowe's effectiveness as the attacking midfielder. His pass completion rate (73% of 19 passes) wasn't as high as it was against Sporting Kansas City last week, but he was still engaged in the attack, especially in the first half.

(80) Fernando Cardenas: 5

Cardenas replaced Sene and the 70th minute and was visible for the remaining twenty minutes. He wasn't involved in any consequential plays, but his interactions with Nguyen and Tierney on the left side of the field were promising.

(99) Alec Purdie: 5

After replacing an injured Kevin Alston in the 70th minute, Purdie's play was unremarkable. The game situation called for a defense-first approach for the wing midfielder, so that was Purdie's focus.

- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recommended Reading: Klinsmann Picks Up Pick-Up

Ryan Dempsey on U.S. Men's National Team coach Juergen Klinsmann's belief that youth soccer players should play more pick-up soccer:
Now the head coach of the U.S. national team, Klinsmann says the approach to soccer in Germany is a bit more similar to basketball in the United States--a combination of pickup and playground play as well as organized teams--than it is to the U.S. soccer culture, which for so long has revolved around structured training and having to pay to play for youth soccer clubs or organizations.
- John C.L. Morgan

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Revere's Ride: Three Final Thoughts on Revs vs. Sporting Kansas City

1. The Revs' exterior defense needs to improve.

Diagnosing the Revolution's faults will probably be a moving target, with a different emphasis changing from game to game. Sporting Kansas City fullback Seth Sinovic's involvement in all three of their goals in this game highlights how far the Revs fullbacks and wing midfielders have to go before they start taking the pressure off the centerbacks and goalkeeper Matt Reis. The inconsistent positioning and tracking of the Revs' exterior players were exploited on each of Kansas City's goals, and Sporting Kansas City's flank players were allowed to play dangerous crosses into the penalty box almost at will.

2. The veterans need to play like veterans.
Shalrie Joseph nearly committed his second catostrophic turnover in as many weeks, Matt Reis foolishly found himself literally floating in no-man's land early in the game, and Benny Feilhaber once again displayed his cranky affect when things weren't going well. The optimism of the pre-season has all but vanished, and there are numerous moving parts on this team. Stalwarts such as Joseph, Reis, and Feilhaber need be the reliable constants amid the evolving lineups and roster changes, but they're not getting it done yet.

3. Despite the result, I'm happier with this game than last week's loss to San Jose.
In terms of scoreline (3-0 vs. 1-0) and the Revolution's share of possession (34% vs. 48%), this week's loss should be more dispiriting than last week's game against San Jose. For a couple reasons, though, it's actually a more encouraging result.

That's partly due to the fact that the Revs' first fifteen minutes against Sporting Kansas City were overall more encouraging than any 15-minute block of the Revs loss to San Jose and mostly due to the fact that Stephen McCarthy's frustrating--but justifiable--ejection in the 15th minute poisoned the sample and leaves that solace of what-if in the back of the mind.

To be sure, Kelyn Rowe's slow start and the inconsistent play among the Revs' fullbacks remain among many causes for concern. But the team did better connecting its passes (not including goalkeeper Matt Reis's distribution in both games, the Revs completed 73% of its passes against Sporting Kansas City and 67% of their passes against San Jose), and even a hobbled Saer Senne was a brighter light than any of the forwards the team threw on the field last week.

Maybe I'm still chugging on the Kool-Aid, but I can't quit the Revs just yet.

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Short-Handed Revs Routed by Sporting Kansas City

The New England Revolution continued its losing ways last night, when a short-handed squad fell to Eastern Conference favorites Sporting Kansas City, 3-0. Below are player ratings for the fourteen players who made appearances.

Player Ratings

(1=atrocious, 3=poor, 5=average, 7=good, 10=excellent)

(1) Matt Reis: 5
Despite conceding three goals, Reis didn't play all that poorly. He could've been more aggressive off his line on Kamara's cross that led to Kansas City's first goal in the 28th minute, but he was temporarily heroic on Sporting's second goal, and left out to dry on their third. Reis's distribution wasn't nearly as possession-minded as it had been against San Jose last week, but that was mostly due to Sporting's high-pressure approach and the fact that the Revs were forced to play a man down a mere 15 minutes into the game. Reis's most reckless play--an adventurous foray into the outfield that culminated with a Roger Espinoza chip off the post--didn't result in a goal for Kansas City.

(5) A.J. Soares: 5
Looking much more comfortable at center back than he did at left back against San Jose last week, Soares was reliable in his distribution (he completed 72% of his 43 passes) and strong in the air (he had seven headers). He was too soft on the Kamara cross that led to Graham Susi's initial shot in the 28th minute and a little too slow on the deflection that Susi punched past Reis for Sporting's first goal. The real weakness of the Revolution's defense was its exterior play, and the interior suffered for it.

(8) Chris Tierney: 4
Back from a one-game suspension, Tierney's play with the ball at his feet wasn't good enough (he completed just over 50% of his 56 passes and he turned the ball over 21 times) to justify the trade-off you get with his shaky defending. Beginning in the 2nd minute when Kei Kamara streaked past him to get off a cross, Tierney was consistently too permissive on the flank and gave up too many uncontested crosses, including the leisurely cross Kamara was able to make in the 28th minute that led to Susi's goal. On the plus side, Tierney's free kicks were mostly well-placed, and his run and cross in the 5th minute very nearly led to a goal by Benny Feilhaber.

(11) Kelyn Rowe: 4
Still adjusting to the speed of a regular season MLS game, Rowe was more comfortable on the ball this game than he was against San Jose last week. He solidly plucked passes out the air, completed 90% of his ten passes, and turned the ball over only twice. His inconsistent defensive play on the flank, though, was exploited by a Sporting Kansas City side that loves to weave its fullbacks into the attack. And for every time Rowe recognized his need to track defensively (e.g., the 34th minute, when Rowe pre-empted a Kansas City counter-attack by covering for an attacking Kevin Alston), there was a defensive head-slapper like in the 39th minute when he was burned by a one-two combination between Bobby Convey and Seth Sinovic that led to Kansas City's second goal.

(19) Clyde Simms: 6
Simms was once again stellar on the ball (he completed 93% of his 30 passes), and he had a remarkable 70-second stretch in the 36th and 37th minutes where he first recovered defensively to pressure Roger Espinoza into a miss on a breakaway opportunity on one end of the field only to then have a good scoring opportunity for himself on the offensive end. My one complaint is that Simms is not prominent enough in his role as the holding midfielder that connects the back line to the attackers. Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman is the model of that role in the MLS, and Simms is anonymous compared to Beckerman's ability to visibly check back and serve as that pivot.

(21) Shalrie Joseph: 5
Joseph started the game as a central midfielder, but was shifted back to central defense in the 15th minute to compensate for the loss of Stephen McCarthy due to a red card. Fortunately for Revs fans, Joseph was much better in this game than he was against San Jose. Even before he took over in central defense, Joseph was more commanding on the ball and went on to complete about 75% of his 45 passes. You can't mark a scoring player much better than Joseph marked Susi on Kansas City's first goal in the 28th minute, but his lackadaisacal coverage to compensate for a toasted Rowe in the 39th minute gave Sinovic too much time on the end line to make a deadly cross. His horrendous turnover in the 32nd minute gave C.J. Sapong a good scoring opportunity that was parried away by a well-positioned Reis. Between this turnover and last week's consequential turnover, let's hope this is not a trend that continues.

(22) Benny Feilhaber: 5
Like Rowe and Joseph, Feilhaber acquitted himself much better in the possession game against Kansas City than he did against San Jose by completing 78% of his 27 passes. His shot in the 5th was destined to beat Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielson, only to be deflected to the side. His generous defending on Susi in the 47th minute sparked a domino affect that resulted in Ryan Guy shedding Sinovic to cover Susi, A.J. Soares shedding C.J. Sapong to track Sinovic, and no one left to cover the goal-scoring Sapong.

(24) Lee Nguyen: 6
For the second game in a row, Nguyen provided offensive spark for the Revs. His strong tackle and clever pass to Simms in the 37th minute set up a good scoring opportunity, but it was his strong presence on the ball that gave the backline a reliable outlet target throughout the game that was probably the most valuable service he provided. Also, Kansas City fullback Chance Myers was neutralized throughout the game (unlike Sinovic on the left side), so Nguyen deserves credit for quietly limiting the attack from Sporting's right fullback.

(26) Stephen McCarthy: 3
McCarthy's red card in the 15th minute was harsh, but it nevertheless stymied a promising start for the Revs. Before his early exit, McCarthy gave another encouraging glimpse at his performance as a center back and completed 5 of his 6 passes.

(30) Kevin Alston: 4
Though Alston doesn't deserve most of the blame for Sinovic wreaking havoc on the right side of the Revolution defense (midfielders Rowe and Ryan Guy were most at fault), Alston was nevertheless part of the defensive tandem that softly patrolled the flank that contributed to each of Kansas City's three goals. Alston was once again pretty good on the ball (he completed 70% of his 37 passes), but his offensive forays lack any punch. Coach Jay Heaps is giving Alston the green light to push into the attack (Alston's heat map shows a lot of activity at midfield), but he just isn't able to translate his speed and improved ball work into creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.

(39) Saer Senne: 5
Senne made his Revs debut with his left knee heavily bandaged, and the French striker was noticeably ginger from the game's onset. Despite being hampered by his knee, though, Senne still showed an ability to distribute the ball to his teammates (he missed the mark on only one of his 19 passes). Within the context of last week's target striker, Blake Brettschneider, Senne played a good game. Within the context of your average MLS striker, Senne was, well, average and will hopefully become more effective when (if?) his knee heals.

(13) Ryan Guy: 4
Though Guy did have two headers on frame after he came on as a sub for Kelyn Rowe at halftime, his play was reminiscent of Rowe's play in the first half. Thanks to Feilhaber's uninspired defending in the 47th minute, Guy was forced to let Sinovic burn the right flank of the Revs yet again. Guy wasn't as effective as Rowe in possession, however, completing only about 50% of his passes.

(14) Diego Fagundez: 5
Fagundez replaced Senne in the 57th minute, and his unremarkable play was more a function of the game situation than anything Fagundez did or didn't do. Sporting Kansas City was content with preserving the three-goal lead by possessing the ball, and the Revolution appeared content with preserving its three-goal loss by maintaining its low pressure. Fegundez as the lone striker therefore spent most of his time on the field running around playing defense in harsh 1 v. 3 or 1 v. 4 settings.

(15) Jeremiah White: 4

White took off Feilhaber in the 61st minute and his below-average debut for the Revolution can hopefully be chalked up to a lack of familiarity with his teammates. Lee Nguyen was visibly frustrated by White's inability to successfully receive the former's numerous passes on the right wing. He showed some encouraging speed at times, but he was off-key throughout.

- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Recommended Reading: MLS and the Paradox of Possession

Armchair Analyst:
Of the 213 victories in MLS 2011, only 83 of the teams winning that game managed more possession than their opponent (39 percent). Also important to say that of the 75 sides to manage 60 percent or more possession in an MLS game last season, only 15 of those sides managed to win that game (20 percent).
For what's worth, seven of the eight victors in games played over the kick-off of the 2012 MLS season were won by the team who also won the possession battle.

- John C.L. Morgan

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Revere's Ride: Final Thoughts on Revs vs. Earthquakes

1. The Revolution's midfield was supposed to be its strength, but it was its weakness.

Coming into the season, many analysts and fans cited the team's midfield as one cause for optimism. The combination of the veteran stalwart Shalrie Joseph, the clever Benny Feilhaber, the steady Clyde Simms, and the youthful newcomer Kelyn Rowe was supposed to compensate for whatever was lacking elsewhere on the field.

If this core four will be the team's bright spot, then last night's performance casts a dark cloud over the start of the season.

Obviously, it was Joseph's careless square pass in the 15th minute that led to San Jose's goal. However, the miscues among the midfielders persisted throughout the game. Including Clyde Simms's respectable 84% pass completion rate, the New England Revolution's midfielders combined to complete only 65% (97 of 149) of their passes, including a paltry 54% (43 of 79) of their passes in the offensive half of the field. San Jose's midfielders, on the other hand, completed 70% of their passes--despite attempting more than twice as many passes as the Revs' midfielders--including 63% of their passes in the offensive half of the field.

To put the Revolution midfielders' poor performance in even greater context, consider the performance of the Real Salt Lake midfield against a tougher L.A. Galaxy team: Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, et. al. completed 86% of their 205 passes, including 86% of their 98 passes in the offensive half of the field.

2. The Revolution's attack was predictably toothless.

If the Revolution midfielders have a legitimate reason for their ineffective play, then it rests with the pathetic play of the two starting forwards. Target man Blake Brettschneider and second forward Fernando Cardenas were non-factors throughout the game. With the exception a handful of times, Brettscheider was either unable to track down a pass or unable to maintain possession if he did happen to get a body part on a pass. And though Cardenas was energetic throughout the game, he usually appeared clueless (he was offsides more than once) or inconsequential.

Granted, the Revs are lacking quality at forward due to injury (Saer Senne) and no-shows (Jose "Pepe" Moreno), so we are hopefully not destined to suffer the Brettschneider & Cardenas Show every week.

3. The backs were pretty solid.

Granted, pass completion rates among defenders are a little inflated due to the number completed while a player is under relatively little pressure. Nonetheless, the defenders had a better pass completion rate than the Earthquakes' defenders (71% vs. 66%), while attempting more passes (205 vs. 189).

A.J. Soares and John Lozano were the most careless with the ball, but Soares was playing a new position on short notice, and Lozano improved after being horrible over the first 25 minutes. Stephen McCarthy was one of the Revs' three best players, and Kevin Alston's offensive contribution was better than I had initially realized. Tyler Polak's confidence on the ball is encouraging.

Most important, the backs didn't surrender a shot on goal, with the exception of the 15th minute goal that was sparked by midfield incompetence. There were times, especially early on, when the backs opted to play the riskier long ball instead of the high-percentage short pass. But they played positively enough to at least provide some optimism for next week's game against Sporting Kansas City.

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Forwards' Possession vs. San Jose

(Editor's Note: Thanks to Major League Soccer's use of Optics, there's a wealth of information available to the average fan. Below is an analysis of the possession statistics of Revolution forwards in the team's 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.)

Pass Completion Rate
1. Cardenas, 69% (9 of 13)
2. Nguyen, 60% (6 of 10)*
3. Brettsneider, 57% (8 of 14)

TOTAL: 62% (23 of 37)
OPPONENTS: 68% (41 of 60)

1. Brettschneider, 8
2. Cardenas, 5
3. Nguyen, 4*


* Replaced Cardenas in the 69th minute.

The graphic below depicts the Revolution forwards' performance in possession within 25 yards of goal. The green bubble represents a successful pass, and a red bubble represents an unsuccessful pass attempt.

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Midfielders' Possession vs. San Jose

(Editor's Note: Thanks to Major League Soccer's use of Optics, there's a wealth of information available to the average fan. Below is an analysis of the possession statistics of Revolution midfielders in the team's 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.)

Pass Completion Rate
1. Simms, 84% (27 of 32)
2. Joseph, 67% (33 of 49)
3. Rowe, 57% (17 of 30)
4. Feilhaber, 54% (21 of 39)
5. Guy, 20% (1 of 5)*

TOTAL: 65% (97 of 149)
OPPONENTS: 70% (200 of 285)

1. Feilhaber, 21
2. Joseph, 19
3. Rowe, 16
4. Simms, 5
5. Guy, 4*

* Replaced Simms in the 78th minute.

The graphic below depicts the Revolution midfielders' performance in possession in the offensive third of the field. The green bubble represents a successful pass, and a red bubble represents an unsuccessful pass attempt.

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Defenders' Possession vs. San Jose

(Editor's Note: Thanks to Major League Soccer's use of Optics, there's a wealth of information available to the average fan. Below is an analysis of the possession statistics of Revolution defenders in the team's 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.)

Pass Completion Rate
1. Alston, 76% (34 of 45)
2. Polak, 74% (17 of 23)*
3. McCarthy, 73% (35 of 48)
4. Reis, 73% (27 of 37)
5. Lozano, 63% (17 of 27)
6. Soares, 60% (15 of 25)

TOTAL: 71% (145 of 205)
OPPONENTS: 66% (124 of 189)

1. Polak, 9*
2. Lozano, 10
2. Reis, 10
2. Soares, 10
5. McCarthy, 13
6. Alston, 14


* Replaced Soares in the 60th minute.

The graphic below depicts the Revolution defenders' performance in possession in the offensive half of the field. The green bubble represents a successful pass, and a red bubble represents an unsuccessful pass attempt.

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Revs Fall in Season-Opener

The New England Revolution opened its 2012 season last night with a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in San Jose. Below are player ratings for the fourteen Revs who made appearances.

Player Ratings
(1=atrocious, 3=poor, 5=average, 7=good, 10=excellent)

(1) Matt Reis: 6
The veteran goalkeeper didn't have a chance on the Earthquakes' goal, but was otherwise not really tested. There were numerous times when he decisively sprung off his line, and he was sure-handed throughout the game. Distribution improved as the game progressed, as he repeatedly opted for a higher-percentage throw or pass instead of the crapshoot of a punt.

(4) John Lozano: 4
The Colombian central defender was a disappointment. His distribution throughout the night was careless, and he was just average in defense.

(5) A.J. Soares: 5
Before being replaced by Tyler Polak in the 60th minute, Soares had a mostly solid game. His distribution from the back was pretty good, but he still needs to adjust to the shift from central defender to fullback.

(11) Kelyn Rowe: 5
Despite a very good pre-season that inspired a lot of high hopes and Rookie of the Year talk, Rowe's performance was pedestrian. He had some nice moments when he was involved in combination play, but he didn't create a true scoring chance and he wasted a corner kick in the waning minutes of the game.

(19) Clyde Simms: 5
I've always been a Clyde Simms fan, but his game tonight was average at best. As the holding midfielder in the 4-1-3-2 the Revs came out in, it was his job to serve as the pivot between the back line and the attackers, but he never took command in that role. He wasn't a liability on the defensive side.

(21) Shalrie Joseph: 3
Joseph's poor turnover in the 15th minute that led to the game-winning goal was the most obvious example of Joseph's poor showing. But Joseph was a non-factor throughout the game, and in some ways actually detracted from the team's performance. In the 51st minute, for example, his poor turnover almost led to a second goal, and his poor pass a minute later snapped a good little build-up the team was engineering.

(22) Benny Feilhaber: 5
Feilhaber was the only player on the field for the Revs who seemed to create possibilities, but the backline's predominant preference to play the ball over the midfielders' head limited his involvement in the build-up, and the strikers' inability to, well, do anything limited his ability to effectively participate in the attacking third. The one time he was able to meaningfully penetrate the penalty box was when he scuffed a good pass by Fernando Cardenas in the 48th minute. His obvious frustration with his teammates and his impatience with their lackluster play is concerning.

(23) Blake Brettsneider: 3
There were a few times when Brettsneider fulfilled his duty as the target forward by holding up play, but for the most part his play was non-threatening. Unfortunately for him, the only time he checked out of the Witness Protection Program was when he whiffed on a good chance late in the second half.

(26) Stephen McCarthy: 6
McCarthy joins Reis as having the most solid game for the Revs. He was solid defensively, and he was effective when he had the ball. Unlike his fellow central defender Lozano, McCarthy opted to maintain possession when he won the ball. He had an opportunity to finish an attacking run in the 13th minute, but chose to retreat. If he instead continues to finish his counter-attacking runs like he did once in the second half, he can give the Revs' attack another dimension a couple times per game.

(30) Kevin Alston: 5
Like his fellow defenders, Alston didn't commit any egregious mistakes defensively. His distribution, as usual, was uneven. There were times when he slowed himself down and played good passes to a teammate's feet, but there were other times when he was moving at 1,000 miles-per-hour and played careless passes.

(80) Fernando Cardenas: 4
Cardenas did a few things right. His involvement in a nice string of passes in the 9th minute was positive, as was his pass to Feilhaber in the 48th minute. For the most part, though, Cardenas was ineffective, and his canny ability to be offsides was frustrating.

(3) Tyler Polak: 5
After entering the game as a sub for A.J. Soares in the 60th minute, Polak acquitted himself well defensively and showed a lot of confidence in possession of the ball. Game circumstances late in the game forced him to play low-chance balls through the air, but he showed the ability to make sharp passes on the ground.

(13) Ryan Guy: N/A
Guy replaced Simms in the 79th minute and played an anonymous ten minutes.

(24) Lee Nyugen: 6
Nyugen replaced Cardenas in the 69th minute, and he threatened the Earthquakes' backline more in twenty minutes than Cardenas had in the previous seventy. His nifty footwork along the endline late in the game was the most glaring example of positive play, but he was confident on the ball throughout.

- John C.L. Morgan

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Revere's Ride: Crystal Balls

The New England Revolution kicks off its 2012 season later tonight against the San Jose Earthquakes (10:30p, Comcast Sportsnet), so here's a brief collection of the previews various analysts have prepared ahead of the season opener:

The guys at the New England Soccer Report make their predictions for the season.

The Boston Herald's Kyle McCarthy looks at the five keys for the Revs' 2012 campaign.

Avi Creditor previews the Revs' season on Soccer by Ives and ranks the Revs as the worst team in the league on Sports Illustrated's Web site.

- John C.L. Morgan

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Maine Soccer's 'Golden Triangle'

American Journal:
Talent, as the writer Daniel Coyle argues, tends to be cultivated in clusters. Soccer in Maine is no different, as there is an 838-square mile swath of Maine that produces an outsized amount of soccer talent compared to the rest of the state. To visually appreciate this "Golden Triangle" of soccer talent in Maine, you would place three pins on a map of Maine with the towns of Gorham as the northwest vertex, Cape Elizabeth as the southeast point, and Richmond as the northeast boundary.
There are a few resources I should recognize, without whom I couldn't have written this column. First, there's Michael Jeffrey, whose curation of the Maine Soccer Coaches Web site allowed me to find information that would've been very difficult--if not impossible--to find otherwise. And, secondly, there's the staff at the Portland Public Library whose stewardship of newspaper archives dating back to the 1970s and beyond saved me much time and travel. And finally, the responses I received from various high school coaches were also very helpful.

Related: The Geography of Talent (December 15- December 20, 2012)

- John C.L. Morgan

Bite-Sized Review: The Beautiful Games

by Adam Wells
(Hardidge Simpole, 2008)
169 pages

Soccer writers who explain the game using analogy have a good track record. First there was journalist Franklin Foer's analogy between the politics and cultures of various regions and their soccer-playing histories. Then there was the soccer journalist Simon Kuper and sports ecomonist Stefan Syzmanski's theses on the various ways the beautiful game can be related to the dismal science. And now there's Adam Wells's 169-page exploration of the similarities between chess and soccer. Fortunately, like the well-considered analogies described above, Wells is able to pull off the analogy between chess and soccer because he's able to convincingly make the case that the two games have a lot in common and that the fan of one game should appreciate the nuances of the other.

Obviously, Wells's book will probably be most enjoyed by those with a pre-existing appreciation for both chess and soccer. Nevertheless, because Wells's analysis of the numerous chess examples in his book are pretty skimpy and often lack a thorough examination from beginning to end, strictly soccer partisans will probably enjoy this book more than the close-minded chess player.

In his explanation of mobility, for example, Wells does well breaking down how Manchester United under Alex Ferguson has played a fluid and mobile game due to the many passing options available to its players once they gain possession of the ball. Wells's analogy between the mobility of Manchester United and the chess great Siegbert Tarrasch breaks down, though, when his analysis of an 1894 chess match between Tarrasch and Carl Schlecter consists of a snapshot diagram of the game, a quick appraisal of how Tarrasch's pieces are more mobile than Schlecter's, and then a quick conclusion that it is Tarrasch's mobility that allows him to win the match easily.

Despite the skimping on the chess--or maybe because of it--Wells's book is a good read for the soccer tactician within all of us, especially the first 100 pages in which Wells breaks down how eighteen technical aspects apply to both soccer and chess. And though his analysis of the chess side of these technical aspects is somewhat lacking, his explanations of the soccer-side of the analogy are sometimes revelatory, especially when he cites real-life examples from the Barclay's Premier League or the World Cup.

- John C.L. Morgan

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Revere's Ride: NESN Soccer Expands Revs Coverage

After first taking flak from Revs supporters and then Revs executives, NESN soccer has expanded their coverage of the New England Revolution leading up to the start of the 2012 season.

Started in response to their parent company, the Fenway Sports Group, assuming ownership of Liverpool FC, NESN Soccer is a relatively new media source, and its mea culpa and improved coverage represents another stone removed from the wall that separates Europhile soccer fans from soccer enthusiasts who enjoy the domestic incarnation just as strongly as they play across the pond.

- John C.L. Morgan

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Revere's Ride: Random Fact for Thought

In 1980, the average ratio between CEO salary and the median salary of a worker was 40 to 1. In 2010, it was 325 to 1. Among the top 50 corporations in the United States, the most extreme pay ratio, according to the compensation-data firm is 1,737 to 1. That salary belongs to Stephen Hemsley, the UnitedHealth Group CEO, who received nearly $102 million last year, compared with the median employee salary of $58,700.
UnitedHealth, of course, is the uniform sponsor of the New England Revolution.

- John C.L. Morgan

Revere's Ride: Revs Top Real Salt Lake, Will Play in Tourney Final

The Revolution punched their ticket to the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup championship game after taking a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night.Diego Fagundez opened the account in the 9th minute, but a Nico Muniz blast leveled it two minutes later. Trialist Bjorn Runstrom tipped the scales back in New England’s favor in the 56th minute to send his squad to Saturday’s final, where it will either face New York or Los Angeles.
- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Recommended Reading: Revs and the Era of Mutual Love

M. Willis:
Major League Soccer’s history has been marked by eras - the Honeymoon Phase (‘96-‘97), The Era of End Zones & Yard Markings (‘98-‘00), Operation: Survival (‘01-‘03), A Series of Hyped Events (‘04-‘07), Guys! The Guardian is Talking About Us And Not In A Mocking Way (‘08-‘10), and currently, the Age of Mutual Love.
Also, check out Willis's thought-provoking posts on how the Revs brand should be rebooted.

- John C.L. Morgan