Six Degrees: Running The Numbers


1) The chip-shot goal is my favorite thing in soccer. I have always felt this way. Double saves are very nice, but the cheeky chipped-in goal is the best. Every time I check out the five nominees for MLS’s Goal of the Week, if there’s a chip-shot goal, I’m almost always voting for it, even it’s scored by some turd like Camilo or Blas Perez or Steven Lenhart. (Okay, I take that back. Steven Lenhart could score on a 75-yard bicycle kick and I still wouldn’t vote for him…)

But you get my point. It’s heavenly. And is it any surprise that Diego Valeri’s the Timber who finally chipped one in? The guy came to town this off season with a big paycheck and a lot of hype and, MAN, has he delivered. Currently tied for the team lead with eight goals. Currently tied for the LEAGUE lead with 12 assists. He truly is the maestro. Well done, Gavin Wilkinson, for bringing the guy to town. He’s enough to make us forget our last designated player, Kris Boyd.

2) And what about our NEWEST designated player, Maximiliano Urruti? Well, he got his first start Friday night and, I gotta say, I liked what I saw. He did a really nice job with the high pressure, harassing the Colorado backs and goalie every bit as good as Ryan Johnson always does. That was nice to see. It was his high pressure, in fact, that led to our lone goal. He harassed the fullback into a bad pass, Rodney Freaking Wallace intercepted it, headed it to Valeri, and the maestro did what maestros do.

The one negative I saw from Urruti’s game was his reaction to constantly getting knocked down, grabbed, and man-handled. This is the MLS, Maxi. For better or worse, it’s a physical league and you’re just gonna have to get used to it. No flopping, no screaming, no dramatics. Just expect to get knocked around and move on. Valeri’s gotten used to it, you can, too.

3) Of course, Urruti might also need to get used to MLS referees and their habit of doing LSD right before each half.

Seriously, could that ref have been any more inept? It was borderline comical. Although I guess I shouldn’t complain. At least he was consistent. Every call went to Colorado. Every. Single. Call. After awhile, my section-mates and I were just laughing about it. No matter what happened on the field, we knew Colorado would get the call. I think Edson Buddle could have pulled out a gun and shot someone and the ref still would’ve called for a Colorado free kick.

4) But the referee’s stand-up comedy doesn’t entirely explain why Portland looked so off-kilter Friday night. Everything just seemed a little off. Except for a few 5-10 minute stretches where we maintained possession, the rest of the night was a buffet of barely-missed passes, just-off headers, 50/50 balls that we just barely missed. To my eyes, Pa Modou Kah looked the most off, but he wasn’t the only one. Will Johnson, Michael Harrington, even Darlington Nagbe sometimes. Everyone was just a little bit off, and this translated into Colorado holding the ball for 51% of the game. I suppose those numbers would be fine in Denver, but here at home? It felt weird. It felt like our boys were being outplayed for most of the game.

And the numbers kind of back that up. Colorado had 51% possession. They outshot us 13-9 (but only had one shot on goal). They beat us 9-3 on corner kicks (but never put one in). They had at least 4 or 5 free kicks in the attacking third (but, again, no goals).

I guess I won’t complain too much, because despite all the chaos they created in our third, despite all those shots and all those set pieces, our defense held firm. Just barely, at times, but still, a shutout’s a shutout and I applaud it.

5) A few quick player notes.

Michael Harrington. You are so solid, dude. You might never be an all-star, but you never lay an egg, either. Just rock-solid work every single game. We know exactly what we’re getting from you, which is very reassuring.

Darlington Nagbe. Man, I love it when you turn on the jets. There’s always a few points in every game where you’re sort of slowly dribbling upfield and then you decide to really start moving and whoever’s covering you just gets left behind. The down side? This means the defenders have no choice but to grab you and throw you to the ground. At which point the referee does NOTHING.

Donovan Ricketts. First shutout in a while, buddy. Great to have you back.

Rodney Freaking Wallace. Very nice game. Extremely active on both offense and defense. Saved us a few times on defense. Plus, you’re now second on the team with six assists. Not bad, Tico.

6) Okay, so I kind of geeked out today on the Timbers website, checking out our starting lineups for each game this year. I was curious to see if having Jack Jewsbury and/or Futty Danso in the starting lineup makes any significant difference. The results of my pseudo-research are unclear, but here they are anyway. You decide.

    First off, Jack and Futty have started TOGETHER ten times.
    Jack’s started without Futty eleven times.
    Futty’s started without Jack zero times.
    In eight games, neither of them have started.
    And that’s a total of 29 games, which is exactly how many games we’ve played.

How’d we do with the different starting lineups?

    Neither start: 2 wins, 2 losses, 4 draws.
    Futty alone starts: 0 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws.
    Jack alone starts: 3 wins, 3 losses (we’ll come back to this), 5 draws.
    Both Jack and Futty start: 6 wins, 0 losses, 4 draws.

Now, I haven’t done any statistical analysis here. I haven’t looked at median or regression or done a Chi-squared test. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what any of those things mean, but I’m pretty sure they’re fancy statistical words and I’m hoping they’ll make me look smart. But with or without statistical analysis, I know one thing: when Jack and Futty start together, WE DON’T LOSE. Six wins, five draws, and ZERO losses. Oh, and four of those six wins were shutouts. Does this seem significant to you?

(And remember how I said we’d come back to one of those “Jack Only” losses? It was at Columbus. Remember that game? Jack and Kah started. We gave up an early goal, then Kah kicked a guy in the face, got red-carded, and who came in for him? Futty. So, really, with just Jack, it was a 1-0 loss. But with Jack AND Futty and playing a man down, it was a 0-0 draw. I don’t think any of this will stand up in the Court of Statistical Logic, but I thought I’d include it anyway, since it allows me to, one, make Futty look good and, two, use the words “Kah kicked a guy in the face.”)

I’m sure there are some really smart people reading this who know all sorts of cool statistical stuff, so I encourage them to look at these numbers, do some smart-person stuff, and tell me if any of this is significant.

But until I hear from them, I’m fully prepared to jump on the “Jack and Futty Can’t Lose” bandwagon. And since we all know Caleb Porter reads this column and uses it to make most of his important decisions, I’m gonna say it right now: Coach, if you start the two old guys in back, we’ll go undefeated from now until we raise the MLS Cup overhead.

You’re welcome.

12 thoughts on “Six Degrees: Running The Numbers

    1. That was against San Jose, right? I’d forgotten about that one. Man, what a game that was… Very exciting introduction to the Caleb Porter era. (Now, if we could only get a hat trick out of Ryan Johnson EVERY match…)

    1. Thanks, Arden. I really do appreciate.

      By the way, my secret to writing a funny column after a sad loss is to put a slice of boloney in each shoe. That way, when I’m writing, I FEEL funny.

  1. Was it just me or did it seem like a tactical shift by Porter to play for the second ball? Lot’s of booting up the field by goalie, defenders with midfield scrambling to retrieve the ball after it was headed down by colorado defenders. It seemed like a shift to avoid trying to bring it up field against Colorado midfield. Why? Was it the lineup with Jack and Footy? Or did Porter scout something? Anybody else see that

    1. I’m not sure, but it did seem like we were booting the long ball a few times when I would have liked a slow controlled walk up the pitch. Colorado applied good pressure, but is their pressure so much better than everyone else’s? Is that why we played differently?

      As always, I think we should ask the great and powerful Oz (a.k.a. Kevin Alexander). It was a strange game and we did seem off. Maybe he knows why?

      1. I thought before the game the inclusion of Urruti and Jewsbury at fullback hinted at an approach that abandoned the wide areas to Colorado, and looked to win the battle through the middle.

        I expected a lot of back to front play, aimed at getting the ball alive in the final third, looking to work quick pass-and-move play between our four attacking players, with our full-backs held back to nullify the width, Chara and Will sitting back to mop up anything that bounced the wrong way. It was a narrow XI, as both Wallace and Nagbe played on the shoulder of Valeri and/or Urruti at times rather than pulling into wide areas.

        As it happened, it’s still a good theory… But both our shots in the first half were reliant on Colorado mistakes, and okay it was Timbers pressure that had an effect, but I don’t think forcing errors is necessarily your primary weapon of attack. The passing was off, or the ball forward wasn’t on target, or Urruti passed into what a field is called a Cooper Well – a mysterious roaming pocket of higher than average gravity that occurs at JWF from time to time. In short, it didn’t click, despite the scoreline and we were really kinda lucky because out set pliece defending gives me shitfits 9 times out of 10.

        Second half we improved because we were retaining the ball better thanks to the full backs pushing 10 yards up the pitch to give the attackers another option when things got crowded in the center.

        Our defensive distribution wasn’t great, but I can’t really put that on Futty or Kah because it’s a rare center back that distributes well from the back. Urruti is finding his feet, and I suspect we may go with tried-and-tested as the six-pointers come thick and fast, and Valeri is still coming off a recent injury and putting in a tough shift against a team that made sure he knew he was in a game. And sometimes you just have games where a couple of key parts are slightly misaligned and you just have to make do.

      2. Thanks for the always great analysis. Your thoughts on future lineup are intriguing. As Urruti plays more and gets to know everyone, maybe things will smooth out a bit. But perhaps Caleb won’t want to risk that for all these tough matches to come. Maybe he’ll wait until next Spring. Personally, I think Urruti will be our regular starter unless he gets hurt. Just a hunch.

        Side note: Silvestre’s starting to participate in practices. What the hell do we do if he comes back? (Good problem to have.)

  2. Perhaps it’s more significant to state that we haven’t lost when Futty started [period]

    The fact that Jack also was on the field for those 10 games is arguably irrelevant, as the “Jack alone” and “neither” situations are pretty similar in their W-L-D ratios. I’m the biggest Futty fan out there, but the fact that we haven’t lost this season with him starting is even surprising to me. Nice research.

    1. You’re right. The numbers show that it wasn’t a Jack and Futty thing. It was just a Futty thing. How come I didn’t notice that? Maybe I’ve just got a soft spot for both of them.

      Here’s a question: since we clearly MUST start Futty, who do we pair him with at CB? Personally, I say we put Beast in, since we know he’ll be around in the future. We can’t be so sure of Kah. That gives us a backline of Jack, Beast, Futty, and MoMoney. Two old guys, two young guys. I’d go to war with that foursome. How about you?

      1. I’d go with Futty/AJB, subject to game-by-game changes based on the match-ups. MAO’s article notwithstanding, it seems to me a proven combination of experience/positioning/aerial abilities and speed/athleticism/toughness.

        The whole premise of MAO’s article is that AJB has a demonstrated fault, that fault showed itself at Chivas, and CP made a change and was satisfied with it. Well, if you haven’t noticed Kah’s fault, I’ve got a Columbus Crew game to show you. Kah was also pretty terrible at Chivas, and yet CP couldn’t well take them both out. That is to say, I wouldn’t base the future on a sample size of one. Maybe AJB needed a 90 minute pine ride to clear his head, and CP can’t wait to
        get him in there and Kah out.

        Who knows. Bottom line is, I’d go Futty/AJB, and I have no reason to think CP either would or wouldn’t agree.

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