How did Columbus have 61% of possession and 85% pass accuracy and create just one shot on target?
One of my favorite recent pieces of soccer analytics is Garry Gelade’s work on how goals change games. To summarize, game state significantly impacts a team’s shot selection. Teams that fall behind tend to shoot more often than they normally would in a tie game, and teams that take the lead tend to shoot less often than they normally would in a tie game.
In a follow-up, Gelade also looked at the impact of time on this dynamic, and intuitively, the impact becomes more pronounced later in the game as the losing team throws caution to the wind. However, teams that concede early on tend to stick to the gameplan until the situation is more dire.
Yesterday’s game provided a live test case. Columbus conceded the fastest goal in MLS Cup history when Diego Valeri pressured Steve Clark and scored (Kasey Keller nods knowingly.) Columbus quickly goes down 2-0. Darlington Nagbe played to the whistle after some bad reffing, and Lucas Milano crossed to an umarked Rodney Wallace for the goal. A scramble in the box led to Kei Kamara’s goal, and now Columbus are only down 2-1 with 70 minutes left to play.
So how did Columbus not manage a single shot on target the rest of the game? Here are three charts from the rest of the game.
Columbus Created Nothing Outside
Columbus’ starting outside attackers – Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, Harrison Afful, and to a lesser extent Waylon Francis – repeatedly found themselves in good positions. The end result was usually a turnover. The group conceded possession 14 of the 18 times they took on a defender on the dribble. Francis had a shot go wide, and he and Finlay each had a shot blocked. The group completed just two passes into the box. Alvis Powell and Jorge Villafaña both had strong games in defense, and lost just a single tackle between them.
Columbus Kept Trying to Attack Outside
Despite the lack of attacking success outside, Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani kept distributing wide. Neither of them had bad games on an individual level, but their vertical or ambitious passes were cut out by Portland. This left Kamara and Federico Higuaín with two choices: remain isolated, or drift wide or deeper to get involved.
Diego Chara Produced a Man of the Match Performance
The Portland midfielder created a one-man wall 35 yards from goal. He won an absurd 12 recoveries, and won another eight tackles. He also had success distributing to teammates on the right flank. Chara was the primary reason Columbus couldn’t find space to create dangerous attacking opportunities in the middle of the field, and preserved the scoreline in Portland’s first MLS Cup victory.