Rapids and The Bare Numbers: Opponents Doing Less, Getting More

COMMERCE CITY, CO - AUGUST 18: Danny Califf #23 of Chivas USA breaks up an argument between teammate Oswaldo Minda #8 and Wells Thompson #15 of Colorado Rapids over whether or not .20 is a significant difference when talking about chances converted. (Photo by Trevor Brown, Jr./Getty Images)

There's nothing sunny about these numbers, so I'll just lay them out on you.

I've basically been tabulating game statistics with an eye towards finding the one "killer stat" besides goals that can tell us whether or not the Rapids are likely to win that game or not. And, in truth, I've come up with nothing. The numbers are all over the place. So what I'm doing instead is going to show a couple of interesting games, then talk about some room for improvement. I'm also going to be a little critical of Oscar Pareja's claim that he is still playing for the playoff picture in 2012. While I think that's a great sentiment, he's got to be a little delusional when he thinks that, or clearly he's not looking at the same data I am.

For me, our Rapids left the playoff picture in July. You can't drop that many points in a month and still reasonably expect to make the post-season. You can certainly UNreasonably think you're going to make the post season, but you can't reasonably expect it. I don't believe Oscar Pareja is lying when he says he believes the Rapids have a chance at the post-season. I just think he's got to hold this belief in spite of massive challenges to it.

The most massive challenge is this comparison: 1.28 to 1.44.

What does that mean?

Check it out after the jump.

It's really simple: take a look at each game's basic match statistics on MLSsoccer.com throughout the history of the season, then look at a few key metrics. The key metrics I'm looking at are possession, passing accuracy, duels, duels percentage... etc. And then I look at whether or not the Rapids won the game. That's important because that's really the only result that matters for the league.

But for me, it matters whether or not the Rapids could be said to have a game "stolen" from them. When I say a game is "stolen", I mean that the Rapids had no business losing that game, or drawing that game. A "stolen" game to me is a game wherein one team dominates most of the metrics save for goals scored. I also want to see if the Rapids didn't dominate all the metrics, which ones did they lose, besides goals scored?

I won't be looking at games where it's not even close. There ARE games that the Rapids had no business winning according to the numbers, the games against Impact Montreal and Philadelphia Union come most readily to mind. But I will be looking at games where it was close but no cigar. Seems like there have been too many of those this year, and I want to see exactly how many and where we lost it.

In 17 out of the 25 games played so far, the Rapids have dominated possession. Of those 17, the Rapids have only won 6 of those games, drawn 2 of them, and lost the rest. Less than half the time the Rapids have a majority of the possession, they win the game. That's not good news.

More bad news: the Rapids are outshooting their opponents on average. I mean, they are really killing it there: the Rapids outshoot their opposition about 13 to 11. The Rapids have, on average, created 4.76 good chances per game where their opponents are able to take 4.72, which is slight but significant. Here's where the numbers get kind of sad. The conversion rate is better for the opposition. That is to say, the opposition, on average, is shooting less, and getting slightly worse looks at goal, but they are converting more of their chances to goals. The Rapids have 1.28 goals per game average, their opponents? 1.44.

This is important: The Rapids are shooting more, getting better looks at goal, and their opponents are scoring more goals.

Underline that, stamp that. This is why I believe Oscar Pareja has to be delusional when he says that we're going to the playoffs.

1.44 is not a bad GAA, but it's bad when your goals scored is only 1.28. The GAA is down from the nearly 2 GAA we had earlier in the season, so there's reason to rejoice there. 1.44 GAA could get you a playoff spot these days, but not when you're not scoring goals, and not when your conversion rate is that much worse than your opponent's.

Another thing I noticed was that this year's Rapids tend to do more from open play than their opponents. The Rapids' opposition tends to get more Corner Kicks, but the Rapids are completely dominant in crosses from open play. This doesn't matter if you're not converting your chances from open play when your opponents are converting from set pieces, but it's important to look at when you want to see the direction the club is going.

What about games we had no business losing?

I'd argue that the biggest example of the game the Rapids had no business losing was against the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 4th, 2012. This was possibly the most frustrating, mind-boggling, heart-breaking result in Rapids history. The Rapids had every reason to win this game, but could not get it done. They outshot Vancouver 17:1, dominated possession, won a majority of the duels, and yet the Rapids could not put the game away. Vancouver has since swept the Rapids entirely this season, and in much the same fashion.

Another game that the Rapids had no business losing was the first game against the LA Galaxy. That was a game completely dominated by the Rapids in nearly every metric, but the Galaxy stole a point there.

The game against the New England Revolution was also the same story. The Rapids dominated nearly every metric, but still managed to lose.

I'd say the DC United game was much the same story, but DC United had a ratio of Shots to Shots on Goal of 13 to 10, so that's out of the question to say that the Rapids dominated that game. But that's another game which was weird. Most other metrics were dominated by the Rapids.

The game against Kansas City should have had enough in the Rapids' favor to pull out the win, but Kansas City lead the Rapids in one important stat: Corner Kicks. Those deadly set pieces, especially early in the year, did the Rapids in.

This story proceeds pretty much throughout the entire season. There's lots of games like this, where the Rapids dominated most categories by which we measure team performance (besides goals) and still managed to lose the game. And it all adds up to this kind of strange number where our opponents are attacking less, but being much more effective in their fewer attacks.

This is why I think Oscar Pareja has to be somewhat delusional. It's fairly clear that he believes in this team. It's fairly clear that this team believes in him and his plans as well. But the simple fact is that you can't get to the playoffs if you can't convert chances at a higher rate than your opponents. Pareja, to me, seems very much like the little Dutch boy who put his finger in the dam to keep it from bursting. When he plugs up one hole (the defensive issues), another one opens up (Rapids can't score goals). If you're playing attacking, possession based soccer, you have to be able to score goals--and a lot of them. The Rapids aren't doing that. They have to do that in order to move up the table.

These are simple stats, just averaged out. And they, currently, spell: N-O P-L-A-Y-O-F-F-S.

Yes, there are encouraging numbers. The Rapids are actually not a bad team at all according to most of the numbers. That's just it, guys. They are quite good based on most of the numbers. Just the ones that count towards actually getting to moving up the table and winning the league? Nope. Not going to cut it.

You better start praying for some magic, or start drinking whatever Oscar Pareja is drinking, because in order to believe that we're going to make a run at a Championship this year... you have to do so in spite of the numbers.

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