Welcome to From The Upper Deck, my blog about RSL and soccer in general. I have a lot of passion for the beautiful game. I am just a fan that likes to sit in the upper deck and take it all in.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

RSL in the Last 15 Minutes of Matches

By Charles Barnard
With the start of the regular season just days away for RSL, I feel it is still valuable to look back to see what can be learned from the previous season. Everyone has high hopes that this year’s team will be vastly improved over last year’s squad. As I looked at last year’s data there was one area that jumped out at me of where the team has to improve if it wants to be make its way back into the playoff picture.
One of the data points that I track is when in a match the team is scoring their goals as well as when they are conceding goals. This information gives a picture of how the team played during the course of matches. This can show if a team is one that starts off fast or slow. Is the team good at making half time adjustments? How does a team finish a match? I break these out into 15 minute sections of the game. For example I will keep track of goals scored between minutes 0-15, 16-30, and so forth.
In looking at these numbers for RSL last season there is one number that jumps out compared to all the rest. And if the team is going to improve in the standings it is a number that will have to be corrected this season.
Let’s take a look at see how RSL fared last year.
The one number that jumps out is that RSL gave up 14 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches last year. 14! They were a -10 during that time period. Thinking back I do remember a lot of matches that RSL conceded late. But I don’t think I truly realized how bad it was.
Not only is it concerning that the team gave up so many goals during that time, but the team didn’t score many goals during that period. Traditionally the final 15 minutes of matches is when the most goals are scored. This is due to many factors included the insertion of substitutes as well as teams pushing for goals at the end of matches. So it is very worrisome to see that the team scored the less in that time period compared to any other 15 minute period. 
If the team is to improve this year, they must play better in the final 15 minutes of matches, on both sides of the ball. This is something that I will continue to keep track this coming season and will occasionally report back here on the blog.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Questions About Depth

View from the Upper Deck
By Charles Barnard

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

I am sure that was the reaction of some RSL fans on social media after last week’s loss in Champions League. And I think that reaction would be very harsh. For the first 60 minutes of the match the team actually looked really good. Would I have liked a better result than a 2-0 loss? Of course I would have. But on the whole I think RSL put forth a very respectable effort all things considered.

Now that we have seen the team in action, I think some questions do need to be addressed. My biggest frustration at the end of the match was Coach Cassar not using his third sub. I think this might be my biggest pet peeve in soccer. In my mind, you have three subs and you should use them! Especially when it was clear to see the team was running out of gas.

After expressing these thoughts on Twitter, @JKBranin made a very good point that got me thinking.

“Who would you have subbed in/out? Half of me is frustrated it wasn’t used. Half of me is frustrated there was no one worth bringing in.”

Who would I have brought in? I don’t know. While unlike some I am a big fan of Sandoval. But I don’t think he is what was needed in that match. And who would you take out for him? I guess Stertzer could have been an option. You didn’t need Glad or Wingert in that match.

You know who would have been a good option? Luis Silva. I am sure he was somewhere in the stadium but he wasn’t wearing an RSL kit. What about Mansally? I would have liked to seen his fresh legs getting forward into the attack. What about Jaime coming in providing a spark off the bench? 

Now I know even if we still had all these players on the roster that they wouldn’t have all been on the bench the other night. But it leads me to a question. Do we have a depth problem on the team this season? Yes, we all know and are worried about our lack of depth at center back. That is a huge issue. But I am talking about the lack of depth for the whole team in general.

I don’t think I really thought about this too much in the off season. Did the signing of Yura blind me to how many players we actually lost? Just look at the list.


Honestly did I want all of these players to come back? Absolutely not.  We needed to shake things up. The point I am wondering is this. Did we bring enough talent to not only replace these players but to also improve as a team?

I went back and added up minutes played for players that were on the roster last year that are no longer with the team. The total came to 7658 minutes. That is a lot of minutes to replace. The breakdown of those minutes is 2515 for forwards, 2116 for midfielders, and 3027 on the back line. Those minutes will have to be filled. The question is who is going to fill them?
Now I am sure that Yura will take up a big chunk of that time. And Burrito and Plata will (knock on wood) play more minutes than they did last season. Sunday will take up some of those minutes as well (or steal minutes from Luke). I think these are upgrades to what we had last season. And hopefully the team will get some good luck and sign a center back or two.

Is the sky falling? There is no way you can say that after one game. My question is during the dog days of summer when players start getting injured do we have enough quality off the bench to keep us competitive? That question can’t be answered today, especially since our roster is not set in stone. But I do think it is a question that we as fans should keep our eyes on over the course of the season. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Return to the Upper Deck

By Charles Barnard

I am here to announce that I am bringing my writing talents (or lack thereof) back to my blog From the Upper Deck.
When I started this blog back in 2013 I wanted a place where I could express my thoughts on all things RSL. I named it From the Upper Deck because that was my viewpoint at the time. I had no team access. All I knew was what I could see from my TV or from my favorite seats at Rio Tinto (hence the name of the blog). I was just a fan that randomly spouted off stats on Twitter. 
And then something I didn’t expect started to happen. My blog really started to grow. I discovered that the media relations side of the team was really awesome to work with. People like Trey, and when he was still there Sam, helped with their time and treated my blog with a respect that it probably hadn’t earned to that point. I was given the opportunity to interview players, members of the front office, and the coaching staff. It was awesome.
The blog continued to grow. I was proud of what I had created. Even though I loved writing about stats, my series looking at what the RSL family meant to people (players, coaches, fans) was probably the thing I enjoyed writing the most. Some of the stories that people told me were incredibly powerful. I still tear up reading some of them two years later.
But as the blog continued to grow, so did the time it took to maintain it. It takes a lot of time out of my life just to maintain the stats that I keep track of. And on top of that I was trying to grow this blog. Not only was it taking away from time with my family it was starting to burn me out. So even though I was having some incredible experiences I let the blog die.
Even keeping stats started to be a grind. Through most of this past off season I debated with myself if I would even continue to tweet out my stats. But as the season started to get closer I knew I would dive back in. I just love stats too much to give them up. I also wanted to write again, but was more hesitant to even think about that.
Then something happened  that I didn’t expect. I had thoughts about last Wednesday's game and the team in general that I wanted to express. So I just started to write. 700 words later and I had a blog post ready to go. This leads me to this reintroduction to myself and the blog.
I know things will be different this time. I won’t post as much as I did in the past. I don’t want to burn out again and my family needs to come first. Will I put some of my stats up here? I am not sure but I probably will. One thing I will do is that I want to write more about my thoughts on the team.  I am going to call these editorials Views From the Upper Deck. I am back to my original view of the team where I don’t have any inside access (although I am sure the team would support me if asked). I am just that guy that randomly tweets out stats and will put my thoughts here on the blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Charles Barkley Was Wrong

By Charles Barnard

When I was a kid, Charles Barkley was one of my favorite NBA players. It probably had more to do with his name and initials than anything else, but I really liked “Sir Charles”.

During the course of his playing and broadcasting career, Barkley has never been one to shy away from controversy. Barkley started up a media storm last month when he expressed his opinions about analytics.

“I've always believed that analytics is crap.” Barkley said. “Analytics don’t work at all. It’s just some crap that people who were really smart made up to try and get in the game because they had no talent. Because they had no talent to be able to play, so smart guys wanted to fit in, so they made up a term called analytics. Analytics don’t work.” He went on to say “All these guys that run these organizations who talk about analytics have one thing in common: They’re a bunch of guys who ain’t never played the game, they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get into the game.”

Ouch! As someone who has always loved analytics and stats in general that was a pretty harsh thing to say. Barkley’s comments were one of the main talking points in almost every sports radio show the next day. Many people agreed with what Barkley had to say. Others did not.

Needless to say I am in the camp that thinks Barkley is wrong. The ability to track and analyze stats is an extremely useful tool when it comes to sports. Stats can show you things that you might miss picking up on when watching a game. My favorite example of this actually comes from the movie Bull Durham.

Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium. -Crash Davis

People that know baseball knows that the difference between batting .250 and .300 is huge. But by just watching every baseball game in a week will you really notice the difference if a player gets one more hit during that week? Probably not. Stats show us things that we might have missed otherwise. This is extremely important when trying to make decisions on who to play and when to play them.

The other thing about stats that is beneficial is that the stats themselves are emotionless. Sports are full of emotions. When people are watching sports they are going to see things through their own “rose colored glasses” depending on their emotions. They are going to look past a bad play by their favorite player. They are going to be more harsh on players they do not like. Stats don’t have any emotional biases.

So how does all of this apply to soccer? When compared to other sports like baseball and basketball, soccer doesn't really have that many stats. It is much harder to track what is happening on the field in soccer. Because of this many people don’t believe soccer analytics is that important. In my mind it is the opposite. These factors make soccer analytics more important.

Let me give you some examples. Soccer is a funny sport. You can sit next to your best friend while you watch a match and can come away seeing two very different games. You might think Player “A” had a great match when your friend thought he struggled. The perfect way to see this is to read any player grades after a match is over. I love to read Randal Serr’s player ratings over at RSL Soapbox. Randal does a wonderful job with these reports. Do I always agree with him? No, not at all. Does that mean he is wrong? Nope. He just sees different things than I do during the course of a match.

Soccer is not exempt from emotion clouding what you see on the field. In my mind the best example of this comes from former RSL player Lovel Palmer. Palmer played for RSL during the 2013 season and he really became a fan favorite. While I never had the chance to meet him personally, I have heard from many people that he is one of the nicest people on the planet. If you were to ask many RSL fans if they would like to have him back and playing for RSL they would say yes in a heartbeat. It makes sense. He is a really good dude and he played great. Well….while he might be a great guy he did not play great. Not at all.

In the 2013 season RSL had a really great goal differential of +16. When looking at goal differential on a players level Javier Morales led RSL with a +18. In fact every player on the RSL roster had a positive or at least an even goal differential that season except Lovel Palmer. Palmer came in with a -6. Not only was he the worst on the team, but he was the worst by a very wide margin.

I am not writing this to criticize Palmer’s play that season. The point is that many people didn't notice his poor play because their positive feelings for the player was masking his true play on the field.

Collecting stats and analyzing those stats are incredibly important. Do they tell the whole story? Absolutely not. Anyone that says so is wrong as well. But they are a vital tool that can be used to get a better understanding of what is happening on the field of play. Charles Barkley was right in one thing. I never played the game. But just because I didn't play doesn't mean I can’t find valuable pieces of information by looking at the stats. Is analytics “crap” like Barkley said. No, not at all.