'Hilarious, ridiculous' stat - The Province


Not impressed by his lofty plus/minus numbers

BY MARC WEBER

Teitur Thordarson gives the stat a plus; Geordie Lyall gives it a minus.

Lyall, the Vancouver Whitecaps outside left defender, has been on for 10 goals for and only one against this season.

The coach seems to think it means something. The player finds it more amusing than anything.

"Yeah, absolutely I think it shows Geordie is an extremely good defender," said Thordarson.

"It's fortunate, too," reasoned Lyall, a 32-year-old who's been limited to four league games due to nagging leg injuries.

"I didn't play in the back-to-back games. I played in the first of two back-to-backs on the road. I got subbed on just as Marlon [James] scored two goals, and another time [Martin] Nash scored right when I came on.

"It's hilarious. It's been ridiculous."

Individual plus-minus is not a stat that soccer players or anyone around the game cares much about.

Thordarson agreed with that, despite his interest in the numbers. Gordon Chin (second on the team at +7) he noted, has been one of their best players of late. But coaches are far more concerned with how the team is operating as a whole, and how the groupings of defenders, midfielders and forwards are performing together.

The Whitecaps coaching staff track things like entries into the final third of the pitch, how many attacks come from those entries and the result of the attack. And who was on the pitch when it happened.

Defensive-minded statistics include areas on the field where they win the ball back.

One thing Thordarson and Lyall do agree on is that continuity in the back four is the foundation of a successful team. And when it comes to those numbers, the data is downright scary.

In 20 league games, the Whitecaps (7-9-4) have used 14 different starting back four combinations. And one of those groupings -- Wes Knight, Wesley Charles, Jeff Parke and Takashi Hirano -- started four times, which means 13 different combinations have started the remaining 16 games.

"This has been one of our big headaches," said the coach. "We had a similar problem all through the spring last year.

"When we let in a goal, it's not only the defender's fault, very often the problem starts higher up the field, but this is not how we want to have it."

Not everything at the back has been in the Caps control this season.

There were injuries to Jeff Parke and Marco Reda to start the season, the departure of Justin Thompson and suspension of Wesley Charles, who was later released. Parke then left for Europe.

Thordarson is eager to have his plus-minus king, Lyall, healthy for this weekend -- he's been out again with a quadriceps injury -- and hopes newly signed Chris Pozniak and Shaun Pejic can provide stability.

The top three teams in the league are also the best three defensive teams, by a country mile, while Vancouver has allowed 27 goals in 20 games. Portland is tops with 11 goals against.

"It all starts with the best defensive teams having that same starting four almost every game," said Reda. "It's about consistency and it starts at the back and goes through the whole team. Now if we can establish that four and everyone knows each other ... we're all ready to get consistent and win some games."

mweber@theprovince.com

- - -

ALL-SHUTDOWN TEAM

Whitecaps plus/minus leaders

Plus

Geordie Lyall 10 1 +9
Gordon Chin 18 11 +7
Tyrell Burgess 13 8 +5

Minus

Vicente Arze 9 15 -6
Ansu Toure 9 12 -3
Ethan Gage 11 14 -3

BACK-LINE COMBINATIONS

Through 20 USL-1 games, the Whitecaps have used 14 different starting back four combos. They are listed with team's record when they start, and the overall season goals for/against when that combination is on the field.

Back Four GF GA record
Bellisomo/Reda/Thompson/Hirano 0 0 0-0-1
Bellisomo/Reda/Charles/Hirano 3 3 1-1-1
Bellisomo/Reda/Trafford/Hirano 0 0 0-0-1
Bellisomo/Charles/Parke/Hirano 2 2 1-0-0
Knight/Charles/Parke/Hirano 2 4 2-2-0
Knight/Charles/Thompson/Trafford 0 2 0-1-0
Martin/Charles/Parke/Hirano 1 2 0-1-0
Knight/Charles/Reda/Hirano 3 4 1-1-0
Knight/Reda/Trafford/Hirano 1 2 0-1-0
Martin/Reda/Trafford/Hirano 1 2 0-0-1
Lyall/Reda/Parke/Hirano 3 0 1-0-0
Lyall/Reda/Trafford/Hirano 3 1 1-0-0
Knight/Reda/Pozniak/Trafford 0 1 0-1-0
Knight/Reda/Pozniak/Hirano 0 2 0-1-0

Other non-starting combinations
Bellisomo/Charles/Parke/Trafford 1 0 N/A
Knight/Charles/Thompson/Parke 1 0 N/A
Knight/Charles/Thompson/Hirano 0 0 N/A
Knight/Lyall/Trafford/Hirano 4 0 N/A
Knight/Reda/Parke/Hirano 1 2 N/A
Trafford/Charles/Reda/Hirano 1 0 N/A
Martin/Trafford/Parke/Hirano 0 0 N/A

© Copyright (c) The Province