4 interesting statistical insights from the CPL

A lot happens in a soccer game, much of which is difficult to quantify. We often look to stats to try and back up opinions about a player or team, but sometimes plain old goals and shots just won’t cut it.

The CPL’s official insights partner, Sportlogiq, has been tracking extremely detailed information about every pass, shot, and more in league play this season. CPL Editorial has sifted through some of that information in the past week, looking for numbers and trends that immediately stick out.

So with that, here are four of the most interesting statistical revelations we’ve found from the Fall season so far.

Thriving under pressure

The CPL has a number of players who excel at finding their mark with a pass — FC Edmonton’s Ajay Khabra, for instance, hits 89.2 per cent of his attempts, and Forge FC’s Elimane Cisse was firing at almost 94 per cent in the Fall season before an injury in August.

What separates some players, however, is how well they distribute the ball without the luxury of time or space. Most players’ pass accuracy takes a dip when they’re pressured by an opposing player, and some — like Kwame Awuah of Forge, who drops from 91.4 per cent to 72.5 per cent — seem to drop off completely.

Interestingly, though, a few players seem to improve in such quick-thinking situations. Andre Bona of HFX ranks below his fellow Wanderer defenders with an overall pass success of 68.2 per cent, but when he’s under pressure he’s up to 73.3 per cent, putting him in the upper third of defenders across the league.

Cavalry’s Oliver Minatel falls in the unremarkable 45th percentile of midfielders in his general pass accuracy, but when he has an adversary breathing down his neck, he shoots up to the 90th.

As far as attackers go, it seems to be York9’s Rodrigo Gattas that takes the cake in this category. His pass success percentage leaps by almost 10 points when he’s closed down by a defender — from 71.2 per cent to 80.8 per cent.

There when you need him

With so much attention paid to who’s making good passes, we often forget the fine art sometimes required to receive them. As Sportlogiq themselves explain it:

If an attacking team can’t play behind, over, around, or through the defence, it means the opposition is doing something right. Most likely it’s because there isn’t a clear passing option or the passer is under pressure. A relief reception is when a player receives a pass that only had 0 or 1 options and/or is under pressure. 

Players that do this are key to keeping an attack going and helping bail their teammates out of tough situations. 

When it comes to relief receptions, there’s one CPL player who seems to be streets ahead of the competition: Cavalry’s Julian Büscher.

The league average for midfielders is 11 relief receptions per 90 minutes. Büscher almost doubles the mark, with about 20.59. His whole team, actually, is top in the league when it comes to hitting passes with zero clear options available.

Much of that seems to be down to the German central midfielder, though. He’s a great passer in his own right, but perhaps a quality that flies a little under the radar is his ability to spot a teammate in trouble and make himself available for a safe pass.

Recycling is king?

Sportlogiq keeps a close watch on who’s sending their passes where. Easton Ongaro and Terran Campbell, for example, both choose to pass backwards more than 35 per cent of the time (and more than any other regular CPL forwards). Of course, it makes sense that two physically imposing strikers like to back into defenders and help create space.

This can be expanded to full teams. York9, for instance, seems to be the most conservative side in possession, with 58.5 per cent of their passes going backwards or sideways (more than any other team). They’ve also attempted at least 300 more passes than any other club in the Fall competition, with the greatest accuracy in the league.

The Nine Stripes have also generated the most shots in the league, so perhaps there’s something to be said for patience? It seems that they’re the best passing side in the CPL, if nothing else.

HFX Wanderers, meanwhile, favour a more direct approach. With 48 per cent of their passes forward, they send the ball backwards significantly less than any other CPL team (but they also miss more of their passes than anyone else).

To live and die by the long ball

The long ball can be a polarizing strategy in soccer; used effectively, it’s a great way to switch play or spring a counter-attack. Occasionally, it’s also a way to get your team a couple deep breaths, just by hoofing the ball downfield and away from danger, temporarily. Long passes are risky, though.

Of all seven CPL sides, none relies on the long ball more than Valour FC. They’ve attempted 619 in the Fall (a league-high 13.1 per cent of all passes), of which about 45 per cent have found the right target. Where this strategy seems most understandable is in the defensive third; the Winnipeg-based club opts for the long option 21 per cent of the time in that dangerous area, with a measly 38.5 per cent success rate.

What that suggests is that Valour’s defenders are choosing to put their foot through the ball and get it downfield when they recover it in their own end, rather than play out of the back. Compare them, for instance, to York9, who go long just 13.5 per cent of the time from the defensive third (finding a teammate more than half the time).

So, it can occasionally be difficult for Valour to build their way up to the opponent’s end, but when they do:

Valour is also the only team in the league whose pass accuracy in the attacking third is better than their overall success rate. Generally, they’re second-last in the CPL. In the final third, though? Third-best.

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