We're now 10 games in to the MarinEra at Toronto FC, the same amount of league games as Aron Winter got, which allows for a nice comparison between the two. Obviously the bare stats of 3 points to 16 pretty conclusively prove that things are a lot better right now in TFC land, that one's undeniable. I'm happy to see the improvement, and that by keeping it simple we've become a much more competitive team, learning to walk before we try to run in some fancy European style. I don't really care that much at the moment if it is 'hoofball', I just want to see competentball, which is more or less what we've had under Mariner so far. We'll see if he can keep it going and hopefully make the necessary adaptations and develop the team further, which will definitely be needed, but for now he's earned his Preki badge, so that's a very good start.
But what are some of the stats behind that one big fact? With thanks to friend of the blog Sairax for maintaining a database, Here's some of the stats that have really changed in the 10 games and illustrate the change in style that has got us here.
First up, passing and possession and all that good stuff. It's clearly not as much of a priority for Mariner as it was under Winter.
Average passes per game
Successful pass %
Mariner's a lot more ready to get the ball down the other end of the pitch, and to play a counter attack style, trying many fewer passes, and given the amount of them that are longer balls, it's understandable the success % would be way down as well. Those two facts of course lead to the lower possession % number. Here's a couple of other stats that really drive home that Mariner's priorities are more positional than possession based.
Firstly Milos Kocic's pass numbers have gone way down. He's not making the simple passes to his defenders anywhere near as much as he did under Winter. He's trying a lot fewer passes all together, but his unsuccessful passes have gone up, a reflection of the increased amount of low % long balls that do at least get the ball away from his goal.
Kocic Successful passes per game
Kocic Unsuccessful passes per game
Also throw ins. A way to try and maintain possession, or a way to get the ball as far down the field as you can.
Successful throw ins per game
Unsuccessful throw ins per game
They're taking roughly the same amount of throw ins per game, but under Mariner, throwing the ball away over twice as much. A great illustration of what they're trying to do with throw ins can be seen in a couple of admittedly cherry picked games. First, click here for the chalkboard for the May 5th game against D.C United, where 21 out of 22 throw ins were successful, I highlighted the throw ins and you can see plenty of short throws designed to keep possession. Next, click here for the chalkboard of the July 11th game against Vancouver, where 9 out of 19 throws were unsuccessful, and there's a lot more of long throws down the line, or long throws into the box, possession be damned. Of course, the main stat from those games is lose 2-0 to DC, beat Vancouver 3-2, so it's not necessarily a bad thing.
One change that is definitely not a bad thing is the increased efficiency of crosses, something I wrote about earlier for Sportsnet, and that is still very much holding true. The amount of crosses is way down, but the successful crosses have stayed almost the same.
Unuccessful crosses per game
Successful crosses per game
Without the two wingers in the 4-3-3 formation, which often saw moves funneled to the outside and ending with a weak cross, there's still roughly the same amount of good crossing opportunities coming up, just without all the extra dross.
That formational change and reduced reliance on wing play is also reflected in the dribble stats, especially the unsuccessful ones.
Successful dribbles per game
Unsuccessful dribbles per game
I thought that stat might be very heavily reliant on Joao Plata, but his stats are only slightly worse than the team as a whole under Winter, 6 successful, 12 unsuccessful, so it would be harsh to blame him too much.
You might expect to see some very different defensive stats, but not so much. Tackles, both won and lost, interceptions, blocked crosses and recoveries are all very similar. Defender blocks, from 1.7 to 3.1 a game, and clearances, from 15.2 to 21.9 per game were the only defensive stats that dramatically changed. Duels won went from 41.6 per game at 50% under Winter to 44 at 51% so no real change there at all.
I showed the crossing stats earlier, but another interesting one is the opposition crosses against, and also the opposition shots against. Both of those have gone up, though not the shots on target.
Open play crosses against per game
Total shots against per game
Shots on target against per game
Things have gone in the other direction with TFC's shooting, a lot less, but more on target
Total shots per game
Shots on target per game
Now obviously there's been a change in thinking and priorities, but something that plays a part in those stats in particular is the game score. When playing from behind you're going to see a lot more desperation, especially late in the game, with crosses flung in the box, or low percentage shots taken rather than patiently waiting for a better opportunity. This may be the biggest factor in many of these stats, as one of the most dramatic turnarounds has been the game situations TFC have found themselves in. Out of the 900 minutes available to each of them, they've spent the following minutes ahead, tied or behind.
3! 3 minutes out of 10 games. Wow. Those stats show just why TFC's crosses and shots have gone down, but become more effective, while the opposition has gone in the opposite direction. It's not just that TFC have got into winning positions and held them under Mariner, there's been 4 games where TFC have come from behind to get at least a point.
The changes that have been made maybe don't look pretty but they've certainly got the job done, the change in style has led to a more effective attack, and a less effective opposition attack, which brings us to the really important stats.
Then the big one, points. 3:16 I went with the wrestling quote as the headline, but to get biblical, the famous verse reads:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Which I think is just a fancy way of saying "In Mariner we trust"
Hmmm, maybe. I'm almost there.