Marco Pappa: The Seattle Sounders X-Factor

Sorry Raving Readers. I’ve been less than regular with my posts lately. It’s midterm time and us composition adjuncts are swamped. But I’m back today with a post on everyone’s favorite Guatemalan midfielder.

Despite the notoriety of the big name, big money strikers and a certain future Spur, Marco Pappa is the Seattle Sounders’ X-factor. Despite misuse in the pop culture vernacular, an X-factor can have either a positive or negative impact. For some reason, Marco Pappa directly influences the Sounders’ fortunes. Pappa’s been mostly positive for the majority of the season, it was mostly early on we saw his volatility.

Earlier in the season, we suffered from bipolar Pappa. He was either hard-charging into the attack or lackadaisically allowing his mark to pass him. Sunday’s game wasn’t this Pappa. He tracked back on Escobar. He was playing defense, something he’s been doing much more regularly. Unfortunately he over-hustled. Lazy Pappa would’ve never given up a penalty. I can’t bust his chops too much for that. What is Sigi supposed to say, Hey Pappa don’t try so hard next time? Long and short is, one minute we’re losing because of one player, Marco Pappa. But then, not long after the break, it was Pappa’s free kick that found Ozzie Alonzo’s big bald head for the equalizer. All of a sudden, we earned a result and road goal because of Marco Pappa.

Marco giveth and Marco taketh away. I used to do a plus/minus statistical study on this blog (and haven’t done it since… oh, the Portland comeback in early April). The impetus for the project was Marco Pappa. He offered a lot to the attack but was a glaring liability in defense. It was a simplistic study but the goal was to gather data to measure a (usually offensive) players contribution to the overall game.

I then expanded the plus/minus from just the simple hockey stat to adding in points (see my old post for the specifics) and called this PMP or plus/minus + points. I abandoned the plus/minus study for many reasons, one being soccer doesn’t lend itself well to stats. Yes, Americans love statistifying our sports, but soccer is much more qualitative than quantitive. You can easily see the story that numbers can’t tell. Prime example is one Marco Pappa.

Lately Pappa’s been mostly in the giving mood, providing key assist and goals. In the recent Los Angeles series, Pappa came off the bench and immediately contributed. If I was doing the plus/minus for those two games, Pappa would have a solid +4 +/- with 6 points giving him a crazy 10 PMP rating from just two games. What complicated this further was that Pappa is not usually subbed on (he hadn’t been subbed on since May 3rd. He’s been either been in the starting eleven or away on national team duty). Then back as a regular starter Sunday against Dallas, Pappa had only a 1 PMP (+/- net zero for being on the field when we gave up and got a goal, but earning 1 point for the assist). Pappa’s influence on the Dallas game was huge, not properly reflected in a 1 PMP. Already you can see the inadequacy of this stat in particular, and most stats in general, as they relate to soccer.

Marco Pappa truly is our X-Factor. Stats don’t properly quantify his contribution to this team. One way or another, Monday night against Dallas, Pappa will be the difference.


Last week I tweaked our season-long statistical study from mere Plus/Minus to PMP (plus, minus, points). This is a good thing. According to Plus/Minus, Lamar Neagle is our best player, Michael Azira the worst, and Clint Dempsey is a non-factor. Under this paradigm, Deuce equals Cam Weaver and pales to Chad Barrett and Dylan Remick. Yeppers, not an entirely useful statistic.

PMP is the way to go but as Friar Tuck commented, it only selects for offensive-minded players. Players like Marshall and Traore will never be big PMP’ing. This stat also seems to select for high-scoring draws, as players get lots of points, but the plus/minus doesn’t change. Maybe we’ve just stumbled upon a statistic for quantifying entertaining television, but that’s being far to dismissive of our study. These numbers told of Kenny Cooper’s contributions long before he started putting balls in the back of the net. The PMP numbers for this week:

PMP w5

Plus/Minus MVP Cooper took a hit after the Portland draw. He scored a goal, but he was on the field for two shipped, so he lost a PMP point. Along with Cooper, the other noticeable changes: Azira fell hard, Dempsey, of course, soared, but so did Neagle and Pappa. The changes to PMP from Week 4 to Week 5:


Aside from Neagle and Deuce, Marco Pappa surprises most. He was a real difference maker after getting his feet under him and surged up +2. I championed the “Marco Pappa Outta Here” cause earlier this season. Maybe first impressions can be too damning. After the energy and quality displayed on Saturday, I hope to see Pappa contribute much more in the future.

Big PMP’ing

I apologize for the late and short today. Busy week for me. I updated the Plus/Minus chart to reflect the Columbus loss. I also added a points column. Just like in hockey, I award a player one point per goal and assist.

The Sounders have 11 total points for the season, five goals and six assists. Obafemi Martins accounts for a whopping third of them with two assists and a goal. This, coupled with his +2, shows that Oba is integral to the team, as if you needed stats to know that. Cooper is tied with Dempsey for second with 2 points, a goal and assist each. I’d rank Cooper above Dempsey considering his team-leading plus/minus of +3. Dempsey is at 0 plus/minus, one behind the pace of the team, but he has missed the last two games.

If you take the sum of the plus/minus and points for each player, you have a good idea of the Sounder’s best contributors. Ideally, the points stat represents goal creation and plus/minus accounts for overall play, offensive and defensive actions are roughly considered. I’ll call this statistic PMP (plus/minus, points). The Sounders PMP leaderboard:

Obafemi Martins: 5

Kenny Cooper: 5

Gonzo Pineda: 3

Lamar Neagle: 3

Clint Dempsey: 2

Chad Barrett: 2

Not too surprising. With Dempsey back in the lineup at Portland, hopefully we’ll be big PMP’ing.

The Seattle Sounders Dynamic Formations and the Plus/Minus

Happy Thursday Raving Readers and welcome to the newest feature of the site: the Plus/Minus page. See the button above this post next to “Contact”? On this page you’ll find the constantly update spreadsheet of the plus/minus statistical study I’ll be conducting this season.

I stumbled upon the idea of using this stat after the Toronto game and seeing how much of an impact Marco Pappa made on the game. This study is in the spirit of science. I am not claiming to have a revolutionary stat to unlock the true meaning of soccer. I just want to keep a record of this data. Hopefully, if we keep track of this, maybe, like science, we can extrapolate something by year’s end.

Here is how I am working it. Currently, I don’t keep track of minutes played. I just credit a player with what happened while they were on the pitch. If a player was completely unused in a game, I give them a simple n/a. For example, Evans gets a -2 from the TFC game because Defoe scored both of his goals while Evans was in the lineup. Pineda gets a +1 from the same game because when he subbed in for Brad, we scored our goal.

This is a problem. Statistically, it looks like Pineda outplayed Evans. A bad scientist could extrapolate that if Pineda had started in Evans’s stead, the Sounders would have beat TFC. I am not saying that. I am not even saying the numbers are saying that. Hopefully this the static will decrease as the sample size grows.

The limitations of this amateurish study are many. As I said before, this is originally a hockey stat. The frequent shift switching in hockey, and smaller lineup creates a more tangible correlation of players to goals for and against. In soccer, this stat may be too simple. I could do a better job factoring in minutes played per player.

Acknowledging the problems of the study aside, let’s dig into the data.

Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 TOTAL
Stefan Frei 1 -1 2 2
DeAndre Yedlin 1 -1 2 2
Chad Marshall 1 -1 2 2
Djimi Traore 1 -1 2 2
Dylan Remick 1 -1 2 2
Leo Gonzalez n/a n/a 0 0
Lamar Neagle 0 -1 2 1
Osvaldo Alonso 1 -1 2 2
Brad Evans 1 -2 n/a -1
Marco Pappa 0 -2 n/a -2
Sean Okoli 1 n/a n/a 1
Clint Dempsey 1 -1 n/a 0
Gonzo Pineda n/a 1 2 3
Michael Azira n/a n/a 0 0
Andy Rose n/a n/a 2 2
Cam Weaver n/a n/a 0 0
Chad Barrett 1 0 n/a 1
Kenny Cooper 0 1 2 3
Obafemi Martins 1 -1 2 2
TEAM GD 1 -1 2 2

The team goal differential is +2, so anyone deviating from that is worth noting. The first names that pop out are Kenny Cooper, Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa. Cooper is killing it with a goal above the differential, and he has played in all three games. Is Cooper our MVP after 3 games? Potentially. Pineda is also at +3, having played just over a game and a half. Is he doing more than Cooper considering his limited time? Maybe. There is some survivor correlation static. If you play every minute of every game, Ozzie for example, you are at the team differential.

Marco Pappa’s play is the most jarring. His -2 is four significant figures off the team’s differential. Maybe Sigi took this into account when deciding to play the 4-3-3 last week, that is, get Cooper on the pitch and Pappa off. I am curious to see how much Pappa plays going forward. Is his defensive indifference too much of a liability? Does he contribute too much “goals against” versus his potential to create “goals for.”

Formations have been dynamic this season, as Sigi’s trotted out a new shape for each opponent. Say what you will about his coaching liabilities, but one of Sigi’s strengths is flexibility. The man is not hidebound. Cooper’s signing confused me when the 4-2-3-1 appeared to be our formation. But Cooper rocked on Sunday. Potentially Cooper and Pineda’s play, and Pappa’s, predicted the shift to the 4-3-3. Sigi must be having fun with our deep and disparate roster: Two midfielders unavailable (Evans and Dempsey) and one playing poorly? Ha! Let’s stack the middle with three CDMs and play multiple forwards. It must be refreshing for Sigi to be able to roll out a new formation and lineup every week.

One question comes to mind: if we use the 4-3-3 going forward, where does Deuce play?

Marco Pappa and the Plus/Minus

Pappa’s Pluses and Minuses

Saturday was rough, almost inexcusable for Marco Pappa. I’m not giving up on him yet. I’d love to see him settle down and get with the program. He is talented and what he brings, creativity and vision, are really needed in the midfield. But I’m starting to fear that Marco Pappa is fulfilling the Jhon Kennedy Hurtado archetype: the talented player who isn’t 100% focused. JKH was too damn talented not to play, but he was a liability on the pitch. He just wasn’t trustworthy. JKH is a former MLS Best XI defender. He has all the talent and tools and when he was on, he could SHUT DOWN Robbie Keane. When he was off… he was a welcome mat to the back of the net. Every time I saw him in the eleven I was nervous. Now I’m afraid Pappa could turn out the same way.

I was (and am) excited to see Pappa play. He is creative and he has good vision. In the preseason he looked like a younger, goofy-footed Mauro Rosales. But in the last two games he has shown little interest in defense and has been terribly sloppy with the ball.

We brought him in for his creativity and potential contributions to the offense. But one of my problems with his game is his propensity for the long volley. He loves the rocket. He took three shots from 30 yards out in the first thirty minutes Saturday. Sure, one of his volleys took a mean deflection and forced Julio Cesar to make a save, but he is still forcing the issue.

Granted, sometimes you have to pull the trigger. The 2013 Sounders had a fear of commitment, as too few players were willing to just take an exploratory swing. The old saw rings true, you don’t score goals unless you take shots. However there is a lot of attacking talent on this year’s squad. Be patient and build up to a quality shot, involve your teammates, Pappa. You have Oba, Dempsey, Cooper and Neagle, all proven goal scorers, around you. Trying those selfish volleys just takes a lot of money and talent out of the play.

In early February, the Sounders were perched atop the Allocation Order, considering Pappa when Sounder@Heart released a scouting report from his days with Chicago: he forces long-range shots, worries about his own highlights at the expanse of the team, gets sloppy… etc. We rolled the dice when we acquired Pappa. We knew the man had weaknesses. I was hoping we were getting a more mature player, one who was humbled in the Eredivise (the Dutch league). But we’re two games into his Rave Green career and we’re seeing a tour de force of all his bad, bad habits.

Sigi is backing Pappa. In a recent interview he cited Pappa’s lack of playing time in the Netherlands as cause for his disjointed play. I want to believe that after a year of barely playing Pappa is just not in the flow of the game, and that the speed and high stakes are overwhelming him. I want him to be one helluva creative midfielder.

Best case scenario, Sigi coaches Pappa up. He is the new Mauro and he connects the midfield to the forwards and the offense blossoms.

Worst case scenario, Pappa proves to be too much of a liability. If we can’t trust him to be in the eleven, what are the potential lineups? Will Pineda join Ozzie behind Neagle, Dempsey and Evans in a 4-2-3-1? But Neagle hasn’t been playing so hot. Does he need to be a forward, and if so, will he ever get time over Oba or Cooper? Can Cooper play as a wide mid? I sure don’t see him as a box-to-box type. I worry that if Pappa doesn’t work out, setting the lineup gets tricky. The pessimist in me worries we have all the pieces to the wrong puzzle (and I am not waiting for a magical midseason replacement to set everything right). In this scenario, I’d be tempted to see If Chicago is still interested. Maybe we can get some deep-dish pizza and a stick of Wrigley’s for him?


Pappa’s Plus/Minua

Thinking of Pappa and his contributions to the Sounders 2014 fortunes, I noticed that he was off the pitch when we created both our goals (Barrett’s against SKC and Dempsey’s Saturday), and on the pitch for both goals we took (and 100% responsible for one of them). The plus/minus stat in hockey is used to measure a player’s impact on the difference between their team’s total scoring versus their opponent’s. The frequent shift switching in hockey, and smaller lineup creates a more tangible correlation of players to goals for and against.

Checkout this plus/minus chart of the team. I’ll update this throughout the season.


What does this all mean? The Sounders are at a cumulative 0 goal differential. A player like Chad Marshall who has played every minute of both games has a 0 +/-. That is the mean. Anyone higher or lower is off the team mean. Instant analysis? Should Okoli should play more? Barrett too? That Neagle and Pappa should play less? All of these cocnlusions are too soon and too easy. Hopefully if we keep track of this, maybe, like science, we can extrapolate something by year’s end.

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