For this study, we examined all regular season games of the current MLS season through September 1, a total of 235 games.
It seems very logical that the team that holds the possession advantage has a greater chance of scoring more goals, and thus winning the game. The fact that a team cannot score without having possession of the ball lends itself to this conclusion. However, the numbers suggest something else.
After gathering data for all 235 regular season games (of which 68 were draws), we noticed that more games have actually been won by the team that had less possession. This is true across all margins of victory (victories of 1-4 goals).
A more likely explanation is that certain teams have more efficient networks than others, which allow them to score more often while having the ball. At Chimu, we aim to map each team’s network, and see exactly how these teams are able to score, and whether their success can be consistently replicated given the right players and the right circumstances.
So rather than having the ball for a majority of the time, it might be more important to have the right pieces in place at the right time. The team’s chances of success would then fall on their ability to reproduce these situations in which they have proven to score most often. And from a defensive standpoint, it becomes easier to defend against a team once you know how, and from where, they are most likely to score.
What do you think explains the lack of correlation between an advantage in possession and winning? Would you like to see a network analysis that would show how teams could be more efficient with the ball? Feel free to comment below.