Doing more with less?

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Doing more with less?

Post by SoreKnees on Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:36 pm

OK, I admit it. Soccer has crowded other thoughts out of my life this week!

I got to thinking about the fact that the Pilots seem to be very consistently one of the top handful of teams in the country, but that their recruiting classes are very rarely in the top echelon. So I spent an hour or so at the no-longer-active Soccer Buzz site doing some simple analysis. Up until 2008, Soccer Buzz ranked the top 50 recruiting classes (top 100 in a few years) and the top 25 teams post-tournament (top 30 some years). Averaged over time, this should give a crude, opinionated estimate of inputs and outputs for soccer programs.

Over the 9-year period 2000-2008, Portland ranked 12th in average recruiting rank and 3rd in average end-of-season performance rank. (Details below for stat geeks.) Their average performance rank was 3.9, finishing below just UNC (2.4) and UCLA (3.6). Their average recruiting class rank was 17.3, which was 12th, below schools such as Virginia, Texas, Boston College, Duke, and Texas A&M, none of which has been to a Final Four unless I'm forgetting one, and way below UNC (3.1 average recruiting rank) and UCLA (4.3).

Here are the top 15 in each category:

Average end-of-year performance rank
1 North Carolina 2.4
2 UCLA 3.6
3 Portland 3.9
4 Notre Dame 6.4
5 Penn State 8.7
6 Santa Clara 9.1
7 Florida State 10.0
8 Texas A&M 10.2
9 Virginia 12.9
10 Stanford 14.1
11 Florida 15.8
12 Connecticut 16.1
13 West Virginia 18.1
14 Tennessee 18.9
15 Duke 19.1

Average recruiting-class rank
1 North Carolina 3.1
2 UCLA 4.3
3 Notre Dame 8.7
4 Santa Clara 11.6
5 Virginia 12.7
6 Texas 13.4
7 Stanford 14.0
8 Boston College 14.4
9 Duke 16.0
10 Penn State 16.9
11 Texas A&M 16.9
12 Portland 17.3
13 California 18.4
14 Florida State 19.8
15 Maryland 25.6

For those interested, I've arbitrarily assigned a rank of 26 to any team not finishing in the top 25 in a particular year and a recruiting rank of 51 to any team not in the top 50 in a particular year. This is not correct, but since I'm looking only at the very top teams, it's likely that they weren't far below the cutoff in years that they missed, so it shouldn't be off by too much.

By any metric I've tried, Portland gets more "output" for less "input" than any other program. Simply taking the average final ranking minus the average recruiting ranking gives UP as #1 with a 13.4 difference, followed by Florida State at 9.8 and Penn State at 8.2. North Carolina, UCLA, and many of the other top schools rate out near zero: they get great recruits and perform at the expected high level.

How to explain this success. It seems like there are two categories of explanations: (1) The Portland coaching staff does a better job than anyone else at turning the raw talent it recruits into success on the field, and (2) Portland's recruits are actually better than they get credit for in the Soccer Buzz poll. Within explanation (2) are two possible sub-explanations: (2a) The Portland coaching staff is successful in finding under-rated players, and (2b) Players recruited by schools like UNC get rated artificially high just because they were recruited by UNC: if Anson wants them they must be good.

I'm curious which explanation the PN community thinks is most valid. Obviously, they are not mutually exclusive and all probably provide part of the answer to Portland's success. I tend to think that 2a is pretty important: players like Enyeart and Reed turn out to be even better than their fairly high ranking and players like Winters and Tsao turn out to be unrated gems. But I also think that 1 is part of the story. The Pilots' possession game brings out the best in its players and enables players who perhaps aren't quite as fast or quick as other recruits to find a place on the field to shine. I don't know how important 2b is, but I can imagine it having an effect.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by fwill on Tue Nov 17, 2009 8:14 pm

This is an interesting observation that I've thought about, too. Several years ago a niece of mine expressed an interest in playing soccer at a top-tier school like UP and I told her that she would need to start by playing club soccer and ODP. I advised her to look at the player info from the top programs so she could figure out what steps to take to get to the top levels.

One of the things I noticed is that all but one of our starters (Davis) played ODP and club soccer (I excluded Schmidt for obvious reasons). Of the six who didn't (Priest, Kreminski, Jacka, Nelson, Davis, and Klier), it seems that only Kreminski is a serious contender for play time. There are clearly underrated local talents that are spotted by the UP coaching staff and conventional wisdom dictates that you can't teach a player speed, but all of the other skills can be developed. Plus, it's good for the local fan base if local players get recruited to a local school.

I think much of UP's success is attributable to the coaching staff and their style of play. The recruits seem to be chosen on their ability to fit into UP's openings rather than for their high school talents (Reed and Tsao were both cross trained into defenders) and the team chemistry matters here more than it does at a prima donna school like UNC. Top recruits don't always equate into championships - just ask UCLA. Yeah, so I'm giving the coaches most of the credit for their ability to spot talent and develop it to its full potential.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by GUPhantom on Tue Nov 17, 2009 9:09 pm

I posted these same thoughts in October. Thanks for validating with the statistical work! It does confirm that Clive and Garrett have the "secret formula"...a selective and keen eye for who'll fit the program.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by fan from afar on Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:16 am

Great topic, Soreknees - great work. I also like to think about this, and I think another reason for UP's success is probably that the staff looks for and will only accept players who have an unselfish team-first attitude.

I check the recruiting site regularly, and when you look at the recruits UNC UCLA etc have coming in, you wonder how UP can possibly compete. I come to the same conclusions, with a real strong emphasis on the system UP plays. I look at the limited success some really top flight recruits seem to be having at their schools, and then I look at Danielle being the leading goal scorer in the nation. She was pretty highly rated coming in, but I don't think near the top, yet she started scoring goals in her first game. She is an unselfish player herself who has team-oriented players around her who know their rolls and seemingly accept those rolls happily for the good of the team. Fwill mentioned Jessica and Elli as two perfect examples. I suppose they might be unhappy with their rolls (only an insider would know for sure), but I VERY seriously doubt it.

Like GUP, I give huge credit to the coaches for first finding players who will fit into the system, and then for developing the players into the system once they arrive.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by jc on Wed Nov 18, 2009 7:40 am

I would speculate that the ratings ascribed to young soccer players are simply not as reliable as those for, say, oblong football or basketball, where the athletes get much more scrutiny. Thus a college soccer coach with a good pipeline to club coaches can get better information on certain athletes than the raters themselves may have. Also, there is a likely rating bias toward athletes in glamor positions (notably strikers), with defensive players (except goalkeepers) possibly overlooked to some degree. Can anyone remember how Keelin, for example, was rated by Soccer Buzz?

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by SoreKnees on Wed Nov 18, 2009 8:49 am

Keelin was ranked in the 26-50 group. They are listed alphabetically, so we don't know where in that group (though she's last in alpha order).

The same year, Jessica and Kristen Kelly were in the 101-150 group and Elli was #11 overall.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by eProf on Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:30 am

fan from afar wrote:Danielle ... started scoring goals in her first game.
If I remember right, she scored a goal something like three minutes into her first game.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by runner girl on Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:50 am

I think the whole idea of ranking players like that (especially in high school, where there's a huge disparity in skill level both from teammates and opponents) is pretty silly. I understand that people like to look at statistics and assign numbers to things (myself included!), but soccer is not a game that lends itself to definition by numbers. And this is even more true when looking at individual players. Look at Christine Sinclair. She broke all sorts of scoring records at Portland, in part because she's a great finisher, and in part because she had an incredible team setting her up all the time. You can't track the effectiveness of an individual player like you can in other sports. In soccer you have to see someone play, preferably in different conditions and settings.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by SoreKnees on Wed Nov 18, 2009 10:00 am

True enough, but the dozens of "college showcase" tournaments involving the nation's leading club teams surely give the coaching community abundant opportunities to see the individual speed and skills of most of the top-level players. I'm not sure how people like Soccer Buzz form their ratings, but the player who is #50 probably has certain skills that are better than the player ranked #10, and if those are the skills that can benefit your college team, then you're better off with the lower-ranked player.

Injuries also figure in. Jessica missed her entire senior year because of injury, which probably dropped her off the radar screens of some evaluators (and perhaps some coaches).

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by UPSoccerFanatic on Wed Nov 18, 2009 11:54 am

I think these are great questions about this and lots to discuss, but I don't think there's any real way to know the answers.

As stated by others, you have to look at the high school player rating systems with a lot of caution. Part of what the data shows may be the result of poor player ratings.

But coaching also almost certainly plays a part in what the data shows. Part of that may be in who is better at identifying players who are not in the spotlight. This could include spotting players who may be "late bloomers" -- Hallie Kreminiski? (Read the article in The Oregonian today about Oregon State's player.) Or, players who will be really hard workers and will therefore maximize their talents to a greater extent than is normal -- Emily Michaelson, Kristen Kelly?

Part of the coaching difference also may be in who is better at helping their players maximize their abilities. This latter part of coaching is where I bet the Pilots' coaches excel. If I were a parent of a top high school player, I would want my daughter to go to Portland because I believe Portland does more -- and a lot more -- than any other program in the country to help players grow as players. That was the essence of Clive's approach to coaching soccer -- together with helping the players grow as well as people -- and I think it continues to be the driving approach of Garrett and his staff.

But how these all fit together and in what proportions? Impossible to say.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by fan from afar on Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:01 pm

eProf wrote:
fan from afar wrote:Danielle ... started scoring goals in her first game.
If I remember right, she scored a goal something like three minutes into her first game.

That's about right, and she hasn't stopped since.

Another reason for UP's success with less highly rated players that shows itself in Danielle is how players seem to improve year to year. Now, I'm sure they improve everywhere, but I think there is something somewhere going on in the UP program that seems to motivate the girls (women) to hard harder in the off season than at most places. Maybe it's pride in the program, or having to work to stay ahead of the intra-team competition, but whatever it is, it seems to be there. I think Danielle was pretty much just a scorer last year, even still at the end of last season, but she came into this season a very well-rounded player. Off-season work. I think most of the players have had huge improvements over their time at UP.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by fan from afar on Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:06 pm

Looks like UPSF and I had the same idea, at the same time - maximizing talent. Great minds etc etc.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by DaTruRochin on Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:15 pm

Could the development of players be partially due to the "director of soccer" coaching structure allowing coaches to help out with both teams? I know a lot of teams complain about this as being an advantage, perhaps there is something to it, but I don't think there is any denying the diligent progress players see during their tenure on the bluff.

But I also agree with UPSF, the pilots do have the capability to go after those highly rated recruits if they are a good fit, why not? i.e. Cloee At the same time going after some of the so called late bloomers/under the radar types would also help with the scholarship limitations as well and lends to getting a player with that desire to improve because they had to work so hard to get where they are. Furthermore I think in a lot of ways the academic requirements and expectations of players as students also lends to drawing players who have a good workd ethic academically, which translates on to the field as well (I admit this is conjecture on my part, but it all adds up)

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by irish78 on Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:55 pm

If you don't mind a parent of a 2011 recruit joining in, you might be missing the conditioning work that Terry does with the players as another key factor. The goal of getting the girls to be able to work at 80% of maximum for ninety minutes or more is something we did not hear from other schools we visited. It shows in the fitness level on the field late in the match as well as the ability to go all-out during the game.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by DaTruRochin on Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:06 pm

Indeed, Dr. Favero's work with the players definitely pays dividends keeping players sharp throughout the game (which at tims can lead to frustration by their dragging opponents) and definitely different than the old fitness methods of just working out hard, instead of smart. It's nice having professors so invested in the school that they are willing to use their specialties to help out.

The same kinesiology principles have helped Rob Conner take the mens XC team to the next level, they were always a solid team, but now he's been able to maximize his harriers to their highest ranking ever with the championships this weekend.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by fwill on Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:06 pm

irish78 wrote:If you don't mind a parent of a 2011 recruit joining in, you might be missing the conditioning work that Terry does with the players as another key factor. The goal of getting the girls to be able to work at 80% of maximum for ninety minutes or more is something we did not hear from other schools we visited. It shows in the fitness level on the field late in the match as well as the ability to go all-out during the game.

Funny you should mention conditioning. I remember last year's quarterfinal and noticing how exhausted Keelin Winters was and thinking to myself that conditioning would always be a serious concern in the post-season. Personally I prefer to win outright than to test conditioning in overtime, but it is good to know that the coaching staff at UP is keeping that as a key goal for all of their players.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by eProf on Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:36 pm

fwill wrote:I remember last year's quarterfinal and noticing how exhausted Keelin Winters was ...
Do you mean the 2007 quarterfinal? I'm pretty sure Keelin was doing National Team duty in Chile during last year's playoffs.

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by DaTruRochin on Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:37 pm

I was about to say....

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by fwill on Wed Nov 18, 2009 3:42 pm

You're right eProf, I'm getting my years confused - sometimes the seasons tend to run together in my tiny little hamster brain!

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by FANatic on Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:27 pm

fwill - I remember the match you are referring to. It was 2007 at UCLA in the Quarterfinals, and practically the whole team looked warn out. (Except Kelsey - who was world-class.)

Watching on video the Tamu 3-1 loss this season, I had a deja vu moment, remembering how poorly we played in the match mentioned above. However, I think the Tamu match was worse - probably the worst I have ever seen the Pilots play. The good thing is, though, that the Pilots have not lost since that whupping, and I believe they have used that game as an anchor to constantly remind themselves that winning any championship means playing all out, all the time, against every opponent, anywhere. Smile

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Re: Doing more with less?

Post by UPSoccerFanatic on Wed Nov 18, 2009 11:39 pm

Irish20, did we know you are a 2011 parent? Welcome, although I see this is not your first post! Good to get your insights.

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