Is the Colorado Rapids drive for better soccer working?

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When it comes to statistical analysis of soccer these days, we are definitely in a day of chess, not checkers.

I honestly haven’t figured out where to value this higher level math of match analysis. My professional life is about gathering information and filtering it so that it enlightens, so I’m careful not to lead herds into dark valleys of misinformation.

For instance, possession stats are all the rage. But sharp PST colleague Richard Farley recently pulled back the curtain on that one.

All that said, there certainly must be worthwhile applications for the volumes of team, individual and match analysis out there.

Smart people know how to separate the frick from frack. They understand how to pluck the meaty parts, then leave the fatty leavings for lesser carnivores.

MLSSoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe, for instance, has tonged out some revealing stats about the Colorado Rapids, where new manager Oscar Pareja was added in winter with a mandate to prune the lesser attractive soccer away from Dick Sporting Goods Park.

Remember, previous manager Gary Smith was successful enough, claiming the 2010 MLS Cup title. But his soccer was bottom-line stuff, winning through brute force and blunt tactics. Rapids upper management wanted more, and Pareja was the man adjudged best to deliver.

So has he?

Wiebe has plucked some great stuff in this piece, where the numbers tell the story.

For instance:

Colorado are the second-best side in MLS at keeping possession this season, holding the ball 54.73 percent of the time, behind only Sporting KC (55.07 percent). That’s a nearly five-percent increase from 2011, when the Smith-led Rapids found themselves in the middle of the MLS pack with a mark of 49.96 percent.

And this …

By [passing through] the midfield, Colorado have also seen the percentage of their total passes in that portion of the field rise from 50.94 to 53.92 percent, while the ratio in the attacking third has stayed roughly the same. That suggests that the midfield is more likely to combine with each other instead of constantly looking up field.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images
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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.