27 Goals by Harrison Crow

We have a cool new little toy! You may have missed it, but a few weeks ago Matthias unveiled  historic expected goals. We use "historic" in a limited sense here - it only goes back to 2011 - but this is a big deal for multiple reasons.

The most applicable of those reasons right now is the ability to compare Chris Wondolowski's 2012 season to Bradley Wright-Phillips' in 2014. Unfortunately, since we don't have shot locations or even  most specifics for the league during prior to 2011, we are unable to compare these two seasons to Roy Lassiter's 27 goals back in 1996, so this post will be about comparing the two record-setting seasons we have data for.

Name G xG G-xG Sht Avg Dist Avail UnAst Pct Reb Pct KeyP Asst xAsst Cross Pct Through Pct xG + xA
Wondolowski 27 21.71 5.29 127 16.9 6.07 0.24 0.06 38 5 4.16 0.22 0.02 25.87
Wright-Phillips 27 22.85 4.15 109 14.9 6.24 0.17 0.03 19 1 2.35 0.28 0.15 25.20

While obviously similar, there are subtle but key differences. You can see that BWP earned more xGoals than Wondo, but Wondo was more involved in incorporating his teammates in the attack with almost twice as many xAssists than Wright-Phillips.

It is also interesting that Wondo had seven percent more Unassisted Shots and three percent more shots (twice as much) via rebounds. There could be a few explanations for this, but two seem to most fit what we already know - 1) that Wondo is a poacher, and makes the most of his opportunities, and 2) that much of Wright-Phillips' success can be attributed to playing alongside Thierry Henry.

Feeding into the latter theory, it is notable that BWP's shots came from a full two yards closer to the goal. Now there is a lot of inference that Henry created most of those shots either by his elite play making skills or by way of creating space. Our dear friend Matthias actually put out a friendly little stat about three weeks ago on this subject.

As of that tweet, 26 shots created by Henry accounted for 25.7% of the total shots taken by Bradley Wright-Phillips. It makes sense that while he did a lot to help Bradley become the prolific goal scorer that, he's not the only reason. No goal is a better example of BWP's ability to create his own shots than the goal that tied the record. Phillips has the ability to do things with the ball at his feet that Wondo does not. That control has lead to more opportunities in higher leverage situations.

One last point; it's interesting that neither lead the league in Goals Minus Expected Goals (G-xG). In the final table neither finished in the top-3, suggesting there was a bit of luck on their side, which is almost always the case when a goal (or 27 of them) is scored.

My point here is just to evaluate how both individuals created their total expected goals in the season in which they scored 27 for their teams. It's not necessarily about one being better than the other. Both performed great feats that should be acknowledged, and both did it in different and exciting ways.

I'm just grateful that we have a bit more information that allows us to give context, and lets us to understand more than what have in the past. That we can compare these two accomplishments and see how they are different using actual data - and not only our shoddy memories - is both an interesting and fun exercise.

The MVP Debate: Filtering Expected Goals vs. Game Winning Goals by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

Last year, if you even knew we existed then, you may have heard us mentioning Lee Nguyen for his quantitative key pass numbers. He produced a lot of key passes (51 total, 14th in MLS) and put himself on the map for people like me to watch for this season.

Well, as you know, this season he's been more than just an above average central creator for a good team. He's been someone that has gained dark horse consideration for the MVP as the MLS playoffs begin.

A lot of the conversation surrounding Nguyen centers on the fact that he has most "Game Winning Goals" in MLS with 8. Meaning he's directly responsible for a total of 24 additional points for his team, the New England Revolution. Well... okay, sure. To some degree he Nguyen has been very much influential to adding those "additional" points.

My problem with attributing those points solely to Nguyen is that it takes away from the rest of his mates who also had their hand in those matches. Winning by a single goal often involves more than  an outlier event. It's a transcendent performance that comes by more than a single event and a singular player but by a battle conducted by all 11 players against a fellow 11 players.

Sure, it's often a single players performance or instance that can turn the tide of a battle and help his team gain points. But if we all believe this is the case then we are only accounting for single goal states in our analysis? We should be taking into account both negative one AND even game states for goals.

Additionally, we all understand the propensity goals have to be flukey at times. We all have seen a team perform the best and be handed a draw or even a loss despite everything. Because of that it's best to look at shots and the leverage of which we could reasonably expect a goal to be scored in that situation. That's the whole premise behind expected goals.

Now, I've talked before about how I don't necessarily agree with the denotation of "game winning goal". I believe it conveys the wrong impression behind the intention and event. The stat is only awarded to players whose teams win by a single goal and given to player who scores that final goal that ends up being the difference. If a goal is scored in the fourth minute it's the same as scoring it in the 90th minute. Obviously that goal still was the determining factor in the match. But calling it a game winning goal implies a sense of heroic nature to the event.

Most of the time if I'm talking about a game winning events my mind goes to closing minutes or moments just before the games end. It's those closing seconds that we remember the most because it seems to have the most impact. Michael Jordan with the game winning shot, John Elway with the game winning drives and Roger Clemens big last moments.

If we want to strive to really account for these late match events and properly put them into context than what we should do is develop a filter for what events to take into account and when. This will give us a method of evaluating true difference makers at the end of matches. Looking at the things mentioned above, I've implied the need to account for three specific details: shots and their placement, the current score line of the event and time the event took place.

Using those three determining factors I put together a small list of total expected goal contributors with shots and their leverage occurring from the 80th min to the last. One specific item of note is that the data set includes penalty kicks because... well, I couldn't decide whether or not to include them.

1   Clint Dempsey   2.50
2   Sebastien Le Toux   2.26
3   Mike Magee  1.79
4   Fanendo Adi 1.71
5   Lee Nguyen  1.69

I could have given you all 300 individuals who had met the following condition but I scaled it down; way way down. Why did I limit this to five examples? Well, because this is about Lee Nguyen and since he rounded out the top-5 it made the perfect complimentary talking point. Also, I don't think I could have lived with myself had Juan Luis Anangono found his way into the top-10 (which he did).

Obviously, the narrative with Lee's MVP candidacy is that while he doesn't have the stats that compare quantitatively he has shouldered the loud when it counts to  be that difference maker at the end of matches. Seeing him on this list does play a bit to that thought. 

However, looking further down it you can see Obafemi Martins at 18 (1.33) followed even closer by Robbie Keane (1.59) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (1.49) at 8, 9 respectively. The question then becomes if that is enough to build a run towards the leagues most valuable player award?

This isn't suppose to be a biting article with the intention to take away from Nguyen's contributions. I'm a big fan of what he's done this season and the example he is for what talent teams can unearth if they are willing to invest some time and money in the domestic market.

This is about how you contextualize statistics and properly use them to convey meaning. If you were to give another top-10 ballot Nguyen would still not make it, and my awarding Wright-Phillips my vote earlier this month only seems to be justified at this point.

One match to rule them all, but which? by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Note: you can find all projected game results in the '+Projections' tab. As noted by Matthias on the page certain percentages may not completely line-up with what might be '2014 Playoff/Shield Push' page. This is due to still using xGoals 2.0 on one page and our freshly minted 3.0 on the other.

It's not as if there are a lot of games left. Entering the final weekend there are a total of nine matches stretched across three days and eight possible play-off positions all in flux with one last seed to be decided between two clubs with all the answers to be had at the conclusion of Kansas City and New York, Sunday night, the last regular season match of the season.

It's easy for most pairs of eyes to wander to Saturday afternoon and the game that will determine the Supporter’s Shield winner. The LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC show cased a fun and exciting match last Sunday that built upon the tension and expectations across the league and delivered upon all the hype. Our projection system has LA with the disadvantage needing an out and out win on the road in Century Link for a chance at the Supporter's Shield. They currently sit with a win projected at near 25%.

The game may have silverware implications but aside from that it’s arguably the least vital to the MLS Cup hopes of the club and it's supporters. As the season comes to a close either clubs will end up in first or second place with neither holding true a place of leverage in the playoff scheme.

If the afternoon is the least impacting, the evening match brings us the most over reaching match that could be the difference between having to play an extra match to reach the MLS Cup final for one team and, alternatively, could decide the playoff fate between another two. FC Dallas plays host to the Portland Timbers as they are hoping to leap frog RSL for the third spot and out of the play-in round. Portland is hoping for... well, anything to keep their playoff hopes alive. This match heavily favors ‘The Hoops’ with home win with a whopping 55% of the outcome.

Portland will need more than just a win against Dallas. The Rose City will be hoping their Cascadia rival, Vancouver, will drop points at home against Colorado later that night. The Whitecaps have the lead for the fifth spot with a point advantage where a win at home would clinch the fifth seed and a chance at Salt Lake or Dallas Wednesday or Thursday night. Vancouver is another high home favorite with 55% chance of a win and a 26% chance at a draw, which would indicate a very high chance that they will end up in their 2nd playoff berth in three seasons.

Out in the Eastern Conference the biggest matches come on Sunday with the first of two is between the newly rebooted Columbus Crew and the Philadelphia Union. Both of which are two of my favorite clubs out east and both for similar reasons (largely, their player acquisition and appraisal methods). It’s the only game this week that we have the road team with the favorable slant but, not by much. Our projection system is at a near three way tie (citing: hwin 30%, awin 39%, draw 31%) between the possible outcomes. It should be a fun match to watch and if nothing else it could build on to some excitement to the final match of the season.

Finally, Sporting has had an uncanny up and down season. One that doesn’t really represent what our numbers tend to believe about them. Those numbers still indicate them to be an elite, top tier club. While, in reality, we've seen them appear to be slipping further and further away from their once lofty perch atop the Eastern Conference. Time will only tell if this is because of bad luck or a change that has quite propagated to our seasonal numbers.

This weekend SKC will need either Columbus to lose or gain an equal amount of points to retain their third place position and a chance of avoiding a dangerous play-in game with the same New York Red Bulls they host Sunday. Again, our metric loves Kansas City, like, a lot. I’ve long said that I don’t trust KC at home as they’ve had a propensity for losing matches in preposterous sorts of ways.

Oh, and I hadn't noticed until now but there is a slight. Again, let me re-emphasize, a SLIGHT chance that through a comedy of errors that New York could still end up with that Third season surpassing both Columbus and Sporting both. Now we have that only at a 2% possibility but the fact is that it could still happen which makes this all the more entertaining.

There are a lot of really good games this weekend and while everyone is tuning into College Football or the NFL, there are games that really matter to a lot of fans and a lot of cities. It’s not just about one team winning an elusive trophy or another cementing their legacy in MLS history. Its about eight clubs holding onto their hats as the card deck gets shuffled one last time before the playoff deal and the start of the second season.

Expected Goals 3.0 is here! by Matthias Kullowatz

You can check out all the updated Expected Goals stats that you're used to, but now they're based on more-detailed data, explained here

The new model thinks differently of Seattle, among other teams, so check out the team stats.

And Bradley Wright-Phillips gets really goods shots from closer to the goal than the six shot zones of version 2.0 could detect.

Bill Hamid remains king of the net, but Expected Goals 3.0 respects the work of Nick Rimando more so than version 2.0. 

Thinking about 60 points seasons by Harrison Crow

Since the start of the post shoot-out era (2000) there have been four different clubs to reach the 60 point plateau. Three of the four have done it twice. Having a look below you will see the list ordered by year with the total number of points earned  in parentheses.

-2005
  San Jose Earthquakes (64)

- 2011
  LA Galaxy (67)
  Seattle Sounders (63)

- 2012
  San Jose Earthquakes (66)
  Sporting Kansas City (63)

- 2014
  Seattle Sounders (60)
  LA Galaxy (60)

The point being is that when we talk about some of the best clubs assembled in modern MLS history we often refer back to those that have hit or surpassed the 60-point mark.

If you were to open the search up a bit wider and look for club that came close to that mark, with the intention of having just a bit of fun on this subject, there have been a total of eleven clubs, in the same time frame, that have come within a win of 60-points. Thus implying that they might be within the veil of consideration.

Those teams are:
Kansas City Wizards (57), 2000
Chicago Fire (57), 2000
New England Revolution (59), 2005
Columbus Crew (57), 2008
LA Galaxy (59), 2010
DC United (58), 2012
Real Salt Lake (57), 2012
New York Red Bulls (57), 2012
Chicago Fire (57), 2012
New York Red Bulls (59), 2013
Sporting Kansas City (58), 2013

As of today there is only one other club (DC United with 54 points) that with two games left have a chance to jump into the 60 point discussion. Now there is a possibility that happens but it is unlikely considering A) one of the game is on the road and B) they still allow buckets shots every match while still taking fewer than they give up. According to our shots data DC United doesn't have a recipe for long term success. Until they can out-shoot their opponents we'll continue to doubt them.

The real point of this all is just to bring a thought provoking question: which team of those listed above was truly the best? Personally I think the 2011 Galaxy have a good leg to stand on but the 2012 Sporting team was very, very good defensive club and I feel that sometimes gets under-appreciated. There are also the clubs of yesteryear that we forget about and/or can't quite quantify. Two examples are the 2005 San Jose Earthquakes/New England Revolution who were two VERY strong rosters with US Men's National team components. The other side of the coin is how much expansion has helped influence this achievement.

No team had earned more than 60 points until Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA were introduced into the league in 2005 and, previous to this season, no team had ever earned 60 points in a non-expansion season. So does that make some of those team accomplishment mean less, or at least weighted less impressive on the scale? Thinking to the last five seasons it has happened now five times with another seven clubs coming within a few points where prior to the 2010 season it happened once and only four clubs coming within a few points of the mark.

Maybe the 60 point mark means less now. It was once said that 60 points would assure you the Supporter Shield. But after the last five seasons the winners' average point total is above 62 points. Maybe the mark should be adjusted. With an expansion year on the horizon, is 70 out of the question?

These are all the questions in my mind and it's not to take away from the achievements of the clubs before us. Seattle and LA have both been very good this season. The Sounders are in the discussion of whether or not they're a "great team" and LA Galaxy have by far the best goal differential in league history. But the consistency with which teams continue to reach the 60 point mark may signal a new era where the number of points needed to win the Supporter's Shield continue to rise.

 

MLS Playoffs Outcomes and Probabilities by Matthias Kullowatz

There remain many races for playoff positioning—Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas for the 3-seed, the entire Eastern Conference for every seed—so let’s break all that down. Based on each team's shot rates and finishing rates, we've created some charts that show which teams are likely to finish in which seeds, followed by a summary of outcomes for the key fifth-place and Supporters’ Shield battles.

Team Playoffs1 Playoffs2 Playoffs3 Playoffs4 Playoffs5 Supporters1 Playoffs
DCU 0.983 0.015 0.002 0.000 0.000 0.000 1.000
NE 0.009 0.538 0.346 0.104 0.002 0.000 1.000
SKC 0.008 0.376 0.430 0.163 0.024 0.000 1.000
NYRB 0.000 0.060 0.139 0.407 0.394 0.000 1.000
CLB 0.000 0.011 0.083 0.326 0.569 0.000 0.990
TOR 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.010 0.000 0.010

Team Playoffs1 Playoffs2 Playoffs3 Playoffs4 Playoffs5 Supporters1 Playoffs
LA 0.504 0.496 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.504 1.000
SEA 0.496 0.504 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.496 1.000
RSL 0.000 0.000 0.691 0.309 0.000 0.000 1.000
FCD 0.000 0.000 0.309 0.672 0.019 0.000 1.000
VAN 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.019 0.686 0.000 0.705
POR 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.295 0.000 0.295
The small differences between the probabilities in this chart and those on our Playoff Push page can be attrbuted to the 95% margin of error of up to one percent due to simulation randomness.

Western Conference Hot Races

For the fifth spot in the West, Portland’s only advantage is that it would almost surely hold the tiebreaker if it comes down to that. Both teams would finish with the same number of wins—the first tiebreaker—and Portland’s +7 goal differential is currently well ahead of Vancouver’s +1 for the second tiebreaker. That said, there are still more outcomes that favor Vancouver with its one-point lead and arguably easier schedule.

Vancouver gets the 5-seed if it…

…wins both, and FC Dallas doesn’t lose both its games.

…wins and draws, and Portland doesn’t win both its games.

…wins and loses, and Portland gets fewer than four points.

…draws both, and Portland doesn’t win either of its games.

…draws and loses, and Portland manages one draw at best.

…loses both, and Portland loses both.

Vancouver gets the 4-seed if it wins both, and FC Dallas loses both of its final games.

The Supporters’ Shield features two teams that are currently tied at 60 points apiece, and will also be playing a home-and-home series to end the season. Though Seattle holds the wins tiebreaker, our model likes LA better as a team.

Seattle wins the Supporters’ Shield if it…

…wins both games.

…wins and draws.

…wins and loses.

…draws both games.

Eastern Conference Hot Races

For the fifth spot in the East, Toronto FC needs a small miracle. Toronto will make the playoffs if it wins both its games, and if Columbus also loses both of its games. Though Toronto hosts its first game against one of the East’s weakest teams, Montreal, it still needs to beat New England on the road, and Columbus would have to lose to New York and Philadelphia. While each of those things is very possible by itself, it’s a real long shot for all of them to happen.

As for the number one seed out East, it's just about wrapped up. But here's how it shakes out.

D.C. United wins the East if it gets at least one point from its final two matches.

New England wins the East if it wins both its games and DCU loses both of its games.

Sporting Kansas City wins the East if it wins both its games, DCU loses both its games, New England doesn't win both its games, and Sporting scores two more goals than DCU over those two games. Sporting may not need to score those two extra goals if its goal differential beats DCU's by more than four over the final two games. Note that it's impossible for Sporting to win twice, DCU to lose twice, and for the resulting goal differential disparity to be less than four.

The Sounder's Quiet Move by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

When the Sounders unveiled their USL-Pro 'mini-me' club they did something no other team in MLS has yet done. No, no, don't you go rolling your eyes. I'm not talking about the proverbial ‘democracy in sports’ line and the fact that they allowed their supporters group to buy into their new franchise. I, personally, think that's pretty cool aspect of the new venture, but it’s not the subject we’re here to talk about.

Roughly a few months ago the Sounders hired Andrew Opatkiewicz to an unknown position which was kind of vague and just implied he would have a hand in setting up the new USL Pro club. Tuesday came with the announcement of his position, which was probably a lot larger than some had expected, being appointed as the General Manager of the S2. What makes this a big deal is if you do a quick rundown through MLS clubs you'll see that there is no front office decision making types without a baseline of professional or "elite" college level experience.

Well, there is one, so I guess I told a fib. The only other club to have someone in their front office without that experience was… well, the Sounders, when they "hired(?)" Adrian Hanauer.

Hanauer was a business savvy University of Washington grad who became a managing partner of the Sounders back in 2002. He was a minority owner and after being partnered with Joe Roth through Commissioner Don Garber match making abilities—when looking for financial investors prior to the Sounders entering into MLS in 2007—Hanauer took on the Management position that he had held at the USL level.

Beyond the simplicity of being a Sounders fan and him being the team GM, there is something that has long interested me about Hanauer; his background, decision methods and approach with the Sounders and even his past investments and projects. The hiring of Opatkiewicz on the periphery plays that up even more in what seems kind of a risky and odd move that could end up being looked back upon as shrewd and cunning.

So it begs the question, who the heck is Andrew D. Opatkiewicz? Well, how about the former VP of Strategic Partnerships within Intersport, former Associated VP of Strategic Development for STATS LLC, and lastly former Head of Business Development in Americas at Prozone Sports Ltd. He's also got a Masters from the University of Washington.

I have no earthly idea who he is as a person. I don't know how he thinks and I don't have any insight to how he plans on running the Sounders USL Pro franchise. But he has a photo from the Guster Album ‘Keep it together’ as his profile header on twitter and I feel like this speaks a lot about him. Also, he wrote this little pamphlet for the MIT Sloan Sports Conference concerning Salary Allocation Strategies in MLS which was all kinds of brilliant.

Overall this is a move that I've been waiting for the last few years. A team that is interested in finding someone that thinks outside the box. An individual that doesn't have the predisposition that comes with traditional hires.

This isn’t to say that Mr. Opatkiewicz has no idea what soccer is or that he has no traditional grounding in the game. His past work experience, as well as his work with the Seattle Wolves, speak to his involvement with the game through several different mediums.

While all these presented ideas and connections are not facts concerning how he operates or exactly how he thinks or even who he is as a person, I'd like to think they are indicators of what we might expect to hear about during his tenure. And while only indicators they are still indicators that might get a person hot and bothered just thinking about the possibilities of where this might lead. His inclination to be effective through data and experience, in times past, conveying the importance that data can bring to create effective analysis and whole picture concepts are something that has by and large been a topic ignored.

As a baseball fan, I spent years watching division rivals have smart management that put them in a better position as a whole. What Jon Daniels and Billy Beane did to find ways to compete from 2008-now has been annoying and, yet, wildly interesting. The idea that an MLS team is looking at people that have an outside the norm attitude and ideas in how teams are run and constructed in MLS is, yet again, super exciting.

Don’t get me wrong, Hanauer becoming the GM of the Sounders isn't the same thing as Opatkiewicz being hired to be the S2 GM this week. S2 is only an MLS affiliate and Opatkiewicz is only being hired to run an USL Pro team which isn’t ground breaking. But consider he is being given a voice as a decision maker on some level within the organization itself, his experiences and past positions now added to the fact that he has the ear of Adrian Hanauer are all interesting points and leads a person to sit back to wonder how this will all play out over the next few years.

What is going on with Darlington Nagbe? by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

I'm not the first person to bring this up, and I'm sure I won't be the last. The year that has followed Darlington Nagbe's 2013 break-out year has been a convoluted mixed bag of results. It's not as if there hasn't been success. I am probably one of the few that believes there has been success. Unfortunately, many will point out his lack of productivity in terms of goals and assists.

Looking upon the surface, it's an oddity that a guy who was a double digit goal scorer the year previous is still awaiting his first goal of the season after his team has completed 32 of 34 games. Will Parchman developed a theory at the end of August on what was/has been happening to Nagbe.

“Nagbe is moving less. That’s the crux of the issue. The reason his dip in form is so puzzling on its face is that Nagbe is largely doing the same thing he’s always done on the left – he pinches in, makes his home in that left-leaning central channel and attempts to play quick exchanges with his central midfielders and strikers.

The problem is that Nagbe isn’t doing this anywhere else right now. He isn’t dragging defenders on top of one another by pulling across the line to his right. His one-on-one moves aren’t biting as much as they were last year. And he’s largely become predictable due in no small part to his general lack of motor.”  (Will Parchman)

This is all very interesting and probably very apt observance from a tactical perspective. I think however that may be over complicating the matter. As pointed out by Shay Awosiyan back in July, the issue may be a bit of an easier solve.

“His problem this season is his unwillingness to have a crack at goal. He has less shot attempts than games played. He has only fired 18 shots and only eight have been on target. Last season he started every league game and attempted to score 62 times. Because of his ambitious approach, he found the back of the net nine times and helped create four goals.” (Shay Awosiyan)

Obviously these are two very different points of view. And while I think Will Parchman is a very smart analyst, I tend think the simplistic answer rather than the tactically inclined one is more likely. It’s not to say that Nagbe is not roaming and/or dragging defenders around less. He probably isn't and really it could explain why he is gun shy. But an important take away is that there haven’t been any real changes in the quality of the team attack of the Timbers. In fact you could make the assertion that it's improved. As by goals scored they've already passed their mark set last year, and right now it’s the third highest tally in Major League Soccer.

If the Timbers attack as a whole was struggling that may play to the idea that there is something tactically amiss with Nagbe, and that would play into faults with the attack as a whole. But that hasn’t been the case. Likewise, just chalking it up to being gun shy is also something that I'm not sure is valid. Looking at the numbers we can see that while his shot attempts are down but his shot leverage has remained the same (0.073 to 0.078) between the two years. That’s to say that he’s taking shots on average from similar placement, beyond the 18 yard box.

That could very well mean his lack of goals scored is to be attributed to lesser attempts and the absences of luck. The more shots that he takes the more likely it is that a shot finds the back of the net. With his shots being down (28 touches per shot to now 38 touches per shot) it’s minimized the opportunities and compressed the chance for luck to influence the play and explains why the ball just hasn’t found its way past the keeper.

Nagbe’s shots created per 90 minutes are relatively similar scaling only slight down from 3.5 to 3. The real key difference in the ratio being that of key passes to shots, which was at 0.7 and this season has changed to 1.3. The idea is that he’s made a change in play style becoming more of a facilitator and creator than a finisher or goal scorer. He does special things and is one of those players that has game changing talents.

I would worry less about his goals scored and more the ones he creates. It’s clear to me that his lack of goals is about luck and a change in how he influences the Timber attack than a real stumble in ability. The only concern should be that he continues to creating shots, regardless of how he goes about doing it.

Nagbe’s role with Caleb Porter's squad has been altered in some way and the only things that I am genuinely interested in knowing is whether or not that’s been done on purpose through some inherent scheme that’s changed his shot-taking responsibility, or if it’s just a byproduct of how this season has flowed and a result of early struggles that have left Nagbe less confident. Perhaps the truth is buried somewhere between these two thoughts.

Playoffs, Expectations and Polls: Western Conference by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Building off what I wrote yesterday, we’re reviewing the community survey that was conducted seven months ago before the MLS season began. We asked you, the reader, to project the final standings in each conference. It's impossible to perfectly predict a sport with so many unforeseeable injuries and transfers. A lot happens in seven months, but it’s great to look back and see how well we did and how things have changed with the benefit of hindsight.

 

Portland Timbers

Predicted: 1st
Currently: 6th

If there was a surprise in the Western Conference it was the fall of Portland. While their attack stayed potent (actually adding 0.15 expected goals scored per match), it was a sharp 0.36 increase in expected goals against that has them earning 0.2 fewer expected goals this season compared to last.

I imagine that changes along the backline are in store for this off-season. That should solve the main issue, and if they can maintain their attack efficiency one would think they’re in store for a return to form next season.

LA Galaxy

Predicted: 2nd
Currently: 2nd

They’ve been every ounce as good this year as last year, and maybe even better. They’re the best team in MLS by Expected Goals, and if it weren’t for an astonishingly slow start like EVERY OTHER year, we’re talking about a team that is beyond great. We’re talking historic. But a year that is surrounded with inconvenience and small little deterrents has prevented history from being made. That being said, with at least four points in the final two weeks, they could still be Supporter Shield champs.

Seattle Sounders FC

Predicted: 3rd
Currently: 1st

Looking back now, it's easier to say, "who would have thought that a team with Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey wouldn't be a top-2 team?" But most people were rather split on the Sounders, perhaps thinking back to their epic fall at the late stages of last season. Looking at things from that perspective, it’s not too surprising that people were rather bearish on the club now leading the way for the Supporter’s Shield.

Real Salt Lake

Predicted: 4th
Currently: 3rd

Despite losing Jason Kries, the team hasn’t lost a beat. Their attack look virtually the same as last year from a statistical standpoint, with similar goals and Expected Goals totals. This is particularly impressive since they have missed a lot of Alvaro Saborio, a key contributor last season. Their point total should be close to--and could be exactly--what it was last year. The drum just keeps on beating in Salt Lake City.

San Jose Quakes

Predicted: 5th
Currently: 8th

There was some thought after the bump the team received with Mark Watson's promotion that the Quakes would return toward their Supporters'-Shield-winning form. Obviously that hasn’t happened, and for a few reasons. Their defense has been awful, the midfield has underperformed, and Chris Wondolowski has had little help in an attack that was reshaped midseason.

The addition of Perez Garcia is going to help, and a full healthy season of both Djalo and Salinas is going to go a long way. Throw in the continued growth of Tommy Thompson, and they're a club that could very well push their way into the playoffs next season.

Colorado Rapids

Predicted: 6th
Currently: 7th

There really hasn’t been much difference overall between this year and last year when it comes to totals and production numbers. However, just a few weeks ago I suspect that would have been a bit different. The defensive injuries, mental instabilities of their goal keepers, and overall bad luck have altogether combined for a less than impressive season. But they’ve largely had a competitive season, and with both Dillion Powers and Deshorn Brown together for the foreseeable future, I can’t help but think this is a club that has a positive future ahead.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Predicted: 7th
Currently: 5th

The Whitecaps had lost one of the league's Golden Boot winners in Camilo, the organization’s top player since its inception to Major League Soccer in 2011. Not only that, but you also had rookie head coach, Carl Robinson, taking over. It was kind of expected that they would take a step back this season. Instead the team found a gem in Pedro Morales, and the growth of both Kendall Waston and Russell Tiebert has helped propel them into playoff position with two winnable games left. In fact, our model gives them a 70% chance at their second postseason berth in just four Major League seasons.

FC Dallas

Predicted: 8th
Currently: 4th

We all believe that Óscar Pareja was a talented coach. But he did more than what most thought was possible after taking the job late into the off-season. Whisking raw and speedy attackers together, he finally molded them into efficient pieces that delivered in major moments. The addition of Mario Diaz was a quick buzz for the season, but his injury created a hole that most expected Dallas to crumble into. Instead his absence was filled by the long awaited maturing of winger Fabian Castillo, who turned into a fringe MVP candidate. If all that wasn’t enough, Dallas still has a chance to snag the Western Conference third seed from RSL and skip the play-in match.

Chivas USA

Predicted 9th
Currently: 9th

Surprise! Chivas was bad this year! I have to admit this was one of my “shock” picks that I got wrong. I seriously thought the addition of Rosales, another year of Torres, and a full season of a settled Carlos Bocanegra could equate to a season of competitiveness from the franchise in complete disarray. And, to my credit, they did improve in both expected goals scored and expected goals against from 2013. But when it just leads to still being the worst team, what does it matter? This was an altogether pathetic showing once again from an organization that, as it turns out, may not play again for a few years.

Playoffs, Expectations and Polls: Eastern Conference Edition by Harrison Crow

At the beginning of the season, we took a poll. We asked you, the reader, where teams were going to finish within their respective conferences. The polls asked readers simply to rank teams first-to-last, and the results for the Eastern conference can be seen below.

We’re going to take a look back at those predictions that were made by the community and compare them to the current table and outlook of the playoffs. Maybe bring up some reasons on why teams are where they are now.

Sporting Kansas City

Predicted: 1st
Currently: 3rd

At the top of the list is none other than Sporting Kansas City, which was about the easiest-to-pick number one that there was coming off an MLS Cup victory. Their defense is near the top of all MLS, and their attack is widely considered to be one of the best with big names such as Dominic Dwyer, Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber.

While most people point to the defensive issues they’ve had, I believe their second half drop-off is largely attributed to their attack. They’ve now fallen to a point where their offensive expected goals sit just below the league average. 

New York Red Bulls

Predicted: 2nd
Currently: 4th

Even on our pre-season podcast, I made it known that New York was a team of which I was pretty skeptical coming into the season. However, looking at the 400 of those that voted, 89% thought they would make the playoffs, and after this past weekend’s performance, it would seem that New York is at least bound for the play-in match.

Toronto FC

Predicted: 3rd
Currently: 6th

Speaking of things that no one believed, no one could have guessed that TFC would be sitting six points out of a playoff spot with two games left. In fact, nearly identical to New York, a solid 88% of people prior to the start of the season projected them with a playoff spot.

Sure they’ve had struggles beyond your typical team with front office maneuvers, and losing Bradley and Defoe for stretches essentially left Toronto with the same squad that stunk last year. But things are very bad right now. They need a coach for the future, be that Vanney or someone else; they need stability within the roster; and most of all they need top-to-the-bottom direction and a real vision for the future of this organization, i.e., substance over slogans.

Houston Dynamo

Predicted: 4th
Currently: 7th

We all know that Houston has struggled quite mightily this season, and I’m not sure many could have predicted that. The Dynamo have scored about eight fewer than what one would expected them to score given quality and quantity of their shots, and one could only assume that those goals could have made up a seven-point differential between them and the Columbus Crew for the 5th playoff spot.

Philadelphia Union

Predicted: 5th
Currently: 7th

Philadelphia has been all over the map—both good and bad. While I’m not sure that anyone was absolutely certain that they were going to find themselves in the playoffs, their fifth position in our poll is enough to at least think they could come much closer to 50 points than 40.

New England Revolution

Predicted: 6th
Currently: 2nd

I was genuinely shocked at the lack of respect that was given to the Revolution; a young team that came to prominence on the back of their youth which had a very strong showing against Kansas City in the playoffs while on the road. Though it was close enough to be a legit question mark as to who between the Revs, Union, United and maybe even the Fire would sneak into that last spot, New England is instead pushing Sporting for being number two club out of the East.

Chicago Fire

Predicted: 7th
Currently: 9th

It’s sad to say that we saw this coming--missing the playoffs anyway. Harrison Shipp provided a huge boast when needed, but it’s hard to survive when your star player goes down for the season. Mike Magee is a huge influence on the club, and without him it’s clear Chicago has to depend on creating more chances each match rather than depend on the consistency and quality of opportunities that Magee helps to create.

D.C. United

Predicted: 8th
Currently: 1st

Our model doesn’t love them. The readers didn't love them. They don’t create a lot of chances, and they give up a lot of chances. What's happening here is that they are outperforming their xGD by 20 goals, split almost perfectly between offense and defense. Twenty goals is more than enough to explain DCU's current position, and it would seem that regression is coming. But we've been saying that for a while.

Montreal Impact

Predicted: 9th
Currently: 10th

Surprisingly everyone just about hit the nail on the head with Montreal. I’m not sure if it’s because of the significant drop off at the end of 2013, their third-worst xGD in the East last season, or if it was just because of the lack in changes to an aging team. Probably some combination of the three. Their last place position was predicted pretty accurately, and it’ll be interesting to see the changes that will be in store for the club this off-season.

Columbus Crew

Predicted: 10th
Currently: 5th

Lastly, there's Columbus. By ranking disparity, the Crew is the second biggest surprise of the 2014 season behind DCU. But a positive xGD suggests that Columbus is actually this good, which perhaps makes it the most surprising. Unless you’re me, who predicted that they would make the playoffs, and I said they would push for a top-3 spot. Honestly I’m all about the Higuain, which has become a meme on this site for the season. I consider Federico Higuain to be a top-5 player in this league, and those types of players can influence huge results. They’re likely to become last club in the conference to nail down a playoff spot, currently sitting at 98.8% playoff probability. Hat tip to Higuain and the Crew.