The Burgundy Waves Goodbye by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

With the Colorado Rapids surrendering a late lead last night against the LA Galaxy, and contributing to the storybook farewell tour that is the now intrinsically tied to Landon Donovan, Colorado will surely be expected to drop further down the ranks of our playoff prediction calculator. It will also make the five teams ahead of them near stone-cold (or should I say adamantium cold?) locks to make the playoffs.

That's sad to me for a few reasons. First, Marc Burch's hair deserves the playoffs or a medal or something that proclaims it's awesomeness through time. Second, Colorado has been a very strong club this season. If they were in the East they would currently be in 4th place in the conference. It is a bit disappointing they'll likely miss out on a playoff game to show off what they are about.

Last season, and prior to the drama laden departure of Óscar Pareja to Dallas, the focus of the club surrounded it's trademark 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 and transition attacks featuring the stunning pace of Deshorn Brown. This season, with new coach Pablo Mastroeni, a new philosophy has emerged that has shown a more complete and versatile attack than the run-and-gun days of Pareja.

Taking the youth uncovered last year with Dillion Powers, Chris Klute, Shane O'Neil, Dillon Serna and the aforementioned Brown, Mastroeni has built upon it them and in reality taken them further than what their points or table placement may indicated.

While their goals conceded is up (1.56 this year to 1.15 last), their total shots allowed are down and based upon shot analysis it implies that the defense has probably more likely carried the club rather than hurt it. This is even more impressive when you consider the host of injuries that have hurt the team in 2014.

While they have had a marked increase in goals conceded inside the 18 yard box, that's not necessarily indicative of their performance. Our data suggests it may have more to do with luck than their backline talent. According to our xGoals table, they're ranked third in the league in expected goals allowed with 1.10.

Drew Moor, the team captain and leader of the backline, has a sort of Chad Marshall disease associated with him. A consistently good player in his time in MLS split between Dallas and Colorado, he's been ranked average among his peers while making a pretty average salary. Losing him for the season with a torn ACL may have been the last nail in the coffin for the Rapid's playoff chances.

Moor's perception as a good but not great defender is due partially because his performances come with the asterisk that ties his cap percentage hit with his on the field value. This is rather a tough way to evaluate a player, especially on defense. His spectacular play this season has gone relatively unnoticed in lieu of the career resurgence of other aging centerbacks such as Bobby Boswell and Chad Marshall.  While it is hard to fit all the names into a nice little feature that recaps the season, it would be a crime to leave Moor off an "top" defensive lists at seasons end.

Though they have lost Moor for the season and are unlikely to make the playoffs, this season has not been a wash.

The development of both O'Neil and Serna have been huge. Their rash of injuries has shown a surprisingly deep and talented club that has quietly floated among the top tier in expected goal differential for most of the season. It's a shame we probably won't see their exciting play fighting for MLS Cup in November, but it's clear Colorado will be back next year and further challenging RSL, LA and Seattle for a piece of the Western Conference pie.

 

Herculez Gomez: American warrior in Mexico by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

Sortable stats can be found at the end of the article for those seeking a more interactive experience.

We embarked on a project some weeks ago to begin focusing on shot data for past and current US Men's National Team players. We came to the realization that these data are not congregated in one place for American players, especially those playing internationally. For example, the Wikipedia page for our first player, Herculez Gomez, shows that he scored 24 goals for Santos Laguna. Try as we might, we could only find 22. 

Wikipedia has been known to be wrong--Matty informs me that he was listed as the creator of Pokemon for some time thanks to the work of his college roommate--but finding Liga MX and CONCACAF Champions League data from games four years ago is tough. Really tough. Poor Drew is probably going to need to go see a counselor, based on some of the emails he sent me. So we could have missed something. But with his determination and Matty's all around know how, they joined forces and dug through more than 175 games for detailed shot data, and we were able to derive some pretty cool stuff.

First of all this stuff comes with a couple of asterisks. 

1) Liga MX has weird seasons. Its time frame, and how ESPN decided to provide game information, doesn't always coincide with the actual season. So we put seasons together as best we could. By the way, ESPNFC was a big help.

2) We had a few games where we couldn't find shot locations. As a result we ended up using a baseline expected goal per shot for those few. It shouldn't skew the results much either way, as it represents less than 5 percent of the data, but it's an important annotation.

3) ... actually there was only two things that really came up. It's just weird to stop at two and not count to three.

2010-11

When Herc left the Kansas City (then) Wizards, it wasn't necessarily on the greatest of terms with the club or the league, as we can see from some of the banter on social media. He left MLS and played his way into the Puebla starting line-up, winning the Mexican Primera Division scoring title with 10 goals. He became the first American to win the Primera scoring title, edging out Javier Hernandez in a tie-breaker by virtue of scoring his 10 goals in fewer total minutes than "Chicharito."

Now, there are plenty of articles from which I could cherry pick to show how people felt about Gomez and his inclusion on the US World Cup roster in 2010. As with any player, it's fair to say that he scored some goals that were a little lucky. But our numbers show that there was more than a little luck to his overall performance. He produced 2.75 shots per 90 minutes and scored nearly half of them.

That's about as "clinical" a finisher as you're going to find.

I don't mean to speak for everyone here at ASA, but I think it's come out in the podcasts that we're all a bit skeptical about finishing ability and a player's ability to reproduce past success. One goal per every two shots is stuff that no striker will sustain.... That is, unless he scores a goal and then retires. I'm sure it's happened.

During his 718 minutes (not including stoppage time) with Puebla, we have him down for 5.65 xGoals compared to the 10 he actually put home. This information is not meant to undercut him, but rather to show that he was outperforming the norm. Lots of players do this from time to time--maybe for one season, occasionally for two. Then most regress, and we chalk it up to unsustainable play, perhaps aided by the residual effect of a teammate or a few too many lucky bounces.

2011-12

The thing is, Gomez continued his crazy pace of outperforming his expected goals numbers. He followed up his 2010-11 season by scoring 17 goals in 2,030 minutes in all competitions spread over three different clubs. I think what stood out the most to me was his ability to do everywhere he played. Despite scoring at what seemed like an unsustainable rate by our metrics and playing with new teammates constantly, he was able to finish as well as he had the season prior.

Thinking about what Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey did over in England as strikers is, of course, admirable. Dempsey still ranks in the top 60 in total goals over the last 20 years of the English Premier League. But these two seasons compiling 27 goals, averaging 0.88 goals per 90 minutes, is a considerable accomplishment and something to savor for a few moments. Go ahead, savor it.

Gomez started etching his name in the CONCACAF Champions League that year, too, scoring six of his 17 goals in those games against MLS clubs (three against Toronto FC, 3 against Seattle Sounders FC). All told, it was perhaps an even stronger performance than the season prior. Over the course of the 2011-12 season we had him for a total of 8.54 expected goals from 71 total shots. He obviously shattered that expectation.

2012-13

2012-13 was a coming-back-to-earth season of sorts for Herc. He played nearly the same number of minutes (1,691) in the Liga MX regular season as he did in the two prior seasons combined (1,794). That, in addition to Santos' dependency on him in the CCL, perhaps resulted in him taking fewer shots per 90 minutes (2.4) than in either 2010-11 (2.8) or 2011-12 (3.1). He tallied 13 goals at a conversion rate of "just" 20 percent. Recall that the MLS average, for comparison's sake, is just a shade over 10 percent.

That's about the extent of his "down year." But in truth, accounting for his shot opportunities, it was another plus year for the American. Again, he outperformed expectations, finding 13 goals versus the 8.60 we expected him to score.

2013-14

This time regression hit Gomez across the board. He scored just eight goals across all competitions versus our expectation of 8.88, representing his first truly down year finishing. But one thing to point out was that his shots per 90 were up and his minutes were down. He was more productive creating shots on a per-minute basis, though this may have more to do with his usage. He was often used as a substitute for Santos, and almost exclusively as a substitute for Tijuana. Evidence suggests substitutes cover more ground and increase the chances of their teams scoring goals. It's a not a great leap, then, to conclude that it might also increase the individual's shot totals productivity.

However, the first study linked above showed that a substitute's pass completion percentage remains unchanged, indicating that perhaps the boost is restricted to gross motor skills. Despite being used as a sub often in his career, especially this particular year, Herc's overperformance in the finishing department over the past four years shouldn't be entirely chalked up to the substitution effect. 

Still, he scored just four of those eight goals in regular season play over a whopping 1,691 minutes played. We had him for an expected 6.74 goals over that time. Assessing his play in Liga MX that year helps us to better understand the common narrative that he was struggling at that time.

That said, he produced an expected goal once every three full matches in Liga MX. If we were to compare that to our MLS data, that same shot production would put him in the same company as someone like Mike Magee or, on the high end, Chris Wondolowski. While neither are having seasons that would blow you out of the water, both have been consistent contributors to their squads, and I think Gomez could still be in that range now.

Timeout

At this point, we have Herc down for 48 goals scored. If we were to allow thousands of typical finishers to take the same shots that Herc got, our expected goals suggest that those players would average 34 goals scored with a standard deviation of about 5. That places him 2.8 standard deviations above the mean, and into the 99.7th percentile. While it's important to note that these expectations come from MLS play, we already found that MLS teams converted opportunities similar to World Cup teams. It's probably fair to say that Liga MX is not that different from MLS, and that Herc possesses a finishing skill not common among MLS or Liga MX players.  

2014-15

We only collected the first half of the Liga MX season data for 2014-15, so the last game in our data set is from March 28th. To that point, Gomez had not yet scored for Tigres, and it seemed as though he'd fallen off the map. I wondered how much he could still contribute to an MLS squad if he ever made the move. However, a more in-depth look revealed that through those seven documented matches, in limited minutes, he still managed to compile 18 shots worth nearly 2.2 expected goals.

He's still finding good looks and he's still taking those shots. I have him at just more than 2.1 shots per 90 which, in combination with his 2.3 expected goals, would indicate that he's a still producing enough shots. It's far too early to worry about his finishing rate right now.

Herculean Summation

Herculez Gomez has been one of the most underrated American players to play the game over the last decade. I would actually go so far to as to say maybe the most underrated. Because he plays in the Mexican league rather than in Spain or Portugal or even the Eredivisie (where the goals are plentiful and the defense is bad), it feels like we sometimes compartmentalize what he does since it's on the wrong side of the ocean.

During the last four years in the Primeria, he has compiled 34 total goals (according to our records), and he is unofficially in the top 10 of goals scored during that period, tied with several others and most notably Raul Jimenez of Club America.

If he had accomplished this feat in England, Agentina or Brazil, there would be much more prestige awarded to him for his dues. However, sometimes we just look at Liga MX as only slightly better than MLS. It's fun to think what could have been if a better league had given him a chance.

Feel free to take a look at the data below and think about all that he's done. It's quite significant.

Season Shots OnTarget Goals xGoals G - xG
2010-11 38 21 10 5.65 4.35
2011-12 71 45 17 8.54 8.46
2012-13 64 31 13 8.60 4.40
2013-14 61 30 8 8.88 -0.88
2014-15 17 6 0 2.27 -2.27
Total 251 133 48 33.94 14.06
Season Goals (Prim) Goals (CCL) xGoals (Prim) xGoals (CCL) G/xG (Prim) G/xG (CCL)
2010-11 10 0 4.87 0.00 2.05 0.00
2011-12 11 6 6.14 2.40 1.79 2.50
2012-13 9 3 4.76 2.85 1.89 1.05
2013-14 4 3 6.74 1.07 0.59 2.80
2014-15 0 0 2.27 0.00 0.00 0.00
Ratio of goals to xGoals was used here due to the differences in quantity and quality of his opportunities between the Primeria and CCL.
Location Shots OnTarget Goals xGoals G - xG
Away 107 51 17 14.46 2.54
Home 144 82 31 19.48 11.52
Total 251 133 48 33.94 14.06
Shot Zone Shots OnTarget Goals xGoals G - xG
1 28 17 8 8.41 -0.41
2 113 68 29 20.19 8.81
3 44 23 7 3.05 3.95
4 26 11 2 1.36 0.64
5 39 13 2 0.90 1.10
6 1 1 0 0.04 -0.04
Total 251 133 48 33.94 14.06
Team Shots OnTarget Goals xGoals G - xG
Pachuca 32 19 5 4.19 0.81
Puebla 22 14 9 3.72 5.28
Santos 123 64 22 16.35 5.65
Tijuana 27 11 3 3.78 -0.78
UAG 29 18 7 3.35 3.65
USA 18 7 2 2.56 -0.56
Total 251 133 48 33.94 14.06


Our Playoff Chances Model is underselling FC Dallas by Matthias Kullowatz

By Matthias Kullowatz (@MattyAnselmo)

Our on-site playoff chances finally gave FC Dallas a better-than-50-percent shot to make the playoffs after its away win over Chivas on Sunday. I say, "finally," because despite being in a playoff position much of the season, that particular playoff model hasn't been too convinced. 

It's important to understand how our playoff model works, and what its weaknesses are. It is based on overall shot ratios and finishing ratios, though at this point in the season it's the shot ratios that dominate the model's predictions. If you take a look at our MLS Tables, you'll see why the model isn't too keen on FC Dallas--its shot ratio of 0.84 shows that it only tallies 84% of the number of shots that it gives up to opponents. So despite being in fourth place by points per game, that model likes Vancouver and Colorado more because of their respective 1.03 and 1.30 shot ratios.

I don't yet have enough granular shot data to form a full playoff projection model using our Expected Goals 2.0, but we can still use that to intuitively tweak our expectations. Here's why FC Dallas is better than its 0.84 shot ratio.

Expected Goal Differentials (xGD) are more predictive of future success than simple shot ratios. At least, the 1.5 seasons of data we have say so. xGD takes into account not just shot quantity but also shot quality, based on the shot's origin and which body part was used. Based on 2013 and 2014 data--when controlled for number of home games--just eight games of xGD information predicts the following eight games of actual goal differential with a linear correlation coefficient of 0.33. Bump that up to 17 games of xGD information, and one could predict the following 17 games of actual goal differential with a linear correlation coefficient of 0.89 (based on 2013 data only). xGD is strong stuff.

FC Dallas' current xGD of +0.05 ranks fourth in the Western Conference, better than its seventh-place ranking in shot ratios. That's good news for Hoops fans, but I can get an even better idea of how they'll play if I break down xGD further into some specific gamestates.

Watching your favorite MLS team on the road while it's tied or ahead is a nerve-wracking experience. Away teams sitting on points often hang back and allow the home team to suffocate them, hoping to bend but not break. These scenarios are not exactly indicative of the away team's ability. But home teams usually play how they want to, regardless of gamestate, and thus all of a team's past Expected Goals data from when it was at home is helpful for projection.

Based on 2013 and 2014 data, the two best Expected Goals statistics to use when projecting game winners 20 weeks into the season are the home team's past home xGD and the away team's past away xGD in -1 gamestates. The data tells me that the best time to really see an away team's ability is when it finds itself behind by a goal. Interestingly, most teams have played fewer than 300 minutes while down a goal on the road--only about three game's worth--and yet that data in combination with home xGD is more predictive than overall xGD. So far, anyway.

As an example of how these two distinct models think of FC Dallas, we need look no further than its next two games---home against Colorado and away against San Jose. The playoff model we use (based only on shot totals, remember) has them with 38% and 21% chances of winning each game, respectively, and an expected point total of 2.3. Compare that to the Expected Goals model utilizing scenario-specific data, which projects them to win with 51% and 58% probabilities, and an expected point total of 3.7.

It turns out, FC Dallas ranks pretty well in both the aforementioned categories, but it should be noted that FC Dallas has played the third-fewest minutes while trailing by one goal on the road. So its variance in that department is greater than that of the typical team. But while the model's estimates as well as the team's outputs are subject to a modest margin of error, there is little doubt these are important gamestates. I leave you with a sortable table for home performance (xGDhome) and away performance when down a goal (xGDaway(-1)).

Team xGDhome Minutes xGDaway(-1) Minutes
SEA 0.93 957 0.17 249
SKC 0.90 1056 1.45 115
LA 0.89 955 0.10 123
COL 0.73 1047 -0.24 195
NE 0.61 963 -0.52 315
TOR 0.61 963 0.92 141
VAN 0.52 966 -1.12 94
FCD 0.46 1067 1.83 103
NYRB 0.43 966 0.00 434
PHI 0.41 863 0.74 326
RSL 0.31 1065 0.02 126
CHI 0.22 1061 -0.92 78
HOU 0.12 964 -0.88 256
SJ 0.10 1150 -0.34 271
CLB 0.05 953 0.89 225
POR 0.04 1074 -0.35 162
DCU 0.02 1153 0.47 124
MTL -0.13 1054 0.02 298
CHV -0.36 868 0.51 162

Expected Goal Differentials are per 96 minutes of play. 

US Autopsy - World Cup 2014 by Matt Hartley

By Matt Hartley (@Libero_Or_Death)

Well the transfer rumors coming off the back of the United States’ World Cup are ending in a depressingly familiar half-exciting, half-exasperating muddle. A steady flow of rumors about foreign suitors for Matt Besler ended with the revelation that he could choose between the damned (Fulham) and barely spared (Sunderland). Little wonder that being a one-club legend in Kansas City was more appealing.

We can still salivate over where DeAndre Yedlin might end up, and while that is a totally valid use of your day, he will be more of a project for clubs like Roma or Lyon than an immediate contender for playing time. Just because the US went further than England doesn’t make Yedlin better than Glen Johnson, does it? Anyways, a few interesting statistical tidbits:

Goalkeeper

Howard - sure, he made a record-setting 16 saves against Belgium, but his best was the recovery to save from Eder after he misjudged Nani’s shot. That kept the score at 1-0, allowing the US to take advantage of their best 90 minutes of soccer and get the result that would see the US out of the group.

The most incongruous stat for Howard was his distribution distance of 30 meters. This was the second shortest among teams that made it out of the group stages, but was that part of the US game plan? While Jozy Altidore’s absence affected the ability to play long, if Klinsmann had instructed his players to build from the back, it didn’t quite come off, as the United States was 8th out of the 16 second round teams in passes completed per game. Things broke down too quickly when the US had the ball, leading to a rather high amount of chances for the opposition.

Center Backs

Thankfully, the US centerbacks were pretty adept at protecting the castle. In examining how the centerbacks did, CBI (Clearances+Blocks+Interceptions) nicely conveys how busy our defenders were, and we’ll look at that stat in its per90 form.

Besler - I wrote a World Cup preview piece for Paste in which I posited that due to having the most secure spot on the backline, Besler would have to be the rock for the US. He finished with a very respectable 13.83 CBIp90, good for fourth in the tournament. In fact, finishing ahead of him was…

Omar Gonzalez, emerging from what seemed to be a long-term demotion to rack up a  15.07 CBIp90 rating, coming from an outstanding 12.14 clearances per 90. The US was certainly relying on Omar to dominate as they conceded the flanks and allowed crosses to rain in.

The third primary center back for the US, Geoff Cameron, was 11th overall for CBIp90 with 12.60. Spending time in midfield as well, Cameron is well on his way to using that versatility to become the American Phil Neville.

Main thing to touch on:

Looking at the top 20 defenders by the CBI metric, there aren’t a lot of big names there. Medel has a good background, Vlaar at Villa, Cameron at Stoke, Nigeria’s Omueruo is on the books at Chelsea, and a couple of guys in Ligue 1. Hell, there are four current MLSers in the top 20 CBIper90 rankings. If the US really wants players to move to “big” clubs, then the national team will need to start producing more performances that aren’t backs-to-the-wall, man-the-pumps nonsense. Matt Besler had a really damn solid World Cup, and his options were the 14-20 slots from the Premier League. It’s certainly a chicken and egg situation, but it makes you hope that Juventus will come in for Erik Palmer Brown so that we can see some US players grow into regular slots at teams that seriously compete for the Champions League.

Fullbacks

This can be the hardest position to judge in the game, I think. You’ve got to be all things to all people at fullback, and that can make the position difficult to analyze. For the US there seemed to be a fairly clear hierarchy going into the tournament:

    1. Fabian Johnson, the best player for all 10 outfield positions

    2. DaMarcus Beasley, well, we like him better than Chandler

    3. Timothy Chandler, the source for a million overstated concerns about   German-Americans’ Americaness

    4. DeAndre Yedlin, there for the experience.

Of course, Beasley played solid two-way ball, Johnson was a useful offensive tool while on the field, and Yedlin became one of the breakout players of the tourney. Since the United States played a very narrow midfield for large swaths of the tournament, offensive contributions from the fullbacks were always going to be vital to our success. Looking at key passes, Fabian Johnson ended up with a .90 KPp90, which was 36th among defenders, placing him behind such noted playmakers at Vincent Kompany, and oh holy crap, DeAndre Yedlin.

That’s right, our little roadrunner, with his limited minutes, contributed a very nice 2.27 KPp90, good for fourth among Squawka’s defenders, and that’s right, one place ahead of Glen Johnson. Sign him up, Brendan!

Midfield

This was the part of the field where the United States’ struggles seemed rather stark. The US ended up with 326.5 completed passes per game, which put them smack in the middle of the 32 team field, and above Brazil, Costa Rica, and Colombia. But looking at things a little more closely, the United States played in its own half 34% of the time, more than any other country, and 22% in the opposition’s half, fourth worst in the entire tournament.

Looking at individuals, Michael Bradley came in for a lot of criticism, but despite playing mostly in a new role further up the field, he managed to complete more passes per 90 (47.77) than Luka Modric (46.00), Sami Khedira (45.36), and Steven Gerrard (44.09). Sadly, this involvement didn’t translate into chance creation, as Bradley finished with 0.67 KPp90, somewhere in the 139-160 range overall. Sure, there’s where Ronaldo finished, but so did Gary Cahill.

Jermaine Jones did everything, winning 65% of his aerial duels, 54% of his take ons, and running a very competitive race for the USMNT’s “Holy crap, I can’t believe that went in” award.  Alejandro Bedoya and Brad Davis weren’t statistically significant, while Kyle Beckerman finished 14th among midfielders in the CBIp90 metric. Graham Zusi provided two assists, but otherwise seemed very forgettable. There just wasn’t a lot to hang our hat on offensively.

In Closing

The United States failed to make the transition to a more progressive style of play this World Cup, but the US did show that they can defend fairly well. Klinsmann’s challenge will be to integrate more players comfortable with keeping and moving the ball through midfield to ally with a decent defense and a serviceable striker corps. There’s a lot of potential in the pool to meld into a strong corps for Russia 2018. I’d expect Fabian Johnson to become a full-time midfielder in the future, and see extended run-outs given to players like Julian Green, Joe Gyau, and Will Trapp. Future columns will look at the players who are making a strong case for the national team, starting with September’s friendly in Prague against the Czech Republic

New England's roller coaster ride by Matthias Kullowatz

By Matthias Kullowatz (@MattyAnselmo)

This site purports be one that covers all of American soccer--the United States part of America anyway--but outside of my obsession with Sporting Kansas City, Harrison's love for Federico Higuain, and Drew's commitment to DC United, we don't cover the Eastern Conference as much. So let's talk about New England.

Currently, our playoff projections have the Revs at 60-percent chances of making the MLS playoffs, and our Expected Goals data shows they are just about league average. Considering New England sits in fourth place in the East, and the teams chasing it for playoff spots are the Columbus Crew and the recently humiliated Chicago Fire, 60 percent makes a lot of sense. The New England Revolution is probably a playoff team despite its recent skid.

As fans, it's hard not to get caught up in streaks. After all, streaks affect our team's chances of making the playoffs, and our criticism tends to follow those streaks of the losing variety. Typically, unless a major injury or other personnel change occurs, the team is not getting any better or worse relative to the rest of the league. Shit just happens. New England has lost seven consecutive games. But before that, it completed a seven-game undefeated run, tying just one of those. Which team is New England? The data tells an interesting story.

Period Final 3rd Pass% Final 3rd Ratio GD xGD xGDzero
Hot Streak 0.610 1.14 1.86 0.11 0.26
Cold Streak 0.680 1.56 -2.00 -0.05 -1.53
Season 0.630 1.28 -0.37 -0.02 -0.14

New England has gotten hammered in even gamestates over the past seven games. Even gamestates are perhaps the fastest-stabilizing of the Expected Goals statistics, so though this is a small sample, it still suggests that the Revs are not simply getting unlucky. Luck is likely a factor, but not the only factor. And I think the only reason the overall xGD wasn't so different (0.11 versus -0.05) is that New England played so often from behind that its opponents were willing to give up more shots for longer periods of time. 

While New England actually completed a higher percentage of passes in the final third during its cold streak, and spent more time than its opponents in the attacking third, that could probably also be explained by opposing teams being ahead and willing to allow shots and possession.

New England didn't play nearly as well as it looked during its hot streak, and it probably didn't actually play as bad as it looked during its cold streak. But the recent cold streak still shows scary and somewhat-sustainable signs that the Revs aren't as good as our 60-percent playoff chances say they are.

Toot Toot by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

I don't mean to toot our own horn, but *ahem* toot toot.

If you haven't seen it, Devin Pleuler--MLS Soccer's own 'The Central Winger' and Opta analyst extraordinaire--wrote a nice little piece about Bradley Wright-Phillips and his current goal scoring pace. Pleuler explored the idea of whether or not BWP had the potential to break the MLS single season goal record. It's an interesting theory and actually one that I had been playing with writing...until my thunder was stolen from me.

Really, I have no hard feelings. Devin is a much better writer and way more qualified to speak to the situation than someone like myself that simply fools around with this on the side. However, something that came about in a weird occurrence of serendipity. Devin gave us a brief, albeit important, peek behind the Opta curtain. Something nerds like me covet.

Opta has much more data at their disposal than we do. Honestly, it's something that consistently frustrates all of us here at ASA. We wish we had more opportunity to give you better information than what we do. However, in this moment of transparency we see that our idea of expected goals is really not that much different from that of Opta.

In the article, Opta provides data for Bradley Wright-Phillips' current campaign through the eyes of expected goals. Their Expected Goals (0.201 vs our 0.209 per shot attempt) closely mirrors that of what we produce here at American Soccer Analysis. This isn't me declaring that we now have proof that "we are doing something right." Just because Opta does it doesn't make it the correct way to do something. This is only an observation that someone else does something similar to how we do it, and they came to the same conclusions. And maybe I feel that also gives us a hint of legitimacy, but mostly that thing about how we aren't alone in our conclusions. Yeah.

In some way I guess we both make sausage the same way. Obviously, it's very likely there are differences between the two conclusions. I mean, they are different numbers. Duh. But seeing as we won't ever see how exactly they make their sausage, the idea is that we have a similar model. From what I understand, seeing how sausage is made takes away from the enjoyment of eating it. And I certainly don't want to take away that joy from some. I guess that this is just my way of saying whether you buy their sausage or take advantage of ours--which is free--you're getting a fine product.

I think that was far too much talk of our sausages.
 

Converting chances: MLS versus the World Cup by Matthias Kullowatz

By Matthias Kullowatz (@MattyAnselmo)

Throughout the World Cup, we kept shot data here at ASA for all 64 games. When we converted that data into Expected Goals output, we had to use our MLS data from 2013 and 2014 to estimate shot values. At first, I assumed that MLS finishing rates would be a crude estimate for those of the World Cup. However, despite a post-expansion record 171 total goals this past Cup, the finishing rates lined up surprisingly well with those from the United States' first division.

The widest paintbrush shows that overall finishing rates in MLS (10.1% +/- 0.5%) are actually slightly higher than those in the 2014 World Cup (9.8% +/- 1.4%), though not by a statistically significant margin (p-value = 0.66). Our Expected Goals model was a shade on the other side, with World Cup players scoring 166 non-own goals* versus the 159 goals that our MLS model estimates should have been scored. This discrepancy is because World Cup players were forced to take more shots from at least 24 yards away (zone 5), lowering their expected goals output while also lowering their finishing rate.

Location Frequencies
Location MLSlocations WClocations
1 0.054 0.060
2 0.304 0.263
3 0.180 0.174
4 0.209 0.160
5 0.237 0.316
6 0.017 0.027

If we delve deeper, we see that there are no statistically significant differences in any of the six zones, or by headed versus kicked shots. The chart below shows finishing rates (MLSpct and WCpct) broken down by location and body part. P-values are based on two-sample proportions tests.

Finishing Rates Foot
Location Part MLSshots WCshots MLSPct WCpct Pvalue
1 Foot 363 54 0.391 0.407 0.820
1 Head 300 47 0.193 0.234 0.516
2 Foot 2155 241 0.246 0.274 0.342
2 Head 1556 204 0.086 0.093 0.738
3 Foot 2059 274 0.070 0.088 0.303
3 Head 135 20 0.052 0.050 0.972
4 Foot 2520 270 0.052 0.030 0.104
5 2894 534 0.023 0.024 0.867
6 Foot 206 45 0.039 0.000 0.179

MLS players are able to finish at the same rates as World Cup players, but why? I presume that World Cup players are better than those of MLS, but as best we can measure, it doesn't have anything to do with shot placement. An MLS model that accounts for goal mouth placement estimates that World Cup players should have scored 166 goals, which is exactly what they scored and not much more than the original estimate of 159. 

Obviously, there are two sides to a shot: the guy trying to score it and the guy(s) trying to keep it from being scored. What our model doesn't take into account is what's probably the culprit for such similar finishing numbers. We can't control for proximity of the defender---defensive pressure on the shot---or the pace on the shot. MLS games may include a lot more chances like those Germany got against Brazil, mitigating the differences in offensive talent. Additionally, World Cup shooters could drive the ball harder at keepers that are more prepared to stop it, an effect that would again cancel out before we ever saw it in our data.

What I do know for sure is that World Cup teams scored 2.59 offensive goals per game, and MLS teams have scored 2.59 offensive goals per game. If you like goals, MLS is likely to produce just as many.

*There were five own goals during the World Cup that are not included in the shot analysis.

My MLS All-star team with a twist by Matthias Kullowatz

By Jacob B (@MLSAtheist)

It’s that time of summer again: voting for Major League Soccer’s All-Star game concludes tomorrow (last chance link) for the game that will take place in a few weeks in Portland. For the tenth consecutive season, the MLS All-Stars will face off with a club team opponent from overseas; in this case, German superpower Bayern Munich. The conventional wisdom behind this format for the All-Star game is pretty simple: in an American sports market dominated by other sports, getting soccer’s biggest names possible will help draw eyes to MLS. For soccer fans in the US, many of the game’s biggest names, personas and reputations still reside in Europe. But is this really the best format for Major League Soccer’s midseason spectacle?

For the value of my two cents, the answer is no. There are a lot of reasons that American soccer has outgrown the value of the big named Euro-club All-Star opponent, but I think this is an area that MLS had right way back in 2002. That year the MLS All-Star game took place in early August (as it will this year), and the MLS All-Star side took on a United States national team that was fresh off its best World Cup finish in the modern era. To be honest, I have approximately zero recollection of this game, so I couldn’t tell you if it was a success. But if MLS and US Soccer had the foresight to try the same thing in 2014, I’d bet my life that it’d be a bigger success than the current format.

There are plenty of reasons that people argue MLS has outgrown the current European guest club All-Star format. Attendance around the league has grown healthily for years, and filling seats at an All-Star event where the league picks the most attractive city possible is hardly a prohibitive challenge anymore. Whether the league plays East vs. West or American vs. World or All-Stars vs. Bayern Munich, you can bet that Portland's Providence Park will be sold out for the main event.

A more compelling argument is that of TV viewership: a clear hot button issue that the league still needs to continue improving. I’ll readily admit that a lot of casual sports fans are probably more likely to watch Bayern Munich play than some of the MLS stars that aren’t household names. But if you replaced Bayern with the United States national team? I think I need only direct you to the huge ratings and watch parties that US World Cup games got last month to say that this format would hardly lose TV ratings. In fact, I’d wager a guess that more people would tune in to watch the 2014 World Cup team’s last gasp in an exhibition than the reigning German champion that has almost no ties to the States. The commercials would’ve written themselves during and after the USMNT’s cup run ended: “The US’s run may have been ended by Belgium, but you can still see them one more time this summer! The 2014 MLS All-Star Game, presented by AT&T.”

There’s one more particularly compelling reason that my proposed All-Star format bests the current one: it gets more guys involved. The current format involves selecting one All-Star squad: in a bizarre method, 32 All-Stars are actually selected but only 22 make the game-day roster and get the chance to participate. With my proposal, 10 MLS players would already be in the Jurgen Klinsmann’s US squad, leaving an All-Star squad of 22 guys – all of whom would actually have a chance to play in the game. An underrated part of this idea is the number of converging story lines that this game would create: young up-and-coming MLS talent trying to demonstrate to Jurgen Klinsmann that they belong on the national team, roster snubs with a chance to exact some revenge on Klinsi (who could that possibly be?), etc.

Hopefully the above five paragraphs are enough to convince you that MLS should go back in time (no, don’t bring back the tie-breaking shootout) to the 2002 All-Star format. Without too much more delay, I’ll go ahead and tell you who I think should be on this All-Star roster. But first, I have one more rule: every MLS team gets an All-Star. This is a rule straight from Major League Baseball, where even if your team goes 0-87 in the first half of the season, the league picks the best of your motley crew to represent your team at the Midsummer Classic. As a guy who grew up rooting for the perennially dreadful Detroit Tigers, I can vouch for how hilariously awesome it is to see your best player called an All-Star despite a career .253 batting average.

First, a quick reminder of the MLS guys who were on the World Cup team and will play for the US in my All-Star game:

GK Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEF DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)

DEF Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)

DEF Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)

MID Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)

MID Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo)

MID Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)

MID Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FWD Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)

FWD Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

*Check out their club stats here!

 

Now, here are my picks for the MLS All-Stars. Remember, my rules state that every team gets at least one guy on the team, so that’s how they’re listed:

 

Chicago Fire: GK Sean Johnson

Runner-Up: Harrison Shipp

This was the last team I could think of an All-Star candidate for, so I had to pick their goalie. That’s what happens when you tie more than 60% of your games.

Chivas USA: FWD Erick Torres

Runner-Up: Nobody

The guy's been one of the league’s ten best players while playing for one of the three worst teams.

Colorado Rapids: DEF Drew Moor, DEF Chris Klute

Runner-Up: Nobody

Giving this back line two All-Stars might be a stretch, but Moor’s been very good, and every MLS fan would love to see Klute take on the USMNT in hopes that he’ll be on it next time.

Columbus Crew: DEF Michael Parkhurst

Runner-Up: Federico Higuain

Columbus probably doesn’t deserve an All-Star, either. Parkhurst has been his normal steady self and Higuain is so skilled, but the rest of that team just doesn’t do enough to help them.

DC United: DEF Bobby Boswell

Runner-Up: Fabian Espindola

Boswell has been the key to DC’s resurgent defense, and Espindola has been the key to DC’s resurgent attack. Had to go with the defender because United still tends to play a lot of low-scoring games.

FC Dallas: MID Mauro Diaz

Runner-Up: Fabian Castillo

This team goes as Diaz goes – they treaded water while he was injured and hope to creep back up now that he’s healthy. Castillo’s so dangerous, but doesn’t quite have the ability to be a team’s focal point yet.

Houston Dynamo: DEF Corey Ashe

Runner-Up: Nobody

Houston definitely doesn’t deserve an All-Star, but there aren’t many good fullbacks to choose from. Remember when the Dynamo steamrolled New England in the season opener? Feels like decades ago.

LA Galaxy: FWD/MID Landon Donovan

Runner-Up: Juninho

It’s hardly been Donovan’s best year, and he may not be the most deserving Galaxy player, but you know you want to see him play against a Klinsmann-coached USMNT.

Montreal Impact: MID Justin Mapp

Runner-Up: Felipe

Not a whole lot of bright spots in Montreal this year, but Mapp has consistently been one of them, and Felipe has glinted at times.

New England Revolution: MID Lee Nguyen, DEF Andrew Farrell

Runner-Up: Jose Goncalves

Lee Nguyen was the league’s best player during the Revs’ May winning streak, and Farrell has been indispensable filling in at both right back and centerback.

New York Red Bulls: GK Luis Robles

Runner-Up: Bradley Wright-Phillips, Thierry Henry, Lloyd Sam

Tough to pass on the guy leading the league in goals, but he’s been set up for a lotta easy ones by Lloyd Sam and this Henry guy you may have heard of. For my money, Robles has been one of the league’s top keepers all season.

Philadelphia Union: DEF/MID Amobi Okugo

Runner-Up: Maurice Edu

Philadelphia’s the league’s most frustrating team: so much talent and potential, yet so many inexplicably dropped points. Take your pick between Edu and Okugo.

Portland Timbers: MID Diego Valeri

Runner-Up: Darlington Nagbe

Valeri has been on a tear and is almost single-handedly carrying the Timbers out of their drowsy start to the season. Nagbe’s been his usual thrilling self to watch, but Valeri’s that team’s best player.

Real Salt Lake: FWD Joao Plata

Runner-Up: Nat Borchers

Platita has been fantastic in the attack for RSL, especially with the absence of other guys due to injury. If only he could stay healthy, too…

San Jose Earthquakes: MID Shea Salinas

Runner-Up: Nobody

The Quakes have been bad. If nothing else, Salinas can at least still hit a peach of a dead ball.

Seattle Sounders: FWD Obafemi Martins

Runner-Up: Chad Marshall

Shame to have to see him play opposing Deuce instead of with him, but Oba has lived up to his DP tag this year. Chad Marshall sneakily is having another good year as the leader from the back – his health is as important as any player’s in the league.

Sporting Kansas City: MID Benny Feilhaber, DEF Aurelien Collin

Runner-Up: Seth Sinovic, Dom Dwyer

Despite injuries to seemingly every player in powder blue this year, there are plenty of deserving candidates. Collin has kept this ship afloat defensively, and Feilhaber has filled every role Peter Vermes has asked.

Toronto FC: FWD Jermain Defoe

Runner-Up: Nobody

TFC is living up to expectations as sort of a stars-and-scrubs bunch. They’ve played fairly well collectively, but nobody stands out aside from Bradley and Defoe.

Vancouver Whitecaps: MID Pedro Morales

Runner-Up: Matias Laba

So many exciting, speedy attackers that it’s tempting to pick any of them just to see them play one more time: Mattocks, Hurtado, Manneh. But Morales is the guy that makes it all happen, and Laba is the guy who lets Morales make it all happen.

Pick Your Poison: LA Galaxy v Portland Timbers by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

I heard something last night that made my brain tick. If you tuned in to Wednesday's edition of "The Best Soccer Show," co-host Jared DuBois posed a common "Pick Your Poison" question to his counter-part Jason Davis. The question was simply, "Who would you rather be with half a season still to go, the Portland Timbers or LA Galaxy?"

This is an interesting, thought-provoking question from DuBois. First, you really have to define what your goals are. My thought process is based on each club's positions for an MLS playoff spot. Having dropped out of the US Open Cup, each team can only earn silverware by making the playoffs and winning the MLS Cup.

Rose City is a full 14 points behind their rivals from the north, and that with having played an extra game. LA is in a bit of a different situation. Also trailing by 14 points, the Stars of Hollywood have three games in hand, potentially translating into as many as nine points---just a five-point deficit to the top of the conference. Neither are mathematically eliminated from the Supporters' Shield or first place in the Western Conference, but that is not a probable outcome (especially for the Timbers).

Again, I'm not saying that it's likely that the Galaxy will win three straight and get Seattle in its sights, just simply stating the obvious. The LA Galaxy are in a better table position by virtue of having as many points as Portland with more games left to play. I think the typical thing to say based on their position is that LA is showing their age (or some other thing like that). Most people point to the fact they've been "less dominant" on the attack, likely based on just 19 goals in 14 matches which is good for just 13th (1.32) in goals scored per game. The other hand reveals the Timbers sitting 3rd in MLS with 1.57 goals a match.

Set aside the Champions League competitions at the end of the year and all the travelling that comes with it. Conventional wisdom would tell you that the Timbers are clearly a team that is eventually going to find it's footing and probably make a push for the playoffs.

However, if we ignore that "wisdom" and look at our numbers based on shot locations for and against, LA's Expected Goal Differential (xGD) is the best in MLS (0.62). This makes their second year in a row sitting at the top of our leader board, as they did the same last year (0.65). Despite what everyone's eyes are telling them, the LA Galaxy are still a very good team and one that, for all intents and purposes, could still to be a top-three club in the Western Conference.

On the flip side, our Expected Goals data, especially by even gamestates, betrays Portland. Their -0.57 expected goal differential in even gamestates suggests they are constantly falling behind, and more than that, their opponents are dominating shot locations when the Timbers should be playing competitively. I know it's become vogue to call them "Draw City," and maybe that's fair due to their continuing to spot the opposing team goals early. But that defense has so many leaks and problems that Liam Ridgewell by himself may not be the answer to recover this season.

Yes, there are health reasons that can help to explain some of those troubling results. And it may even be foolish of me to base this opinion on only 18 games with 16 still to play. But I think that---based on Matthias' research from last year about how the first 17 games of xGD is a decent prediction of the future (seen below)---I'm not going out on a very thin branch here.

All things being equal, and if I had to choose between the two, I'd go with LA. Compound the situation with the fact that Portland also has the Champions League that I'm sure they'll want to focus on, and it becomes that much easier of a decision.

Now with Silly Season in full swing, we'll see if changes in LA make me look stupid in the coming months.

xGD predicting points - 2013 season.png



Germany finished well, but probably didn't even need to by Matthias Kullowatz

By Matthias Kullowatz (@Mattyanselmo)

Brazil's embarrassment at the hands of ze Germans set at least one World Cup record for a game this deep into the tournament. And while Germany would not likely score seven more goals given the same chances, it's not as though it lucked its way into the finals.

Devin Pleuler noted via twitter that it was something of an unusual spanking.

In other words, it wasn't as "lucky" as other lopsided victories have been in the past.

Our Expected Goals model probably undervalues Germany's performance because we can't control for the proximity of defenders or the time available to shoot. Additionally, teams with big leads typically lose the expected goals battle during those gamestates. Oh, and they were playing the former tournament favorites, not Saudi Arabia. Those things make it all the more impressive that Germany manhandled Brazil by Expected Goals, as well as on the scoreboard. Below one can find Expected Goals data by game from this World Cup.

Competitive refers to minutes played when the score was within one, and Comp.xGD is the Expected Goal differential during those times.

Team Opponent xGF xGA xGD Competitive Comp.xGD
GER ALG 3.28 1.01 2.26 126.4 2.03
FRA HON 2.19 0.17 2.02 50.6 0.98
GER POR 2.47 0.53 1.94 31.1 0.10
BRA CMR 2.60 0.69 1.92 50.0 0.74
NED ESP 2.82 0.97 1.84 65.0 -0.00
GRE CRC 2.33 0.52 1.81 129.4 0.88
FRA SUI 3.13 1.34 1.79 17.2 0.11
CIV JPN 2.11 0.39 1.72 96.1 0.07
BEL USA 3.60 2.27 1.33 125.2 1.54
SUI HON 2.35 1.03 1.32 30.5 0.70
RUS KOR 1.72 0.40 1.32 95.0 0.77
GHA USA 1.92 0.65 1.27 99.3 -0.13
JPN GRE 1.69 0.49 1.20 96.3 1.20
CRC URU 1.78 0.64 1.14 85.4 -0.03
GER BRA 2.42 1.30 1.13 22.1 0.37
ESP AUS 1.16 0.09 1.07 69.9 0.63
BRA CHI 2.27 1.24 1.02 127.8 1.02
ALG KOR 2.23 1.26 0.97 27.6 1.24
BRA MEX 1.44 0.48 0.96 93.3 0.96
ENG URU 1.58 0.63 0.95 96.0 0.22
ARG SUI 2.29 1.36 0.93 129.8 1.66
BIH NGA 1.98 1.05 0.92 94.3 -0.01
ESP CHI 2.16 1.25 0.92 42.9 0.21
FRA ECU 1.98 1.14 0.84 96.1 0.84
SUI ECU 1.50 0.68 0.82 95.3 0.39
FRA NGA 1.32 0.51 0.82 93.2 0.82
ARG IRN 1.54 0.73 0.81 96.5 0.81
NED CHI 1.34 0.57 0.77 92.1 0.43
AUS CHI 2.01 1.35 0.66 71.7 -0.25
GER USA 1.22 0.59 0.63 94.3 0.98
ECU HON 1.25 0.63 0.62 97.3 0.27
CRO CMR 1.88 1.31 0.58 48.2 0.21
NED CRC 1.51 0.93 0.58 129.1 0.58
POR GHA 1.88 1.33 0.55 96.0 -0.22
POR USA 1.96 1.43 0.53 97.5 -0.05
URU ITA 1.01 0.50 0.52 98.0 0.49
BEL RUS 1.22 0.71 0.51 94.4 0.43
BEL ALG 0.89 0.39 0.50 94.5 -0.12
ARG NGA 1.62 1.14 0.48 96.0 1.02
FRA GER 1.64 1.21 0.43 95.5 0.09
NED MEX 1.09 0.67 0.42 100.9 -0.10
URU COL 1.12 0.72 0.40 50.1 -0.09
BRA CRO 1.14 0.77 0.37 92.6 0.18
ENG CRC 0.43 0.13 0.30 93.2 0.30
COL JPN 2.39 2.09 0.30 82.3 0.81
ENG ITA 1.31 1.01 0.30 97.3 -0.53
BIH IRN 1.05 0.77 0.28 62.4 0.26
COL CIV 0.99 0.74 0.25 91.9 0.38
GRE CIV 1.20 0.97 0.23 97.8 0.48
COL GRE 1.19 0.97 0.22 58.5 0.23
BEL KOR 1.40 1.21 0.19 96.4 0.79
ARG BIH 0.73 0.55 0.18 74.7 0.11
GER GHA 1.26 1.13 0.13 95.2 -0.08
CRC ITA 0.88 0.75 0.13 95.8 0.19
CMR MEX 1.12 1.04 0.08 96.1 0.13
BEL ARG 0.60 0.52 0.08 97.0 -0.13
NGA IRN 0.72 0.67 0.06 94.0 0.06
MEX CRO 0.85 0.80 0.04 76.7 0.04
AUS NED 1.58 1.55 0.03 95.3 0.74
BRA COL 0.85 0.82 0.02 84.7 0.31
RUS ALG 0.65 0.64 0.02 95.1 0.14
ALG RUS 0.64 0.65 -0.02 95.1 -0.14
COL BRA 0.82 0.85 -0.02 84.7 -0.31
NED AUS 1.55 1.58 -0.03 95.3 -0.74
CRO MEX 0.80 0.85 -0.04 76.7 -0.04
IRN NGA 0.67 0.72 -0.06 94.0 -0.06
ARG BEL 0.52 0.60 -0.08 97.0 0.13
MEX CMR 1.04 1.12 -0.08 96.1 -0.13
ITA CRC 0.75 0.88 -0.13 95.8 -0.19
GHA GER 1.13 1.26 -0.13 95.2 0.08
BIH ARG 0.55 0.73 -0.18 74.7 -0.11
KOR BEL 1.21 1.40 -0.19 96.4 -0.79
GRE COL 0.97 1.19 -0.22 58.5 -0.23
CIV GRE 0.97 1.20 -0.23 97.8 -0.48
CIV COL 0.74 0.99 -0.25 91.9 -0.38
IRN BIH 0.77 1.05 -0.28 62.4 -0.26
ITA ENG 1.01 1.31 -0.30 97.3 0.53
JPN COL 2.09 2.39 -0.30 82.3 -0.81
CRC ENG 0.13 0.43 -0.30 93.2 -0.30
CRO BRA 0.77 1.14 -0.37 92.6 -0.18
COL URU 0.72 1.12 -0.40 50.1 0.09
MEX NED 0.67 1.09 -0.42 100.9 0.10
GER FRA 1.21 1.64 -0.43 95.5 -0.09
NGA ARG 1.14 1.62 -0.48 96.0 -1.02
ALG BEL 0.39 0.89 -0.50 94.5 0.12
RUS BEL 0.71 1.22 -0.51 94.4 -0.43
ITA URU 0.50 1.01 -0.52 98.0 -0.49
USA POR 1.43 1.96 -0.53 97.5 0.05
GHA POR 1.33 1.88 -0.55 96.0 0.22
CRC NED 0.93 1.51 -0.58 129.1 -0.58
CMR CRO 1.31 1.88 -0.58 48.2 -0.21
HON ECU 0.63 1.25 -0.62 97.3 -0.27
USA GER 0.59 1.22 -0.63 94.3 -0.98
CHI AUS 1.35 2.01 -0.66 71.7 0.25
CHI NED 0.57 1.34 -0.77 92.1 -0.43
IRN ARG 0.73 1.54 -0.81 96.5 -0.81
NGA FRA 0.51 1.32 -0.82 93.2 -0.82
ECU SUI 0.68 1.50 -0.82 95.3 -0.39
ECU FRA 1.14 1.98 -0.84 96.1 -0.84
CHI ESP 1.25 2.16 -0.92 42.9 -0.21
NGA BIH 1.05 1.98 -0.92 94.3 0.01
SUI ARG 1.36 2.29 -0.93 129.8 -1.66
URU ENG 0.63 1.58 -0.95 96.0 -0.22
MEX BRA 0.48 1.44 -0.96 93.3 -0.96
KOR ALG 1.26 2.23 -0.97 27.6 -1.24
CHI BRA 1.24 2.27 -1.02 127.8 -1.02
AUS ESP 0.09 1.16 -1.07 69.9 -0.63
BRA GER 1.30 2.42 -1.13 22.1 -0.37
URU CRC 0.64 1.78 -1.14 85.4 0.03
GRE JPN 0.49 1.69 -1.20 96.3 -1.20
USA GHA 0.65 1.92 -1.27 99.3 0.13
KOR RUS 0.40 1.72 -1.32 95.0 -0.77
HON SUI 1.03 2.35 -1.32 30.5 -0.70
USA BEL 2.27 3.60 -1.33 125.2 -1.54
JPN CIV 0.39 2.11 -1.72 96.1 -0.07
SUI FRA 1.34 3.13 -1.79 17.2 -0.11
CRC GRE 0.52 2.33 -1.81 129.4 -0.88
ESP NED 0.97 2.82 -1.84 65.0 0.00
CMR BRA 0.69 2.60 -1.92 50.0 -0.74
POR GER 0.53 2.47 -1.94 31.1 -0.10
HON FRA 0.17 2.19 -2.02 50.6 -0.98
ALG GER 1.01 3.28 -2.26 126.4 -2.03

Jermaine Jones may be headed to MLS; where could he fit? by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

For those who weren't paying attention this past week, we learned about the possibility of Jermaine Jones headed to Major League Soccer. His cryptic instagram vaguely built upon the contested thought that he could join MLS sometime this summer. All this after the speculation that ran wild through the winter that he could be headed state side and follow Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradly, US national team mates, who have made similar transitions themselves. Instead he took the path less traveled and headed to Turkish Süper Lig, Besiktas.

For those that didn't see the instagram.

For those that didn't see the instagram.

It appears now, post-US World Cup, that the rumors of his connections to MLS are being renewed. Which then begs much analysis as to who might acquire him. Adding further fuel to the fire, Toronto FC has the number one spot in the allocation ranking, something they most surely would not use due to being full up on designated players and busting at the seams with their cap. They also were forced to trade key youth designated player Matias Laba, another midfielder, earlier this year for basically nothing. To a country and league rival (Vancouver). It can certainly be accepted that they have no plans to make use of that selection.

For those of you that are new to MLS, the allocation order itself is a process which MLS uses to disperse returning US National team players across the league. Some people say it's stupid, and other people say it's... well, stupid. It's what MLS has chosen to do at this point.

While it's tricky to nail down how much an individual could sign for in regards to MLS, we can at least garner a rough guess thanks to Trasnfermarkt.co.uk which has determined his rough market value to be around 2.64M £.

If we run with this number it would, obviously, put him into the designated player category, unless he signs for less than that. However, being that he endeared himself to fans during this World Cup run, we can just assume that's not going to happen.

Now everyone that has speculated a possible landing place is looking for "the best team fit" for him. I'm going in a bit different direction. I looked at all 19 teams, their total roster churn, trades involving allocation and designated player slots. From there I made a graph, because I like visuals.

By adjusted for US soccer loans, it means I did not count a player lost if he was loaned to a lower division.

By adjusted for US soccer loans, it means I did not count a player lost if he was loaned to a lower division.

Ignoring teams with all three designated players slots, that would leave us with 13 teams that have a 'spot' for Jones. Of those 13, there are three clubs that have acquired more allocation than they've received. They are: Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake and San Jose Earthquakes

 

Chicago Fire

They've been clearing tons of cap room all year and recently got an international team to take up a designated player. The Fire is club that has been a staple of MLS for years and has been on the downward swing now for a couple seasons. There is room to make this deal happen and considering their last-place position in the standings, they need to do something. The fact that Frank Yallop is head of the club and often plays with two central midfielders is a further plus. Don't overlook, Chi-town.

 

Real Salt Lake

Now, sure, everyone is going to rebuff this idea because they have Kyle Beckerman. But after this World Cup I'm not sure that's really a 'con'. However, their formation gives more credence that it's unlikely that it would happen. Even with Jeff Ceasar taking over the helm, post Jason Kreis, the club has stuck rather rigorously to the 4-1-2-1-2 formation, which is just a slight modification to the diamond the organization has stuck with for years. No, even with the probability of having the money to make this move, I don't see it happening.

 

San Jose Earthquakes

The notoriously frugal Quakes are opening up a new stadium next season. Adding another US Mens National team player to their stable is a good PR move. There is also the fact that Jones lives on the West Coast (LA to be precise) and he could be more inclined to play near his new home in So Cal. 

There is also the little business of San Jose being a last place western division team, 6 points from the 5th and final playoff spot. They need help, and with a game in hand on Chivas and three on Portland---the two teams that that sit just above them---a move could bring more momentum to this club at the right time. Add to it all the fact that San Jose is perhaps the most physical club in the league, and Jones oozes the persona to fit in with Victor Bernardez, Alan Gordon and the rest of the hard-nosed goonies.

---

Finally, DC United and Sporting Kansas City are as good spots as any. Both have DP room and potential money to spend. United parting ways with Christian Fernández and SKC transferring Oriol Rosell to Portugal both are signs of that. There is also the idea of going to play for a contender which obviously pulled him towards Turkey this past winter. Representing either one of these MLS clubs would give him the opportunity of not just playing in the playoffs but also representing MLS in the Champions League.

There is a case to be made for Chivas USA too. A club with some cash that is headed towards a(nother) rebranding and is in desperate need of any type of talent upgrade. The only real problem is their full up on DPs, and I'm not certain how they would go about fixing that issue. I would assume that Rosales is the most expendable, but I'm not sure about their wide midfield situation, which doesn't currently look good.

Overall the 'Jermaine Jones sweepstakes' could be one of the more interesting plot twists to this MLS season. It could impact the top of the table fight or even help propel a floundering team to one of the last playoff spots.  It's something to watch unfold during the MLS transfer window that just so happens to open up today. That window will remain open until August 8th.

 

A profile of MLS clubs and core players by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Okay, so last week I wrote about why you should follow US-based soccer leagues, and more specifically Major League Soccer. That belief is built off the assumption that you really enjoyed following the US Men's National Team during the World Cup. I realize that sports fans, and more specifically the current generation of sports fans, are apt to follow individual players rather than specific clubs or teams. I don't know if this is a result of free-agency where players change teams so quickly or just the fact that athletes are a brand in-and-of themselves with today's culture.

The other side of the coin is that many of us grew up following specific teams. Most often they were local, though sometimes not. It might have been the Seattle Mariners or Dallas Cowboys, Denver Nuggets or maybe even the New York Islanders. If you grew up in the South it was likely a college team. University of Kentucky basketball or 'Bama football. Whatever random, odd specific thing it was that drew your favor to a team, if you were like me, you liked one team more than the rest, while players came and went.

Keeping these two thoughts in mind, I decided to build a post that melds the two ideas together. Breaking down clubs across the league, highlighting names of importance and doing it all without giving away a predisposition. I present this all without commentary in the hopes that you can form your own opinions about teams and players. Perhaps some ideas about what teams or players might interest you and drive you to finding out more about them.

I did this all by collecting detailed club 'characteristics' as provided by WhoScored. This hopefully gives you some insight as to how teams play. As an example, most that follow the NFL know the Pittsburgh Steelers have long been a team that is built around the defense, being able to run the ball, and overall physicality. How do we take that and compare it to what the LA Galaxy do? What are their tendencies as a club?  How do we as soccer fans quickly relate their style?

Players' information comes by way of the analytical site Squawka and their individual player performance score. Understand that this score comes by way of quantified data and doesn't necessarily calculate everything. Both sets of information compiled are based upon data facilitated by Opta. Each have draw backs to the way they interpret their conclusions.

Without further ado here are the 19 MLS clubs, their profiles and some of their important core players.

 

 

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Top-15 Attackers in MLS

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 5 matches played.

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 5 matches played.

Top-15 Possession based players in MLS

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 5 matches played.

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 5 matches played.

Top-15 Defenders in MLS

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 5 matches played.

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 5 matches played.

Top-15 Players 21 and Under

Top-15 Players in MLS

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 8 matches played.

All data based upon per90 rate, minimum of 8 matches played.

These numbers are all from a week ago, so if you look up on Squawka now you will notice a few slight differences. You'll probably also notice that there are a lot of repeat names on these lists. The big names that you saw in the World Cup and then some new ones. One name that surprised me that didn't make any of the lists is also the guy whose stock got the biggest boost from the World Cup, DeAndre Yedlin. But, I'll reference Mr. Matthew Doyle the Airmen Chair Analyst of MLSoccer.com from twitter.

Yedlin is certainly a growing name in MLS and maybe we'll get to him in another post. Unfortunately while he's an exciting young talent, Squawka and their formula has not been keen with how he's performed to this point in the season. We still love him, and that's what's important.

Looking at other major sports in the US, MLS doesn't really have that Lebron James or Mike Trout icon. There is no dominant player that simply bends the game to his will on this side of the pond; though watching the second half of Seattle in Portland one might mistake Clint Dempsey as that individual.

Many of you know both Michael Bradley and Dempsey are electric talents in this league and each mean a great deal to their clubs and their fans. I would say that the man they call Deuce is more of a Dirk Nowitzki type of player. Creative, probably underrated in a lot of ways from the international perspective and works incredibly hard. Bradley, on the other hand, is a Chris Paul type. A distributor that picks out passes, unlocks defenses, able score goals and is one of the best defensive talents in the league.

Others could compare either of these two to a myriad of other American sports figures, these were just the two that came to my mind. As they aren't the end all and be all of their craft but still very good players. The take away here though is simply MLS isn't a league of stars. It's a league of very good players with a bevy of depth spread across the league.

The league is growing with world renown players like Kaká headed to Orlando for the 2015 season. As well as New York City FC already splurging on a couple of legendary footballers in David Villa and Frank Lampard for next season too. Major League Soccer is adding to their wealth of talent already available and with it fans from around the world. Now is a great time to get to know a league that is privy to some of the most unique talent that is largely under appreciated across the world.

Donovan wishes the USMNT had been more aggressive; I do, too by Matthias Kullowatz

By Matthias Kullowatz (@MattyAnselmo)

In so many words, Landon Donovan said that he thought the U.S. Men's National Team should have been more aggressive.

"[I]f I'm in that locker room before that game – before the Germany game, before the Belgium game – and the coach walked in and said we're playing a 4-5-1 and Clint [Dempsey] is up top by himself, I would have been disappointed. Because I would have said let's go for it. I want a chance to go for it and try to win the game."

The USMNT took a pounding against Belgium, facing 39 shots worth an average value of nearly five goals. The team's tactics mimicked those of many other teams in the tournament that were praying for a draw (and possibly the ensuing penalties, depending on the round). Iran against Argentina, Algeria against Germany, Mexico against Brazil.

These traditional tactics make some sense, as increasing the chances of a draw in regulation is beneficial for an underdog. But I'm not so sure it always maximizes that lesser team's chances of a positive result. I wrote a while back about how away teams in MLS did much better in the first half of games than in the second half when the game was tied. One possible cause might be that away teams fatigue faster, but I don't think that makes up the whole discrepancy. Tactics change, and though it might seem like a chicken-and-the-egg issue, I think it's the underdog that first decides to turtle up before the favorite becomes more aggressive. 

The World Cup showed us similar results, with many teams stubbornly sticking to a conservative gameplan. Expected Goals during tied scores (even gamestates) serves as a reasonable barometer for how aggressive a team was able to be---or chose to be. Using ESPN's Soccer Power Index, I can estimate by how much a favored team should beat the underdog in terms of Expected Goals during even gamestates. SPI was able to predict these expected goal differentials with an R-squared value of 0.35. The scatter plot (for games in which at least 20 minutes were played in an even gamestate) is shown below with 95-percent prediction intervals.

Among the underdogs, only Japan in its game against Colombia performed worse than the United States against Belgium---that is, compared to how they were "supposed" to do. Much of the deviation from the regression line can be attributed to the SPI not being a perfect indication of team ability, as well as the variance of Expected Goals over a small sample size. But combined with the fact that the USMNT came out in a 4-5-1, the American's massive underperformance in getting quality shots off suggests that tactics were at least as much to blame as any discrepancy in ability. 

Obviously, getting better shots---and more of them---is important to winning soccer games, and that's exactly what Expected Goals tries to measure. It's not surprising, then, that those underdogs that were able to outperform their predicted Expected Goals earned more favorable results collectively than those underdogs that were not able to do so. The only question that remains for any great deviation from expectation, then, is was it by choice or by force? The USA loss to Belgium reeks of choice.

I leave you with the list of results of those games in which at least 20 minutes were played in an even gamestate:

Favorite Underdog SPIdiff EvenMins xGoalDiff PredictedxGoalDiff Underperformance Points
COL JPN 1.4 26 2.92 0.97 1.95 0
BEL USA 0.2 98 1.49 -0.01 1.50 0
ARG NGA 1.6 47 2.05 1.13 0.91 0
GER USA 1.2 55 1.71 0.81 0.90 0
GER ALG 1.6 97 2.00 1.13 0.87 0
BRA CMR 2.5 25 2.64 1.87 0.78 0
FRA HON 1.9 44 2.10 1.38 0.72 0
NED CHI 0.1 77 0.53 -0.09 0.62 0
SUI ECU 0.2 67 0.55 -0.01 0.56 0
ESP AUS 1.6 36 1.69 1.13 0.56 0
ARG SUI 1.2 122 1.29 0.81 0.48 0
BRA CHI 0.7 114 0.86 0.40 0.46 1
BIH IRN 1.0 23 1.08 0.64 0.43 0
RUS KOR 0.7 89 0.83 0.40 0.43 1
RUS ALG 0.1 41 0.32 -0.09 0.41 1
JPN GRE 0.1 96 0.18 -0.09 0.27 1
FRA NGA 1.1 81 0.96 0.72 0.23 0
BEL RUS 0.5 88 0.47 0.24 0.23 0
ENG CRC 0.4 93 0.31 0.15 0.15 1
MEX CRO 0.1 73 0.05 -0.09 0.15 0
NED ESP 0.2 36 -0.01 -0.01 0.00 0
POR USA 0.0 23 -0.20 -0.17 -0.03 1
COL CIV 1.0 64 0.57 0.64 -0.08 0
COL URU 0.7 28 0.32 0.40 -0.08 0
URU ITA 0.4 83 0.07 0.15 -0.08 0
URU CRC 0.5 27 0.11 0.24 -0.13 3
BRA MEX 1.6 93 0.98 1.13 -0.16 1
BEL KOR 1.2 79 0.65 0.81 -0.16 0
FRA ECU 0.9 96 0.39 0.56 -0.18 1
BIH NGA 0.4 28 -0.04 0.15 -0.19 3
ECU HON 1.0 64 0.41 0.64 -0.24 0
NGA IRN 0.6 94 0.06 0.32 -0.26 1
POR GHA 0.1 53 -0.40 -0.09 -0.31 0
ITA CRC 0.1 44 -0.41 -0.09 -0.31 3
CRC GRE 0.3 91 -0.26 0.07 -0.33 1
URU ENG 0.1 48 -0.43 -0.09 -0.34 0
NED CRC 1.2 129 0.43 0.81 -0.38 1
BEL ALG 0.6 33 -0.35 0.32 -0.67 0
MEX CMR 0.9 62 -0.21 0.56 -0.77 0
ARG IRN 2.2 92 0.83 1.62 -0.79 0
NED MEX 1.0 58 -0.16 0.64 -0.80 0
BRA CRO 1.7 54 0.32 1.21 -0.89 0
GER GHA 1.3 84 -0.09 0.89 -0.97 1
CIV GRE 0.5 61 -0.75 0.24 -0.98 3
ENG ITA 0.3 49 -1.03 0.07 -1.10 3
NED AUS 1.8 65 -1.08 1.30 -2.38 0

*The Algeria drubbing of Korea cannot be found on the graph, as it was such an extreme outlier.

**The SPIdiff can be seen as the number of goals by which a favorite was expected to beat an underdog, according Nate Silver's explanation.

A 2018 World Cup roster prediction that isn't entirely stupid by Andrew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@DrewJOlsen)

After a few days of mourning the USA's elimination from the World Cup, we've had enough time to catch our collective breath and look forward to the next one (only 1440 days!). This tournament isn't even over yet, but as we approach Independence Day riding the high on the USMNT’s run past Ronaldo to the round of 16, writers everywhere are already looking forward to 2018 and others are telling them they’re stupid for even trying.

I definitely lean towards the latter camp, but I don't think it's a useless exercise. None of us are mind readers, but that doesn't prevent us from making an educated guess. I’m not going to try to summon the names of who will go to Russia, as such an effort seems like a fool’s errand. Instead, I want to figure out the makeup of what the roster could look like. Based on past trends, we may be able to paint a vague picture of what the next World Cup roster might be built from.

Let’s take a look at where we were at this point in 2010, and what roster we ultimately ended up with.

First some ground rules. Per the venerable Paul Carr (Paul Carr blows your mind) we can probably assume[1] that it is unlikely there will be any players on the roster over 32. This rules out[2] Beasley, Beckerman, Davis, Dempsey, Jones, Wondolowski.

If we keep riding the Paul Carr roller coaster, we can guess that there will probably be six to 13 players from the 2014 team on the 2018 roster.

Let’s take that a step further and see what that list looks like when we add in the coaches for those teams.

Coach Year Returning Players
Jurgen Klinsmann 2014 6
Bob Bradley 2010 8
Bruce Arena 2006 12
Bruce Arena 2002 11
Steve Sampson 1998 13
Bora Milutinović 1994 6
Bob Gansler 1990

After digging a little deeper, we realize six is probably a low estimate. All three years that fewer than 11 players were chosen from the previous World Cup, it came with a new coach and followed a team that was generally considered a disappointment. 1990 was the first world cup the USA had been to in decades, so we were just happy to be there. Still, losing all three games and conceding eight goals wasn't exactly something to be proud of and only six players from that team made the squad in 1994. That year the USA impressed, making the knockout stage barely losing to eventual champion Brazil. In 2006, the USA finished last in their group and Bruce Arena was fired. Bob Bradley cleaned house in 2010, bringing only eight players from the 2006 team. Still, he was unable to overcome USA nemesis Ghana and was fired shortly thereafter. Klinsmann shocked many when he took only six members of Bradley’s team, but exceeded expectations by getting out of the Group of Death and pushing Belgium to the brink.

There is a clear pattern in the roster carry-over from cycle to cycle. If the USA did well 12 or 13 players returned for the subsequent tournament. If America did poorly the number was six or eight[3]. Based on both continuity – Klinsmann will probably still be the coach – and the success of the 2014 team, there is likely to be around 10-12 players from the current roster on the 2018 one. That leaves about 10 open roster spots.

If Klinsmann sticks to his youth-oriented focus, some players are likely to come out of nowhere. Of the 2014 squad, 12[4] of the 23 earned their first USA cap after the 2010 World Cup. Indeed, in some capacity seven of those players had been called up by other countries! We love our troops, and we love them even more when they marry abroad and produce talented young players. Klinsmann did well to recruit the low-hanging-fruit abroad in 2014, but it is safe to assume other countries will better court (read: protect) their young players before 2018, and the USA will have fewer new players to steal away.

Finally, there might be some guys that have been previously capped, but didn't make this squad. These are the Camerons, Beckermans, and the Davis’ of the group.  Forty-four different players that didn't make this World Cup team have been called up only in the last year, and 34 of those players will be 32 or younger in 2018. With Klinsmann likely to bring players he’s already looked (and is looking) at, we can assume that there are a number of players in that pool that will make it in 2018.

Based on all the above factors, I've pulled together a broad look at what the USA’s 2018 roster might look like. 

10-12 Players from the 2014 squad
4-8 Who have played for the USA, but didn’t make the 2014 team
5-10 Yet to earn their first USMNT cap

So there you have it! When reading projected 23 man rosters that you recognize all the names on, take a step back and remember how little we (and US Soccer) actually know. If I had told you four years ago that Matt Besler or Fabian Johnson[5] would be integral and instrumental parts of the 2014 World Cup team, you would have given me a blank stare. Also it’s a dumb premise because I wouldn't have told you that.

I won’t fault you for reading all those fun roster projections (clearly I've been reading them, too), but take each one with a grain of salt. And in 2018 when we realize that Simon Borg successfully predicted the roster four years prior, please send me an angry email.

 

[1] We can assume nothing.

[2] See the above footnote. Ruling any of them out right now is totally insane. As a reference, Tim Cahill was 34 for this World Cup and Andrea Pirlo was 35. They did alright.

[3] Notice that I’ve skipped 2002, which returned 11 players from the disastrous 1998 team that finished dead last. This is another ginormous assumption, but many blamed coach Steve Sampson (he of the famous 3-6-1 formation) instead of the players. That’s my flimsy excuse for this exception to the rule.

[4] Yedlin, Gonzalez, Besler, Brooks, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Diskerud, Green, Zusi, Johannsson, and Wondolowski

[5] Or DeAndre Yedlin, or John Brooks, or DaMarcus Beasley, or Timmy Chandler, or Mix Diskerud, or Julian Green, or Aron Johannsson, or Chris Wondolowski…

Tim Howard's effort against Belgium by Matthias Kullowatz

American goalkeeper Tim Howard had a fantastic game against Belgium on Tuesday. It might have been the game of his life, and Wikipedia fittingly gave him a new job. We don't actually have data for every game he's ever kept, but we can put his performance into some perspective. 

On Tuesday, his Keeper Rating---based off each shot's origin, goalmouth placement, and pattern of play---represented the best single-game performance of any goalkeeper thus far in the tournament. Belgium laid siege on his goal, firing off a tournament-high 39 shots. 17 of those were on frame, also a tournament-high. They probably should have scored four or five goals, but that wasn't going to happen on Howard's watch. The chart below summarizes every game of the tournament to date for each keeper.

Keeper Team Opponent SOT Goals xGoals Rating
T. Howard USA BEL 17 2 4.68 -2.68
V. Enyeama NGA BIH 7 0 2.46 -2.46
A. Dominguez ECU FRA 9 0 2.44 -2.44
G. Ochoa MEX BRA 6 0 2.31 -2.31
D. Benaglio SUI ARG 8 1 2.93 -1.93
F. Dauda GHA POR 7 1 2.46 -1.46
T. Courtois BEL KOR 4 0 1.41 -1.41
C. Bravo CHI ESP 6 0 1.34 -1.34
F. Muslera URU ENG 6 1 2.34 -1.34
D. Ospina COL URU 4 0 1.25 -1.25
Julio Cesar BRA CRO 3 0 1.20 -1.20
S. Romero ARG SUI 4 0 1.17 -1.17
V. Enyeama NGA FRA 5 1 2.06 -1.06
C. Bravo CHI AUS 4 1 2.03 -1.03
K. Navas CRC GRE 8 1 1.95 -0.95
E. Kawashima JPN GRE 4 0 0.95 -0.95
N. Valladares HON FRA 5 2 2.84 -0.84
A. Begovic BIH NGA 9 1 1.80 -0.80
N. Valladares HON SUI 10 3 3.79 -0.79
I. Akinfeev RUS ALG 6 1 1.75 -0.75
T. Courtois BEL USA 5 1 1.74 -0.74
H. Lloris FRA ECU 2 0 0.73 -0.73
Alireza Haghighi IRN NGA 4 0 0.72 -0.72
K. Navas CRC URU 3 1 1.71 -0.71
O. Karnezis GRE JPN 4 0 0.62 -0.62
M. Neuer GER POR 4 0 0.61 -0.61
S. Romero ARG IRN 3 0 0.60 -0.60
S. Sirigu ITA ENG 5 1 1.60 -0.60
D. Benaglio SUI HON 3 0 0.48 -0.48
K. Navas CRC ITA 4 0 0.47 -0.47
G. Ochoa MEX CMR 1 0 0.47 -0.47
C. Bravo CHI BRA 6 1 1.45 -0.45
D. Ospina COL GRE 2 0 0.45 -0.45
T. Courtois BEL RUS 3 0 0.41 -0.41
V. Enyeama NGA ARG 13 3 3.41 -0.41
G. Buffon ITA URU 5 1 1.41 -0.41
Jung Sung-Ryong KOR RUS 5 1 1.41 -0.41
M. Neuer GER ALG 4 1 1.33 -0.33
Julio Cesar BRA MEX 2 0 0.33 -0.33
V. Enyeama NGA IRN 1 0 0.30 -0.30
S. Pletikosa CRO CMR 2 0 0.29 -0.29
D. Ospina COL JPN 7 1 1.29 -0.29
T. Howard USA GER 6 1 1.24 -0.24
J. Cillessen NED AUS 4 2 2.20 -0.20
B. Foster ENG CRC 2 0 0.19 -0.19
J. Cillessen NED ESP 4 1 1.18 -0.18
Beto POR GHA 4 1 1.16 -0.16
K. Navas CRC ENG 1 0 0.16 -0.16
A. Dominguez ECU SUI 6 2 2.14 -0.14
O. Karnezis GRE CIV 4 1 1.14 -0.14
Julio Cesar BRA CHI 2 1 1.14 -0.14
J. Cillessen NED CHI 1 0 0.13 -0.13
Kim Seung-Gyu KOR BEL 5 1 1.12 -0.12
A. Begovic BIH ARG 2 1 1.11 -0.11
H. Lloris FRA NGA 2 0 0.10 -0.10
G. Buffon ITA CRC 5 1 1.07 -0.07
H. Lloris FRA HON 1 0 0.07 -0.07
G. Ochoa MEX NED 4 2 2.07 -0.07
F. Muslera URU ITA 1 0 0.04 -0.04
R. M'Bolhi ALG RUS 4 1 1.04 -0.04
R. M'Bolhi ALG GER 12 2 2.01 -0.01
J. Reina ESP AUS 0 0 0.00 0.00
M. Neuer GER USA 0 0 0.00 0.00
C. Itandje CMR MEX 4 1 0.99 0.01
D. Ospina COL CIV 3 1 0.94 0.06
J. Cillessen NED MEX 5 1 0.92 0.08
I. Akinfeev RUS KOR 5 1 0.87 0.13
S. Romero ARG BIH 6 1 0.86 0.14
Alireza Haghighi IRN ARG 4 1 0.84 0.16
A. Dominguez ECU HON 5 1 0.81 0.19
Julio Cesar BRA CMR 1 1 0.79 0.21
A. Begovic BIH IRN 2 1 0.77 0.23
R. M'Bolhi ALG BEL 7 2 1.74 0.26
T. Howard USA POR 7 2 1.71 0.29
D. Benaglio SUI FRA 12 5 4.70 0.30
B. Barry CIV GRE 5 2 1.69 0.31
T. Howard USA GHA 3 1 0.68 0.32
T. Courtois BEL ALG 1 1 0.61 0.39
D. Benaglio SUI ECU 4 1 0.61 0.39
B. Barry CIV COL 6 2 1.57 0.43
I. Akinfeev RUS BEL 2 1 0.54 0.46
G. Ochoa MEX CRO 2 1 0.54 0.46
B. Barry CIV JPN 2 1 0.53 0.47
I. Casillas ESP CHI 4 2 1.50 0.50
F. Dauda GHA GER 4 2 1.49 0.51
M. Neuer GER GHA 6 2 1.45 0.55
N. Valladares HON ECU 4 2 1.43 0.57
O. Karnezis GRE COL 6 3 2.38 0.62
C. Itandje CMR BRA 10 4 3.32 0.68
C. Bravo CHI NED 4 2 1.28 0.72
S. Romero ARG NGA 3 2 1.24 0.76
O. Karnezis GRE CRC 1 1 0.22 0.78
R. M'Bolhi ALG KOR 3 2 1.06 0.94
E. Kawashima JPN CIV 5 2 1.01 0.99
F. Muslera URU CRC 4 3 2.01 0.99
S. Pletikosa CRO BRA 6 3 1.95 1.05
Rui Patricio POR GER 6 4 2.94 1.06
A. Larsen Kwarasey GHA USA 4 2 0.92 1.08
F. Muslera URU COL 4 2 0.89 1.11
Beto POR USA 4 2 0.85 1.15
J. Hart ENG ITA 3 2 0.79 1.21
S. Pletikosa CRO MEX 4 3 1.74 1.26
I. Casillas ESP NED 10 5 3.59 1.41
Jung Sung-Ryong KOR ALG 5 4 2.58 1.42
H. Lloris FRA SUI 4 2 0.58 1.42
Alireza Haghighi IRN BIH 5 3 1.54 1.46
J. Hart ENG URU 2 2 0.45 1.55
M. Ryan AUS NED 9 3 1.43 1.57
M. Ryan AUS CHI 4 3 1.39 1.61
C. Itandje CMR CRO 9 4 2.38 1.62
M. Ryan AUS ESP 4 3 0.90 2.10
E. Kawashima JPN COL 4 4 1.72 2.28

Welcome! by Harrison Crow

Do you remember a long time ago, like in November, when I had said that we were working to develop something soon? Well here it is. This is soon by our terminology.

You may or may not have noticed you can actually read what I am writing without squinting or feeling as though your eyes may bleed. That is because you are looking at the new and improved American Soccer Analysis site. Complete with readable font AND sortable tables for your viewing pleasure.

The site itself is a great upgrade over our old Wordpress house; the real perk of the transition though is the foundation for future growth. Our future goal is to provide you with a database of events that encompasses as much of American soccer as we can track and monitor. We want to work with analysts at the MLS, USL Pro, NASL levels and an assortment of proprietary data companies in the effort to build an open community that is interested in growing soccer analysis beyond what it is today.

We've only just celebrated our one-year anniversary, but in that time we've been seen by more than 25,000 sets of unique eyeballs. We have more projects, ideas and visions to keep us pressing forward and we hope that with your help we can achieve them all and that much more.

As always we welcome any help that we can get. We're constantly on the look out for writers, DBA's, graphic artists and just people in general that don't mind looking at a screen and collecting data for processes that we haven't automated.

Seriously, we did some great things last Winter in building up an MLS player shot database for the 2013 season. That was done by people that had 15 minutes to kill every so often and access to a computer with internet. Nothing all that special. We would love to go back and accomplish the same for the 2011 and 2012 MLS seasons. This is free information that we want to compile for everyone, and in the process, aide us in learning more about the underlying trends of soccer.

Enough of the campaign spiel. Here's to a bright + shiny new site!

- Harrison

Twitter: @Harrison_Crow
Email: farfromport@gmail.com
 

Brazil: better than you think! by Andrew Olsen

Admittedly, it hasn't felt like Brazil has played all that well this World Cup.

The referee seemingly made its two-goal victory over Croatia a more relaxed finish than it should have been; against Mexico, the fourth-place team from CONCACAF, it only managed a draw; and Cameroon was just low-hanging fruit. The host team then took a lot of flak for its play in the Round of 16 against Chile, especially for its performance after halftime. Indeed, Brazil conceded a silly goal on a defensive giveaway, and Chile had chances to win that game.

But I'm here to tell you that Brazil has played better that it has looked. Too often, it seems, the scorelines heavily influence our praise and criticism of what's happening on the field.

Brazil dominated Group A in terms of Expected Goal Differential (xGD), and recorded the second-highest tally of any team during the group stage. Brazil's 1.05 xGD during even (tied) gamestates ranked fifth among the 32 teams. You might have expected better from the hosts, but most teams only played about 130 minutes in such gamestates. That's a big enough sample size to get a general idea of which are the best teams, but too small a sample to split hairs over the top five.

Croatia - June 12th

Against the Croats, a penalty awarded to Fred on what appeared to be a dive marred what was actually a solid performance by Brazil. Up to that controversial call, Brazil had earned 1.4 Expected Goals (xGoals) to Croatia's 0.4, dominating in quantity and quality of shots. Even after taking the lead on the penalty, Brazil still edged Croatia in xGoals the rest of the way, 0.30 to 0.24---a differential that matches what we'd expect of teams that were leading in this tournament.

Mexico - June 17th

Mexico is a better team than their last-second World Cup qualification (and that commentator) would suggest. It led the CONCACAF Hexagonal (the Hex!) in shot ratios and is currently ranked 13th in the world in the Soccer Power Index (though some of that improved ranking is because of their tie against Brazil). Despite a disappointing 0 - 0 tie on the scoreboard, Brazil's 1.4 xGoals again dwarfed that of its opponents. Mexico totaled just 0.5 xGoals.

Cameroon - June 23rd

There's not much to say about this one. Brazil's 1.9 xGD against Cameroon was the third highest discrepancy thus far in the tournament, trailing only France's drubbing of Honduras and Germany's handling of Portugal. It should be noted that both France and Germany enjoyed a man advantage for the majorities of those games.

Chile - June 28th

For Chile, the scoreboard and their well-developed rapport with the woodwork are clear indications that they could have won this game. However, the opportunity creation department informs us that Brazil probably should have won, as it did. 94 percent of this game's shots were taken during an even gamestate, either 0 - 0 or 1 - 1, and Brazil outpaced Chile during that time by a full expected goal. Even after halftime, when Brazil looked disorganized and sloppy, it still edged Chile 1.1-to-0.7 in xGoals.

Perhaps Brazil has not "looked" the part of tournament favorites during its first four games, but its shot creation numbers suggest it is definitely playing like one of the best teams. Add that to their pre-tournament resume, throw in the home-field advantage that's not going away anytime soon, and there is little doubt that Brazil is still the favorite to win this World Cup---maybe not with a majority of the probability, but definitely with a plurality.

The Manaus Effect by Andrew Olsen

During the United States' game against Germany on Thursday, it was hard to go 10 minutes without hearing Ian Darke or Taylor Twellman mention Manaus and its effect on the players. The US Men's National team played its previous game against Portugal in the "Jungle City," as did Italy, England, Croatia and Cameroon, before each dropping three points in their next games.

Business Insider pointed out that those first four teams to play in Manaus lost by a combined score of 10 - 3, though it conceded the tiny sample size. A Washington Post article cited the same statistics, and pondered the possibility of a curse in Manaus. The Independent, based in the United Kingdom, noted on June 24th that each of the seven teams that played in Manaus lost its next game. That was confusing since only six teams had played in Manaus to that point, and only four of those had actually played a "next game." But whatever. #stats Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City's All-star midfielder and starter for the USMNT, wasn't having any of it, stating "I don’t think it was that bad to be honest. When it got down to it, at night it cooled off and the humidity wasn’t as bad. I think after about 24 hours the bodies felt great." Hugh Laurie would tell us that everybody lies, especially athletes on record, but there might be something to Zusi's statement. Below is a chart depicting the average temperature, humidity and heat index for each game site. The weather stats were taken from Weather Underground at the beginning of the second half of each game.

City  Games  Temp  Humidity  Index
Fortaleza 4 82.4 62% 85.4
Salvador 4 80.2 73% 83.5
Manaus 4 79.3 81% 82.1
Natal 4 78.5 83% 80.7
Cuiaba 4 78.4 66% 79.1
Brasilia 4 77.5 43% 78.7
Sao Paulo 4 69.4 55% 78.3
Belo Horizonte 4 76.1 40% 77.8
Recife 4 77.5 86% 77.8
Rio De Janeiro 4 75.7 71% 76.6
Porto Alegre 4 65.8 71% 75.5
Curitiba 4 64.0 79% 71.5

It's reasonable to theorize that more extreme environments take their toll on the human body, even professional athletes. But if we're going to get serious here, we need to consider all locales that were exceptionally uncomfortable. Manaus actually ranked third in average heat index, and had a lower average humidity than fourth-place Natal. Italy and England were the first to play in Manaus on June 14th and sparked the notion that it was a hell hole. But while they were duking it out in Manaus, Costa Rica and Uruguay were playing in Fortaleza, number one on that list up there. Though it was less humid to start the second half in Fortaleza, it was actually hotter, and Fortaleza's halftime heat index beat that of Manaus by a few points, 87.3 to 84.6.

It turns out that teams which most recently played in Natal, Salvador or Fortaleza---the other three extreme locations---did alright. Those teams outscored their opponents by a combined five goals. That makes it hard to believe that the conditions of Manaus were responsible for the downfalls of Italy, England and Croatia, though that still leaves the possibility of a non-weather-related curse.

To make this a legit study, there are some other factors we need to control for, and that is why God invented linear regression. Using ESPN's (Nate Silver's) Soccer Power Index, I controlled for each team's overall ability, and then I measured the effects of extra rest and past-game heat index on the goal differential outcome. The output is below:

Variable Estimate P-Value
Intercept -0.37 15.8%
SPI Ratings Differential 1.01 0.1%
Additonal Days Rest (home) -0.21 68.1%
Heat Index Differential 0.01 74.3%

If you're not a linear regression kind of person, then basically what that chart up there says is that neither the heat index of the teams' past games nor any rest discrepancy seemed to matter during this tournament. At least not in terms of goal differential. But we know that goal differential is finicky, and Expected Goals are a better indicator of team performance. Good thing we've got our World Cup Expected Goals data up and running! If we measure team performance by some Expected Goal Differential statistics (xGD), then we get these linear regression outputs:

Expected Goal Diff Estimate P-value Even Expected Goal Diff Estimate P-value
Intercept -0.06 61.9% Intercept 0.01 88.4%
SPI Ratings Differential 0.46 0.1% SPI Ratings Differential 0.34 0.2%
Additional Days Rest (home) 0.13 57.0% Additional Days Rest (home) 0.17 37.0%
Heat Index Differential 0.00 79.7% Heat Index Differential 0.00 86.3%

Again, regardless of whether we look at overall xGD or even-gamestate xGD, there are no statistically significant effects due to extreme heat index figures from past matches. Expected Goals data are obviously not a direct measurement of how heat impacts the athletes' bodies, but they should be a stable representation the teams' relative strengths during a match.

The Swiss were the last team (that is still in the tournament) to play in an 80+ heat index environment, but I wouldn't expect that to matter much based on what I've shown above. What will matter is that Argentina is much better. Talent has trumped the heat index so far this World Cup.

 

 

World Cup Statistics by Andrew Olsen

We have begun rolling out World Cup statistics in the same format as those we provide for MLS. Scroll over "World Cup 2014" along the top bar to check it out! In the Team Stats Tables, one may observe that the recently-eliminated Spain outshot its opponents, and a much higher proportion of its possession occurred in the attacking third than that of its opponents.

Our team-by-team Expected Goals data shows that England played better than its results would suggest, earning more dangerous opportunities than its opponents. It was a matter of inches for Wayne Rooney a few times there...

 

Finishing data suggests that James Rodriguez has made the most of his opportunities---surprise, surprise---but did you know that none of Thomas Muller's first seven shots were assisted?

And despite giving up a tournament-high seven goals in the group stages, our Goalkeeping Data actually suggests that Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares performed admirably---especially considering the onslaught of shots he faced that were worth a tournament-most 0.4 goals per shot on target.

5 Reasons Why You Should Watch Major League Soccer by Andrew Olsen

So you’re excited about the US Men’s National team breaking through the group stage? It may even be that you find yourself liking this whole soccer thing. That’s not surprising; most Americans you talk to that follow soccer, including myself, have had that specific moment that sealed commitment, a moment often from a past World Cup. Whether that be the 2002 World Cup run in South Korea or the 2010 heart break against Ghana that brought you to the “beautiful game," because of the placement that soccer has in the standings of American culture, it’s just common to have these iconic moments associated with the sport. The thing that distinguishes people like us from the rest of the excited US supporters across the nation during this time is that, once the World Cup tournament concludes, we'll still want more.

Well, fear not because there is a serious and thriving league here in the US. If you are or have ever been called a ‘Euro snob’, then you can probably stop reading now. You’re going to argue and just generally disagree with most everything I have to say. So what’s the point? I’m not trolling you and it’s great that you like soccer in Europe. But we’re to talk to these new recruits about soccer in the United States. So here we go. Here are five reasons and examples about soccer in the US, and why you should follow it after the World Cup.

 

1)   Soccer in the United States is actually good.

Once upon a time Major League Soccer was viewed as a retirement league. A place where aged stars came for one last pay day once they were out of their prime. It was viewed as such simply because it was exactly that. It wasn’t that long ago, and because of that there some pretty common misconceptions about MLS.

“It used to be that just CONCACAF [The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] internationals and retirees came here. In 2014 Brazilians, Spaniards, Englishmen (that just miss out), Australians, Persians (Iran), and Irish all play in MLS, and they also play roles for their home countries in the World Cup, or are of World Cup quality.”

Look, most people that don’t like MLS likely have not watched more than a couple of games; which is silly considering they base all their opinions on those few games. It would be like me basing the entirety of the NBA on a Cleveland and New Orleans games or New Jersey and Phoenix. Neither of which are what we would call riveting match-ups.

The quality of MLS is improving every year. If you believe MLS still to be a ‘retirement league’ or a ‘first division with watered down depth’ you haven’t really invested any time in getting your facts straight. Truth is most people are forming opinions based on a small sample size from years ago.

Looking at numbers produced by Dave Clark and the statistician known by the handle Sidereal, one finds strong indicators that MLS has just continued to improved over the last few years. The league is gaining traction to being near par with some quality European soccer leagues.

2) MLS is on the verge of getting even better and it starts with increased wages.

“Although not often addressed, there's no question that achieving that vision will require increasing MLS player salaries to attract more top players. It's just a question of how fast, and the salaries may need to increase much sooner than 2022.”

“…”

“What could the future MLS look like? Or what would it need to look like for the Don Garber to see his vision meet reality? Let's build the reality. Let's assume by 2022 the MLS will pay their players 50% of total revenues, in line with the current Bundesliga level. MLS won't need to reach revenues of the Bundesliga to be considered a top league in the world, but they will need to be close to be paying quality players closer to market rate. Let's assume that MLS can achieve Don's dream by reaching Ligue 1 revenues but paying Bundesliga salaries. Finally, let's assume that Ligue 1 revenues grow at a modest 4% per year until 2022.”

“…”

“The target MLS revenue growth of 16% is very aggressive but Don Garber has a good amount of low hanging fruit to pick. The new rumored TV deal is for about $100M in 2015 and would increase the 2012 revenues (the basis for these numbers) by nearly 15%. The next TV deal might fetch the same 15% growth or more. MLS has also announced a five-team expansion plan which will bring at least 26% growth as the teams come on. Without doing much, MLS can get almost a third of the way to the goal according to my calculations.”

Okay, I pray that Jared will forgive me for lifting so many of his brilliant words from his article. Go read the whole piece because it’s great. Unfortunately it’s a bit of an involved article, and I just wanted to frame a great thought from his head.

The United States first division is growing, and growing at a substantial rate. That is due to the injection of money and the fact they can start paying players what their worth. This brings in more players from all over the place that can use the league as not just a place to end their career, but really to start it.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be negotiated this year after the season is over. I get that most of us sports fan are sick of labor talks and news of player strikes. I read you loud and clear. The thing that makes this different is simply that the league gets better with increase salary caps for clubs and the increase of minimum player wages. I don’t want there to be a work stoppage, but with the increased revenue from the TV deal that MLS just signed, they owe it to the players and fans to further the cause of soccer in this country.

 

3a) It’s not just about overpaying old guys to get eyeballs, MLS is acquiring young and exciting talent…

The main example you could probably point to for young guys coming into the league is Fredy Montero. Montero has transitioned over the last 18 months from one of the MLS top scorers to being a perennial talent in Portugal. Montero, who spent four very good seasons in Seattle, had the opportunity to make mistakes in a league that pushed his abilities enough even four years ago.

Montero’s arrival was followed by an influx of young international talent.

Darlington Nagbe, for example, is an international and former collegiate star at the University of Akron. He has been a critical piece for the Portland Timbers, is one of the most creative and eccentric talents in all of MLS.

Fabian Castillo, the Columbian winger with plenty of technical prowess, passed up opportunities in Europe for a stable playing environment and a chance for consistent playing time in Dallas.

Deshorn Brown is a high-end prototypical speedster from Jamaica. In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, he lead his club in goals scored and took them to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

For every Montero, however, there will always be a player that just doesn’t work out. The examples are many. In spite of that, MLS has begun the reverse transition from retirement league to what many would call a feeder league. While many, if not most, would not purpose to spend the prime of their careers in MLS (see point: 3b), they can still make a fine career for themselves and good wages because of how the league has grown to reward these players.

More and more young players are coming here in the vein of Montero, now viewing the US as an opportunity to get on the radar of European scouts and develop a pathway to launch a more lucrative career while still having stability and having the chance to prove them in a physical league.

“The increased visibility in M.L.S. is attractive to the players, who also benefit from the league’s financial stability compared with some leagues in their home countries.” (Leander Schaerlaeckens, NY Times)

It’s true that MLS still has more players retire at the end of the year from soccer than will transfer out of its league, but the players that are being transferred out are going to better and better clubs.

 

3b) ...and some of that league talent is even in its prime.

As I said, there aren’t many who look at MLS and think “gosh, I could have a good living in the US in the prime of my career." However there are a few where the stars lined up perfectly and they've chosen to play in America rather than going abroad with their talents. Such examples are:

Diego Valeri, the creative midfielder from Argentina, has been a force since arriving in Portland. And teamed with their young budding star, Nagbe, they're a spectacular pair just to watch.

Juninho, the Brazilian, is often glossed over in terms of the whole league, but his consistency in LA and his ability to play both ways centrally is fantastic. He could be earning much more abroad but the allure of being on an iconic franchise and coached by one of the best US coaches in the business, Bruce Arena, keeps him in LA... for now.

Osvaldo Alonso is a unique case. His heroic escape from Cuba and passport situation limit his options abroad, but believe me... he has them. Yet, he loves Seattle and MLS. He's easily a top-3 midfielder in the entire league and still has a couple prime seasons left in the tank.

Matt Besler, the Sporting KC and USMNT centerback has had chances to go abroad, and yet here he is in his prime. This has happened by way of MLS introducing retention funds to pay for... well, people whom they define as worthy of using it. His salary relative to the cap has been kept manageable because of those funds and he loves playing in Kansas City. He's possibly and probably the best defender in MLS.

 

4) It’s not just about foreign talent; we have a thriving league to grow future US national team talent.

Players like Shane O’Neil (Colorado), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Chicago) and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle) are just a few names that play significant roles on their MLS clubs, and they still can't drink legally in this country. You could almost have thrown Will Trapp (Columbus) on this list too, but he busted the beer-drinking landmark at the beginning of the year.

All four have been featured in U-23 matches gearing up for the Olympics, just two short years away, and all look to be prominent members of future World Cup teams. There are others worth mentioning also, but the point here is that MLS is starting to become a facilitator of growing US talent. That’s important.

That doesn’t even highlight players such as Gyasi Zardes or Jack McInerney, who are both big-time names in the league and may not qualify as members of the Olympic roster. It also doesn’t include 19-year old striking sensation Diego Fagundez, who just graduated from high school two weeks ago and just entered his fourth season as a member of the New England Revolution. Sadly enough, he is still technically not a US citizen…yet.

 

5)  There is parity, and possibly more so here than in any other relevant league in the world.

“The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric. Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15-league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.”  - Alex Olshansky

 

“This consistency, when combined with MLS’s overall lower variation, results in a lower proportion of the MLS’s points variation resulting from actual talent differences. The overall impact is that MLS table results are nearly a 50/50 split between talent and luck.” - Zach Slaton

Everyone hates the Yankees and yet wants to be them. It’s one of the greatest catch-22’s in sports. We all hate the winner---unless, of course, it’s us. MLS has developed a single entity program that just doesn’t lend itself to helping clubs that win, but it helps those that do not. In fact it’s worse to finish middle of the pack in the league than to finish at the back.

The league subsidies the salary cap of certain teams based on the order in which the teams finished. Teams towards the bottom get certain stipend (called allocation money) that assists in pay down contracts for cap purposes. Teams at the top also are awarded this money as a means of deepening the team for international competition in CONCACAF Champions League. This enables them to compete against the Mexican League teams that often tend to be superior in talent depth.

This all creates an environment on a yearly basis that creates volatility in casting predictions and makes the whole process rather difficult. A team can be good and have bad luck (see: LA Galaxy) or it can be mediocre with good luck (see: Real Salt Lake, according to Matthias), or it can have best of both worlds (see: Seattle Sounders). The beauty is that teams are never that far out of it, and never that far ahead.

The team that serve as the best example of this anything-can-happen league is DC United. Our readers had predicted prior to the season that they would miss the play-offs and would be generally sit near the bottom. In fact 15% thought they would end up dead last, opposed to the less than 1% that thought they would win the conference. Currently sitting nearly halfway through the season, they are in good position to fight for that very chance. And last year, this is the same club that nearly set all types of records for being anemic and generally pathetic in their overall performance.

There are few, if any, instances in which you can point to a club going from worst to best in a single season. The 1990 Atlanta Braves come to mind for me, but thinking abroad in the world of soccer, that seems improbable if not all together impossible. In MLS, it's a yearly event.

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These are just a few reasons on why you should turn your attention to Major League Soccer after the World Cup. I'm sure others could add to this list, and generally speaking I know I missed things that others would include. But in talking with so many people down here in the South, I felt compelled to at least try to provide a this motivation to get involved in a dynamic league right here in the United States.