MLS Prospects in the NCAA Quarterfinals by A.J. Barnold

The MLS Conference Finals are done, and only MLS Cup remains on the American soccer schedule for 2017.  The MLS fans' offseason depression is starting to kick in for the long, dreary (read: short and really not that bad) offseason.  Not so fast, my friend… continue the fun with the NCAA quarterfinals this weekend!

Between Homegrown Players, Generation Adidas contracts, and January’s SuperDraft, it’s a fair bet that over the next two months you’ll hear many of the big names still playing in the Elite Eight (especially if you’re a Chicago Fire supporter). Satiate your need for statistics and learn who leads the high-flying Demon Deacon and Tar Heel attacks, the backbone of the Hoosiers’ defensive fortress, and how to tell the Cardinals from the Cardinal (that one’s tough for all of us).

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What's the Point of Practicing Penalties? by Kevin Minkus

Note: If you're not interested in the math, skip down to “With that in mind". Alternatively, if you're especially interested in math, checkout my github repo with the data and a jupyter notebook.

What if we wanted to rank MLS penalty kick takers? What would be the best way to go about it?

We could look at historical PKs, and take the players who have converted the highest percentage of their chances. Here are a handful a players who have scored 100% of their regular season penalties, going back to 2011:

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Sebastian Giovinco: Master of the Free Kick by Harrison Crow

When Sebastian Giovinco earned himself a free-kick just outside the penalty box on Monday night it felt as though fate was serving up one of those great moments. Ninety seconds later, as the 72nd minute expired, Giovinco delivered on the set-up by sending a curled ball over the half-hearted leap of the Red Bulls' defensive wall. It went barely above the head of roaming fullback Michael Murillo, goalkeeper Luis Robles couldn't move to his right fast enough, and Toronto was thrust into the lead in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The goal was amazing and the moment was a big one for a team on the road. As mentioned shortly afterwards on the broadcast and later repeated on seemingly every facet of social media, Seba has now scored more set piece goals than any other player since his arrival to Major League Soccer in 2015.

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Game Theory: The Seattle-Vancouver draw and who left more on the table by Harrison Crow

Let’s talk nerdy for a second and look at the atrocious and visually unappealing Seattle-Vancouver 0-0 tie from the standpoint of game theory and probabilities.

On the broadcast, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer stressed during the pregame interview the importance of his team earning a clean sheet. That telegraphed to both viewers at home and his opponents' that he planned to take a defensive first approach on the road. Hardly a surprising move.

Likewise, Carl Robinson, the Vancouver Whitecaps head coach, made it clear through social media leading up to the match that he would be utilizing his depth given health issues for Jordy Reyna and Cristian Techera, limiting an attack that ranked 15th in total expected goals.

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2017 MLS Goalkeeping in Review by Bill Reno

It’s that time of year again. Every October excitement fills the air over fans and media answering the question “who was the best goalkeeper in MLS this year?” Let no fanbase’s optimism come into question, as just about each one thinks their team has one of the best goalkeepers in the league. But the award is a true test only the most recent meritocracy. It forgets the past and rewards the present. To put it more simply, if the MLS GOTY award had a muppet doppelganger, without question it would be the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present from the Muppet Christmas Carol. A goalkeeper could have a constant howler in 2016 but be redeemed through grit and hard work in 2017. A young goalkeeper could be thrust into the limelight and propel their career forward. An aging veteran could finally receive the recognition they've worked so hard for. There are too many fantastic narratives to come to fruition and only one can actualize.

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MLS' Imbalanced Schedule: Talkin' Bout The Revolution by Jacob Beckett

One of the most common complaints about MLS is the lack of a balanced schedule. In many of the biggest leagues around the world, every team plays the same schedule. For a twenty-team league, a home-and-home against every team in the league yields 38 games where every team’s record can be easily compared to the rest of the league.

Given the vast geography covered by Major League Soccer, as well as the conference structure, MLS teams don’t all play the same schedule. Here’s the nitty-gritty on how this all worked for 2017: every team played 34 games. Those 34 games included one each against members of the opposite conference (unless you’re Minnesota or Atlanta – they played cross-conference matches against each other twice). Each team also plays everyone in their conference twice (once at home, once away), which makes up 20 games. Combined with the 11 out-of-conference matches we’re up to 31, leaving three additional games to be made up against some opponent (rivals often play three times) throughout the league.

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Kaka, Higuain, and the Effect of the Aging Playmaker by Kevin Minkus

Yesterday, Kaka announced he would not be returning to Orlando City in 2018. Though unfortunate, the move makes perfect sense. Kaka will be 36 for most of next season, and he’ll end 2017 having played the fewest minutes in his MLS career. His production is down markedly on a per-90 basis:

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Expected Goal Chains: The Link between Passing Sequences and Shots by Kevin Shank

For those who are not familiar with Expected Goal Chains (xGC), the metric looks at all passing sequences that lead to a shot and credits each player involved with the xG. Instead of just looking at expected goals and expected assists, which primarily benefits strikers and attacking midfielders, xG Chains is beneficial to every player involved in a sequence. Most importantly xGC credits those defensive or two-way players who are integral to a play’s build-up but don’t necessarily serve that final key pass. To calculate xGC, I assembled every pass, shot, foul, and defensive action so far in MLS and assigned a unique ID to each passing sequence. When a sequence ended in a shot, each player is attributed with the xG from that shot. StatsBomb defines it very succinctly, so the below steps are stolen directly from them: 

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Playoff Probabilities 2017 by Kevin Minkus

Today we're happy to debut our playoff probabilities and seeding probabilities for 2017! It will also show up as an option in the upper right corner of ASA until the end of the season.

As in our 2016 iteration, playoff probabilities come from a combination of where teams are now in the tables, what their remaining schedule is, and how good our model thinks they are. The remaining games of the 2017 season were simulated 10,000 times based on win-loss-draw predictions for each game. The probabilities and averages given below are calculated from those simulations.

You'll notice that we're missing a Supporter's Shield column this year - that's because in all 10,000 of our simulations Toronto won it. To reiterate just how great Toronto's season is going, on the final weekend of the season last year we still had a 35.7% chance that Colorado would win the Shield.

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Adjusting team xGoals by Matthias Kullowatz

By Matthias Kullowatz (@mattyanselmo)

When we produced the game-by-game expected goals results last week, we were surprised to see that Seattle had outpaced Portland 4.0 to 1.7. That didn't feel right, but it didn't take long before we noticed that Seattle recorded five shots inside the six-yard box leading up to its first goal. Those shots added up to more than 2.0 expected goals, despite the fact that soccer's rules limit scoring to one goal at a time. 

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