Cracking the Code: Analyzing the Audi Player Index by Kevin Shank

In my Sports Analytics class at Saint Joseph's University, my professor would always stress the importance of having a valid data source; “Put garbage in, get garbage out,” he would tell the class. If the data has a bias, isn’t random, or is miscalculated, then any resulting conclusion is not credible. In order to have a sound analytic method, it is imperative that the data source is not “garbage.” For the course’s final project, I chose to analyze players’ cost efficiency and also use binary integer programming to build an optimal lineup. Ironically enough, I decided to have my data source be none other than the Audi Player Index.

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Is Steve Clark a Good Fit for Columbus? by Bill Reno

Over the course of a year, the Columbus Crew have gone from runner-ups in the 2015 MLS Cup to bottom dwellers, finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference in 2016. After losing a number of games off conceding late goals and tying over a third of their games, Crew fans are right to be polarized when evaluating their team, especially the defense. In 2015 the Crew conceded 53 goals and another 58 in 2016, both getting close to most in the league. Currently all eyes are on Steve Clark, with debate on both sides on if he is the right goalkeeper for Columbus.

Every team needs a goalkeeper that fits their style of play. For example, if a defense is bleeding crosses, they may want a strong goalkeeper to handle the dangerous lobs into the box. When looking at Columbus, it’s easy to look at the number of goals they’re giving up and think they need a better shot stopper, when in reality, Clark is above average on saving shots in both expected goals and save percentage. The Crew don’t need a spectacular shot stopper. Instead, there are two main things they require from their goalkeeper.

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Playoff Preview: Toronto FC v Philadelphia Union by Coleman Larned

Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union enter the playoffs in undesirable form and have experienced opposite trajectories in the regular season.

After a stale first half of the season, TFC has regained talented players from injury (welcome back, Jozy & Giovinco!) and have lost only three times since mid-season. This form tailed off as they closed out conceding six goals in three games. 

The Union began their campaign proving most people wrong by winning with an up-tempo, athletic, well disciplined style. But the wheels fell off around mid-season and the Union are historically bad for a playoff team.

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Finishing in MLS Part 2: Is Finishing Real? Heading Towards a Conclusion by Sean Steffen

The topic of “finishing” is always a fun one in the analytics world, and, last April, it’s one I studied using data going all the way back to the beginning of the league to see if I could find evidence for a statistically significant gradient of repeatable finishing skill in MLS. Click the link to read the piece in full, but the short of it was, while there were many instances where a forward outperformed their xG by a wide margin or converted an unusual number of their shots on goal, these seasons were rarely repeated within a player’s career as you would expect if such numbers were tied to a skill.

After such a long and arduous study, you can imagine my consternation any time I read a piece praising or criticizing a player’s finishing skill within the league. In fact, when Jordan Morris told the New York Times, “my finishing is still raw,” I nearly had an aneurysm. Doesn't anyone read long winded statistical articles anymore? (Answer: no) But read more after the jump.

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NYCFC in 2016: Viera's New Style by Alex Brodsky

Following an underwhelming inaugural season under Jason Kreis, New York City FC’s ownership sought a dramatic change. They enlisted the help of Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira to oversee their team’s sophomore campaign. Opting for a foreign manager raised more than a few eyebrows among MLS media. The former French National Team captain has proved doubters wrong but still 2016 has been anything but smooth for NYCFC.

After New York City FC’s first game against the Chicago Fire, it appeared as though history may repeat itself. They edged out with a 4-3 victory but defensively they looked as shaky as in 2015. Since that game, however, Vieira has taken great strides. By implementing a unique style of build-up play Vieira has managed to maintain NYCFC’s strong attack while addressing their porous defense. New York City’s 1.56 xG against/game sits at 5th worst in the league but they’ve improved from 2015 by .26, the highest mark over that time. 

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MLS Goal Scoring Increases in the 2nd Half of Games (a Lot) - Why? by Jared Young

If you like goal scoring then tuning in for the 2nd half of MLS games will bring you 32% more pleasure than watching the 1st half. There have been 478 goals scored in the 2nd half versus just 363 in the 1st half through September 29th. Finishing rates improve from 10.3% to 10.9% between halves but the primary driver of the increased goal scoring is a 24% increase in shots attempted. Why do shots increase so much?

Possible answers after the jump.

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Playoff Probabilities by Kevin Minkus

You may have noticed that yesterday we debuted our playoff probabilities for 2016! It will also show up as an option in the upper right corner until the end of the season.

As in our 2015 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 2016 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. A bit more in-depth explanation follows:

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Tactics, Talent, and Success: Diversity in Scoring and Chance Creation by Benjamin Bellman

I’ve been wondering for some time about soccer teams’ reliance on star power and top statistical producers. Is it really a good strategy? Are teams with one main goal scorer or playmaker easier to “figure out”? When the game is on the line, is a singular threat easier to neutralize than a team with a plethora of attacking options? And would this kind of reliance actually hamper a team’s success across a season?

My skepticism must seem foolish to European executives, given the huge fees Gonzalo Higuain and Paul Pogba went for this summer. But the conventional wisdom is different in the American sports landscape. In our most popular sports, one person simply can’t do it all. Here, Defense Wins Championships. The San Antonio Spurs, the best NBA team of the past two decades, emphasize team play over everything. Peyton Manning was completely underwhelming in both of his Super Bowl wins, needing his incredible teams to carry him to glory. One star pitcher or one star hitter is simply not capable of winning a World Series on their own. The anecdotal evidence even appears in MLS. Chris Wondolowski’s 27 goals in 2012 didn’t get the Earthquakes past the first round of MLS playoffs; neutralize MVP Sebastian Giovinco, and 2015’s Toronto FC didn’t have much else to offer.

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PScore: Modeling Tactics in MLS by game state - August 2016 by Jared Young

Friday August was 12th was Elephant Day and it’s seems like as good a time as any to free some elephants from our rooms and get them back into the wild where they belong. What elephants? What rooms, you might ask? Glad you asked. The room we are in right now is one where soccer tactics are turned into numbers. For those new to the Pscore series the idea is to very simply describe soccer tactics with two numbers, one offensive and one defensive. What tactics are quantified? From an offensive point of view we want to know if a team desires possession of the ball or is more direct with their play. From a defensive point of view we want to know how high up the pitch a team pressures their opponent. All styles can be effective but two in particular are generally used in combination. On the proactive side you have your Barcelona’s of the world that look to work possession on offense and counterpress when they lose the ball to get it back quickly. On the reactive side there are examples like Leicester City that will sit their defense deeper and then play directly on the counterattack once in possession. As you’ll quickly see Major League Soccer sports a handful of those type of clubs and a few different styles. If you are curious how these numbers are developed I’ve written about that in detail before and you can read it here.

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