Some Facts about Corner Kicks / by Matthias Kullowatz

I find myself getting worked up for corner kicks. Whether it's anxiety because the opponent is about to whip one into the Timbers' box, or hope because the Timbers are about to do the same to the opponent. There is a chance that corner kick will result in a goal, so perhaps my feelings are justified. However, statistics don't find corner kicks nearly as exciting. In 2013, our data shows that the 3,185 corner kicks taken led to just 1,110 shots, 258 of which were on target and 80 of which found the back of the net. That means that only one-third of corner kicks ever produced shots, and the finishing rate on those shots was just 7.2 percent--compared to the league's typical finishing rate of about 10 percent in 2013. Though shots from corners tended to be struck closer to goal, they also tend to be taken with the head, which is the least efficient body part for finishing. In the end, just one of 40 corner kicks could be found in the back of the net (2.5%).

For comparison's sake, let's take a look at how often other possessions lead to goals. Thanks to Alex at Tempo-Free Soccer, we can estimate that an average team gets about 4,500 possessions in a season. Here's how those 4,500 possessions end for a league-average team.

End in… Possessions Shots Shots/Poss Goals Goals/Poss Finish%
Corner 170 60 0.353 4.3 0.025 7.2%
Attacking 3rd* 2,030 375 0.180 40.0 0.019 10.7%

We can see that, while corner kicks produced about twice as many shots per possession than typical attacking-third possessions, they only led to about 25% more goals per possession due to packed boxes and low finishing rates. But not all attacking-third possession are equal, and it seems as though many of the possessions that lead to corners come from attacking-third possessions that are deeper in the opponent's territory. As the attacking-third possessions get closer and closer to goal, they probably become more dangerous than corner kicks. It may be more correct to say that teams don't earn corners, but rather, they settle for corners.

These numbers aren't as precise as I'd like, but they still sobered me up a little for corner kicks. But no promises that I can keep my cool if the Timbers are facing a corner in the waning seconds stoppage time.

*Teams typically lose possession on bad passes about 89 times per match, and about 43.5 of those instances occur in the attacking third according to OPTA data. This led to a 48.8-percent estimate of possessions ending in the final third.