ASA First Touch: Second Edition / by Harrison Crow

This is ASA’s attempt at an ensemble wrap of various things pertaining to US Soccer things over the last week. This is not intended to be a deep retrospective or an overtly granular analytical take. These are quick and hard takes by our first rate crew.

USMNT Knuckle Sandwich

By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

The USMNT did not have their best week as they failed to score against both Argentina and Colombia finishing fourth in the Copa America Centenario. The most interesting statistic this week came in the form of an undefined number as the U.S. had a finishing rate against Argentina of 0/0, or something that can’t be expressed numerically. It’s tough to score when you don’t shoot. 

Whenever you finish fourth in a major tournament but don’t score in the final matches you will divide your contingent. Twitter might not be an accurate representation of the USMNT fanbase but it at least offers some data to consider. Many on twitter have been calling for Jurgen Klinsmann’s head despite the overall success of the team in the tournament. But just how divided are fans?

I found a Twitter sentiment analyzer from North Carolina State University and asked the algorithm to provide its thoughts on Klinsmann. Here are the results:

Looking at the most recent 102 tweets on the Sunday after the U.S. loss to Colombia it appears the Twittersphere is overwhelmingly positive. But I looked at each tweet individually and found some issues with the algorithm.

First that blue dot furthest to the left should be even further to the left. The tweet in fact tells Klinsmann (and Sunil Gulati for that matter) to “Burn in Hell” which I would label as upset rather than just tense. So the scale is questionable to begin with.

Next, there are a number of tweets simply quoting Klinsmann, who was obviously very positive about the performance of the team after the tournament. So I looked at each tweet individually and my unofficial analysis of these tweets is that roughly 55% of the ones that express an opinion either way are positive and 45% are negative toward the coach.

What can we take away from all this? Well, certainly Twitter sentiment analysis has a long way to go, but this one is pretty cool given it’s free.  The U.S. men and Klinsmann, whatever your lens, also have a long way to go. That issue was never going to be solved by one coach even over the course of two World Cup cycles. The most important question still remains, is enough progress being made? That’s even harder to measure than Twitter sentiment, as everyone’s divided opinion suggests.

CLINT DEMPSEY AND HIS COPA AMERICA

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Over the last few months there has been a glaring moment readily approaching the horizon of the United States Men’s National Soccer Team. People were anxious to know how Jurgen Klinsmann would deal with the nearing eventuality of Clint Dempsey and given his current declining performance in Major League Soccer with the Seattle Sounders.

Fast forward to the end of Copa America and the #BenchDempsey movement seems to be all but defunct. Dempsey ended the tournament the US leader in both goals and shots. But not just the leader, he was the only one with double digit shots on the team and three times more than next name on the list. Sadly, Gyasi Zardes, who, despite a sometimes conservative and overtly pragmatic approach inside the 18 yard box was that next name, finding a way to take six shots.

Shots are, like, kind of an important, if not an altogether vital, currency within the game. A sincere reality staring this team in the face is that on the whole they are rather terrible at regularly generating chances to score goals. That might have something to do with the personnel that are assembled, eleven at a time, than the pool as a whole.

Right now, Dempsey is the one player who has proven to regularly create shots at the “international level”.  Maybe that’s enough to get him to the next World Cup, maybe not. That is two years away and his skill set to create space and find a shot could diminish to the point to where he isn’t worth bringing. That a conversation to have at a later stage.

But the immediate focus for Jurgen Klinsman shouldn't be finding a replacement central defensive midfielder or finding a way to get Fabian Johnson into the attack, it’s finding a way to create more shots and not depend so heavily upon Clint Dempsey.

FRUSTRATION AND THE NEW YORK RED BULLS

By Alex Brodsky (@thehighpressblog)

Frustration has become a common theme for the New York Red Bulls this season. The past week saw Jesse March’s men hold a lead for 90’ across two games and come away with just a single point to show for it. These two matches surely conjure images in fans’ minds of the ugly stretch to open the season that saw the Red Bulls take 3 points from seven games. My advice for concerned fans? Don’t push that panic button yet. Your squad was fine then and is fine now.

Despite averaging an abysmal .43 points per game through the first seven matches, the Red Bulls maintained surprisingly good underlying numbers. Even with a -10 actual goal differential they managed a 2.5 expected goal differential. After that rough stretch Jesse Marsch made a quietly smart move: he did nothing. Marsch correctly recognized his squad was riding a massive wave of bad luck. He kept his faith in Bradley Wright-Phillips (who was underperforming his expected goals by a whopping 4.74 through seven matches) and the rest of the attacking core. This graph illustrates their woes early in the season and how their luck has turned since.

Since the initial cold streak that core has repaid their coach’s confidence with a whopping 2.3 goals per game. The players were always generating quality chances as well as they did in 2015 when they lead the league with 1.82 expected goals per game (.37 better than second place Toronto FC) but, to use basketball parlance, the shots just weren’t falling. On top of that their defense was also conceding at an unsustainably high rate. As both percentages regressed to the mean the goals started flowing and the points soon followed.

This is not to say the Red Bulls are perfect this year. The backline is undoubtedly an issue. Marsch’s men came into the week ranked 13th in expected goals against per game with 1.32. Without a centerback as adept at putting out fires as Matt Miazga, the squad was bound to see a decline from their 2015 form (5th best in the league at 1.09 xGA/game.) If Marsch can settle on a stable pairing - likely Aurelien Collin and Gideon Baah - that stays healthy, I’d expect the Red Bulls to see their xGA/game mark steadily improve.

Ultimately a narrow away loss to Real Salt Lake with a B-ish squad and a somewhat unlucky draw away to Columbus shouldn't set off any alarms just yet for the New York Red Bulls. This week wasn't the Red Bulls’ early season demons catching back up to them. They’re still poised to battle for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference, trailing the leading Philadelphia Union by just 3 points. They won’t defend their Supporters’ Shield but they have little else to worry about.