Lowered Expectations: The International "Break" by Harrison Crow

I know that everyone is pretty wrapped up with the International Break and how awesome it has been for those in North America between Canada winning twice, Mexico looking like a world power, and the US ... well, two out of three isn’t bad right?

 But don’t forget we had Major League Soccer last weekend! So let’s talk about that and the happiness associated five missed golden opportunities, as we do every week. Let’s get it!

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Lowered Expectations: Katai is Fired Up by Harrison Crow

You may or may not remember that I like to write about how shots from good locations don’t become goals. This was, once upon a time, a weekly feature here. Drew has begged me to come and start writing again, so here we are back again.

Those of you who may not be familiar with this column of mine, please, allow me to introduce to you the idea of expected goals. It’s the probability a given shot attempt would be scored, taking into account specific criteria captured at the time of the shot.

In this column we like to talk about what the expected goals model sees, and also what it doesn’t, when arriving with the xG number. The theme of this column is to take the five highest probability shots from open play (i.e. excluding free kicks and set pieces) of the previous week that didn’t end with the ball in the back of the net.

It also often turns into me decrying terrible crosses into the box that the model likes but are in actuality terrible chances that are awful and stupid and should be outlawed. Okay, well... let’s get started!

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With Or Without You (WOWY): a plus-minus alternative for soccer by Cheuk Hei Ho

Plus-minus measures the impact of a player on their team’s performance. Originally invented by hockey general managers, every player on the ice is awarded a plus when their team scores a goal while every opponent player on ice gets a minus. The higher the plus-minus rating, higher the net positive of goals scored for a player’s team. In terms of plus-minus, the beste player has the highest plus-minus score, and the worst player has the lowest. Plus-minus has also been modified for use in basketball, first by 82games, and now more famously by ESPN

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xN: Deadline Day Edition by Ian L.

I’m writing this as Dave Kasper is likely just rolling around his office covered in fax paper shouting orders to his underlings and swinging for the rafters with wild abandon. Yes. The fact that MLS is about to be used as leverage for a much more lucrative move to China for Mesut Ozil shows just how far we’ve come as a league in the last few years. What about Mario Balotelli? DC United is interested and so the dream continues to live, teasing us mercilessly. If there is one thing that Washington DC needs in 2020 it is Mario Balotelli storming around the capital doing crazy Mario Balotelli stuff like, I don’t know, pushing a tourist into the reflecting pool and then handing them $1800 cash. It boggles the mind really. Ola Kamara is already on his way to DC United and someone should probably tell him ahead of time if he’s going to be replaced once again by one of the world’s most infamous soccer personalities. But all that is for later. Right now let’s just close our eyes and imagine DC United setting Wayne Rooney free only to be rewarded with Ola Kamara, Mario Balotelli, and Mesut Ozil. Ha. Nah…


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Using Expected Threat to Find the Best Shot-Creators in MLS by Arjun Balaraman

Growing up as a Manchester United fan, I have been fortunate enough to have seen some brilliant attacking players, but amidst a bevy of exciting talent one man stood out as a different kind of goalscorer – a comparatively unheralded striker from Mexico: Javier Hernandez – more commonly known as Chicharito.  

The fascinating part about Hernandez’s game was how he scored those goals. Chicharito is the ultimate goal poacher, a real throwback to the earlier decades when strikers were meant to sit in the box and score goals – nothing else. While Ronaldo et al., often created their goal scoring opportunities with their ability to move with the ball, Chicharito’s skill was moving without the ball. With his ability to, somehow, always be in the right place at the right time, Hernandez has made a career of tap-ins and intuitive finishes. In fact, all 52 of his goals in the Premier League have come from inside the box.

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Records Are Fun - Let's Acknowledge These Accomplishments Before Vela Erases Them by Jacob Beckett

Records are fun. Recognizable numbers like 56 (game hitting streak - baseball), 100 (points in a game - basketball), 2,000 (rushing yards - football), 61 70 73 (home runs - baseball) give everyone something to root for and an easy way to track the greatest games or seasons of all time.

For a long time, MLS had 27. In the inaugural 1996 season, Roy Lassiter scored 27 goals, and no one was able to match it for a decade and a half. But then a man named Wondo hit the figure in 2012, Bradley Wright-Phillips did it again in 2014, and a seemingly very angry young man named Josef Martinez obliterated the mark with 31 goals last season.

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How the Quakes Dominated the Cali Classico... Again by Anay Patel

In addition to being one of the most storied rivalries in MLS history, the California Classico has an extra flair to it in 2019. New San Jose manager Matias Almeyda played for and managed Argentinian giant River Plate, and new LA Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto played for and managed their hated rival Boca Juniors. In addition to that, Almeyda managed Banfield for a period, the rival of Lanús, where Schelotto managed his first side. So on paper the coaching matchup should be about equal. In reality, it hasn’t been.

Following San Jose’s 3-0 win in the first edition of the 2019 California Clasico, LA Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto and captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic dismissed the win, claiming that the scoreline was not reflective of the close nature of the match. After all, the Galaxy were missing key players Jonathan dos Santos and Uriel Antuna, who were away on Gold Cup duty. Earthquakes homegrown player Tommy Thompson was dismissive of the comments, remarking that “there’s always a scoreboard, after the game and it said 3-0.” For the rematch only two weeks later, the table was set for a very interesting tactical matchup between two new managers trying to implement their philosophy into their clubs. In actuality, Almeda’s side came out on top again, this time by a score of 3-1.

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Loons Calling: How Minnesota United is Exceeding Expectations by Carl Carpenter

Making the step up from the NASL into Major League Soccer can be extremely difficult (commiserations Cincinnati fans), and Minnesota’s first two seasons in MLS are an excellent example of this. Defensively, the Loons struggled to keep the ball out of the net consistently (Statistically the worst defense in the league in 2017, and tied for third worst in 2018). Adrian Heath’s insistence on playing a high-risk/high-reward brand of soccer was seen as extremely foolhardy considering the construction of his roster, and his history of “brand over results” which ultimately cost him his job at Orlando City. 

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Breaking the Unbreakable: LAFC is Dominating MLS but Can Anybody Stop Them? by Cheuk Hei Ho

LAFC aren’t just good. They are a force.

They have 1.43 Expected Goal (xG) differential per game. No team in MLS history has had more than 1 xGD/game since 2013. LAFC’s xGD is only 0.12 fewer than Atlanta United’s and Red York Red Bulls’ COMBINED. Granted, we haven’t finished even half of the schedule. Things may change comes the last part of the season when LAFC slow down to prepare for the playoffs. But for now, you are witnessing the best team MLS has ever produced. They don’t just beat you, they obliterate you. 

The Supporter Shield is as good as gone; our prediction model gives LAFC 76% to win the league. But MLS is about the playoffs. In the new single game format, you only need to get lucky once. Every team has weaknesses. You just need to find those cracks.

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There's Something "a miss" in Wondo's Legacy by Jamon Moore

Christopher Wondolowski should be an American sports icon. He should be beloved and admired. If he is hated by anyone, it should be by MLS fans in the same way Indianapolis Colts fans “hate” Tom Brady. He is the underdog of underdogs – the working class man who beats the talented elite at their own game. At 36, he keeps breaking scoring records in MLS, including setting the all-time big one a few weeks ago with a four-goal match. He is on the precipice of being the first player to score 10+ goals in 10 straight MLS seasons. His time and opportunity with the US Men’s National Team should have been longer than it was – but for many fans, there would be no cry for Wondolowski’s return to the national team. No matter how many goals he scored or how often his league form was more impressive than the strikers getting the call, his national team legacy was cemented. Outside of a few San Jose Earthquakes fans and pundits, there are no calls for “Wondo” to be on the team by the American soccer public because of one infamous situation that occurred on July 1, 2014.

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