Lost in Transition by Cheuk Hei Ho

Chris Armas is fighting a losing battle; in 2018, Jesse Marsch’s Red Bulls were one of the best teams in MLS. Their expected goal differential (xGD) was the fourth best since 2016, only behind Toronto (2016), Atlanta United (2018), and Los Angeles FC (2019). They were so good that many are sure that had Marsch stayed, they would have won the MLS Cup last year. Anything less than that was seen as a failure, which made a peaceful transition to a new era almost impossible in the critics’ eyes.

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Expected Narratives: Have Some Ambition by Ian L.

Narrative: Ambition Rankings

If there is one day on the MLS calendar that I dread with a clarity and purity often seen only in very expensive diamonds (let’s call them “diamonds of ambition”), it’s Grant Wahl’s annual musings on which MLS teams have proven their ambition the most. For those unaware, every year our nation’s preeminent soccer scribe sends out a questionnaire to every MLS team asking them to flex their financial bonafides and then ranks them according to how expensive their DPs are, whether or not they get good crowds, and that “it” factor that you can’t explain but Grant knows it when he sees it. Unsurprisingly, Atlanta tops this year’s list and Colorado pulls up the rear, but the middle is just gluttonously full of incisive takes. “We’ve invested 10 million dollars in our academy says one team”, “oh yeah well WE expanded our stadium so suck it” says another. “Tell me more” says Grant Wahl, and we’re left with a bunch of people squabbling over whether Jan Gregus or Pedro Santos is a more ambitious signing.

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The Impact of VAR on Penalties by Alex Bartiromo

A couple weeks ago I took a look at the role that penalties play in adding luck to the outcome of an MLS match. In the process of writing that article, something came up that warranted further investigation, but didn’t quite fit into my initial piece. We wondered whether the introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in 2017 had changed the distribution of penalty calls in MLS. With that in mind, I decided to take another look at the penalty data to see what I could find about the nature of penalty calls themselves, rather than how they affect the outcome of a match, and whether the introduction of new technology affected referees’ decisions.

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A Humble Request by ASA Staff

We have a humble request of you, our dear reader.

Honestly, we never expected to get here, but nonetheless here we are. American Soccer Analysis has been a labor of love for years. We are staffed by people with day jobs and families who create and maintain the site in their spare time (or at their day jobs when the bosses aren’t looking). While soccer analytics has yet to reach the same levels of mainstream awareness that we’ve seen in other major sports, we’re starting to see it gain a lot of traction. People beyond our initial circle of friends are now starting to become interested in what we’re producing, and that’s a wonderful thing that we could only have dreamed about just a few years ago.

With growth comes the occasional growing pains, and that’s where we find ourselves today. The Interactive Table application is the centerpiece of our website and by far the most accessed and utilized thing we offer. For the first time since its inception we are nearing the limit on user hours under Shinyapps.io’s “Basic” plan ($440 annually). We would very much like to upgrade to the next tier in order to ensure that the table isn’t shut down at any point due to overuse, but unfortunately upgrading increases our costs to $1,100 per year (the “Standard” plan).

So guess what we’re going to do next:

We’re asking for money! Not a lot of money, really. This would be one of the least ambitious kickstarters or gofundmes out there. The internet tip jar has been shown to be a viable method for a lot of people in our situation, so we’re biting the bullet and throwing one out there. That brings us to the point where we have to use those five little words that you long to hear from all of your most favorite podcasters and content creators: please check out our Patreon.

Here’s the whole pitch. If you enjoy the site, podcast, use our data, or just happen to be extremely wealthy and looking for something to do with your extra money, we would greatly appreciate a couple of bucks a month. We don’t need a lot to keep the site running, but we do need a little help.

So then, it’s very possible you have some questions about all of this and what it means for ASA going forward. I will try and answer some ahead of time:

Why do you need money all of a sudden?
More people are using the site! A lot more! This is excellent news for our community, but it means that our operating costs are about to jump sharply, as mentioned above. And that doesn’t include the roughly $200 it costs to maintain the website on Squarespace.

So how much money are you asking for?
We would at the very least like to get to $1,000 per year in order to pay for the next tier of bandwidth usage and cover general website costs. That’s something like $83 per month. There’s a Patreon for some people that make animations using Minecraft that gets like $1,700 per month, surely we can do $83.  

What if you get more money than you need?
We’ll buy the Colorado Rapids! Well, probably not, but having a little extra coin would give us the freedom to do new things. We’d like to make the interactive table a mobile app, we’d like to be able to have access to more data, pay for help to optimize the website, maybe do more podcasts - who knows? Also like two years ago at Sloan we ran up a $400 bar tab that Drew covered, and not one week goes by that he doesn’t remind us about that, so it would be good if we could finally pay him back.

What if you don’t get the money you need? Will the site stop?
We don’t think it will come to that, but the interactive table app may shut down at a certain point during the month if it’s accessed too much. We’d love to be able to keep paying out of pocket for this, but on a site that generates no income it’s just not feasible for us to keep doing so as the costs increase.

What will I get if I donate?
How does a sense of satisfaction from supporting something you use and appreciate sound? We’re still kicking around some ideas about some possible backer rewards, but we really don’t want to hold data or anything else back as exclusive. Certainly you’ll get a nice thank you and a mention somewhere on the site. If you have any ideas let us know. Hell, if there’s just something you want, ask and we may be able to do it.

How many goals would Josef Martinez have scored in 2017 if he hadn’t been injured?
If we say 50 will Atlanta fans each donate a dollar a month? Because if so, at least 50.

If I donate $100 a month will you fire Ian?
Definitely.

So that’s the pitch friends, we appreciate you taking the time to look this over and consider our request. We don’t want or expect to become rich as a result of all of this, we just want to keep providing the same level of access we’ve been able to thus far. If you can’t help at this time, that’s fine! Maybe someday down the road you can, but for right now, keep on using the site and the data. If you can throw a few dollars our way - it means more than you know. Here’s the link one more time.

XOXOXO,
Matty, Drew, Kevin, Ian, Harrison

Reep Revisited by Dave Laidig

I recently created a decent set of MLS possession data while working on another project, and I was curious if the patterns of the famous Reep analysis would hold for MLS. Thus, I attempted to replicate his result, and perhaps offer a couple new perspectives to the data.

I was first introduced to the legacy of Charles Reep while reading The Numbers Game (by Chris Anderson & David Sally). Reep was an early advocate for applying statistics to soccer, and was famous for tracking game events by hand over many seasons. According to his data, most goals were scored from possessions with three passes or fewer. And this was taken as empirical justification to play directly; minimizing the touches with longer passes in order to improve results.

Although Reep’s status as a pioneer in the sport is secure, many still debate the results and interpretation. Some critiques assert the underlying data was misinterpreted. Highlighting a simple majority of goals may not be the best analysis when most possessions had three or fewer passes anyway. Others suggest the structure of the analysis confuses correlation with causation; leading to misapplication of the results. In short, one can’t tell if the results were caused by the number of passes, or whether some other factors have causal roles. As I attempt to recreate the analysis; it’s worth stating the same criticisms and critiques apply to this replication effort as well.

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Hiding Behind Possession: FC Dallas' Youth Experiment by Cheuk Hei Ho & Jason Poon

For years, FC Dallas has been lauded for having one of -- if not the best, Academy programs in the United States. Dallas has signed the most Homegrown players in the league history (25), with no slowing down in sight. Despite having such a prolific Academy, it wasn’t until recent years that the club started taking full advantage of this system. And when former Academy Director Luchi Gonzalez took over as the head coach,  it was finally the go-time for the entire “Play Your Kids” movement. Part of that was by design; who else would know the former Academy players better than Luchi? Part of it was also timing; most of the Academy graduates had spent a significant amount of their formative soccer development years in the Dallas Academy and were ready to make the jump. With Gonzalez at the reign, it only made sense to usher in a youth movement.

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Hanging Chants: Analyzing MLS Goals of the Week Voting by Eliot McKinley

This week, news that is sure to shatter the confidence of MLS fans broke via Andrew Pearson on twitter: there may be massive election fraud happening during the weekly MLS AT&T Goal of the Week polls. Pearson revealed that Atlanta fans are running up record breaking vote totals by possibly untoward means. Furthermore, MLS may have tipped the scales against Seattle’s Cristian Roldan when the 2019 Week 10 award was handed to Ezequiel Barco despite Roldan winning the popular vote by 18 votes*. As fans, we demand answers. Don Garber should appoint Chris Mueller as an independent counsel to get to the bottom of these alarming reports.

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xN: Deadline Day Musings by Ian L.

It’s always fun to see what happens in MLS when the player store is about to close for the season. Some teams, having resolved all of their player needs early, get to relax and stand in judgment of those teams forced to scamper about on deadline day looking for oh god just ANY decent midfielder please. There’s a parable about an ant and a grasshopper you’ve no doubt heard. The ant stores up all the food they need for winter, while the grasshopper spends its time, I don’t know, hopping on grass I suppose. When winter comes the grasshopper begs the ant for some food but the ant is like lol, and there’s a lesson to be learned in that. Anyway, LAFC are the ant, Colorado are the grasshopper, and New England is the heretofore unseen third character - a drunk shirtless carpet beetle rolling around the snow screaming how they’re going to live forever.

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The Evolution of MLS Penalty Kicks (and How to Fix Them) by Alex Bartiromo

Back in 2017, Vox published a video summarizing research from Michael Mauboussin’s book The Success Equation, which ranked the major team sports on a scale of luck to skill using a formula that included games played, player size, number of possessions, chances, and various other factors. This research wasn’t intended to measure player skill—surprise! professional athletes tend to be very skillful at their chosen sport—but rather how well their sports “capture” that skill. in other words, the study sought to show how well results in those sports could be predicted by player skills. Soccer—specifically, the Premier League—came out as the second most “skill-based” of the major sports, ranking behind only basketball in terms of its non-randomness. Still, as anyone who’s watched any CONCACAF matches can attest, luck is an, um, “relevant” factor in the outcome of a match.

Still, beyond the obvious instances of human fallibility (and the question of if and how much the introduction of VAR has reduced this “luck factor” is a question that should be explored in more depth) the video brings up the question of what aspects of the sport are “lucky” vs. “skilled”, and whether the existing balance of those two is the most desirable.

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Lowered Expectations: Superman, Super miss? by Harrison Crow

Welcome to Lowered Expectations! Here we review some of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts which did not quite live up to expectations. We break down the GIFs through the lens of our expected goal model and discuss each one evaluating both the results and the process.

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