Expected Narratives: There's a Bad Loon on the Rise by Ian L.

It finally happened! I got one right last week! I did! I was doing a sarcasm and lo and behold I got a take dead on. ANALYSIS! Yes Atlanta and Cincinnati did in fact turn out to be a low scoring affair between two evenly matched sides. It feels like six months ago I was called a straight up hater for raising my eyebrows at De Boer’s most recent entries on his resume, but now discussing whether or not he knows what he’s doing is the take du jour. What can I say folks? I was bashing FDB before most of you had even heard of him. I have it on vinyl.

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Almeyda and Schelotto: Two New MLS Coaches and their Distinctive Styles by Anay Patel

Matias Almeyda and Guillermo Barros Schelotto are two of the most experienced managers in MLS history. They are also both just beginning their careers as MLS coaches.

To start his managerial career, Almeyda retired as a player and took over a River Plate side that had been relegated for the first time in club history. Immediately after that season, he led the team back to promotion with a first place finish in the second division. Almeyda did the same with Banfield in Argentina, winning his second Primera B Nacional title. At Chivas Guadalajara in 2015, Almeyda inherited another difficult situation, tasked with bringing the Mexican giant back into the spotlight. With Chivas, Almeyda won Copa MX twice, Supercopa MX, Liga MX, and CONCACAF Champions League. Now, he has embarked on a new journey with the San Jose Earthquakes, who finished in last place in 2018.

After leading the Columbus Crew to an MLS Cup as a player (he won both league MVP and Finals MVP in 2008), Guillermo Barros Schelotto started his managing career with Lanus in Argentina. He led the club to a Copa Sudamericana, the second most prestigious club competition in South America. Schelotto then signed with the club he spent most of his playing career with, Boca Juniors, and led them to two league titles.

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Using k-means to learn what soccer passing tells us about playing styles by ASA Staff

When you talk about a soccer team, you almost always talk about its style: high-pressing, possession-heavy, parking-the-bus, etc. A team’s style not only signifies how they play on the field but also reflects its coaching. Since there aren't guidelines on how the style of the team should be defined, everyone uses their own rules and we can't directly compare each other's descriptions.

An accurate quantitative description of the style is needed. It can help one to properly analyze not only the opponent's team but also his/her own team. With an accurate method to describe the style, one can scientifically evaluate if a training exercise is efficient at serving its purpose. We previously have used dimension reduction technique, t-SNE, to find MLS teams with similar styles based on the spatial distribution of activities and pass networks. This time we use a different method, k-means clustering of pass types, to quantitatively measure style, tactical specialization, and the influence of coaching on a team’s system.

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Expected Narratives: A Bad Defense of a Bad Defense by Ian L.

We’re back! MLS has returned and as goeth MLS so too goeth the takes. Now, it would obviously be silly to make any grand sweeping proclamations based on only one week of soccer. It would be pointless, likely incorrect, and wildly irresponsible. So obviously we’re going to do it anyway. Let’s get that narrative machine cranked up!

Chatter amongst the savvier MLS analysts has been about Atlanta and SKC rising to dominate their divisions. While I don’t exactly have a seat at that particularly niche Algonquin round table, I do try and make myself available to refill their drinks or mop up any spills Tenorio makes when he gets over excited about a scoop, and impressionable as I am, I too was convinced of these teams being unmatched in their respective divisions. I think a good many MLS enthusiast was surprised to see the opening weekend come and go with neither of the presumptive divisional favorites taking even a point, and Atlanta being the only team in the entire league that couldn’t even muster a goal.

Benny Olsen should charge 200k TAM per team and offer up whatever he’s figured out that often makes Atlanta become utterly pedestrian when they come up against mighty DC. Actually, it seems like whatever the Red Bulls do also works more often than not.

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Passing Model Update by Matthias Kullowatz

We updated our xGoals model a few weeks ago, as well as our process for continuously updating it throughout the season. Naturally, we’ve done the same for the xPassing model, which estimates the probability of any given pass being completed based on a number of details about the pass. You can read more about the original model here, but here’s the summary of the new model:

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Every One of Our 2019 MLS Team Season Previews by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

The season is about to begin! After almost three weeks of releasing previews, we’re finally done. If you missed any or just want to make sure you’re ready for the season, here’s every one of them.

Special thanks to Ryan Anderson (@mlsfantasystats) for creating the graphics that appear at the top of every preview.

Eastern Conference
Atlanta United by Tiotal Football
Chicago Fire by Kevin Minkus
FC Cincinnati by Eliot McKinley
Columbus Crew by Eliot McKinley
D.C. United by ExiledMLS
Montreal Impact by Eric Walcott
New England Revolution by Ben Bellman and Drew Olsen
New York City FC by DummyRun
New York Red Bulls by Harrison Crow
Orlando City SC by Ian Lamberson
Philadelphia Union by Jared Young
Toronto FC by Jared Young

Western Conference
Colorado Rapids by Benjamin Bellman
FC Dallas by Jason Poon
Houston Dynamo by Harrison Crow
L.A. Galaxy by Harrison Crow
Los Angeles FC by Eric Walcott
Minnesota United by Ryan Anderson
Portland Timbers by Drew Olsen
Real Salt Lake by Kevin Minkus
San Jose Earthquakes by Jamon Moore
Seattle Sounders by Ian Lamberson
Sporting Kansas City by Harrison Crow
Vancouver Whitecaps by Cheuk Hei Ho

Sporting KC 2019 Season Preview by Harrison Crow

In the Sporting Kansas City playoff preview last year I wrote that for SKC in 2018, the bottom didn’t fall out. That doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy, but it has been an ongoing theme through the years with Peter Vermes’ teams. His up tempo and high press style has often faced scrutiny due lack of rotation. It’s led some to question whether Vermes’ tactical approach is viable for 34 to 40 games per season.

But their late season volatility isn’t all that surprising when you consider how a lack of depth during an MLS season can cause issues. It’s even less surprising that SKC would have encountered it considering their organizational constraints over the years.

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New York City FC 2019 Season Preview by Dummy Run

Here's the weird thing about New York City Football Club in the Year of Our Lord 2019: after all the autumnal sturm und drang, the late-season slide, the second-round playoff bounce, and Domènec Torrent's desastre of a postseason presser, the club had a whole offseason to clean house and bring in Torrent's team and they just kind of ... didn't. What you'll see on opening day is more or less the same lineup you know and love (or used to love last summer but now hate with a burning passion because they lost some soccer games). Even my boy Ben Sweat's still out there, which can be a beautiful thing as long as a foul pole’s obstructing your view of the defensive third.

So, uh, what gives? Allow me to resubmit to you the possibility that Dome’s team was maybe actually not that bad at soccer last season. That in fact their +0.55 expected goal differential per game was the second best in MLS during Torrent’s tenure, a marked improvement from under Patrick Vieira. And that their best run of games came without David Villa or Yangel Herrera, this offseason’s two major departures. Maybe Claudio Reyna wasn’t crazy to think all this team needed was a few new pieces for things to fall into place.

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Seattle Sounders 2019 Season Preview by Ian L.

I suppose that by Seattle’s lofty standards you could consider last season to be a bit of a disappointment. For the first time in three years, they weren’t contesting the MLS Cup final, having been knocked from the competition in heartbreaking fashion by Portland on penalties after 120 minutes of what can very reasonably be called the most exciting playoff match in team history. So how do you bounce back? Is there actually anything to bounce back from? Why don’t teams have long-sleeved jersey options all of a sudden? What’s actually going on with Adidas anyway? If the Seattle Sounders were a character in Game of Thrones which one would they be? We shall endeavor to answer some of these questions within.

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FC Cincinnati 2019 Season Preview by Eliot McKinley

To Minnesota, or to Atlanta, that is now the question for an MLS expansion team. The 2017 MLS expansion teams took divergent paths to roster building. Atlanta supplemented their young expensive South American signings with older proven MLS veterans. Minnesota relied on a corps of players brought up from their NASL squad and a more journeyman group of MLS players, sprinkled with some lower profile international imports and no Designated Players. FC Cincinnati has answered the question with an emphatic “Minnesota.”

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