MLS Top 50

ASA Spring MLS Top-50 Rankings: Final Thoughts by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

If you haven't yet, check out the top 50 MLS player rankings that we released last week.

The initial conversation that took place when we entered the planning stages for this project had us talking about a top-100. Looking back, that maybe would have lead to a lot less scrutiny. What's the saying: "aim small, miss small?" Had we posted a top-20 more comments and frustration would be directed to those that were included than those left out. I think 50 has been a good mark and I think that's what we're going to stay with.

One the biggest things that has been hardest to discern in this endeavor is what type of value one position has in relation to others. I think we can all agree that attackers have most of our attention, the problem that most of us have is determining at what point does the value of an attack diminish that a defender or goalkeeper becomes just as valuable? Obviously that answer isn't necessarily spelled out in this project but it's something that each of us that had to consider with our vote.

Beyond the existential questions that come with this sort of thing there are some interesting correlations and general observances that come too. Let's talk about some of these things.

POSITIONAL REPRESENTATION

While we talked about strikers being highly valued (six of 14 finished in the top-10) there were more midfielders included in total. However, you have to consider there are twice as many midfielders on the pitch taking up minutes.

Looking on the defensive side you have Omar Gonzalez finishing 15th as the top defender in the pool and Bill Hamid finished with top honors at 16th overall for keepers.

However, an interesting note is that Chris Tierney made the list (barely) while ranking fourth overall in expected assists while teammate Kelyn Rowe who is having a big season thus far and siting 20th overall in xG+xA.

TEAMS REPRESENTATION

The biggest take away from this is that no longer can MLS teams have a player or the top 2-3 players and dominate. DC United, while agonizingly frustrating to understand,* exist as a cohesive and effective compilation of talent. Sporting has five players voted in the top-50 and yet sit mid table. In other words, having the best players doesn't translate to having the best team.

Teams need depth and more specifically quality depth. The chart above is another example of why managing your budget and not just counting on landing quality designated players is so very important.

* Check back here tomorrow for more on how DC United consistently "beat" the model.

ASA Spring MLS Top-50 Rankings: 10-1 by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Monday, I introduced the who, what, where and why of this ranking, which was culled from the ballots of team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. I'm sure there are going to be some disagreements, so hit us up on twitter or leave a comment below.

Check back later in the week for the rest of the rankings:
Monday: 50 through 41
Tuesday: 40 through 31
Wednesday: 30 through 21
Thursday: 20 through 11
Friday: 10 through 1

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ExpG: Expected Goals according to our player rankings
ExpA: Expected Assists
ExpSaves: Expected Goals Against minus Actual Goals Against according to our goalkeeper rankings.
Touch%: Percent of team's touches while on the field
TxGp90: Total Expected Goals per 90 minutes
Shots Created: Shots plus Key Passes

10. Fabian Castillo - Midfielder, FC Dallas
Total Score: 631

9. Michael Bradley - Midfielder, Toronto FC
Total Score: 632

8. Jozy Altidore - Forward, Toronto FC
Total Score: 640

7. Octavio Rivero - Forward, Vancouver Whitecaps
Total Score: 648

6. David Villa - Forward, New York City
Total Score: 703

5. Robbie Keane - Forward, LA Galaxy
Total Score: 719

4. Sebastian Giovinco - Forward, Toronto FC
Total Score: 848

3. Clint Dempsey - Forward, Seattle Sounders FC
Total Score: 907

2. Obafemi Martins - Forward, Seattle Sounders FC
Total Score: 918

1. Kaka - Forward, Orlando City SC
Total Score: 925

ASA Spring MLS Top-50 Ranking: 20-11 by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Monday, I introduced the who, what, where and why of this ranking, which was culled from the ballots of team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. I'm sure there are going to be some disagreements, so hit us up on twitter or leave a comment below.

Check back later in the week for the rest of the rankings:
Monday: 50 through 41
Tuesday: 40 through 31
Wednesday: 30 through 21
Thursday: 20 through 11
Friday: 10 through 1

----------------------

ExpG: Expected Goals according to our player rankings
ExpA: Expected Assists
ExpSaves: Expected Goals Against minus Actual Goals Against according to our goalkeeper rankings.
Touch%: Percent of team's touches while on the field
TxGp90: Total Expected Goals per 90 minutes
Shots Created: Shots plus Key Passes

20. Dom Dwyer - Forward, Sporting KC
Total Score: 438

19. Kei Kamara - Forward, Columbus Crew
Total Score: 493

18. Harry Shipp - Midfielder, Chicago Fire
Total Score: 525

17. Darlington Nagbe - Midfielder, Portland Timbers
Total Score: 583

16. Bill Hamid - Goalkeeper, DC United
Total Score: 589

15. Omar Gonzalez - Defender, LA Galaxy
Total Score: 594

14. Pedro Morales - Midfielder, Vancouver Whitecaps
Total Score: 594

13. Federico Higuian - Midfielder, Columbus Crew
Total Score: 602

12. Bradley Wright-Phillips - Forward, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 606

11. Benny Feilhaber - Midfielder, Sporting KC
Total Score: 624


ASA Spring MLS Top-50 Ranking: 30-21 by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Monday, I introduced the who, what, where and why of this ranking, which was culled from the ballots of team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. I'm sure there are going to be some disagreements, so hit us up on twitter or leave a comment below.

Check back later in the week for the rest of the rankings:
Monday: 50 through 41
Tuesday: 40 through 31
Wednesday: 30 through 21
Thursday: 20 through 11
Friday: 10 through 1

----------------------

ExpG: Expected Goals according to our player rankings
ExpA: Expected Assists
ExpSaves: Expected Goals Against minus Actual Goals Against according to our goalkeeper rankings.
Touch%: Percent of team's touches while on the field
TxGp90: Total Expected Goals per 90 minutes
Shots Created: Shots plus Key Passes

30. Sascha Kljestan - Midfielder, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 332

29. Juan Agudelo - Forward, New England Revolution
Total Score: 353

28. Kyle Beckerman - Midfielder, Real Salt Lake
Total Score: 356

27. Dax McCarty - Midfielder, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 356

26. Nick Rimando - Goalkeeper, Real Salt Lake
Total Score: 390

25. Lloyd Sam - Midfielder, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 395

24. Mix Diskerud - Midfielder, New York City FC
Total Score: 397

23. Matt Besler - Defender, Sporting Kansas City
Total Score: 402

22. Lee Nguyen - Midfielder, New England Revolution
Total Score: 413

21. Javier Morales - Midfielder, Real Salt Lake
Total Score: 416

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ASA Spring MLS Top-50 Ranking: 40-31 by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Yesterday, I introduced the who, what, where and why of this ranking, which was culled from the ballots of team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. I'm sure there are going to be some disagreements, so hit us up on twitter or leave a comment below.

Check back later in the week for the rest of the rankings:
Monday: 50 through 41
Tuesday: 40 through 31
Wednesday: 30 through 21
Thursday: 20 through 11
Friday: 10 through 1

----------------------

ExpG: Expected Goals according to our player rankings
ExpA: Expected Assists
ExpSaves: Expected Goals Against minus Actual Goals Against according to our goalkeeper rankings.
Touch%: Percent of team's touches while on the field
TxGp90: Total Expected Goals per 90 minutes
Shots Created: Shots + Key Passes

40. Wil Trapp - Midfielder, Columbus Crew
Total Score: 228

39. Ignacio Piatti - Midfielder, Montreal Impact
Total Score: 243

39.png

38. Perry Kitchen - Midfielder, DC United
Total Score: 250

38.png

 

37. Graham Zusi - Midfielder, Sporting KC
Total Score: 253

37.png

36. Blas Perez - Forward, FC Dallas
Total Score: 279

36.jpg

35. Dillon Powers - Midfielder, Colorado Rapids
Total Score: 285

35.jpg

34. Matias Laba - Midfielder, Vancouver Whitecaps
Total Score: 293

34.jpg

33. Chad Marshall - Defender, Seattle Sounders
Total Score: 312

32.  Osvaldo Alonso - Midfielder, Seattle Sounders
Total Score: 316

31. Ike Opara - Defender, Sporting KC
Total Score: 327


ASA Spring MLS Top-50 Ranking: 50-41 by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Earlier today, I introduced the who, what, where and why of this ranking, which was culled from the ballots of team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. I'm sure there are going to be some disagreements, so hit us up on twitter or leave a comment below.

Check back later in the week for the rest of the rankings:
Monday: 50 through 41
Tuesday: 40 through 31
Wednesday: 30 through 21
Thursday: 20 through 11
Friday: 10 through 1

----------------------

ExpG: Expected Goals according to our player rankings
ExpA: Expected Assists
ExpSaves: Expected Goals Against minus actual Goals Against according to our goalkeeper rankings.
Touch%: Percent of team's touches while on the field
TxGp90: Total Expected Goals per 90 minutes
Shots Created: Shots plus Key Passes

50. Tyler Deric - Goalkeeper, Houston Dynamo TOTAL SCORE: 160

49. Ethan Finlay - Right Midfielder, Columbus Crew
Total Score: 161

48. Juninho - Central Midfielder, LA Galaxy
Total Score: 169

47. Felipe Martins - Attacking Midfielder, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 171

46. Chris Tierney - Left Fullback, New England Revolution
Total Score: 172

45. Justin Meram - Left Midfielder, Columbus Crew
Total Score: 174

44. Matt Hedges - CentERback, FC Dallas
Total Score: 184

43. Kendall Waston - Centerback, Vancouver Whitecaps
Total Score: 188

42. Gyasi Zardes - Forward, LA Galaxy
Total Score: 189

41. Chris Wondolowski - Forward, San Jose Earthquakes
Total Score: 223

ASA Spring Top-50: An Introduction by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

Today is an exciting day. Later this afternoon we have the distinct privilege to unveil our first quarterly* Major League Soccer Top-50 player ranking. We sent out 40 ballots to team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. It is a diverse group that encapsulates all perspectives of MLS analysis; including those working behind-the-scenes trying to improve their clubs, players on the field, journalists and analytically focused writers. These are people that know the league better than anyone else, and it's because they live and breathe MLS.

Ranking anything is a delicate and sometimes obtuse task. We're not usually into doing things that are subjective and rather opaque in process but the results seemed to be worth stepping outside of our normal domain to achieve. 

We set before our participants a listing of 346 unique individual players from around the league. The criteria for that pool was a minimum of 45 minutes played by April 15th, roughly 15% into the season. Because of our criteria, players such as Diego Valeri, Jermaine Jones and Mike Magee were not available for selection. Though, and this is purely based upon the amount of e-mails that I received from those submitting ballots, I'm pretty certain all would have ended up high on this list.

The hardest thing about trying to establish who is best when populating a list such as this is figuring out how you really define "best". I think this was the hardest thing for our group to really attempt to discern as they conducted their own ballot.

Instead of me trying to encapsulate the entire group's thought process behind how they filed their ballot, here are a few quotes behind various submissions.

"I put goal-scoring at a premium, and that includes setting up goals"

"My methodology in the rankings as I looked through the players was, "Would you rather have Player X or Player Y?" Then I would rank them accordingly."

"I fused production, expected production, raw talent and health. ... The game is still about goals, and the guys who create and or score them are the most talented players on the pitch."

"I imagined it as one giant MLS draft"

"This was me hunting through some of the stats I think are valuable and combining that with the eye test to this point in the season"

Our calculation of the rankings was simple. Each submission had 50 placements and each place corresponded with a reverse point score. First place earned 50 points, second place earned 49 points, ect, All counted, 176 of 346 individuals received at least a point, with 39 points needed to even break into the top-100.

Suffice to say this wasn't a clear cut journey. There was deliberation, time taken to think through each decision and in the end not everyone agrees on every player. I think that's okay as this isn't necessarily a fact based adventure but a conversation starter.

It's very hard and nearly impossible to come up with a single metric in this sport that properly measures all the events across the pitch to compare players. This endeavor can help us attempt to bridge this gap in identifying difference makers albeit in a bit of a crude manner. I think with the right people involved with this project, it helps push us towards at least identifying who those players are.

I want to thank all of those that participated in this project and were gracious with their time. I hope that this is just our first go round and that we can expect this to serve as a barometer for players in MLS in the future. 

*Expect our next rankings to be released in August.