Evaluating Defensive Prospects for the Expansion Draft by Kevin Minkus

FC Cincinnati will face many difficult decisions over the next three months, as they build their expansion team to be ready for the 2019 season. Their next set of choices takes place today, in the Expansion Draft. What the team decides there may not make or break their season, but they do have the opportunity to add important pieces for their inaugural year.

One strategy, the path I’ll discuss here, is for Cincinnati to grab cheap, young players. The hope is that, while they weren’t key contributors for their former teams, those players will continue to develop. A team with enough of these works in progress, and with a sufficient capacity to develop them, might reasonably hope for a few to pan out into full-time starters.

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A Feast for Throws by Eliot McKinley

In Game of Throw-Ins, I characterized and introduced an expected throw-in possession retention model (xRetain) for MLS. Go read the whole thing, but it showed that throw-ins are more likely to be completed and possession retained when they are thrown backwards, quickly, and outside a team’s defensive third. But what are MLS teams and players doing with their throw-ins?

To help differentiate teams’ throw-in styles, I turned to hierarchical clustering (see the graph below). I won’t get into mathematical details, but you can think of it sort of like an evolutionary tree. However, instead of the branches separating species, they are separating different throw-in angle frequencies. Kind of like how humans and chimpanzees are near each other on the branches of an evolutionary tree but far away from birds, teams which always throw the ball backwards and short will be far away from those that always take throw-ins forward and long.

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Game of Throw-ins by Eliot McKinley

Much has been written and studied about set pieces in soccer. Penalty kicks have been Bayesed multiple times, I’ve analyzed free kicks in MLS and at the World Cup, corner kicks have been rigorously studied. But what about the humble throw-in? Aside from when teams develop a long throw-in program (see Delap, Rory) they are largely ignored or even ridiculed, in the case of Liverpool hiring a throw-in coach (see the first comment here).


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You Down with t-SNE? by ASA Staff

We all know that some teams play a certain style, Red Bulls play with high pressure and direct attacks, Vancouver crosses the ball, Columbus possesses the ball from the back. Although we know these things intuitively, we can use analytical methods to group teams as well. Doing so seems unnecessary when we have all these descriptors like press-resistance, overload, trequartista-shadow striker hybrid, gegenthrowins, mobile regista, releasing, Colorado Countercounter gambits...etc (we actually don’t know what some of these terms mean and may have made some up, but the real ones are popular so just google them yourself). Those terms are nice, but no qualitative descriptor can tell us how the styles of New York City and Columbus differ from each other. We need to measure, compare, and model two teams’ playing styles and efficiencies. If we are able to do these things we may be in a position to answer what style really is.

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Postseason Preview: NYCFC by ASA Staff

Article by @thedummyrun

Domènec Torrent is a fraud.

Just four months ago, when he took over New York City Football Club midseason from Patrick Vieira, the Catalan coach was hailed as some kind of tactical savant, fresh off a decade seated at the right hand of Pep the Father Almighty and come down to MLS to save us all. He promised to preserve Vieira’s system, which after all was vaguely modeled on Manchester City’s, and to make only incremental adjustments. He promised to compete for trophies—if not this season, okay, maybe next year. He promised us the pinaple would be pretty.

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Postseason Preview: Real Salt Lake by Kevin Minkus

After an encouraging 2017 featuring the emergence of a handful of exciting young talent, Real Salt Lake seemed poised to take a step forward in 2018. Technically they did, by making the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, courtesy of an epic collapse from the LA Galaxy. RSL found themselves in that precarious position thanks to a lot of inconsistency. The team’s stretch run, for example, featured a 6-2 dismantling of the Galaxy followed by a home draw to Minnesota, and a 1-1 tie at Kansas City (maybe RSL’s best performance of the year given the context) followed by two blowout losses to Portland. Those painful ups and downs are what happens when you build a team on still-developing stars - it’s just a part of the process. Here it is in graphical form, with their 4-game rolling xGD:

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Postseason Preview: Atlanta United FC by Harrison Crow

We joke about it. Atlanta has become the Marcia Brady of Major League Soccer and while that’s annoying to most all of us, it’s also not undeserved. This talented team has not only assembled a rare grouping of talent but they’ve been able to build upon their first season and grow to become a giant in this league.

While the narratives are often what they are this is a good opportunity to put into context what Atlanta has truly accomplished and what they are at their bones. A really really good team that has few flaws and has managed to minimize their opponents ability to expose those flaws.

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Postseason Preview: Sporting Kansas City by Harrison Crow

Spoiler alert: Over the course of the last eight seasons, from 2011 to 2018, we’ve collected shot data. We have a lot of spreadsheets. And if you asked me for one specific thing, one stat that stood out among those very large “csv” files, pertaining to Sporting Kansas City, I’d tell you this; Peter Vermes and his teams have a +88 expected goal differential dating back to 2011, not only the highest in Major League Soccer during that span but also the highest by almost 30 goals.

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Postseason Preview: Portland Timbers by Eric Walcott

It would not be inaccurate to describe Gio Saverse’s first season in Portland as a roller coaster. After going winless in their first 5 games, Portland went on a 15 game unbeaten streak in which they got good results but weren’t actually playing great soccer. Playing in a 4-3-2-1, the product was effective but not pretty. Once the streak was broken things went bad in a big way starting a four match skid while getting outscored 10-2 in the process. Since then they’ve seem to have figured some things out, going 5-2-2 down the stretch before resting their starters on the final day.

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Postseason Preview: Seattle Sounders FC by Ian L.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The start to the 2018 campaign was, at best, a complete and utter disaster. Expectations were high for a team that had just made its second consecutive MLS Cup final appearance. You don’t usually see trains derail without gaining any significant speed or momentum, but somehow that’s exactly what happened here.

Jordan Morris, coming off of an injury and a disappointing sophomore campaign looked primed to return to the form that saw him capture Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, instead he suffered another devastating season ending injury and Seattle went from dreams of CCL Glory to that one where you show up to class naked and have to take a final you didn’t study for.

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