by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)
It's Friday! FRIDAY! Gotta get up for Friday. (Yes, I was just singing a Rebbeca Black song. Let It Go... or I'll start singing Frozen). This isn't just any Friday either. It's the start of a long weekend for many, the first of four glorious days. Regardless of your work schedule, there's a great double header, so let's talk about all four teams this week.
I know what you're thinking: "Chicago, again?". Yes, Chicago, again. The Fire step up to play their fourth Friday night game of the season, and that's tied for most on the year with FC Dallas. While it seems a bit redundant at the moment, it's been a tremendous four games that have all been exciting to watch.
Tonight, Chicago visit the mighty, mighty Columbus Crew SC, making their first appearance on Friday night prime time. Both teams will be looking to right wrongs from last week. Chicago gave up a late-game goal last week to NYC to fall into a tie, and Columbus went to San Jose and was shocked out of their boots as the Quakes scored two early second-half goals and rode those to the finish line for three points. A real bummer for the Soccer version of Black and Gold.
Turning back to the Windy City, it's been exhausting at times to watch this much of Chicago early. I can say that it's been interesting watching the evolution of Frank Yallop's side that has, as I said last week, gone from being a mistake-riddled attack putting their below-average defense into bad positions to becoming a better-than-average attack that has somehow (at least in the short term) helped bolster their defense.
Chicago currently is tied for second in Total shot ratio (TSR) in MLS, meaning they take way more shots than they allow. Additionally, PDO has them second to last in Major League Soccer, implying perhaps the club could still be on the cusp of a full turn around. Which is scary considering how many of us, myself included, wrote them off so early.
Columbus, coincidentally the team tied with Chicago for second in TSR, slightly edges the Fire in total shots attempted per 90 minutes. However, Columbus has only managed to collect a meager expected goals per game figure off all those shot attempts, good for just 1.35 xGoals per game and fifth in the league.
I'm guessing, just a guess mind you, this is probably due to the high amount of (headed) shots off crosses. Lending to that theory is the fact that they've scored 7 of their 15 goals off crosses (per WhoScored). But regardless of how efficient Columbus is at turning attempts into true and consistent goal scoring opportunities, the real story for this club, and the difference between them and many others in the Eastern Conference, is their ability to create more opportunities in even game states.
Columbus hasn't done this purely through my boy Federico Higuain (0.41, xG+xA p90)--who has represented their primary means of attack in the past--as the Crew have finally found that striker they've coveted since... well, whenever they last needed one. Kei Kamara (0.66, xG+xA p90) has been huge for them, and it showed in our MLS Top-50 where he was voted 19th overall. Increasing their deadly attack is that it's not just the terrible two-some up front, but also Ethan Finlay (0.38, xG+xA p90) and Justin Meram (0.39, xG+xA p90) being key parts of the offense, as well.
Everyone seems to be panicked about the Galaxy--and it seems like an easy narrative to write with Robbie Keane's injury, Landon Donovan's retirement and Gyasi Zardes who has gone missing. The thing is, it doesn't look like a Galaxy team of yesteryear that started slow and then motored to the MLS Cup. The 2015 iteration is surprisingly not good and it's situation that our numbers say we can take at face value. They are 16th in expected goal differential in MLS.
Yes, their 967 PDO is possibly indicative of some positive regression to come. That's great, but their TSR is mediocre (0.502), and this is the first time they've had a negative xGD since we started running these numbers. The Galaxy's best attacking player has been Alan Gordon with .38 xA+xG p90 minutes. That's not very good.
Likewise, LA's defense has been very much not good. Their expected goals against per 90 minutes is 1.20, good for 13th in MLS. This coming from a team that, in the last two years, has finished in the top two spots for best defense in the league. Despite a pretty consistent tandem a long that back line, they've still just been terrible this season.
It's a head-scratcher for sure considering the talent throughout the team. But one bad team deserves another and Houston is a great equal in this scenario as we are "treated" to a replay of 2012 MLS Cup.
Houston's attack has been rather putrid at times, with Will Bruin and Giles Barnes just straight up gone fishing at the most inopportune times. They are still creating just enough to end up on the plus side of expected goal differential with 0.05. This is mostly due to their defense giving up a very salty 0.96 expected goals against per 90, tied for 2nd best in MLS.
Houston's defense has been surprisingly rigid to this point in the season, and while all the focus has been on an attack that continues to struggle (Erik Torres just can't come soon enough), the likes of Jermaine Taylor, Raul Rodriguez, Kofi Sarkodi and designated player DeMarcus Beasley have led the way to this team being on the cusp a playoffs berth.
MLS FANTASY PERSPECTIVE
In this section of the article I've often profiled two of the more interesting fantasy players in relation to the clubs playing Friday night. This week I'm going to talk about some of the more popular selected players in #MLSFantasy overall, in conjunction with points/minutes per 90 divided by their total cost. Despite all the hubbub, I find these players have been efficient fantasy options this season.
David Ousted, GK - 15.3% selected, 0.95 points per 90/cost
Ousted is performing super well, and having six shut outs really helps his standing.
Bill Hamid, GK - 16.3% selected, 0.92 points per 90/cost
Hamid might not get the shut outs, but he still get his points with five 5-save matches.
Clint Dempsey, FWD - 26.8% selected, 0.80 points per 90/cost
It's hardly surprising to see this guy at the top of the list when he also ranks second the xG+xA p90 list (minimum 400 mins).
Kei Kamara, FWD - 24.6% selected, 0.78 points per 90/cost
See above: Kamara ranks 4th by this fantasy metric, and it's not a huge surprise why. He scores goals. Also, he's second in the league in total xG+xA, so he'll probably keep doing what he's doing.
Benny Feilhaber, MID - 29.4% selected, 0.76 points per 90/cost
As we acknowledged on the latest podcast, I'm not a Benny guy, but I think it's fair to point out he's been a fantastic option in MLS Fantasy and is currently the Mr. Fantasy title holder. I have a hard time evaluating him and how he's able to outperform our xAssists metric, but he is, so let's not hate for the time being.
THE WEEKEND MATCH-UPS
Chicago Fire @ Columbus Crew SC
Prediction: Fire burn Crew, win game
Houston Dynamo @ LA Galaxy
Prediction: LA. Bad offenses lose to good defenses all the time---wait...on that thought, taking Houston instead.
Portland Timbers @ Toronto FC
Prediction: TFC returns home for second home game against a "meh" team.
DC United @ New England Revolution
Prediction: NE, I still hate you DCU (love you, Hamid).
FC Dallas @ Montreal Impact
Vancouver Whitecaps @ Colorado Rapids
Sporting Kansas City @ Seattle Sounders
Prediction: Draw--until the 90th minute and the Sounders steal points...just kidding. Maybe.
New York City @ Real Salt Lake
Prediction: awfulness all around... RSL, I guess. Maybe?
Philadelphia Union @ New York Red Bulls
Prediction: At home??? NYRB!
Orlando City Lions @ San Jose Quakes
Prediction: Lions, I guess...Quakes? God, this is just going to be a mess...
THE WATCHABILITY SCORE
I didn't put it to a vote this past week because I felt I didn't need too. I felt the score nailed it last week with Chicago-New York City being a great game and Dallas-Red Bulls being kind of a dull affair on the whole. If it was my opinion alone... I still wouldn't have put out the survey, but we could have at least had some dialog about it, but it seemed to be a topic of a few different podcasts that I listened to this week, so we'll just leave it there.
This week, I color coordinated things because I knew you'd like that. We don't have any excellent 30-matchups that seem good bets to be one of those ones to watch. Most matches lie somewhere in the middle with the first match of the weekend between Columbus and Chicago predicted to be the best game, and the last game of the weekend being the worst with Orlando paying a visit to San Jose.
I'm a bit more skeptical about the results this week, and as things are a bit more random in this league, I'm just going to wait and see what the outcomes are before saying anything specific.
This is how I movie-relate Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins sometimes... assuming Oba had tuberculous and a gambling problem.