Why the West is better than the East: they take better (but fewer) shots / by Alex Rathke

By Alex Rathke (@alexrathke)

About two weeks ago James Yorke of Statsbomb wrote an end of season review for the 2015/2016 Premier League where he outlined a few shot and conversion figures. I found these figures intriguing and decided to use the same process to evaluate the MLS and more specifically if there are any differences between the Eastern and Western conferences. Before we examine any differences between the two MLS conferences, let’s have a look at the league as a whole.

From 2011 to the current season, the figures match up as follows. Keep in mind that the 2016 season is currently in a busy schedule (I have only been able to factor in games up until and including Sporting Kansas City vs Orlando City on May 15th 2016).   

MLS (2011 – 2016 season)
Year*ShotsSoTGoalsConversion Accuracy
per Gameper Gameper Gameg/Shotg/SoTSoT/S

†Season so far *Table calculations based on James Yorke’s Statsbomb article (linked above)

As the results show, the numbers are pretty much in-line with each other on a season to season basis while the level of accuracy is at the higher end. There are however some small outliers such as the 2015 season. The shots per game created are at the lower end while the SoT are average and the goals per game figures are third best at present. 

I personally am a bit surprised with the 2015 results as I would have expected them to be inferior when compared to the previous seasons. My thinking behind the statement would have been based on the two new franchises (New York City FC and Orlando City) joining the league. The lower number of shots but second best goals per game rate could be due to the following two factors: 1) league uncertainty and 2) playing style. They certainly dealt with the pressure of playing MLS level soccer. Then again, why should there be pressure…there is no threat of relegation like in other worldwide leagues.

In terms of the current season, we are experiencing a record number of Shots and SoT on average yet the goals and conversion figures are 2nd, 3rd & 6th respectively.  I wonder how much effect last weekend’s New York derby would have changed the current standings. Elsewhere, let’s move on and compare if there are any differences between the Eastern and Western conference. 

Eastern Conference
per Gameper Gameper Gameg/Shotg/SoTSoT/S
Western Conference
per Gameper Gameper Gameg/Shotg/SoTSoT/S

The analysis shows that on average, the Eastern conference teams take more shots during the game than their Western counterparts. They also lead the way in SoT while the West just beats them in goals per game. The Western conference teams also create Shots and SoT at a slightly higher rate than the Eastern teams. Finally, the accuracy shooting measurement favors the Western teams as well.

The results support the recent history that Western conference teams have been prevailing over the East, winning three of the last five Supporter’s Shield championships, although last years’ champions New York Red Bulls (Eastern conference) only beat FC Dallas (Western conference) by total wins. This might be a bold statement, but we can definitely say that the numbers suggest the league as a whole is improving. When we compare the figures to the Premier League, the MLS on average is better with accuracy and conversion rates. Between the conferences, the West's success is due in part to their willingness to sacrifice shot quantity in favor of shot quality.