By Alex Brodsky (@thehighpressblog)
After winning MVP on the back of arguably the greatest offensive season in league history, Sebastian Giovinco is certainly in the running to defend his crown. His 0.96 non-penalty goals and assists per 96 minutes ranks 6th in the league among players with at least 600 minutes. The Atomic Ant has constituted nearly all of Toronto FC’s attack this season, scoring or assisting on all but one of his club’s 14 goals. There is one aspect of his game, however, that is holding his team back: the man loves to shoot from just about anywhere on the field. TFC have seen few returns from Giovinco’s predilection for long shots - he’s only scored once in 50 attempts from outside the box.
Despite Giovinco’s best efforts, TFC’s overall attack has underwhelmed. They currently rank 11th in MLS with 1.36 xG per game. This mark, combined with their vastly improved defense, will surely get them into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference but won’t help them meet their loftier ambitions. If they truly want to become MLS Cup or Supporters Shield contenders (which many pundits tipped them for during preseason) they’ll need to drastically improve their offensive output after the Copa America break. That improvement starts with Giovinco’s shot quality.
Giovinco is currently second in the league with 76 total shots, second only to David Villa’s massive 88. The reigning MVP has taken 45.2% of TFC’s shots this season. Nobody else in MLS can even sniff that mark; Second place Villa accounts for “only” 37.8% of NYCFC’s shots. TFC’s home draw versus Columbus saw the most extreme example of Giovinco’s tendencies as he took every one of his side’s eight shots.
Now, taking a huge amount of shots is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, with significant evidence on this site suggesting finishing is an overrated skill, volume shooters are some of the best scorers in soccer. But that presumes the shooters are taking worthwhile shots. And so far this season, Giovinco has taken a good deal of questionable ones. While all of MLS averages about 0.11 xG per shot from open play, Giovinco sits at .08 xG/shot, good for 57th in the league among players with at least 15 shots.
A quick aside: for the remainder of this article I’m only dealing with open play shots. I’m not going to fault Giovinco for taking TFC’s free kicks (a generally inefficient shot but the best option given the situation). Likewise, I’m not going to count his penalty kicks because those would heavily skew his shot quality in the opposite direction.
Below I've overlaid Giovinco’s shot chart on top of an image from a great Ted Knutson article on Statsbomb concerning shot quality. What stands out most clearly is how many shots Giovinco has taken outside the most dangerous areas. Only one of his 32 open play shots (3%) from outside the box have resulted in a goal. By contrast, five of his 22 better located shots (23%) have scored. It would benefit Toronto’s offense if Seba would focus on getting better shots for himself or creating more for his teammates.
Giovinco the Playmaker
These shots from well outside the box would be more defensible if the diminutive Italian had no other options. While he frequently found himself isolated atop Toronto’s 4-3-3 early in the season he’s had far more attackers around him in their 4-4-2 diamond. Even still Seba often opts to launch hopeful shots rather than try and play in teammates closer to goal.
Lobbing pot shots when the opponent is packing their box with defenders is one thing but many of Giovinco’s long shots come during otherwise promising attacking opportunities. Toronto FC would likely create much better scoring chances if Giovinco would instead look to thread a pass into the box.
During his time in MLS Seba has proven himself a more-than-capable playmaker. He notched 13 assists in 2015 on 2.1 key passes per 96 minutes (good for 2nd and 25th in the league, respectively.) In the GIF below I demonstrate how setting up Tsubasa Endoh in the box was clearly a better option for Seba than pulling up from 20 yards out.
Using xG estimates we can see just how much completing that pass into the box helped TFC’s scoring chances. Looking just at the numbers, completing that pass increased the probability of scoring nearly 20 fold. These are some rough estimates but, even being generous, that pass is worth attempting if you think there’s even a just 10% chance of completing it. During his time in MLS Giovinco has completed passes into the box from the central area of the field at about a 60% clip. Too often this season Giovinco has opted for a shot from that initial area rather than looking for the pass. He doesn't even need to try and find the final ball every opportunity, merely combining more with teammates around the box would help create a more effective attack than speculative shots.