By Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon)
The 2018 MLS season is well under way and the biggest story so far has been the hot start by expansion side LAFC. Two road games, two road victories. But even for an expansion team, none of that should be too surprising given Bob Bradley is in charge.
Bradley has his faults and deficiencies as a head coach, but one thing that’s certainly a hallmark trait of a Bob Bradley team is preparation. Not everything executes as planned, nor are they always the most pleasing to the eye, but Bradley’s teams are always well prepared for the task at hand.
Their season opening 1-0 victory in Seattle felt more like a fluke with Seattle putting up 22 shots to LAFC’s meager five. It was easy to write them off as lucky in their first MLS game, and the shot charts reflect that.
Most damning as that LAFC mustered just one shot on goal, but it was the only one that ultimately counted. They finished with only 0.48 xG for the game.
LAFC’s defensive shape was also a trademark Bradley type team, happy to concede possession whenever necessary, but fulfilling the ultimate goal of defense: protecting the goal. The Sounders’ enjoyed the lion's share of possession (59.9%), but failed to convert that into consistent scoring opportunities.
Seattle enjoyed a relatively strong amount of possession inside Zone 14 (as shown above), but did very little damage in that space. As you can see, most of the passes went wide and nearly all attempts to play someone through inside the box were unsuccessful. A large part of that has to do with Bradley’s men maintaining their shape and not chasing the ball carriers to be pulled out of position. To achieve that kind of discipline and tactical awareness with a new team is fairly remarkable.
But soccer is still game that involves a lot of luck. Despite the preparations and tactical discipline, LAFC still benefited from a few lucky bounces that went their way. You can be lucky once in this league, but rarely can you call upon Lady Luck two weeks in a row.
LAFC did their work again in Week 2, by utterly embarrassing Real Salt Lake 5-1 at home. Game state plays into this, but LAFC also conceded nearly the same amount of possession to RSL (60.2%) that they did to Seattle, and got RSL to lash out with wild shots from places that I say have really low xG. Still, this was an entirely different game, and not just in the final score.
LAFC were, again, brutally efficient in front of goal. Diego Rossi has had a dream start to his MLS career, having scored three goals in just two matches. Here’s a better look at LAFC's shooting efficiency in the game:
As you can see, LAFC tested Nick Rimando all afternoon. With the exception of two strikes in the middle of the penalty area, the misses weren't egregious by any means.
Is this sustainable? Probably not. Actually, no. At some point they’ll regress back to the mean, and surely at some point this season they’ll probably experience a 5-1 spanking of their own and probably by the likes of Colorado or DC United. But for now, the new club in town is enjoying a fine start and should relish in that.
Home Field Advantage Still A Thing?
LAFC’s two road victories to start the year brought my attention to another thing. It feels like more teams are getting upset at home to start the 2018 season than in recent memory. So, like the rest of the nerds here, I decided to dig up some stats.
|Year||Home Win %||Home Loss %||Home Tie %|
These are the win, loss, and draw percentages for the home teams in MLS by year. Obviously, in 2018 we have an extremely small sample size, but it did confirm that road teams are picking off more points than they were in previous years. The main reason seems to be the significant drop in the number of ties at home.
That doesn't mean this season is already an outlier - things will probably regress back to the mean again, but it’s certainly something I’ll keep an eye out for 2018 to see if this trend holds up and what it potentially means for teams moving forward. In the meantime, here's to LAFC finishing the season with 17 wins on the road.