Lowered Expectations: Week Three / by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow) & Ian L. (@the16thdoc)

Welcome to the our latest installment of Lowered Expectations! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open play shot attempts that did not quite live up to expectations. We’ll take each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process that led to these chances.

#5 - Tyrone Mears, Minnesota United, 51st minute, 0.343 expected goals
Assisted by: Miguel Ibarra (through ball)
Number of passes in possession: 3


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Miguel Ibarra had many fine passes this past weekend. In the 51st minute, his graceful touch finds Tyrone Mears making an overlapping run. Mears, a defender by trade, makes a bit of a mess of the first touch and in doing so gives Chicago’s keeper Richard Sanchez more than enough time to close off the angle. A dangerous position to be sure, but in the end it was pretty comfortable for Mexican keeper.

Had Mears pulled the trigger first time, or had a cleaner touch through, Sanchez would have had a much more difficult job being forced to guard his post while also attempting to cover an attempted cross. It’s probably  worth mentioning that this is the second straight week time that we’ve seen Sanchez break up a high xG play. Last week he foiled an effort from Johnny Russell, oh and speaking of Mr. Russell: 

#4 - Johnny Russell, Sporting Kansas City, 81st minute, 0.376 expected goals
Assisted by: Graham Zusi (through ball)
Number of passes in possession: 4


Last week one of our top five featured a through ball from Graham Zusi to Johnny Russell. We might need to start getting to used to the one-two attacking punch of Zusi and Russell (but probably not though) because we’ve got another one this week. Russell once again times his run beautifully and Zusi’s perfectly weighted ball has the Scotsman clean through on goal. Russell has to make a decision here and instead of trying to do a blind snap shot with his right foot, he dummies on to his left to give himself a better angle. It doesn’t quite come off as he hoped, and Yeferson Quintana is able to use the extra split second to snuff out any troubling look at goal.

We’re obviously benefitting from hindsight here, but it seems like if Russell had taken the ball to the near post, he may have had an opportunity to create space for the three other runners in the middle of the box or even found a less congested shot at the near post.

#3 - Ibson, Minnesota United, 55th minute, 0.379 expected goals
Assisted by: Miguel Ibarra (cross)
Number of passes in possession: 5


People are going to focus on the end result being a goal but the let’s pretend it didn't happen for a second and focus on that initial header that lead to the goal. That initial shot was all about second attempts. We’ll focus on the lead up to the first shot where Ibarra extends the play not once but twice in five-seconds. 

The GIF picks up on the second loose ball which gets Ibarra into position to make a long curling cross into the box. This type of pass isn’t one of my favorites due to its low success rate and the propensity for professionals to try it. However Ibarra didn’t have a lot of options on where to take the ball and while the head down cross into a crowd isn’t ideal, in the words of Lefty Gomez, “it’s better to be lucky than good”. 

The initial save from Sanchez was good and he almost makes a crazy spectacular dive to prevent the goal but Ibson reacts well and his deft touch is well placed to make a save from Sanchez impossible. Despite this match not ending well for Chicago, seeing Sanchez make so many appearances in these lists has me feeling more and more optimistic in this talented young keeper and Chicago’s confidence in him seems well placed indeed.

#2 - Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United, 43rd minute, 0.390 expected goals
Assisted by: Hector Villalba
Number of passes in possession: 3

ASA Favorite Rob Usry with a good joke!

This is a great example of  what many of us in the analytics community refer to formally as “a real real bad miss”. Push pause on this shot for a second--we will come back. 

Last week I mentioned how good players find good positions and create opportunities. Good players do it occasionally but elite players do it consistently. Miguel Almiron is exactly that right now and more. He’s playing like one of the league’s elite, sitting second in MLS with 2.8 expected goals and 0.99 xG+xA p96.

This shot wasn’t good, but it really wasn’t quite as bad as it looked. Stefan Marinovic (who has done well replacing one of the league’s better shot stoppers in David Ousted) used his size and ability to get across the face of goal to make this as difficult as possible for Almiron is an important contributing factor in this shot not finding the net. While this looks like a face palm moment (and a player of Almiron’s caliber should certainly be expected to score) this is a good example of A) why this type of shot is converted only 39% of the time and B) why this shot isn’t as simple as it looks from home. 

#1 - Roland Lamah, FC Dallas, 48th minute, 0.465 expected goals
Assisted by: Maximiliano Urruti
Number of passes in possession: 2


Roland Lamah makes a great run in parallel with Maxi Urruti setting up for the cut back and pass. But Kelvin Leerdam does a great job of not just tracking but jumping in Lamah’s back pocket and stepping up in the right moment to really neutralize what was a dangerous attempt and turn it into nothing.

Most people will shrug the play off and may even laugh at the expected goal value associated with it because it never felt “dangerous”. However it never felt dangerous because Leerdam did exactly what he’s supposed to be doing in that situation and didn’t lose his man.

Obviously Lamah would go on to have the last laugh, but it’s worth pointing out moments like these to show that MLS is fast turning into a league whose differentiators are no longer in the attack but also on defense. With more and more teams throwing more at exciting young and talented attackers, the elite teams are not just going to be the ones that can throw two or three goals up on the board but can also keep a zero on the other side too.

For our final sets of GIFs let’s give a shout out to this week’s lowest shot probability that actually culminated in a goal being scored....

Graham Zusi, Sporting KC, 56th minute, 0.051 expected goals
Assisted by: Roger Espinoza
Passes in possession: 3


Let’s once again celebrate the offensive powerhouse that is one Graham Zusi. Much like how Kelvin Leerdam got extra credit for sticking to his man (see above), Shea Salinas loses credit here as he gets beat and then drifts away from Zusi, expecting Anibal Godoy to step up and apply pressure. 

While this is unquestionably a great goal, a real thunderbanger even, it’s not necessarily the best selection of a shot. When Zusi makes his run across the top of the box, he not only garners Godoy’s attention but forces San Jose’s entire back line to quickly shuffle in an attempt to cut down his shooting options and increase the possibility of a blocked shot. Zusi is undeterred and rifles a shot at really the only spot he could and nails it. It’s a remarkable effort, but at the same time probably not the play you want to see him take nine out of 10 times.

History is written by the winners and obviously these plays don’t get criticized much because of their results but as we’re looking more at process rather more than the result it’s worth considering alternative outcomes.

Make no mistake though, it was a fantastic goal. The pace and movement on that shot is spectacular and one of the reasons that I wait with bated breath for our eventual foray into Kick F/X.

A Kerfuffle: Told in four parts and through the eyes of expected goals with help from Twitter.
Maxi Urruti, FC Dallas, 49th Minute, 0.039 xG
Assisted by: Michael Barrios
Passes in possession: 1


Matt Doyle, Major League Soccer, 50th Minute

Maxi Urruti, FC Dallas, 58th minute, 0.058 xG
Assisted by: Roland Lamah
Passes in possession: 2


Carter Baum, FC Dallas, 59th Minute

There’s not a lot to say about the goal in the 58th minute that isn’t blindingly obvious from watching the gif. Seattle did a very poor job defending against a very good forward and he punished them. Urutti’s run is sublime and his simple shoulder feint to take Chad Marshall out of the play was perfect. Stefan Frei tried to react, but the Argentine’s strike was both powerful and accurate leaving the Swiss keeper with little to no recourse. 

The more interesting case is the incident in the 49th minute. Obviously, blazing a shot over the bar from 25 odd yards away when you’re on a 3 v 2 break isn’t the best look, but comparing it to his later goal, the shots weren’t actually that different in xG value.

When Urruti goes for glory he seemingly misses the run from Lamah entirely, and opts to shoot instead of laying the ball off to Mauro Diaz. I think Lamah’s run is pretty well covered by Leerdam, but there is a fair argument to be made that giving the ball to Diaz is never a terrible idea, and in this case it could very well have led to a higher leverage opportunity. A striker’s instinct is to score and Urruti has had a lot of joy in his career from shooting from distance, so I can understand trying to catch Frei off guard rather than giving Seattle’s scattered backline some extra time to settle. 

That’s all for this week’s edition of Lowered Expectations. I hope that it lived up to yours. 

An extra big and very special thank you to my podcast mate and @TotalMLS twitter personality Ian Lamberson for providing the high quality GIFs for this post.