Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week seven edition! 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 look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process that led to them.
#5 - Khiry Shelton, Sporting Kansas City, 23rd minute, 0.389 expected goals
Assisted by: Daniel Salloi
Passes in sequence: 15
Finishing is a touchy subject. There are many ideas stemming from a subsection of the traditional soccer crowd that bandies about the idea of there being a huge differentiating skill in “getting the ball past the keeper” in MLS. In few cases, maybe more, this is a legit skill. But most frequently these bumps in scoring percentage are more chaotic and random than some indication of uncanny skill.
However, when most commentators talk about situational chances and how “they must finish better” or “so and so has to finish that opportunity” they’re most frequently talking about either physical composure in that instance which can lead to how a player positions their body as they set themselves up to take shot or it’s directed towards decision making within the shot.
In the long term this mostly works itself out in the data year over year. But looking at this isolated situation it’s fair to say that Khiry Shelton didn’t do a good job of finishing the shot. But that “finish” has nothing to do with his mechanics or methodology of striking the ball and nothing that necessarily indicates further problems, probably.
I’m fairly certain that Shelton struck the ball and put it roughly where he thought it’d end up. But that location was bad and considering the time involved in the decision making he perhaps thought about it too much.
Looking at the replay we obviously have the advantage of seeing what he should have done. When Shelton receives the pass from Dániel Sallói he has almost a full second in front of goal to take the shot. His decision making here isn’t good, despite there being a great save by Stefan Frei. Shelton could and should have put that in a place that Frei could not have reached.
#4 - Ben Spencer, Toronto FC, 36th minute, 0.405 expected goals
Assisted by: Ager Aketxe
Number of passes in sequence: 4
First, you gotta love the run by Ager Aketxe. This game felt a bit of a “dumping” by Toronto as they prepped for their midweek game against Chivas, but it really showed what they have in Aketxe. Here he looks like a lesser Giovinco (and he helped create 11 shots in the game).
This sequence doesn't really come across as anything special from the eye test, especially after that miss by Shelton. But while the run isn’t really challenged, you can see Aketxe spots Enzo Martinez making his way towards him, and starts looking for the next move. The connection between Martinez and Ben Spencer is a bit haphazard, but it’s a great call by the young pup to jump up and immediately signal Aketxe.
It looks like Axel Sjoberg is trying to direct traffic with Deklan Wynne kind of stuck in ‘should I or should I not’ land. Wynne probably should have challenged Aketxe, but you can tell he has one eye on Tosaint Ricketts out wide and looks to be worried about getting beat around the end line into the 18 yard box. This creates just enough space for Aketxe to send that ball in and for Spencer to challenge Timmy Howard.
#3 - Jesus Medina, New York City, 54th minute, 0.464 expected goals
Assisted by: NA
Number of passes in sequence: 3
This series is started and completed by Maximiliano Moralez, but the highest opportunity of the two shots is by Jesus Medina. Medina gets a foot on a shot after a couple of deflections off a pass from Jo Inge Berget.
The run by Berget as he sees Moralez recover the ball is great. He gets a jump on the defender and pushes the offside line. This leads to a great through pass from Moralez and sets up the pass into Medina. David Horst slides and looks to get a toe on the ball, preventing the entry pass. The deflection falls to Adam Henley, who fails in a dramatically way to clear the ball and gives Medina his opportunity to take a shot.
This whole sequence is a great example of just one of the many ailments with Real Salt Lake right now. This ball should be cleared once, twice, maybe even three times, depending on what you think Damir Kreilach is supposed to be doing during this whole commotion. But two shots are created each with a legit chance to cause trouble, when they were already down 3-0.
#2 - Dominic Dwyer, Orlando City, 90th minute, 0.481 expected goals
Assisted by: Justin Meram
Number of passes in sequence: 12
This moment. This single moment encapsulates why Orlando went out and spent the way they did to get both Justin Meram and Dominic Dwyer. Sure, Dwyer’s foot gets a bit low on the ball and skies it over the uprights. But the way that Orlando handled this possession sequence is exactly how Jason Kreis wants his team to.
Meram hangs out wide and times his run perfectly. As soon as Mohamed El-Munir releases the ball, Meram is off to the races and in perfect symmetry with Dwyer, who also breaks, while making sure to stay behind the ball.
This is just one of many high leverage opportunity the two could create together if they start to get on the same page.
#1 - Alberth Elis, Houston Dynamo, 7th minute, 0.740 expected goals
Assisted by: Romell Quioto
Number of passes in sequence: 4
I’ve talked a lot about “runs” being made in this edition, but this is the highlight of them all. This run by Alberth Elis is incredible. You can see Elis come in to the picture at the top right as the ball pings off Andrew Wenger. Elis makes his way to that near post run, and then springs forward in the last few yards to create a shot that surely would have been far too much for Andrew Tarbell, had it been on target.
Elis is throwing up big numbers this year and not only does have the highest xG (4.1) from open play in MLS right now, but he has highest xG at this stage of the season since Marco Di Vaio’s 4.3 xG back in 2014. In fact, since 2011 only four players have ever thrown up 4.0 xG at this stage of the season; Christian Ramirez (‘17), Di Vaio (‘14) and Chris Wondolowski (‘13).
But goals and the expectations aren’t the only things that Elis is bringing to the table. His xG+xA of 6.49 leads the league as well. What makes that number even more special is that since Clint Dempsey in 2014, no one has surpassed the 5 xG+xA mark at this point in the season. Heck, no player had ever surpassed the 6 xG+xA without the aid of penalties, but Elis has done both and is marching towards setting a new mark this year.
It's also mportant to note that Tomas Martinez has himself a game against San Jose. He did a great job dishing off to Romell Quioto, but only after he drew in Yefferson Quintana, which gave Quioto just enough space to get touch into the box and create the opportunity for the springing Elis.
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...
Alexander Ring, New York City, 72nd minute, 0.039 expected goals
Assisted by: David Villa
Number of passes in sequence: 4
I’m not a european soccer watcher. I’ve seen a fair amount of soccer games but I can’t say I saw a lot of David Villa at either Barcelona or Atlético Madrid. But this moment seems like one of those typical magic Villa moments.
The goal of course was scored by Alexander Ring and I do not wish to take anything away from him. But the whole thing is Villa magic because he is dispossessed eleventy billion times and yet Atlanta defense is unable to come away with the ball. That’s not to discredit Michael Parkhurst or Darlington Nagbe who each take turns being inside Villa’s back pocket.
The pass back to Ring from Villa even positions the Finnish international to receive it, and then set up to take it with his preferred right foot. The shot itself, a high and hard curler into the near-post is astounding, but it is made all the more special by the series of events that led up to the shot. The whole thing feels like destiny and should set up a fantastic replay at Yankee stadium on June 9th.
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 L. for providing the high quality GIFs for this post.