Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week five edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s five 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 - Sam Nicholson, Minnesota United, 12th minute, 0.308 expected goals
Assisted by: #N/A
Number of passes in sequence: 12
This is probably one of the most unusual “shots” and possession sequences that I’ve seen in our data set. The cross by Ibson isn’t credited as a key pass because it’s an unsuccessful cross. You may or may not notice that Chris McCann redirects this ball.
The delivery of the cross prior to the deflection may have a chance to slip in Sam Nicholson but it ends up just out of reach. The combination play between Tyrone Mears, Abu Danladi and Ibson to set up the cross is actually a lot of fun and it creates just enough space for Ibson to delivery a semi-useful pass.
Nicholson is just in an awkward position after the redirection for the shot and I honestly can’t believe he got a foot on it let alone placed in the right direction in a vain attempt to put the shot close to the goal.
#4 - Hector Villalba, Atlanta United, 5th minute, 0.309 expected goals
Assisted by: Miguel Almiron
Number of passes in sequence: 2
This is textbook Atlanta. The combination play between Miguel Almiron and Darlington Nagbe (who doesn’t even get credited for a pass) creates running lanes which in turn creates another high leverage shot. The pass by Almiron leading up to the shot and just beyond the reach of Francisco Calvo marking Hector Villalba inside is just spectacular and why you’re not going to see him in MLS long term.
The shot itself will likely be said “could be better” but let’s not underrate the velocity created off a single touch with two defenders bearing down and the fact Villalba manages to at least force Matt Lampson into a save.
The great thing about forcing a keeper into a save is that you never know what might happen afterwards. We see the deflection and the way the ball bounces away from Julian Gressel but in a the spirit of “what if”, what if the ball spins towards Gressel instead of away from him. You can see at the end of the play he has a free chance at goal. Crazy things can happen even if you just force the keeper into a save.
#3 - Justin Meram, Orlando City, 95th minute, 0.334 expected goals
Assisted by: Yoshimar Yotun
Number of passes in possession: 13
Dribbling is hard to quantify, and while this sequence is less than spectacular with how haphazardly it ends, creating dribbles in the attacking half can create quality shots.
Justin Meram over the years has shown he can create some exciting moments on the ball and while this isn’t quite his best (fumbling through a series of defenders) his quick footwork keeps control of the ball and presents a moment of quality at the end.
I do want to highlight the last ditch defending by Florian Valot who blocked the shot just as Meram puts his foot to the ball. It prevents what is basically a one-on-one with the keeper, and Valot did well to recover after Meram beat him on the first dribble.
#2 - Luciano Acosta, DC United, 47th minute, 0.531 expected goals
Assisted by: N/A
Number of passes in sequence: 5
This is kind of a scramble of a GIF and the shot by Luciano Acosta is underwhelming despite it being a super cheeky chip. The initial shot by by Yamil Asad isn’t bad (it actually ranks 12th overall from open play) but he doesn’t really connect with it.
The shot is deflected/blocked by Ike Opara who after the deflection falls back to the goal line once the cross by Joseph Mora is made. Which is another reason to love Opara. He isn’t just a great athlete with amazing defensive tools but a smart and intelligent defender.
The cross by Mora is frustrating because he doesn’t really pick anyone out. Instead he takes a look and then sends it to the back post in the midst of about four white jerseys, which, I suppose, is fundamentally correct. Mora gets lucky as the ball gets loose and Acosta gets a chance to put the ball on the in the back of the net with a shot even if it’s not great follow through.
#1 - Mason Toye, Minnesota United, 88th minute, 0.671 expected goals
Assisted by: Ethan Finlay
Number of passes in possession: 8
Mason Toye has made a regular name for himself on this weekly article and he’s here once more with solid movement that helps create this high valued shot that somehow is redirected wide.
My favorite thing about this though is Miguel Ibarra. He’s very Lodeiro-esque here as he just helps cycle the ball wide-then-middle and then picks out Ethan Finlay with his third touch. A simple head fake and little ball roll then creates just enough of a passing lane to find Finlay. It’s all really subtle but it’s these things that make me think Ibarra might just be a 10 after all.
Finlay has great movement that puts himself in prime position to both receive the pass and then to create a shot. The disappointing thing here is that Finlay chooses to pass rather than to attempt a shot at goal.
Often we talk about how sometimes players decide to shoot rather than pass into a better situation. Here we have the reverse of that. Finlay makes a difficult pass into traffic while he has an open shot inside the 18. Obviously Toye has the better opportunity but considering how difficult the pass was to actually pull off, it seems likely Finlay would have had a better chance if he had taken it himself.
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...
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy, 77th minute, 0.018 expected goals
Assisted by: Daniel Steres
Number of passes in possession: 1
We may not have known the moment he hit it was going in the back of the net (as our collective consciousness was dealing a new major reality check with the existence of Zlatan in MLS and what that means). But after the first hundred views we all knew this GIF was going to end up here.
I have nothing new to add to this amazing moment that you probably haven’t already heard from smarter people elsewhere. The angle, the dip, the swerve and velocity he puts on this is all types of unreal and it just--it’s mind blowing and crazy how it all unfolded.
The one question that I have as I watch this over and over is how Tyler Miller is simply unable to get back into position??? I honestly don’t get it. Not to take anything away from the shot or series but Miller is super out of position 10 seconds after taking the free kick just outside the box. I’m not expecting him to sprint back but it’s a bit lackadaisical to say the least.
A Kerfuffle: The point of expected goals is to create goals
It’s funny to see people argue over who should get credit for a goal. Should it be an own goal? Should the player get it?
I like expected goals because it rewards process rather than the result. The result we all hope happens when our team takes a shot is a goal. But while we sometimes have games with eight goals scored, the reality is we also have weeks where multiple games go without a team scoring a goal.
The GIF above of Felipe Gutiérrez scoring is great because he does what he can to penetrate the defense. He then creates enough space, has no free teammate to pass it so he creates his own opportunity and scores. Regardless of who is credited with the creation of the goal, Gutiérrez gets a share of that expected goal tally and a positive piece in the process of judging an attack.
The point of expected goals isn’t just to judge an individual attempt but a process by which a team repeatedly creates opportunities and the predictability of those attempts by the team to score goals. With Gutierez on the attack above you get to see a visual representation of why you should trust the process in SKC.
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 for providing the high quality GIFs for this post.