By Eric Walcott (@ericwsoccer)
Welcome to Setting the Table, where each week we take some time to focus on the best chance creators in MLS from the last weekend. If you want to see the best chances that were wasted, check out Lowered Expectations. Here we focus on chances that ended with the ball in the back of the net.
#5 Victor Vazquez, TFC, 29th minute, 0.36 expected goals
Assisted by: Nicolas Hasler
Passes in sequence: 14
This goal pretty well encapsulated this entire game, in which Toronto created 1.45 xG and scored three, while limiting Philadelphia to 0.33 xG. A 14 pass sequence ends with Auston Trusty being pulled out of position by Sebastian Giovinco’s give-and-go with Jonathan Osorio, and a nice pass from Hasler who has the time and space to find Victor Vazquez for the shot and the goal. The Union failed to ever really pressure the ball, but as you can see, were pulled to the left side of the field by the sequence of passes, and when Trusty gets drawn to Giovinco, it leaves Hasler with acres of space, making the final pass a simple one.
#4 Josef Martinez, Atlanta United, 57th minute, 0.402 expected goals
Assisted by: Darlington Nagbe
Passes in sequence: Five
My favorite part of this chance is that Darlington Nagbe does what I think most players wouldn't, and passes. I think most players in that spot take the shot, which would have a high expected goals, but also probably be saved and end up in Harrison’s “Lowered Expectations” column. Nagbe, doing the Darlington Nagbe thing, passes, and ends up with what has to be one of the shortest assists of the season distance wise.
Defensively, Chicago needs to be asking some questions. Nobody ever steps to the ball, nobody tracks Nagbe, and nobody is paying attention to Josef Martinez, who, despite being offside for most of this possession, wisely waits until he’s onside to make his move.
#3 Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact, 68th minute, 0.415 expected goals
Assisted by: Samuel Piette
Passes in sequence: Four
Samuel Piette doesn’t win the award for creating the highest quality chance of the week, but this is still one of the most impressive assists of the week for the fact that the pass is so perfectly weighted to let Ignacio Piatti take one controlling touch, in stride, before slotting the ball past Matt Turner. I can’t fault the New England back line too much because while they maybe shouldn’t let Piatti run right past them, the ball from Piette is put in the one place where Piatti, and only Piatti, is ever going to get it. A bit harder hit and it rolls to the goalkeeper, a bit underhit and they’re able to get between Piatti and the goal.
#2 Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Montreal Impact, 45+2 minute (1st half stoppage time), 0.428 expected goals
Assisted by: Ignacio Piatti
Passes in sequence: One
Anthony Jackson-Hamel has Ignacio Piatti to thank for the first of his two goals in this one. Piatti does almost all the work, winning the ball back and then playing Jackson-Hamel into so much space that there’s only two defenders in the defensive half and Jackson-Hamel is past them before ever receiving the ball. It’s a perfectly timed run, and New England is clearly caught off guard by how quickly Piatti turns a defensive recovery into an assist. Goalkeeper Matt Turner gets a piece of the shot, but it isn’t quite enough to prevent the goal.
#1 Derrick Etienne, NYRB, 79th minute, 0.456 expected goals
Assisted by: Florian Valot
Passes in sequence: Two
There’s some irony in Florian Valot getting credit for the highest quality assist of the weekend because watching the replay it’s hard not to look at Valot’s “pass” and think he was just going up trying to head the ball towards goal. He did, and it found Derrick Etienne in space behind the defense, where Etienne did well to round Sean Johnson and finish the rout for New York Red Bulls. Meanwhile, NYCFC’s backline, maybe still shellshocked by everything else that happened in this game, is caught ball watching and lets the ball slip past them to Etienne for the chance.
Top save: Stefan Marinovic vs Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United vs Vancouver Whitecaps, 60th minute, 0.986 keeper xG
Stefan Marinovic might make the top save of the week according to goalkeeper xG, but it won’t be something he’s excited about. Marinovic makes the initial save, but Miguel Ibarra reacts more quickly than Vancouver’s backline which, in the theme of the week for defenses, gets caught ball-watching, and puts the rebound in the back of the net. Maybe appearing in this column will make Marinovic feel a little better about conceding that goal. After all, it is quite an honor.
That’s all from this week’s Setting the Table. Thanks for taking the time to explore last weekend’s top assists and give some praise to the weekend’s best chance creators. See you next week.