Lowered Expectations: Week 9 / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week nine 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 (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process that led to them.

#5 -  Mac Steeves, Houston Dynamo, 91st minute, 0.463 expected goals
Assisted by: Andrew Wenger
Passes in sequence: 2

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Personally, I’m a bit stunned that this attempt is rated so highly by the model. It’s via a cross and the shot comes by way of a header. What makes it even worse (not that the model has this insight) is that Andrew Wenger delivers the pass into a double team. It’s really on Mac Steeves and his athleticism to make something happen. Which he does and it’s kind of impressive in a way that’s not really impressive at all.

Looking at the shot attempt from the model’s perspective, the shot is measured at just over five yards away from the center of goal with hardly any angle to it. That creates the largest probable goalmouth available of these five shots. It is this perspective that helps give us insight to the model and helps us understand why this is rated as highly as it is.

It took a lot of work by Steeves to not just get into the position for an attempt but also to win the positioning header itself. Even though he is the primary “winner” of the ball, you can see he really doesn't get much on it and the ball just gets redirected near goal but kind of in no man’s land. Memo Rodriguez makes a half attempt at following up and then kind of awkwardly gets taken out by Bobby Shuttleworth.

#4 - Maximiliano Moralez, New York City FC, 50th minute, 0.573 expected goals
Assisted by: David Villa
Number of passes in sequence: 1

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This is a bit of a mess but not anything compared to the cluster that afflicted Toronto and Chicago (more on that later). David Villa absolutely creates something from... well, it’s not nothing. It’s basically a counter attack or breakaway gone bad but despite that Villa creates something with a little help from Yangel Herrera and Maxi Moralez.

We’ve talked a bit about how the talent of finishing can be best determined on a moment by moment basis under specific criteria. It needs to be viewed in context, but mostly shakes out to a fair median across the whole. This attempt is one of those that will eventually "shake out" over time. There isn't any one thing wrong with the finish, but ultimately Moralez gets a bit unlucky with Maurer's positioning and redirection. It's tough to see someone not convert these high leverage opportunities, but the other side of the coin is seeing low leverage shots find a way into the net or the keeper making a mistake rather than a save.

Moralez doesn't really do anything wrong, but he doesn't have a great angle for a shot. Rather than picking out a small area of success, Moralez forces Jimmy Maurer into a save. Sometimes creating a shot is important, but is just one step in the process. Because Moralez forced Maurer into a save, he was able to take a follow up shot and had the ricochet been a bit more favorable he might have been able to put it back into the goal rather than the side netting.

#3 - Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew SC, 51st minute, 0.581 expected goals
Assisted by: NA
Number of passes in sequence: 0

Oh, Zardes. This won’t be a good GIF for his “touch is getting better” narrative. But really, I think on the whole he’s shown the propensity for moving forward and taking care of business when he’s had to, despite this obvious whole in his game.

This is straight up tough one to watch. Zardes positions himself perfectly onside and in front of the keeper Andrew Tarbell, where he’s able to jump almost literally to the rebound provided off the Milton Valenzuela shot. What I don’t understand is how how that ball has more slice on it than any shot by my father-in-law out at the golfing range. This is where kick-fx and spin rate would be fascinating addition.  

Prior to the shot, I love love love the shake, shimmy and dribble by Harrison Afful. He is not only able to get into the 18-yard box with his speed, but then creates additional separation from the defender to put a pass into Valenzuela for the shot.

#2 - Nemanja Nikolic, Chicago Fire, 91st minute, 0.676 expected goals
Assisted by: NA
Number of passes in sequence:

This is just an absolute cluster.

There is so much concerning the aesthetics that I hate about this whole thing. Bastian Schweinsteiger's pass leads to the initial attempt by Alan Gordon, which somehow finds him sandwiched between two defenders. Then Liam Frasier saves it off the line, which is followed by a good dozen or so failed clearances by Michael Bradley.

I get that creating this type of scramble often works in the attacking player's favor, and you can tell Chicago is just trying to make *something* happen in extra time. That said, watching it makes my heart hurt. I don’t understand how Nemanja Nikolic or Gordon (really twice, even though he’s only credited for one shot) miss golden opportunities. The kicker for me is how Nikolic hits the top of the post. Like, how?

But let’s focus on the on the build up, or... I guess the jumbled mess that we will henceforth refer to as “the build up”. Jonathan Osorio starts off with a suave interception via Schweinsteiger, with a nice trap and flip over Gordon to Bradley. Unfortunately, Bradley doesn’t get a handle on the ball and Diego Campos performs a nifty tackle to immediately win back position. Campos however delivers a quick pass into the 18 yard box that almost inadvertently hits Ashtone Morgan. It’s actually pretty confounding as to why Morgan falls down, and after watching this 40 or 50 times I’m still not sure if he was just off balance or what happened. The ball ricochets out to Marky Delgado, but Campos is there to win yet another ball and lay the pass to Schweinsteiger, who then sends in a cross to Gordon.

This possession series as a whole is a great example of why Chris Anderson and David Sally talk about how 50% of the soccer is random chance. There is nothing that either one team did better than the other. Both hold equal parts poor decision making and execution. It’s just kind of random how either Bradley or Delgado lose the ball to Campos. Not to take anything away from the effort of Campos, but both Bradley and Delgado are solid in possession and both situations seem more like unlucky scenarios than talented tackles.

#1 - Marco Ureña,  Los Angeles FC, 5th minute, 0.701 expected goals
Assisted by: Carlos Vela
Number of passes in sequence: 6

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This pass movement really opens up Carlos Vela on the wing to get free, which is unbelievably sloppy from a Seattle team on the road that prided itself in the the amount clean sheets they had last year.

Kelvin Leerdam quickly moves to close down Vela, who obviously from the time of reception has no intention of going to goal directly. His patience is rewarded by Marco Ureña making a front post run while Omar Gaber picks up the back post a bit slow.

Ureña just gets a bit of his left foot on the ball while attempting redirect the ball on frame. It’s super subtle and kind of looks like a dummy to Gaber, but you can see the spin and redirection off Vela’s pass that make it a clear attempt.

While the opportunity probably doesn’t register for many Sounders fans who probably felt good about the game despite being on the losing end, this was a moment that could have been a huge game changer.

This is also another example on why I’m shy about throwing out the fact that someone is a “bad” finisher. While getting to this spot and finding a shot is a huge success, it’s not necessarily as much a gimme as the model thinks it is. While Ureña hasn’t finished all the chances he's had (4.37, xG and zero goals), repeatedly finding these high leverage opportunities inside the six is going to lead to long-term success for both him and the team.

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...

Cristian Higuita, Orlando City, 52nd minute, 0.055 expected goals
Assisted by: Sacha Kljestan
Number of passes in sequence: 1

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Honestly, if I’m in the film room with Colorado and their coaching staff, despite the expected goal probability I can’t just associate this purely with bad luck. Colorado doesn't do one specific thing wrong, rather there are a series of breakdowns that leave the end result, a goal, absolutely frustrating. I'm going to break it down into four major errors.

1) Dillon Serna’s headed clearance is not good enough.

It’s not as if the header here was inherently bad, but I’m confused as to what purpose it specifically served. He had Dom Dwyer snooping around so obviously he didn't have time to control it, but was the header purposefully sent to Enzo Martinez? Did Serna not get enough umph to get it out of the attacking third? I’m not sure and ultimately it doesn't help Colorado.

2) Enzo Martinez made things worse.

Serna’s header is made all the worse by Martinez and his bicycle clearance. Trust me, I get it. Bicycle kicks are the bees knees. My eight-year-old practices them about once a week until he gets the air knocked out of him because he’s bound and determined to look cool.

But what I keep explaining to my son, and what someone needs to probably explain to Martinez, is that there are usually better alternatives. The very best thing that could have happened here is maintaining possession and finding a way to break on the counter. The next best thing would be to clear the ball out of the defensive third in such a way that allows the defense to regain its defensive shape before Orlando comes back around for another attacking possession.

Neither of those things happen when both are probably realistic and possible if he brings the ball down and turns on it. Instead Martinez tries an absurd clearance and indirectly hands the ball to one of the most dangerous attacking players over the last two seasons.

3) No one steps to Cristian Higuita except Joe Mason.

Sacha Kljestan certainly draws attention from the Colorado defense, but that isn’t really an excuse as most of them just turn their head to watch what cool thing he would to do next. That cool thing is find an open Higuita moving towards the 18 yard box.

Since one steps to him, Joe Mason (Colorado’s starting striker) comes flying in from the midfield to try and disarm Higuita while the entire back six defenders are ball-watching rather unconcerned.

They probably have a right to be unconcerned about a shot from this distance with so many defender nearby. But when no one cuts down an angle, forces him to alter his path forward, or even tries to obstruct his view, the shot becomes unadulterated and all the more dangerous as a result.

Kudos to Mason though for running down that shot attempt. It was very Kevin Doyle-esque and I can only imagine how excited it got Pablo Mastroeni hiding in some deep crevice inside the fortress that is DSG.

4) What the heck is Zac MacMath doing?

No, like, for serious. What is happening here? I’m not sure if he thinks this shot isn't going to be taken, if the team is going to stop him from attempting it, or if he just is blocked from seeing the ball for a second, but it’s frankly absurd that he gives zero effort.

I’ve been a huge supporter of MacMath and despite this goal I still think he should have the job over Tim Howard, but moments like this really hurt any argument for him. The shot isn't necessarily a super dangerous one and these are the kind attempts that a defensive unit should be shutting down. No attempt to save or redirect the shot is just disappointing.

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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 David Windmueller, my podcast mate and @TotalMLS twitter personality Ian L. for providing the high quality GIFs for this post.