By Eric Walcott (@ericwsoccer)
Welcome to Setting the Table, this week featuring a whole lot of Houston vs Chicago. 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 Nemanja Nikolic to Diego Campos, Chicago Fire, 16th minute, 0.369 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 2
We start this week’s top five chances converted with a nice little pass from Nemanja Nikolic to Diego Campos, a goal which gave Chicago a 2-1 lead in the 16th minute after going down 1-0 in just the 4th minute. This goal says more to me about Houston’s defensive organization than anything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sneaky little pass from Nikolic to put Campos in, but look at Houston’s defensive shape after DaMarcus Beasley’s attempted clearance. There’s really nobody in the space just outside the 18, which leads both Houston defenders nearby to step to Nikolic (as they should, you don’t leave a guy who scored 24 goals last season open at the top of the 18). It looks like Houston’s center mids have gotten sucked to the wing, leaving that space wide open, and not only do they get pulled wide, they fail to get back to the middle when the cross goes in.
For Chicago, it’s a rare assist from Nikolic who now has one assist on 0.9 xA in 2018. He had three assists on 2.7 xA in 2017, so it’s fair to say any chances Nikolic sets up directly are just an added bonus for the Fire.
Speaking of the Fire, Chicago, who finished 3rd in the East in 2017, currently sit 8th in the East. They’re sitting on 1.3 xG per game and 1.55 xG against per game, both of which are worse than last season, but not significantly worse. The big difference so far this year is that while in 2017 the Fire scored 59 goals on 47.7 xG, their attack this year is more on pace with their xG, scoring 15 goals on 14.3 xG. Remember in the offseason how everyone wondered if Atlanta could keep outperforming expected goals? Maybe we should’ve been asking the same about Chicago.
#4 Borek Dockal to Ilsinho, Philadelphia Union, 74th minute, 0.408 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 3
There’s not a ton to say here. Dockal makes a nice run and does a good job pulling defenders to him, leaving Ilsinho in some space, and Ilsinho does a good job just poking it home. Also good job to Alejandro Bedoya for making sure NOT to touch that ball from an offside position. RSL by this point just seemed beat down. Only a few minutes before they’d been lucky not to go down 3-1 after a Union goal (on a howler from Nick Rimando) was called back for offside, and RSL just look tentative in defense. Nobody, Rimando included, really commits to stopping Dockal’s run and there’s just way too much time and space.
Quick note on the Union, I was tweeting earlier about MLS forwards and “efficiency,” looking at the top forwards according to expected goals per shot. Basically, the quality of the shots their taking. Here’s the top 10 forwards by that metric:
CJ Sapong in the top 10 got me a lot of replies from Union fans about his poor finishing. When comparing his goals to expected goals, it does not look good. That said, when you look at his G-xG for his career, he’s pretty close to them matching up throughout his MLS career. Here are his numbers since 2011.