Lowered Expectations: Week 13 / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week thirteen edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts which 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 leading to them.

#5 - Maximiliano Urruti, FC Dallas, 20th minute, 0.500 expected goals
Assisted by: Michael Barrios
Passes in sequence: 5

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This “switch” and cross by Maynor Figueroa is great, but some poor defending here by Auro gives Michael Barrios position to receive the ball. Sure, he pressures Barrios out of bounds, but not before Barrios is able to cross it into the box.

The cross back to Maximiliano Urruti is a bit high and headers are more difficult to put on target, statistically speaking.  But you can see what Urruti was looking to do by putting the shot in top left corner over the outstretched hand of Alex Bono.

It might have been a better play to put the ball back to the right corner but I think the shot attempt has more to do with where the ball was and realistically what Maxi could do with it.

#4 -Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders FC, 34th minute, 0.500 expected goals
Assisted by: N/A
Number of passes in sequence: 3

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The shot itself by Cristian Roldan isn’t great. He falls back on his heels, which rockets the ball over the crossbar. I get he’s trying to chip it over Rimando’s head, who is able to cut off a great amount of the goal mouth immediately in front of Roldan, but even a quarter of a second look up would have exposed the right side of the goal. It would have still been a difficult shot, especially with Roldan being off balance, but it would have been a better decision and been more likely to lead to a goal.

One thing I completely missed the first time I watched this (and was pointed out to me by my cohort in crime Ian Lamberson) was how the Sounders, at the 33rd minute, were high pressing. What??? Yeah. Something I hadn't noticed is they’ve been pressing off and on this season. The press in this situation creates a key turnover and after a few passes the Rave Green create not one but two very good opportunities.

Seattle Opponent Seattle Defensive Actions Seattle Passes Opponent Passes Seattle Passes per Defensive Action Seattle Possession Opponent Possession
Los Angeles FC 54 633 430 11.72 0.6 0.4
FC Dallas 50 488 567 9.76 0.46 0.54
Montreal 61 510 562 8.36 0.48 0.52
Kansas City 71 480 677 6.76 0.41 0.59
Minnesota United 46 558 536 12.13 0.51 0.49
Los Angeles FC 51 515 529 10.1 0.49 0.51
Columbus 22 699 381 31.77 0.65 0.35
Toronto 79 353 700 4.47 0.34 0.66
Portland 47 502 505 10.68 0.5 0.5
Salt Lake 41 454 524 11.07 0.46 0.54

What’s been interesting is the Sounders have been rather chameleon-like in their use of tactics this year with all the problems that have beset their roster. With a more optimal lineup they've employed their dominant possession style of attack. But with missing personnel they’ve adapted and tried to employ a more proactive style of play. They did this to great effect against Kansas City and Toronto.

Of course, presently the narrative is how badly the Sounders have played home and the results bear that out. Through five games they’ve only scored three goals. Obviously the results aren’t good, but our model is a bit more hopeful and has them at almost eight expected goals with a positive expected goal differential of 0.83 per match. This is good for fourth among Western Conference clubs at home.

The Sounders are gradually going to get healthy, and currently they have games in hand against every team in the West right now. It’s only a matter of time until they get to full strength and if they sincerely intend to spend more money in the second half of the season it’s only a matter of time until this sleeping dragon, or more like a mangled hydra, rises. The only question is if are they able to do it while there is still a chance at the playoffs.

#3 -Carlos Vela, LAFC, 16th minute, 0.512 expected goals
Assisted by: Mark-Anthony Kaye
Number of passes in sequence: 6

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The ball movement and development of the play here is just fantastic (mostly).

Carlos Vela walks the ball over the midfield line and dishes off to Jordan Harvey. Harvey then cycles to Diego Rossi, who cuts in and works in combination with Vela to create a bit of space in the center of the park. Rossi streaks across the middle of the field and delivers a pass to Mark-Anthony Kaye which should have been intercepted by Yamil Asad.

Let’s stop right here. Kaye has moved into space and it’s a great find by Rossi, but during the 20 or 30 times I’ve watched this clip, I don’t understand how Asad is unable to come up with the interception and it speaks so much to the woes plaguing DC.

Since coming to DC Asad has been far less effective than his time in Atlanta. He’s taking fewer shots and shots from farther away from goal, which isn’t good. Additionally, he’s been dramatically worse at passing in the attacking this season. Not just from a completion perspective (which dropped from 71% to 58%) but also from an xPassing perspective (73.8% to 64.8%). Which infers he’s making riskier passes and is less successful than his peers. Part of is due to the increase in the amount of crosses (bad!) and all the dead ball attempts (not necessarily bad!).

If DC is able to acquire Wayne Rooney I’m very interested in how might improve peripherals of individuals such as Asad Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola, and Zoltan Steiber. This is much more interesting to me than debating whether or not Rooney will score goals. It’s hard for me to believe he won’t score, but how he impacts his teammates and elevates the whole team will be a much larger and interesting story.

Back to this play.

Kaye receives the ball and then does one really simple thing... he waits. Rather than just immediately pump the ball into the box while he has time, he just allows things to develop.

Vela moves in quietly behind Oneil Fisher, waits just on his shoulder, and then makes his move in front of Fisher as soon as Kaye puts the ball on his left foot and delivers the cross. The cross itself is a good one, unsurprising due to the amount of time and space given to Kaye, but Vela just is unable to direct it on to frame.

Headed shots are difficult shots to put on frame, as I mentioned before with Urruti, and headed shots inside the box have a less than 15% conversion rate. The closer you are to goal, conversion exponentially increases, but it doesn’t minimize the difficulty. Obviously it would seem Vela should have put the shot away, but once more it isn’t always so simple.

#2 - Kei Kamara, Vancouver Whitecaps, 1st minute, 0.543 expected goals
Assisted by: Yordy Renya
Number of passes in sequence: 2

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This is a rather stunning situation and while Matt Turner has been pretty good in the early going of this season, he’s just flat lucky Kei Kamara didn’t bullet this shot into the back of the net. Even after the one touch where he gets the ball onto his right foot, I felt like there was still a window to be had for Kamara to fit the shot into. Apparently Kamara’s “shot” roll failed and sometimes that happens.

Cristian Techera is one to watch on the build up as he recovers the loose ball after a headed pass goes awry.  What I love is instead of making a run all the way to the touch line (which probably leads to a bad cross), he pulls up and helps create space for Yordy Renya.

Despite his hat trick, Techera has been a terrible passer over the last couple of years. In fact, last season his 58.7% pass success was the third lowest among qualified (meaning at least 1,000 minutes) passers going back to 2015 (it’s even worse if you look at the attempts in the final third). This season he’s not been any better, completing 6.7 fewer passes than average per 100 attempts (last year it was 6.8).

Here Techera makes a simple pass which sets Renya up to steam roll into the 18 yard box, blowing past Jalil Anibaba. If Techera wants to be more of an impact player, and he very well could be, he ranks 7th among wingers in expected goals this season, he’s going to have to put more of these meaningful passes together in the attacking third.

Overall it’s really encouraging for Vancouver’s season to continue to see these types of moments develop. Yes, the result is a bit hard to watch but deviations, such as this, from their normal direct style of play presents an avenue of attack which could be sustain consistent high leverage chances such as these.

Considering there are all of three “good” teams in the west (Houston, LAFC, Kansas City) those last three playoff spots are completely up for grabs right now.

FC Dallas seem to be rebounding from their tough 2017, but they're open play numbers are a bit soft. Giovanni Savarese and Portland look like they may have figured some things out (though xGD in open play still doesn’t love them). After Portland you have a collection of teams with interesting offenses and bad defenses (Minnesota, Vancouver and LA Galaxy). There are also San Jose who has their own odd set of predicaments and the aforementioned Seattle.

If the Whitecaps wish to differentiate themselves and earn a spot in the playoffs, they’ll have to continue creating these types of opportunities but also finish them. The longer they stay in the middle of the pack, the longer the possibility exists they will be fighting with everyone else come end of the season.

#1 - Tosaint Ricketts, Toronto FC, 34th minute, 0.678 expected goals
Assisted by:  N/A
Number of passes in sequence: 10

I dislike crosses. Not sure if I’ve conveyed that specific fact or not over the thirteen weeks of this column. But this specific one isn’t necessarily a bad. Victor Vasquez creates a nice little pocket of space for the first shot in this sequence by sneaking behind Reto Ziegler. I’d almost say Ziegler seems to lose him, but he did not once even check for a surrounding attacker.

Vasquez wanders in from midfield unmarked and doesn’t really push forward but just kind of strolls. Then with the pass from Gregory van der Wiel to Jonathan Osorio, Vasquez picks up and heads into the 18 yard box. Victor Ulloa picks him up, follows him in and then seems to pass him off to Ziegler, but it’s hard to see if there is any communication between the two during this “hand off”.

Tosaint Ricketts, the person with whom the highest missed expected goal value is associated with, is there after the flying save by Gonzalez. Unfortunately Ricketts isn’t able to corral the loose ball. He gets his right foot on it but with no real contact giving it fortunately right back to Gonzalez to gather it in.

This week’s lowest shot probability which actually culminated in a goal being scored...
Sebastian Saucedo, Real Salt Lake, 61st minute, 0.021 expected goals
Assisted by: Danilo Acosta
Number of passes in sequence: 12

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There are so many things about this goal which just happen to go in Real Salt Lake favor.

  1. Kelvin Leerdam for some reason positions himself to push Sebastian Saucedo to the inside. I don’t understand this move personally but I’m assuming his belief was there was help which he could see out of his peripherals. That’s my best guess.
  2. Lamar Neagle sticks with Danilo Acosta as he makes the pass and heads towards the 18 yard box. Neagle doesn’t check back to try and provide Leerdam some support, but I’m not honestly sure he needs to or should have.
  3. Alex Roldan doesn’t move to the ball but instead takes a route towards the rotating midfielder Sunny until he sees Saucedo drive, which at this point is too late.
  4. Cristian Roldan, who is roaming, comes on late to Saucedo who gets his shot off.
  5. Stefan Frei gets a hand on this ball, and if there is something we’ve learned over the past couple years, it's that Frei has some strong hands. But he just isn’t able to deflect this ball and instead the pace and rotation helps it find the back corner.

The Sounders had nearly everything go wrong for them in this breakdown, and while there is certainly things they could have done better it’s a bit of bad luck.

None of this is to take anything away from Saucedo. His first step isn’t great, but he gets past Leerdam through his determination and a bit of quickness. Additional props for getting the shot off and with the amount of velocity he does.

It's a seriously a strong shot. I wonder how much the velocity and spin improves the probability of this shot becoming a goal. Being able to factor those into our xG model is the future of expected goals, but we’re not there yet. One day, hopefully.

Top-10 individuals in Expected Goals from the last week (excludes PKs)
Shooter TEAM OPP Shots Dist xG
Nemanja Nikolic CHI HOU 3 9.6 1.2
Darwin Quintero MIN SKC 3 11.5 1.1
Zoltan Stieber DCU SJE 4 14.7 1.0
Danny Hoesen SJE DCU 8 19.5 0.8
Jordan Hamilton TFC ORL 2 11.5 0.8
Gyasi Zardes CLB NER 5 13.5 0.8
Chris Wondolowski SJE DCU 3 9.7 0.6
Borek Dockal PHI RSL 2 13.7 0.6
Fanendo Adi POR LAF 3 16.8 0.6
Ignacio Piatti MTL LAG 5 18.5 0.5

That’s all for this week’s edition of Lowered Expectations. I hope 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.