By Eric Walcott (@ericwsoccer)
Welcome to Setting the Table. 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.
Our goals this week very much fit within the popular narrative around counterpressing, or gegenpressing, as it’s often called. While not all of them are examples of the immediate pressure after ceding possession, they emphasize what is at the heart of gegenpressing. That is, that teams are most vulnerable immediately after a change in possession. Three of this week’s top five assists according to expected goals come on thre passes or fewer after a team won the ball off an opponent. Chris Mueller’s assist to Christian Higuita is a prime example of this.
#5 Chris Mueller to Cristian Higuita, Orlando City, 28th minute, 0.337 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 2
I had plans of using this section as a stop to pick up passengers on the Chris Mueller for Rookie of the Year hype train. Then I looked at minutes played by rookies in 2018 and started to think that wasn’t really necessary. There’ve been a few other rookies to earn consistent minutes, guys like Auston Trusty (though, weirdly, MLS does not list any homegrown players on their list of “rookies” on their website, so I’m not clear if HGs are eligible for ROY). Mo Adams has been good for Chicago as well. Joao Moutinho has played consistently for LAFC and been decent, though I’m not sure he’s been a difference maker.
The main competition might be RSL’s Corey Baird. Here are Mueller and Baird’s expected goals numbers side by side:
While Mueller has the slight edge in total numbers, when you break it down per 96 minutes (the average length of an MLS game), they’re almost even, with Baird having a slight lead. If you dive into their xPassing numbers and xG Chain, Mueller is more active in Orlando’s attack than Baird is for RSL, and a better passer compared to what we’d expect.
So I’ve spent probably way more time talking about Chris Mueller for Rookie of the Year than you probably wanted, but just look at that final ball he plays to Higuita, appreciate his awesomeness, and let’s move on.
#4 Yordy Reyna to Cristian Techera, Vancouver Whitecaps, 74th minute, 0.379 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 3
If you look in the dictionary for how to execute a perfect counter off an opposition set piece you’ll probably find this goal. If you look up Vancouver Whitecaps in the dictionary you’ll probably find the same thing. There’s nothing ritzy about Vancouver this year. According to our p-score numbers they’re the most direct, and apply the lowest defensive pressure of any team in MLS. That said, if you let them get out on the break, watch out because they’ve got pace, and lots of it.
#3 Romell Quioto to Alejandro Fuenmayor, Houston Dynamo, 21st minute, 0.427 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 1
There’s not a ton to say here except that if you’re NYCFC you might want to mark the tall guy standing far post on a set-piece. Romell Quioto does a good job of playing the ball directly to Alejandro Fuenmayor who is standing, inexplicably, unmarked, a couple feet from the goal. While it looks easy because of NYCFC’s poor marking, it’s a credit to both Quioto and Fuenmayor that they execute the play perfectly.
#2 Paul Arriola to Darren Mattocks, DC United, 84th minute, 0.599 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 10
The lesson here, kids? Don’t get caught ball watching. If either of the LAFC defenders had a clue Paul Arriola was making that far post run they could’ve put a body on him and prevented this goal. Watching this chance, probably even the slightest bump on his run to that header means he either doesn’t get there, or isn’t able to put it in such a dangerous spot for Darren Mattocks to head home.
All that said, this was a nice buildup from DC United in a season that has seen few of these types of movements. DC has generated a league low 11.9 xG this season, and tends to be one of the more direct in the league, so it’s nice to see them pass the ball around with purpose.
#1 Diego Fagundez to Teal Bunbury, New England, 59th Minute, 0.644 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 2
When Lee Nguyen decided he didn’t want to play for New England anymore, was benched, and subsequently traded, many wondered how the Revolution would replace him in their attack. Enter Diego Fagundez. After a few years of being a guy with exciting potential and pretty good numbers (seven goals, seven assists in 2017, six and five in 2016), Fagundez has taken it to a new level in 2018. Playing more centrally (and also in a more free role), Fagundez has been ubiquitous in the Revolution attack. This pass to Teal Bunbury is a great example of Fagundez using the freedom he has in the central role to find space and then make a great pass to set up a high quality chance. Fagundez has taken so well to his new role that he’s actually producing a higher xG+xA per 96 minutes than Nguyen did the last two years, as you can see in the table below.
Top save: Tim Melia vs Gyasi Zardes, SKC vs Columbus Crew, 43rd minute, 0.928 keeper xG
Tim Melia wins the “xG Save of the Week” award this week for his penalty save on Gyasi Zardes. It’s actually a decently hit penalty from Zardes, and Melia does well to get down and make the save. Well done to Melia.
What’s interesting, if you’re into the nitty-gritty of expected goals, is the difference between the keeper xG on this penalty from Zardes (0.928) and Giovinco’s penalty which Jesse Gonzalez saved last weekend, which had a keeper xG of 0.78. Basically, Giovinco's was a bit higher off the ground and that tiny difference accounted for 1/6th of a goal.
That’s all from this edition of 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.