Setting the Table Week 20 - Steffen's Value, Quintero's Arrival, and Fagundez's Production / by Eric Walcott

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.

#5 Jonathan Lewis to Jesus Medina, NYCFC, 80th minute, 0.336 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 1


If rumors of a reported offer from England for Zach Steffen are true, and if the Crew are interested in selling, they might want to pull the trigger on this deal before his potential buyers see this highlight. This is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of mistake from Steffen when trying to play out the back, but whoa is it costly, leading to the game winning goal for NYCFC. Steffen almost gets away with it when Jonathan Lewis’ initial shot hits the post, but Lewis does a great job taking the rebound and playing the ball across the face of goal to Jesus Medina who is somehow wide open.

Before spending a few words on Steffen, it's worth saying if there’s a team out there in need of a boost in the attack, getting on the phone with NYCFC and asking about Lewis would not be a bad idea. In fact, it might be a very good one.

Lewis has played in 18 games in his MLS career and piled up a whopping 459 minutes (there’s a minimum of 1620 minutes in 18 full games). Here are his per 96 minutes numbers in that time:

Player Team Season Min Shots Goals xG KeyP Assts xA xG+xA
Jonathan Lewis NYC 2018 148 4.54 0.65 0.61 4.54 1.30 0.67 1.28
Jonathan Lewis NYC 2017 382 2.26 0.50 0.27 1.01 0.25 0.10 0.36

I know, I know, I know. Sample size. But please, someone figure out how to get that man on the field and give him a chance.

Now, back to Steffen. Steffen’s potential transfer has some taking a look at how he stacks up against other MLS goalkeepers. While there’s a lot to like about him and he’s a lot of potential, some of the underlying stats are not as impressive. By save efficiency, which is keeper xG divided by goals allowed, Steffen ranks 33rd of 39 goalkeepers who have faced at least 191 shots (the number Steffen has faced) since 2011 in MLS.

Expected goal data isn’t kind to Steffen either. In 2017 he was middle of the road in the league with 49 goals allowed against 48.99 xGA. He’s actually doing worse in 2018, allowing 15 goals on just 13.49 xGA. Only 4 GKs in MLS with over 1,000 minutes played have a worse GA-xGA than Steffen.

This article from last year by Luke Stanke goes more in depth on each goalkeeper in MLS in 2017 and looks at their adjusted save percentage, which rated Steffen 3% higher than the league average.

None of this is to say that Steffen isn’t a good goalkeeper, or won’t become a very good goalkeeper, it’s just interesting to see a supposed $4 million offer for him when there are plenty of goalkeepers in MLS putting up better numbers and getting less attention for it.

#4 Zoltan Stieber to Paul Arriola, DC United, 69th minute, 0.36 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 14


Enter Wayne Rooney and enter a new era of possession based dominance for DC United. No, not actually. Rooney had a nice debut, picking up an assist in a 3-1 win, but despite this very patient 14 pass sequence leading to Arriola’s second goal of the night, and despite 59% possession for DC on the night, don’t expect DC United to suddenly become a possession based team or to join the elite of MLS. DC’s possession dominance almost certainly had more to do with Vancouver, who are second lowest in the league in averaging 45.9% possession. DC only average 47.3%, though that may go up as they play more games at home the rest of the year. The margin of victory also flattered DC a bit in the opener of their new stadium, as they managed just 1.11 xG to Vancouver’s 1.03.

While Rooney certainly makes DC a better team, it will be interesting to see what happens with Darren Mattocks going forward. Mattocks is 11th in MLS in xG, and 5th in xG/96 so far this season with 0.57 xG/96. Rooney isn’t likely to play as a lone striker at this point in his career, so Mattocks probably won't lose his place in the team, but whether his productivity is helped or hurt by having Rooney in the lineup depends largely on whether it causes Ben Olsen to make changes to tactics that have largely fit well with Mattocks’ strengths.

#3 Darwin Quintero to Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United, 68th minute, 0.398 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 6


This is a great break from Minnesota and an example of a threat that Darwin Quintero has provided them with that they lacked previously. Between the moments of magic Quintero is capable of producing and threats like the one offered here, Minnesota are certainly a more fun team to watch lately.

Quintero’s 0.69 xG+xA/96 puts him in a group among the most dangerous attackers in the league. Not quite in that top tier, elite category, but just below there.

Player Team Min xG xA xG+xA
Josef Martinez ATL 1863 0.87 0.15 1.02
Alberth Elis HOU 1600 0.67 0.32 0.99
Miguel Almiron ATL 1977 0.55 0.37 0.92
Sebastian Giovinco TOR 1476 0.60 0.30 0.90
Bradley Wright-Phillips NYRB 1399 0.57 0.25 0.82
Zlatan Ibrahimovic LAG 1031 0.65 0.16 0.81
Gyasi Zardes CLB 1982 0.64 0.12 0.76
Carlos Vela LAFC 1301 0.45 0.30 0.75
Kei Kamara VAN 1372 0.63 0.12 0.75
Romell Quioto HOU 1285 0.29 0.47 0.75
Ola Kamara LAG 1422 0.60 0.14 0.74
Romain Alessandrini LAG 1164 0.30 0.41 0.71
Darwin Quintero MIN 1304 0.34 0.35 0.69
Daniel Royer NYRB 1156 0.57 0.12 0.69
Darren Mattocks DCU 1154 0.64 0.04 0.68

One thing to watch for Minnesota going forward: while their actual goal scoring is up slightly since Quintero arrived, at 1.36 goals per game compared to 1.2 goals per game previously, their chance creation is actually down. Prior to Quintero’s arrival, Minnesota were producing 1.49 xG per game, since then only 1.22 xG per game. Sample size could have a lot to do with that, but as Quintero himself is outperforming his xG  (seven goals on 4.6 xG) it will be interesting to see if he and Minnesota can continue to produce. If so, or if they start generating better chances, they may find themselves in a playoff battle in a weak Western conference.

#2 Luis Caicedo to Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution, 28th minute, 0.422 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 7


This assist from Luis Caicedo is so simple and yet so, so good. It also demonstrates how important small, simple movement can be in soccer. With just a couple of steps (and aided by Jonathan Dos Santos completely bailing on the play) Caicedo makes the space to receive from Diego Fagundez. Then when it looks like he has nowhere to go another small move and a perfectly timed run from Fagundez gives that tiny window to play the ball through. This all made more impressive by the fact that the Revolution were down a man at this point.

I wrote earlier this year about how Lee Nguyen’s departure had opened a door for Diego Fagundez to make the Revs his team, and he has absolutely taken that opportunity. Through last weekend Fagundez is producing 0.62 xG+xA/96, better than any season Lee Nguyen put together with the Revs. Fagundez’s rise has helped the Revs be one of the more surprising teams this year, having come into the season with a lot of questions following the Nguyen saga and the hiring of Brad Friedel. If they can figure out their road woes (1-3-4 on the road), the Revs could be dangerous down the stretch.

#1 Graham Zusi to Johnny Russell, SKC, 8th minute, 0.633 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 7


This opening goal from SKC typifies the way Sporting have played this year when things are going well. Though they’ve lost three of four and are winless in that stretch (have we already reached the point every year when Peter Vermes’ team reaches the point of exhaustion and limps to the finish?), and though they lost to the Red Bulls in this game, this goal was an example of the things SKC does well. Perhaps nothing this year describes SKCs best moments than a Graham Zusi assist on a Johnny Russell goal that’s taken from quite close to the goal.

A quick note on Russell, who leads SKC in goals and expected goals: the average distance Russell shoots from is 18.5 yards. That may not seem particularly close to goal until you look at the rest of the league. Most of the players who typically shoot from close to goal are center backs who have come up for set pieces, or center forwards. Russell, who plays on the wing, is constantly cutting in and getting into dangerous positions closer to goal than most wingers.

The other thing that has to be mentioned is Graham Zusi. Questions can be asked about his defense at times, but his contributions to SKC’s attack have been significant. Here’s the top five seasons by fullbacks going back to 2015, by xG+xA:

Player Team Season Min Shots Goals xG KeyP Assts xA A-xA xG+xA
Chris Tierney NER 2015 2754 25 2 1.7 58 3 7.5 -4.5 9.2
Joevin Jones SEA 2017 2560 27 1 2.7 37 9 5.2 3.8 7.9
Harrison Afful CLB 2016 2684 40 3 2.3 30 3 5.2 -2.2 7.4
Kelyn Rowe NER 2017 2004 34 1 1.9 39 6 5.6 0.4 7.4
Graham Zusi SKC 2018 1938 39 2 2.3 41 2 4.9 -2.9 7.2

Zusi’s 7.2 xG+xA put him 5th on the list for top xG contribution by a fullback in any season going back to 2015, and he’s just over halfway through the season. His 0.36 xG+xA/96 is tied with Kelyn Rowe’s 2017 season for the best among fullbacks in that same period. If he keeps this up, we could be witnessing one of the best offensive seasons from a fullback in MLS.

That’s all for this week’s Setting the Table. Thank you for giving me the chance to discuss these great chances with you. I hope you enjoy another great weekend of soccer and lots of great chances created!