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 Hector Villalba to Josef Martinez, Atlanta United, 30th minute, 0.434 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 4
I’m not going to spend 1,000 words here talking about how good Josef Martinez is, but I may spend another 10 minutes just watching the little flick from Martinez to Miguel Almiron in the buildup to this goal. Andrew Carleton’s (hey, he’s finally getting minutes!) pass to Marinez is just a touch behind, but that’s okay because Martinez does this:
It’s a moment of magic in a nice movement for Atlanta’s equalizer, and the fact that Martinez then finishes his run to get in position for Hector Villalba’s cross makes it even more impressive.
Speaking of Villalba, it’s kind of amazing that a player who had 13 goals and nine assists last season and generated 0.52 xG+xA per 96 minutes has fewer than 1,000 minutes in 2018. That’s even more shocking when you realize he’s actually been more productive in 2018 according to expected goals.
Not only that, his expected goal chain and expected buildup numbers are better this year too on a per 96 basis. I know managers sometimes have to move players around (including to the bench) to make the whole team work, but Villalba seems worth finding a place for.
#4 Raheem Edwards to Nemanja Nikolic, Chicago Fire, 62nd minute, 0.535 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 2
Raheem Edwards looked like he was badly in need of a move out of Montreal. After being traded to Montreal this offseason Edwards never quite seemed to get along with Remi Garde, and was clearly not in Montreal’s plans. After a breakout season for Toronto last year (one goal, four assist in just over 1000 minutes), 2018 looked like it was going to be a big year for Edwards before things fell apart for him in Montreal. The irony of it all is that looking at his numbers, Edwards has been decent this year. None of his attacking stats jump off the page, but neither do they look like those of a guy relegated to the bench or not even in the 18.
The jump in shots and xG can mostly be explained by the fact that Edwards has been used as a wide midfielder this year, whereas for Toronto he mostly played wingback, but regardless, 0.4 xG+xA per 96 is not bad. It’s not amazing, but it’s more than guys like Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and Paul Arriola, just behind guys like Sebastian Blanco and Nicolas Lodeiro.
While this goal itself is a simple touch off a set-piece that Edwards lays off to Nemanja Nikolic, his debut in Chicago was promising enough to suggest that this move could end up working well for both Edwards and the Fire.
#3 Marc Rzatkowski to Daniel Royer, NYRB, 69th minute, 0.647 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 1
Nicely hit free-kick from Marc Rzatkowski (more on him later), and a great run by Daniel Royer to get on the end of it and put it in the back of the net.
Okay, enough attacking talk for a second. The important question to ask here is ANDREW FARRELL WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Go back and watch that play again. Farrell is the guy at the beginning who is standing between Royer and the goal, exactly where a defender should be when getting ready to defend a set-piece. As soon as Royer moves though, Farrell is in exactly the wrong place, mostly because he doesn’t move. Farrell pretty much just lets Royer run right by, unimpeded, leaving him wide open for the finish.
For the season, New England is one of the better teams in MLS when it comes to defending set-pieces, conceding just 4 (Only Portland, Philadelphia, Vancouver, and FC Dallas have conceded fewer), so maybe that play was out of character, but it’s also the kind of mistake teams make when they’re on a bad run, and the Revs are winless in 4 and have lost 3 straight. It seems like the summer slide is becoming an annual thing for the Revs, and mistakes like this might have a lot to do with that.
Back to Rzatkowski again for a second. I might start building a squad of “Why isn’t this guy playing more minutes?” players in MLS. If I do, Rzatkowksi joins Hector Villalba on that list. Somehow, Rzatkowski has only played 615 minutes this season. I know he had a run of games he missed due to injury, but c’mon. In those 615 minutes, he has produced:
- 2 goals
- 3 assists
- 18 key passes
- 0.51 xG+xA/96
Get the man on the field.
#2 Sacha Kljestan to Stefano Pino, Orlando City, 58th minute, 0.759 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 6
It’s good to see Sacha Kljestan doing Sacha Kljestan things still occasionally. For a guy who racked up 34 assists over the previous three seasons, while competing for playoff spots and more every year, 2018 has been disappointing. For one, Orlando have been pretty bad. He’s also either being asked to play a different role for Orlando, or is forced into it by the lack of production around him. Either way, while his combined xG+xA per 96 is actually up slightly from last year (0.56 in 2018, 0.5 in 2017), his expected assists are down significantly. He’s scoring more, but that’s I don’t think Orlando went out and got Kljestan hoping he’d be their second leading scorer, which he is so far. It’s evidence of Orlando’s problems that a guy known as the MLS assist king is doing less of that than he’s ever done, and is being relied on to score goals.
#1 Miguel Ibarra to Christian Ramirez, Minnesota United, 58th minute, 0.799 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 9
This might be one of the more MLS-y results of the season. A team everyone thought was bad (or maybe mediocre) destroys a team everyone thought was pretty good, 5-1. That said, Minnesota are actually fun to watch these days. I wrote last week about the impact Darwin Quintero is having on the team, and it showed again against LAFC.
Minnesota, who were averaging 1.4 goals per game coming into this one, have now won 4 of their last 5 games, and scored 14 goals in that stretch. A big part of this run has been a dramatic improvement in the play of both Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra. Here, we see Ibarra assisting on a Ramirez goal just a minute after Ramirez assisted on Ibarra’s goal. In the last 5 games, Ibarra has 3 goals and 2 assists, while Ramirez has 3 goals and 1 assist (all in the last 2 games). It remains to be seen how Ramirez’ playing time will be affected by the arrival of new designated player Angelo Rodriguez, who also plays up top, but it’s got to feel good for those two to be scoring goals again. If there’s any truth to recent rumors that Ramirez could be traded a run of good form could both increase interest and drive up his potential trade value.
Our top save of the week according to goalkeeper expected goals this week is awarded to Evan Bush against the Timbers on a Julio Cascante header. It’s actually a pretty simple save, aided by the fact that the header is right at Bush, though in this game nothing was an automatic save for Bush. This shot makes for a good time to highlight the difference between expected goal models for shooters and for goalkeepers. Cascantes’s shot ends up at 0.92 keeper xG, while only 0.178 shooter xG. I won’t try to explain that here, since people smarter than I am already have, here.
This week I’ve also decided to add a new piece that I’m calling “Laying it on the Line.” It seemed like it would be interesting to look at the highest xG of any blocked shot. This weekend’s was extra fun because it led to a penalty being called, then taken away by VAR, and lots of angry Vancouver fans. Anyways, this week Chad Marshall laid it on the line to block Kendall Waston’s volley that was worth 0.527 expected goals. Well done Chad.
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!