Lowered Expectations: We're Back! / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

WELCOME BACK EVERYONE! It’s time for 2019 Lowered Expectations.

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, 2019 edition! Each week, we go about reviewing 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. Sam Johnson, 44th minute, Real Salt Lake
Pass from: Unassisted
Keeper: Stefan Frei, Seattle Sounders
Expected goal value: .401
Shot Distance: 8 yards
Body Part: Left Foot

I said this last year and it bears repeating; Stefan Frei makes nearly one miraculous save every game and against Real Salt Lake, this is it. I don’t want to take anything away from Sam Johnson on this and we’ll talk about him in a moment but let’s talk Frei first.

When Frei was traded to Seattle back in 2014, he was an often injured and possibly mediocre keeper for a Toronto club that hadn’t ever been good on defense. I remember being skeptical of the move and trying to find anything from the numbers that suggested this was a good decision. I wasn’t excited about it.

Fast forward six seasons and the move was clearly a superb one for the Rave Green, though it’s hard to use data to explain why.

We still don’t have the ability to explain good keepeping through data, and much still has to be determined through video scouting. It’s true that we can look at the quality of saves using expected goals but it’s usually only reliable if you have multiple seasons’ worth of data to evaluate.

That is in addition to the fact that shot stopping is only one of the various attributes for a keeper and in today’s game that list of expected abilities continues to grow. We are requiring more and more from all the positions on the field and this includes keepers.

Stefan Frei is a great keeper. But trying to describe why he’s a great keeper isn’t always easy to articulate other than to say he makes good saves or that he’s very athletic. Though saying that feels inadequate and seems to give him very little justice. But it’s in these moments we are able to capture along with expected goals what he (and other keepers) are capable of doing. The fact that it also happens as frequently as it does provides us with yet more information and data points in proving his quality.

Back to Sam. Sam Johnson was signed by Real Salt Lake with kind of an audible “ho-hum” and question marks about his status as a designated player and his quality. The claret and cobalt already had an interesting young attack up top, Corey Baird, and had recently a bad streak of signing average or bad strikers for good sums of money. Yura Movsisyan, Luis Silva and Alfredo Ortuno are the most recent examples.

This weekend was Johnson’s first start of the season and it’s important to note it’s only one 68 minute appearance. He did have this one high leverage opportunity though he seemed a bit disconnected from the rest of the attack at times and had only nine touches in the final third.

This is partly due to Chad Marshall, but also a bit on Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino and even Kyle Beckerman who seemed to struggle in the quick transition at times.

Right now Sam has 170 minutes and all of two shots. It’s a really small sample size but something in me says they need to be cleaner in transition and launching counter attacks that get him involved.

4. Dom Dwyer, 84th minute, Orlando City
Pass from: Chris Mueller
Keeper: Tim Howard, Colorado Rapids
Expected goal value: .449
Shot Distance: 6 yards
Body Part: Left Foot

The thing about Dom Dwyer is he has shenanigans. Shenanigans that frustrate the average viewer and make it hard for most fans (and some analysts) to appreciate him. These shenanigans are by and large not fun, cheeky shenanigans but rather annoying and borderline dastardly shenanigans. Which kind of make them nothing like shenanigans at all and more like... whatever the opposite of shenanigans is.

What’s lost in all of this is that Dom Dwyer is actually a pretty good number nine. It’ll be forever debated whether or not he’s worth the cost that Orlando paid in allocation to acquire him from Sporting Kansas City but regardless of how you come down he’s been one of the few bright spots in Orlando the last couple of seasons.

But regardless of how you feel about him it’s his propensity for shenanigans which makes him so good in moments like this. You can kind of see him lurking in the penalty box at the top of your screen at the start of the loop. But your attention is mostly dominated by the combined play of Chris Mueller and João Moutinho on the ball. Mueller makes a pass into the box, to no one really, and Dwyer converges on it and makes a rather trivial event into a chance. 

Tim Howard should have easily gobbled up the errant pass and held it. But the tyrannical play of Dwyer creates an opportunity where there really shouldn’t have been one. I’m sure there are some from Colorado’s perspective that will take exception with how this chance is create and might even feel that this play was a bit unfair but the reality is the referee let this play go and short of a Deklan Wynne clearance it had a fair chance at becoming a goal.

3. Jordan Morris, 37th minute, Seattle Sounders
Pass from: Nicolas Lodeiro
Keeper: Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
Expected goal value: .490
Shot Distance: 6 yards
Body Part: Left Foot


Excuse me for a moment while I take a bit of added glee from the fact that on the run Jordan Morris used his left foot to try and send this ball into the far corner. Sure, he’s pretty much just stabbing at the ball but he sure does it pretty naturally and it comes about instinctively.

If you watch him on the wing at the start of this loop, his run is really well timed and Aaron Herrera is the only thing between that prevents this opportunity from being fully recognized. The change in the camera angles really sucks and this is a perfect example for why the majority of shots need to be wide from the midfield because we lose sight of Morris for a quick second or two and it’s the second or two that it would be nice to see his movement and approach.

One last thing to mention is this cross by Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro. It’s a thing of absolute beauty. I wish young wingers were locked away in some class room and forced to watch this over and over again. It’s perfectly place for Morris and if Herrera gets to it, it’s most likely put out the back for a corner. It’s a rare win-win cross into the box, and because I don’t get a chance to say this enough, I love it so much. 

2. Kenny Saief, 1st minute, Cincinnati FC
Pass from: Unassisted (in reality, Allen Cruz)
Keeper: Adrian Zendejas, Sporting Kansas City
Expected goal value: .620
Shot Distance: 5 yards
Body Part: Right Foot

I talked a lot about the type of passes which lead to opportunities in the box last year and it’s probably something I’ll continue here. This is a really solid example of bad pass leading to “something” happening.

There is no reason the ball should have even gotten off that cross. Rodney Wallace just gets beat like a rug by Allen Cruz here. With his speed that really shouldn’t happen, but his defense has always been subpar.

Additionally, it’s also interesting that, because the ball is bobbled, it’s considered an incomplete pass and doesn’t count as a key pass for Cruz. When Kenny Saief comes down with the ball it’s considered a new possession series according to how we mark data. 

 Secondly, there is no reason that ball should have gotten behind Andreu Fontàs. He’s way too slow.

Third, and last, there is no reason why Kenny Saief should have at that much time on the ball. I’m a big fan of taking the shot first time. It’s a thing I constantly tell myself when I play FIFA and to which I never listen. I always think there will be time for “one more touch” but the reality is that in a location that good taking another touch doesn’t really increase your odds that much more dramatically.

Credit where credit is due; Saief did an outstanding job to cradle the pass and I’m not sure if he could have really redirected it on frame efficiently. In this situation his best option was to bring it down, settle the ball and try to take a shot.

Whether purposefully or just fortunately enough, the ball caroms in such a way that it goes behind Fontàs and he has to spend a bit of time trying to find the ball and then move his body in a way that he can deal with the situation. That removes him from the play and it’s really what enables Saief from creating a high leverage opportunity.

The shot itself might have been better executed. It’s hammered but right at the keeper. If the shot had been driven low and to the ground it would have troubled Adrian Zendejas much more, but any shot which forces a save in the first 30 seconds of a game is brilliant and puts pressure on the opponent, especially after they are coming from a 5-0 pounding against Monterrey midweek in CCL.

1. Cristian Penilla, 89th minute, New England Revolution
Pass from: Unassisted
Keeper: Zack Steffen, Columbus Crew
Expected goal value: .743
Shot Distance: 5 yards
Body Part: Right Foot

This is entire possession chain, for both sides, is completely frenetic. The Josh Williams goal in the 42nd minute combined with the second yellow card awarded Michael Mancienne in the 64th brought the visitors out of their defensive shell and by the end of the game you had New England knocking on the door with chances. As seen above.

In this specific scene you have Tajon Buchanan, a 20-year old Generation Adidas signee who has been impressive in his 20 minutes as a sub, run through on the ball provided by Luis Caicedo timing his run perfectly after Teal Bunbury pokes the ball lose from Wil Trapp.

The pass over top by Luis Caicedo is a solid one and while Buchanan gets on the ball with a bit of space he doesn’t have much in the way of options and tries to pick out Penilla but mishits the ball. Fortunately, the ball falls for Teal Bunbury who gets down to the touch line and then slices a path into the middle of the box, hoping for something good to happen.

Cristian Penilla ends up taking the shot, and appears in the frame shortly after Buchanan makes his run on the ball over the top. He positions himself by finding space between himself and the defender, and soon as Bunbury makes his slicing pass into the box you see Penilla make his move. But it’s not until Héctor Jiménez misplays the ball that Penilla tries diving in to take advantage of the chaos.

These are the types of plays in the box which often feel underrated by the expected goals model, but in this specific case it might actually overrate them. The shot wasn’t much more than taking a foot and stabbing at the loose ball. He managed to connect with it and certainly there were possible outcomes, but both Jiménez and keeper Zack Steffen are there to limit it becoming anything in Penilla’s favor.

Cristian Espinoza, 34th minute, San Jose Earthquakes
Pass from: Unassisted
Keeper: Jeff Attinella, Portland Timbers
Expected goal value: .005
Shot distance: 21 yards
Body Part: Right foot

Last on the list is Cristian Espinoza. This is a segment that I’m going to call “one to grow on” where I’m going to find some weird thing about a goal that was scored. This specific goal is pretty ... alright?

I don’t want to take away anything from the Quakes. They’ve had a tough start to the season but if you look at the xG value of this shot you’ll notice it’s not especially high. In fact it had the lowest xG score of any goal scored this past weekend. But two things are in Espinoza’s favor that help this shot.

First, Jorge Villafaña doesn’t collapse on him. It’s as if he knows he’s content to let him shoot and underlap him. He should be pushing him forward and into the oncoming centerback. He doesn’t, which enables Espinoza to barrel towards goal while peeling away from the defender.

Second, Jeff Attinella gives him a HUGE hole to fit his shot into. Most of the time a keeper is right there taking away what is left of that limited angle. Instead he gives him the whole inside post plus three feet. Its mind boggling bad from a keeper that I’ve thought was super underappreciated.

What’s worse is that this goal started on a bad Diego Valeri back pass which Espinoza intercepted and took the entire rest of the way.

I told myself at the beginning of the year that I wasn’t going to read too much into what I was assuming would be a very bad start for the Timbers. But this is the type of loss that has me rethinking that approach. We knew it was going to be a tough start, but a terrible loss like this after a poor showing against Cincinnati means Portland is unlikely to have more than two or three points when they get their first home game. Not every team can pull off what DC United did last year.

With that, happy birthday to our site editor, Drew, who is a huge Timbers fan! (Eds. note: the only gift I want is sweet sweet death).

Top-10 individuals in Expected Goals from the last week (excludes PKs)
shooter Team Shots Distance Goal Availability xG
Dom Dwyer ORL 6 15.95 6.2 1.2
Cristian Penilla NE 1 4.75 7.2 0.7
Jozy Altidore TFC 5 12.27 4.4 0.7
Jordan Morris SEA 2 9.35 6.8 0.7
Kenny Saief CIN 2 14.83 5.3 0.7
Danny Hoesen SJE 4 16.40 3.7 0.6
Victor Rodriguez SEA 3 13.38 5.8 0.6
Johnny Russell SKC 3 14.57 5.9 0.5
Sam Johnson RSL 2 18.08 7.1 0.4
Diego Rossi LAFC 2 21.36 5.8 0.4