Expected Narratives: Have Some Ambition / by Ian L.

By Ian L. (@ahandleforian)

Narrative: Ambition Rankings

If there is one day on the MLS calendar that I dread with a clarity and purity often seen only in very expensive diamonds (let’s call them “diamonds of ambition”), it’s Grant Wahl’s annual musings on which MLS teams have proven their ambition the most. For those unaware, every year our nation’s preeminent soccer scribe sends out a questionnaire to every MLS team asking them to flex their financial bonafides and then ranks them according to how expensive their DPs are, whether or not they get good crowds, and that “it” factor that you can’t explain but Grant knows it when he sees it. Unsurprisingly, Atlanta tops this year’s list and Colorado pulls up the rear, but the middle is just gluttonously full of incisive takes. “We’ve invested 10 million dollars in our academy says one team”, “oh yeah well WE expanded our stadium so suck it” says another. “Tell me more” says Grant Wahl, and we’re left with a bunch of people squabbling over whether Jan Gregus or Pedro Santos is a more ambitious signing.

The problem with this kind of power ranking isn’t that it exists, though I do question it’s necessity, it’s that it conflates two different things into one thing. For the purposes of Grant’s piece, ambition = money, and while these two certainly have a strong correlation, even Grant points out that there’s more to it than that.

To wit: “Part of the ambition game (especially in teams that have been around a while) is to back up your ambition with success.”

So like, not to be nitpicky here, but this sentence from Grant is the definition of being “on one.” Part of the ambition game cannot be success. Like say, wine and grapes, one is a possible outcome of the other but you don’t measure how many grapes you have by counting your wine. Also this comment bizarrely comes from the blurb on the LA Galaxy who haven’t made the playoffs in two years but are ranked directly above three teams that have a combined six MLS cup appearances and three MLS Cup wins since 2015 but again I digress.

Anyway, whatever. It is what it is and that’s an opinion piece based loosely on some quantifiable figures and midichlorians designed to provoke reactions from readers, which it clearly does very effectively in my case. Damn you Grant. Same time next year?

Narrative: Leagues Nations Cups

I don’t know about the rest of you but I haven’t been able to sleep since hearing the announcement of the Leagues Cup (it’s a cup for leagues!). Closing my eyes in the cold dead of night and succumbing to the sweet release of slumber is impossible as I am simply too excited by the prospect of seeing RSL’s second string take on a Liga MX team in a competition which has a name that looks like a typo and a logo that looks like a random stain. This is exactly the kind of competition that the middle of an increasingly competitive and congested calendar really needs in a salary capped league where like 60% of the best talent is about to be siphoned off into international duty. I’m just so excited at the prospect of the best of Liga MX taking on four seemingly random teams from MLS in games that will feature mostly reserve lineups. If you didn’t like mid-season friendlies against European teams, then boy are you ever gonna just love that but against a second string Liga MX side. You know who this is good for? Liga MX fans that live in the US and also the league’s pockets. You know who this is not good for? MLS teams.

Narrative: That whole USWNT thing and all time xG beatdowns

Here’s a cool thing about the United States Women’s National Team: They own. In a country where we’ve come to expect systemic mediocrity when it comes to soccer, our women’s team continues to be the best collection of women playing the game in the world. I do feel some pity for Thailand, I really do, results like that always feel a little uncomfortable. You don’t want to see any team humiliated like that except Atlanta (fingers crossed we see it one day soon, one like = one prayer). Anyway, it isn’t unusual to see some big mismatches in a tournament like the World Cup where the gulf between the world’s best and 32nd best team is exacerbated by the occasion. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ve personally ever seen a can of fair-trade shade-grown artisanal whoop-ass opened with such earnestness.

That’s easily the biggest single xGD spread I’ve ever seen in a game I’ve watched. I thought it might be fun to go back through our data set (back to 2011) and see what the biggest xG blowouts were in the MLS data era.

Highest xG total in one game:
Columbus Crew (5.47 xG) vs Real Salt Lake - May 29th, 2016

Hey, I remember this match! This was Ola Kamara’s hat trick match. Let us reminisce a bit back to those heady days of 2016. Drake was in the news with a hit song, Game of Thrones was the talk of the internet water cooler, and Kei Kamara was a STAR. Unfortunately, a few weeks prior Kei and Federico Higuain got in a bit of a spat over who was going to take a penalty, and it got so ugly that it resulted in Columbus having to deal their star Kamara to New England. Just two weeks later, another Kamara would become a star in Columbus, and it was this performance that made people forget about the old one. Interestingly enough, despite amassing a very sizable xG total, the match was close and it was a Justen Glad own goal that separated the two sides.

Biggest xG spread in one game:
Atlanta (4.91 xG) vs Philadelphia (0.34 xG) - June 2, 2018

(sigh.) We’re never going to see a team hang 13 on Atlanta are we? It should come as no surprise Atlanta holds this niche honor. It should also come as no surprise that it was a match in which Philadelphia were down TWO men by the 11th minute and Atlanta had two penalties. What IS surprising is that despite being two men down, Philadelphia did manage to somehow claw one back in the 52nd minute. All things considered 3-1 wasn’t a terrible result for Philadelphia, and it isn’t a particularly shocking scoreline considering the xG totals. Atlanta held 75% of the possession and took 31 shots to Philly’s five. So, obviously nowhere near as comprehensive of a blowout as the USWNT, but it’s the highest we’ve got.

Oh, Atlanta also holds the second highest xG spread (4.73 xG vs 0.32 xG) as well for that fateful match against Orlando where Josef Martinez broke the single season scoring record. This one looked far less lopsided to the naked eye. Atlanta won 2-1, and posted 18 shots but the xG don’t lie. At least, we’re pretty sure it doesn’t.

Oh, also, you can straight up miss me if you think that USWNT were in the wrong doing celebrations for scoring goals in the actual World Cup of soccer.

Taking it to the corner:

In honor of Grant Wahl’s Ambition Power Rankings, I’m going to do my own power rankings based on a self evident metric. So here we go. MLS teams power ranked according to how many letters are in the name of the team

  1. New England Revolution - 20

  2. Sporting Kansas City - 19

  3. San Jose Earthquakes, Vancouver Whitecaps - 18

  4. Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders FC, Minnesota United FC - 17

  5. Atlanta United FC, New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers - 15

  6. Montreal Impact, Columbus Crew SC, Houston Dynamo, Colorado Rapids -14

  7. New York City FC, Orlando City SC -13

  8. FC Cincinnati, Los Angeles FC, Real Salt Lake - 12

  9. Chicago Fire - 11

  10. Toronto FC - 9

  11. DC United, LA Galaxy, FC Dallas - 8

Hey the New England Revolution are topping a power ranking! Also before you ask I called the Galaxy the LA Galaxy and not the Los Angeles Galaxy because they used to send me emails correcting me if I didn’t refer to them as “LA”. That’s on them. If you Galaxy fans aren’t happy with your number of letters power ranking take it up with ownership.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading!