Lowered Expectations: The International "Break" / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

I know that everyone is wrapped up with the International Break and how awesome it has been for those of us in North America. Between Canada winning twice, Mexico looking like a world power, and the US ... well, two out of three isn’t bad right?

 But don’t forget we had Major League Soccer last weekend! So let’s talk about that and the happiness associated five missed golden opportunities, as we do every week. Let’s get to it!

#5 - Andre Shinyashiki, Colorado Rapids, 0.207 xG
Assisted By: Nicolás Mezquida
Keeper: Stefan Frei
Result: Miss

In the very top left of the image you can see Andre Shinyashiki with his arms up and waving, screaming for a pass. You might think that would attract a wild bear, something with rabies, or even a defender. But no, apparently all three of those were on international duty.

 Kelvin Leerdam gives a big chunk of space to the former University of Denver striker and Shinyashiki makes full use of it. As soon as the ball is played toward him, he slips right into the open space and immediately has full custody of the area that is about to be passed to.

 I’m not a fan of crosses, (honestly, it’s time to come clean... I’m being paid by ‘Big Through Ball’ to point out bad crosses a good half dozen times every week. Don’t hate.) but I say it this time as a precursor to saying something nice. Don’t completely tune me out. A cross is a low percentage play in most cases, this one included, but the speed of the delivery from Nicolás Mezquida is so quick that the Sounders players don’t have time to react to the cross while it’s in the air.

 The pass from Mezquida was able to find the only real area in the box where a shot could be created. Not only that, but it’s also predicated upon the attacker winning the position. Lucky enough for Mezquida, Shinyashiki does it well.

#4 - Andre Shinyashiki, Colorado Rapids, 0.220 xG
Assisted By: Nicolás Mezquida
Keeper: Stefan Frei
Result: Blocked

Once more, we have Colorado with a Shinyashiki - Mezquida mashup.

 There is a lot that Shinyashiki does in this small clip that’s really impressive.

  1. The defensive pressure. It’s less than a minute into the game but already Shinyashiki is pressuring Seattle’s new defensive midfielder, Emanuel Cecchini. But it’s not the pressure that is impressive, but rather the anticipation of the turn and the quick little toe poke to spring the ball loose.

  2. His parallel run. The run is really smart because it purposely gives Mezquida two different angles for passes rather than just one. Kim Kee-Hee cuts off the passing lane across the face of goal to Jonthan Lewis and Cecchini comes from behind, but Shinyashiki has created an alternate passing lane to keep the attack alive.

  3. Who am I kidding, I made this list just so I could have a paragraph to talk about that spin. My goodness. The pirouette. The grace and calmness as he comes out of it. He knew exactly what he was doing and didn’t sweat it for a moment.

Yes, he takes too much time on the ball and doesn’t make great contact as he strikes it. But let’s dwell on the things he does right. He creates a turnover, makes himself available on the run, and gets a shot off in a good location in traffic.

Last week, I gave Mason Toye some love concerning the USMNT. Now, it’s Shinyashiki’s turn. He’s Brazilian but has been making his way through American soccer system, first in Florida for High School and then in Denver for college. As I said last week, it’s awesome to see domestically developed player given the opportunity to achieve success and then also actually achieve it.

#3 - Santiago Patino, Orlando City, 0.222 xG
Assisted By: Nani
Keeper: Tyler Miller
Result: Post


Speaking of international draftees, Santiago Patino in all of his 300 minutes has been a very interesting attacking addition for Orlando. He’s only started three games, but his solid performances in small sample sizes mean he’s one to keep an eye on going into the 2020 season.

Again, I’m not a fan of crosses (Big Through Ball for State Senate in 2020), but there was so much space between Patino and defenders Steven Beitashour and Tristan Blackmon that it was still the right thing to do.

The gif shows seven LAFC defenders marking four Orlando City attackers in the small area on the right, most of them ball-watching. Chris Mueller (who I mention only because he’s been fantastic, yet again this season, and someone should rescue and give him a full time job) makes his way to the ball, combining with Nani and Oriol Rosell to create enough space to send a cross into Patino who was doing his best Shinyashiki aircraft direction and signalling in the middle of the box.

This ends up being a huge miss and has a very Orlando-esque feel to the moment. Fivethirtyeight gives the Lions a 17% chance to make the playoffs. Our odds are less favorable at a 13% chance. A win against one of the best teams in the history of MLS would have been big, not just for narrative but also for their playoff chances. Instead they dropped two points after leading in the 75th minute, and it signals what I think most of us assumed. It’s going to be another “next year” for this organization.

That said, I don’t think that’s entirely fair narrative. Orlando has been unlucky in more than a few ways, and this has been their most successful season since their expansion. They’ll need to figure out how to improve the attack this offseason, though I suspect the addition of Mauricio Pereyra already is going to help. Their defense has matured greatly over the season and they’re quietly in the top of half of the league defensively. This is a team which can and should make a push into the playoff conversation next season.

#2 - Luis Silva, Seattle Sounders FC, 0.224 xG
Assisted By: Nicolas Lodeiro
Keeper: Clint Irwin
Result: Blocked

This run by Harry aka ‘Don’t call me Harrison’ Shipp is brilliant and it’s this type of stuff that we often don’t quantify. It’s why expected buildup (xB) is so important to consider with some of these players. It’s really easy to sleep on a guy like him who isn’t flashy, doesn’t create a lot and generally just keeps things moving.

Harry Ship’s goal chain numbers by season.

We’ve been nice enough to crosses today. Let’s “have a go” at this one because despite how the possession starts, it ends just as bad (brought to you by ‘Through Balls, they’re not just for buildup anymore!’).

I don’t know if you’re going to find a bigger Nicolas Lodeiro fan than me. I did a whole tweet sermon about how Diego Valeri robbed Lodeiro of the 2017 MVP, despite Valeri having an AMAZING season. This cross was 90% frustration and 10% desperation. The dude had run his lungs out at altitude for 98 minutes and his team had only created 0.26 xG to this point in the game. Still, a bad pass (read as: cross) is a bad pass.

If you were to just describe the scenario, it’s similar to the first shot attempt by Shinyashiki: a leading cross into a player in the box making a run. But there are key differences which made this one not as good:

  1. Luis Silva may have had position, but had zero space to turn on the shot.

  2. Lalas Abubakar picked up the run and marked Silva closely. His fight for the ball really made this chance difficult.

  3. There was a narrow window to try to fit this cross into, and it landed in a less than ideal place.

The delivery was just okay from Lodeiro, Silva barely got a head on it to direct it to the back post, but got zero force on the ball. Ultimately it was a much easier shot for Clint Irwin to handle than the expected goal value would indicate.

Also, reminder; heading the ball is difficult and creating a shot by hitting the ball with your head is even harder. Additionally, the farther you get away from the goal, the less dangerous headers become.

#1 - Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, New York City, 0.244 xG
Assisted By: Ben Sweat
Keeper: Matt Turner
Result: Miss

As you can see, the feed on twitter, courtesy of Univision, sucked. I’ve watched this a few times and after Alex Ring passes the ball back to Ben Sweat it’s kind of a jumbled mess. Here is the topology of events though in case you need a better way to process it.

Let’s review the three most important events in this chain.

First: Ring nearly skins Andrew Farrell on the baseline with half a move. I’m not sure what happened, but Farrell’s career path has been steadily headed downward and it’s equally perplexing and worrisome for a team that doesn’t really have any decent defending going for it.

Second: Sweat actually does skin Farrell and Brandon Bye as he flares past both and then delivers a nice pass to the middle of the box where there happens to be no one except Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. That isn’t exactly shocking if you hadn’t been keeping up with the New England Revolution and their defensive woes this season (they are the worst open play team per96 in ASA’s database, so... pretty bad).

Third: Tajouri-Shradi allows the ball to continue moving across his body a bit longer than needed to give a better angle on the back post, instead of just striking it on the first opportunity. From here I’m not sure if he slips, if the tackle deflects the shot, or if it’s a combination of those things and something else. The “shot” ends up not working out and ultimately is a wasted opportunity, but it’s about the opportunity he had that’s important.

It’s really easy to forget these situations when they end without a serious chance on goal, but this was a big opportunity that fizzled into nothing. That’s partly why it’s important to look at these situations. The controversial call is the most memorable part of this game, but it’s worth noting that NYCFC dominated, again.

Now let’s take a look at “Lofty Expectations,” the goal scored last week which had the lowest xG value.

Lofty Expectations:  Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City, 0.013 xG
Assisted By: Dániel Sallói
Keeper: Steve Clark
Result: Goal

Watching this goal again and again feels like a gut punch to me. Let me explain.

Everyone remembers the double post penalty from 2015. The Timbers went and renamed the concession stand after it. Last year, SKC was so close to an MLS final, only to have Portland once more dust them from the scene. It just seems like the Timbers have created plenty of consternation over the last five years when it comes to the soccering folks of Kansas City and the goal by Feilhaber seemed to almost be a salve for it.But what an improbable goal. A floating ball with sudden and rapid bend to the back post. A team which had gone sideways, seemingly found its way back from the brink to a playoff spot, on the road. A moment that was made to feel like magic.

And then, Portland.

Forgetting about what would follow, it’s these types of shots, which are so stunning and so obviously beyond recreation, which stake out their place in our hearts. We don’t need a model to tell us this wasn’t repeatable. This is the definition of an unexpected goal The fact that it was so unexpected is what made the moment. It’s what briefly stunned the crowd at Providence Park into silence, caused the jubilant eruption of fans across Kansas City 1,800 miles away and galvanized a screaming Erik Hurtado.

You hit really hit one here, Benny. Regardless of what the moments following would bring, this was a moment to remember.