The Legend of Josef Martinez and what it takes to get to 27 (and more) goals by Sean Steffen

Josef Martinez is a man on fire, and, as of writing this, he currently sits on 28 goals in 2018, having just broken the all time scoring record of 27 first set by Roy Lassiter in MLS’ inaugural season and matched by Chris Wondolowski in 2012 and Bradley Wright Phillips in 2014.

But I want to take this opportunity to look at how goal scorers score goals, and compare Wondolowski, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Martinez (we don’t have data on Lassiter, sadly) on their march to 27. Yes, Martinez has broken the record, but this article is going to deal with his stats on the way to 27. For a more complete breakdown of his data and where he lands, I’m sure someone at ASA (let’s say, Harrison) will write you that article at the end of the year.

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The Art of a Free Kick and How To Giovinco by Eliot McKinley

Sebastian Giovinco’s free kick prowess is well documented, but what if your team is not blessed with a formica atomica to bang in 13 direct free kick goals over the last 3 seasons? How do MLS teams score, or not, from free kicks?

From 2015-2017, 12,728 free kicks were taken in MLS play in the attacking half, resulting in 272 goals. Free kicks can be taken a number of ways, a direct shot on goal, a cross into the box, speculative long balls, through balls, or quick restarts, among others. The type of free kick restart is generally dictated by the position it is taken from. If a free kick is given close to goal, in the center of the field, a team will generally take a direct shot on goal (zone 14; 57.0% shots). Free kicks close to the goalline, but near the touchlines are most likely crosses (zones 13, 15, 16, 18; 57.1% crosses). Free kicks farther away from goal are almost always some other form of restart than a direct shot or cross (zones 10-12; 95.1%).

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A Deep Dive Into Shot Location and Placement by Alex Rathke

The 2017 MLS season began with a bang over the weekend! During this time, I had a look in the archive room on shots taken (2011-2016) and thought it would be a nice time to examine shot placement in MLS. This analysis will use some of the ideas from Colin Trainor’s article from Statsbomb a couple of years ago (using one season data from Europe’s Top five leagues (2012/13), while also building upon his piece and examining shot locations and placement in further detail.

At the start of Colin’s piece, he straight out stated that one thing has to be reiterated time and time again: “you can never just take the first metric at face value as further analysis can be undertaken, and inevitably this second level of analysis can provide insights that are missed at the higher end of data review”. Now that is not to say that my piece will be anything better, that was actually Colin’s second analysis on the topic (the first you can access when you read his post above). I will try and build upon his analysis by using MLS shot data to look at more ‘specific zones’ in greater detail and how these end up in placements/areas (in the goal). Before I do that, let’s look at the placement conversion rates in MLS.

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Finishing in MLS Part 2: Is Finishing Real? Heading Towards a Conclusion by Sean Steffen

The topic of “finishing” is always a fun one in the analytics world, and, last April, it’s one I studied using data going all the way back to the beginning of the league to see if I could find evidence for a statistically significant gradient of repeatable finishing skill in MLS. Click the link to read the piece in full, but the short of it was, while there were many instances where a forward outperformed their xG by a wide margin or converted an unusual number of their shots on goal, these seasons were rarely repeated within a player’s career as you would expect if such numbers were tied to a skill.

After such a long and arduous study, you can imagine my consternation any time I read a piece praising or criticizing a player’s finishing skill within the league. In fact, when Jordan Morris told the New York Times, “my finishing is still raw,” I nearly had an aneurysm. Doesn't anyone read long winded statistical articles anymore? (Answer: no) But read more after the jump.

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Does Finishing Skill matter in MLS? by Sean Steffen

If you’ve ever played FIFA, you’ve probably noted the importance of a forward’s “finishing” rating to how often they finish their chances. That’s how it works in the video game, but is “finishing” a real life skill significant enough to make an impact in a forward’s goal scoring tally?

While I have yet to meet a data analyst who thinks that “finishing skill” is as relevant to goal scoring as most soccer fans tend to believe, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus in terms of whether “finishing” is a repeatable skill. In other words, can forwards depend on a superior ability to convert chances year to year?

With forwards like Gyasi Zardes (16 goals in 2014) and Cyle Larin (17 goals in 2015) bursting onto the scene by converting a high percentage of their chances on goal, the question within MLS is as important as ever. Are these players scoring so many goals because of some underlying finishing skill, or are their unusually finishing rates something closer to statistical noise?

Is finishing a skill of any importance within MLS?

One important tool we can use for answering such a question is to study discrepancies in expected goals (xG) data. Since the expected goals model is built around league averages of conversion, if finishing were a skill of any statistical note we would see a consistent out-performance of the model by certain shooters who are highly skilled finishers. But before we get into repeatability for individuals, I’d like to use goals minus expected goals (G-xG) data to look at the question in much broader strokes.

More after the jump.

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