Shots Created

Using Expected Threat to Find the Best Shot-Creators in MLS by Arjun Balaraman

Growing up as a Manchester United fan, I have been fortunate enough to have seen some brilliant attacking players, but amidst a bevy of exciting talent one man stood out as a different kind of goalscorer – a comparatively unheralded striker from Mexico: Javier Hernandez – more commonly known as Chicharito.  

The fascinating part about Hernandez’s game was how he scored those goals. Chicharito is the ultimate goal poacher, a real throwback to the earlier decades when strikers were meant to sit in the box and score goals – nothing else. While Ronaldo et al., often created their goal scoring opportunities with their ability to move with the ball, Chicharito’s skill was moving without the ball. With his ability to, somehow, always be in the right place at the right time, Hernandez has made a career of tap-ins and intuitive finishes. In fact, all 52 of his goals in the Premier League have come from inside the box.

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Breaking the Unbreakable: LAFC is Dominating MLS but Can Anybody Stop Them? by Cheuk Hei Ho

LAFC aren’t just good. They are a force.

They have 1.43 Expected Goal (xG) differential per game. No team in MLS history has had more than 1 xGD/game since 2013. LAFC’s xGD is only 0.12 fewer than Atlanta United’s and Red York Red Bulls’ COMBINED. Granted, we haven’t finished even half of the schedule. Things may change comes the last part of the season when LAFC slow down to prepare for the playoffs. But for now, you are witnessing the best team MLS has ever produced. They don’t just beat you, they obliterate you. 

The Supporter Shield is as good as gone; our prediction model gives LAFC 76% to win the league. But MLS is about the playoffs. In the new single game format, you only need to get lucky once. Every team has weaknesses. You just need to find those cracks.

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Sebastian Giovinco: Master of the Free Kick by Harrison Crow

When Sebastian Giovinco earned himself a free-kick just outside the penalty box on Monday night it felt as though fate was serving up one of those great moments. Ninety seconds later, as the 72nd minute expired, Giovinco delivered on the set-up by sending a curled ball over the half-hearted leap of the Red Bulls' defensive wall. It went barely above the head of roaming fullback Michael Murillo, goalkeeper Luis Robles couldn't move to his right fast enough, and Toronto was thrust into the lead in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The goal was amazing and the moment was a big one for a team on the road. As mentioned shortly afterwards on the broadcast and later repeated on seemingly every facet of social media, Seba has now scored more set piece goals than any other player since his arrival to Major League Soccer in 2015.

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Replacing the Irreplaceable: SKC and Dom Dwyer by Harrison Crow

With Dom Dwyer sold to Orlando, Sporting Kansas City is now without their mainstay attacking option of the last four seasons. This inevitably means they need someone will need to step into the vacancy.

Dwyer had eaten 77% of available minutes at the position over the last four years. An extremely high rate for a position that that generally sees plenty of turnover among both the world and Major League Soccer. Over the last three seasons he's averaged 2652 minutes played per year.

Only 29 times over the last three years has a striker surpassed the 2,000 minute mark, and only five names aside from Dwyer (Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondolowski, David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco and Will Bruin), were able to reach the plateau more than once.

Now, as Sporting turns the page on their offense from the last four years, the question begs, who is able to step into that role? Obviously the organization already has two very young and exciting options in Latif Blessing and Diego Rubio, with maybe Soony Saad being the dark horse candidate. Another potential option in Krisztian Nemeth whom the team is rumored to be in hot pursuit.

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Shot Limiting: Bringing the heat (maps) by Sean Steffen

Earlier this year, I decided the world needed a 30 page paper on shot limiting in MLS. Of course, the powers that be found this to be a tad self indulgent, and more accurately, sad that I had the time to do such a thing. They ended up talking me down to a slightly more readable 20 pages, which can be read here.

But my art will not be compromised, gosh darnit! There is still so much to be learned about this topic, and, more to the point, my obsession hadn’t been quenched. Several questions were raised within the paper that I simply didn’t have the necessary data to explore.

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Top 50 Total Shots Created: MLS Week 13 by Matthias Kullowatz

I've been terrible with trying to keep up with this quantitative metric, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to throw out an updated version in a vain attempt to try to play catch up with the status quo, being that the league is crawling towards the World Cup break. Really, the point of this exercise is to try and capture how often players are creating shots--not just for themselves, but for teammates. It's still pretty simplistic, and by no means the definitive answer to who the most valuable attackers are, but it's a start in moving away from basing value judgements on goal totals.

To be as clear as possible this is not a metric that measures quality or success of the shot. It's purely about opportunities to score. Either by way of putting mates* in position to score through passes that lead to shots--key passes--or to create a shot by himself--assisted or not--are the ways I count shots created.

*Editor loves word choice.

One thing I did do to include the best available and least luck-influenced player was to set a threshold of 700 minutes played. That limit was arbitrary and selected merely based upon the results of compiling the list. For that reason, and no other, you won't see individuals such as Michael Bradley, Gilberto, Brad Davis, Joao Plata, Marco Di Vaio and Kekuta Manneh on this list even though their shot creation rates merited a position in the top 50. I am very high on both Plata and Manneh, and I would love to see both surpass the 600-minute mark and really fly beyond 2,000 minutes this season so we can see what their stable versions look like.

50-33:  The Above Average

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

50Blas PerezDallasFWD8996224323.20

49Nick DeLeonDCMF102612223373.25

48Vincent NogueiraPhiladelphiaMF134817230493.27

47JuninhoLAMF9629323353.27

46Benny FeilhaberKCMF126026317463.29

45Erick TorresChivasFWD11868137463.49

44Jack McInerneryMontrealFWD84411121333.52

43Baggio HusidićLAMF76113116303.55

42Dillion PowersColoradoMF8252139333.60

41Lamar NeagleSeattleMF98710228403.65

40Teal BunburyNEFWD117015330483.69

39Felipe MartinsMontrealMF99615224413.70

38Jairo ArrietaColumbusFWD8189025343.74

37Max UrrutiPortlandFWD7445026313.75

36Justin MappMontrealMF94917419403.79

35Travis IshizakiLAMF73520110313.80

34Andrew WengerPhiladelphiaFWD101211131433.82

33Diego FagundezNEMF10868237473.90

I'll admit there is quite a bit of disparity between Diego Fagundez (#33) and Nick DeLeon (#49). This group does however hold a few names seems that, to my mind, seem to fit together. Blas Perez (#50), Erick Torres (#45), Jack McInerney (#44) and Andrew Wenger (#34) all are viewed a bit differently in terms of success, but, again, this isn't about results-based productivity so much as process-based productivity. We're merely looking at how much they're involved in creating goal scoring chances, regardless of the quality of those chances or where they are located. In that context it makes more sense.

The lone surprise for me in this tier is Justin Mapp. I would have assumed he'd be much higher on this list being that he's been on the few bright spots for Montreal a long with JackMac.

 

32-10:  The Good.

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

32Chris WondolowskiSan JoseFWD8106030364.00

31Obafemi MartinsSeattleFWD124619631564.04

30MichelDallasMF74014218344.14

29Lee NguyenNEMF103224024484.19

28B. Wright-PhillipsNYRBFWD10518041494.20

27Edson BuddleColoradoFWD70710122334.20

26Shea SalinasSan JoseMF9163247434.22

25Sabastian FernandezVancouverFWD65410021314.27

24Will BruinHoustonFWD122120137584.28

23Graham ZusiKCFWD79424311384.31

22Alvaro SaborioReal Salt LakeFWD8695235424.35

21Leonardo FernandezPhiladelphiaFWD70113120344.37

20Giles BarnesHoustonFWD133512251654.38

19Gaston FernandezPortlandFWD75719018374.40

18Mike MageeChicagoFWD7149224354.41

17Harry ShippChicagoFWD89423417444.43

16Marco PappaSeattleMF75112124374.43

15Mauro DiazDallasMF64616214324.46

14Bernando AnorColumbusMF71811025364.51

13Cristian MaidanaPhiladelphiaMF87123220454.65

12Quincy AmarikwaChicagoFWD88015428474.81

11Dom DwyerKCFWD10507050574.89

10Deshorn BrownColoradoFWD9026043494.89

Two other names that are notable here. Edson Buddle (#27)--whom everyone thought was done two years ago when he was traded to Colorado--and Marco Pappa (#16), who was kind of a last minute signing before the start of the season, and who was a serious question mark considering his lack of playing time in the Netherlands.  Now both of these individuals that were stamped as likely non-essentials are two of most involved in the creation of their clubs attack. Lee Nguyen (29) coming in higher than Obafemi Martins (31) makes me laugh, simply because Martins is second in the league in assists and most people still hold that to being the truest or, perhaps, the most obvious sign of team goal contributions. Yet Nguyen has been a catalyst for New England and is simply their most valuable player when it comes to finding the ability to create chances. This is the meat and potatoes of the list.

9-4: The Elite.

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

9Javier MoralesReal Salt LakeMF115441521675.23

8Fabian EspindolaDCFWD108630430645.30

7Diego ValeriPortlandMF111728537705.64

6Landon DonovanLAMF80224225515.72

5Thierry HenryNYRBFWD117023449765.85

4Federico HiguainColumbusFWD108039527715.92

So there that is. There shouldn't be any argument here with any of these names. Fabian Espindola (#8) is the sole reason DC even has a shot at the playoffs. He is going to get every opportunity to be 'the man' in black and red. Landon Donovan (#6) despite his uncanny snubbery from the US National Team is still clearly a major factor for the Galaxy and their attack. Sticking with the theme of decline in skills, Thierry Henry (#5) is still one of the greatest to ever play in MLS.

Oh, and I'm just biding my time for Higuian to get past this "slump" and jet into the MVP Candidate category... because that's simply where he belongs. More on that down the road.

3-1:  The MVP Candidates.

RankNameClubPositionMinutesKey PassesAssistsShotsShCShC/90

3Robbie KeaneLAFWD99019245666.00

2Clint DempseySeattleMF75114243597.07

1Pedro MoralesWhitecapsMF82131438738.00

Clint Dempsey (#2) has had the kind of year that is simply bananas. It's been so crazy that it's somehow eclipsed the Pedro Morales (#1) show that is going on just a few short hours north of him. Sure, these guys take penalty kicks, but that's only a small fraction of their shots generated. If these two take this same show into the later stages of the season I can't think there would be much reason to consider anyone else for MVP.

Oh, I guess you could probably throw Robbie Keane's (#3) name in that list, too. People forget about ol' faithful, but even without his P.I.C. (read: 'Partner in Crime' for those that aren't as hip as I am) for a game or two here and there, he's still been incredible. Currently he ranks third in individual expected goals, proving that he also finds dangerous places to take his shots and doesn't hesitate to pull the trigger. Oh, and despite the angry looks and words AND finger wags, he gets his teammates those same opportunities.

And here's the Excel File for the top 50.

MLS Week 8: Top 50 Shots by Drew Olsen

Okay, shots. We talk a lot about shots because, well, shots lead to goals. Obviously you can't have a goal without first attempting a shot. I know that was a deep thought, but just go with me here. We put a lot of emphasis on shots here and have dug into their expectation leading to goals. It's backed by the belief that shots are important statistics in correlation to team success. Now there are plenty of caveats to shots and we use them to influence our ideas of what is good or bad. Matthias has taken time to explain at least some of them.

So with all that said you can't read too much into all of these numbers. Take for instance the fact that Frederico Higuian creates 7.03 shots per 90 minutes. That's nearly a shot and a quarter more than Brad Davis at 5.79. Is Higuian a better shot creator because he creates one additional shot over the course of a single match? If that shot is from zone 4 or even 5, the value of that single shot becomes marginalized in that specific instance.

Despite all of those various acknowledgements of how this is marginally interesting, and yet mostly a useless exercise, I put together a follow-up of last week's top 50 individual shots creators in Major League Soccer. I decided it was best to cut up this data and present it via a tiered system to make it a bit more palatable and to highlight the players that have set themselves apart from their peers. Also, this allows me to be a bit creative in the tier process.

IBC Root Beer Tier - "The Best of the Best."

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
1 Marco Di Vaio MTL F 326 1 1 24 4 29 8.01
2 Clint Dempsey SEA M 393 6 3 23 7 33 7.56
3 Federico Higuain CLB F 538 4 2 20 20 42 7.03
4 Robbie Keane LA F 450 4 1 22 12 35 7.00
5 Pedro Morales VAN M 472 1 2 19 15 36 6.86
6 Thierry Henry NY F 449 2 0 23 9 32 6.41

Oh, yeah... Marco Di Viao. He's also pretty good at this whole soccer thing. I guess we can all say that we could have guessed every singl--what the hell is Pedro Morales doing in there??? I guess that probably explains a lot about what's been happening in Vancouver. He's second overall in total Shots Created and he could very well be a shoo-in for MLS Newcomer of the Year.  He's like the offensive equivalent of what Jose Goncalves was last year to New England. I only have one question: who is this Camilo guy everyone was talking about?

Stewart's Root Beer Tier - "You don't have IBC? Who doesn't have IBC?"

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
7 Landon Donovan LA M-F 450 0 2 13 14 29 5.80
8 Brad Davis HOU M 311 0 2 3 15 20 5.79
9 Graham Zusi KC F-M 450 1 3 9 16 28 5.60
10 Diego Valeri POR M 579 1 0 19 16 35 5.44
11 Dom Dwyer KC F 427 4 0 22 3 25 5.27
12 Leo Fernandes PHI F 436 2 1 13 11 25 5.16
13 Lloyd Sam NY M 621 1 3 12 20 35 5.07
14 Mike Magee CHI F 450 1 2 15 8 25 5.00
15 Giles Barnes HOU M 527 0 1 22 6 29 4.95
16 Justin Mapp MTL M 585 0 3 11 18 32 4.92
17 Michael Bradley TOR M 433 1 0 6 17 23 4.78
18 Mauro Diaz DAL M 604 2 3 13 16 32 4.77
19 Quincy Amarikwa CHI F 548 4 1 16 12 29 4.76
20 Felipe Martins MTL M 626 1 2 18 13 33 4.74
21 Gilberto TOR F 423 0 0 13 9 22 4.68
22 Cristian Maidana PHI M 425 0 2 11 9 22 4.66
23 Deshorn Brown COL F 448 1 0 19 4 23 4.62
24 Chris Wondolowski SJ F-M 450 3 0 20 3 23 4.60
25 Fabian Espindola DC F 531 2 2 11 14 27 4.58
26 Michel DAL M-D 401 3 2 11 7 20 4.49
27 Lamar Neagle SEA F 506 2 2 16 6 24 4.27
28 Obafemi Martins SEA F 620 2 4 13 12 29 4.21
29 Erick Torres CHV F 603 6 0 22 6 28 4.18
30 Javier Morales RSL M 527 0 2 7 15 24 4.10

Justin Mapp has the same amount of total Shots Created as Mauro Diaz in almost 20 minutes less field time. Try thinking about that next time you're frustrated by Mapp's hair line. Try.

Dom Dwyer does not go away. This guy could be someone that we may need to start legitimately talking about in the coming weeks. You should probably add Leo Fernandez and Lloyd Sam to that obnoxious hype list too.

Speaking of Sam, I added him to my MLS Fantasy Roster for tonight, hedging the bet that he finally scores a goal. At last look, the guy currently holds the highest xGoal predictor score without actually scoring a goal. If there was ever a guy that was "due" to score a goal, it's him and I'm virtually betting on it happening.

On the note of not scoring goals, "Hi, Landon Donovan". Who, in case you didn't notice, is still a good player even when not putting the ball in the back of the net. Because, you know, skillz.

 

Barqs Root Beer Tier - "Old Reliable"

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
31 Dwayne De Rosario TOR M 254 0 0 10 1 11 3.90
32 Mauro Rosales CHV M 626 0 3 10 14 27 3.88
33 Kenny Miller VAN F 537 3 1 14 8 23 3.85
34 Bradley Wright-Phillips NY F 358 1 0 12 3 15 3.77
35 Darren Mattocks VAN F 580 2 3 13 8 24 3.72
36 Jack McInerney MTL F 436 2 1 13 4 18 3.72
37 Will Bruin HOU F 539 3 1 14 7 22 3.67
38 Baggio Husidic LA M 344 1 1 7 6 14 3.66
39 Bernardo Anor CLB M 497 2 0 16 4 20 3.62
40 Hector Jimenez CLB M 523 1 2 9 10 21 3.61
41 Teal Bunbury NE F 630 0 1 14 10 25 3.57
42 Diego Fagundez NE M-F 584 0 0 19 4 23 3.54
43 Sal Zizzo KC F 433 0 2 10 5 17 3.53
44 Kenny Cooper SEA F 358 2 1 12 1 14 3.52
45 Benny Feilhaber KC M 539 1 1 8 12 21 3.51
46 Juninho LA M 448 0 2 8 7 17 3.42
47 Andrew Wenger PHI F 528 2 0 14 6 20 3.41
48 Eric Alexander NY M 451 0 3 7 7 17 3.39
49 Alex CHI M 512 0 0 12 7 19 3.34
50 Saer Sene NE M 355 0 0 8 5 13 3.30

 

There are roughly 19 names here and I'm not going to go through them all. But key surprises are Jack McInerney, who everyone continues to think is "slumping" when he's not scoring goals. Baggio Husidic is making waves in that flashy new diamond attack in LA. Husidic is filling the hole that once upon a time existed out wide and makes the Robbie Rogers-trade look worse and worse, as he likely won't make it past a bench position upon return. Bernardo Anor has been doing a lot for Columbus out of the midfield but, perhaps, the bigger story than Anor--or even the LA trade for Rogers--is that fact that Gregg Berhalter pretty much stole Hector Jimenez who is looking brilliant in his new Crew colors.

Lastly, three other off season moves are having impacts with their new clubs.

  1. Teal Bunbury is finally being "the other guy" and taking shots in New England. Lord knows they need to start converting those opportunities.
  2. Sal Zizzo wasn't exactly a headline move this off-season, but since being let go by Portland this past off-season he's been a gold staple in the Sporting KC line-up.
  3. Kenny Cooper is having himself a quietly productive first season in the Emerald City. Yes, it's towards the bottom of the line-up and it doesn't really mean much of anything. But he's been reliable and fits in with Clint Dempsey and Oba Martins, playing the third/fourth fiddle and doing whatever needs to happen. Great role for him and he's doing it well.

There are a lot of things to take away from this. Like why didn't I just make two tiers: IBC Rootbeer and Barqs, which is basically all you're going to go with unless there is some local brewed Root beer that you want to try for funsies. Anyways, some information here. Not necessarily good information, but at this stage of analysis and data when it comes to MLS, and really soccer in general, what is "good" information?