World Cup

The Top 10 Starting Goalkeepers for the 2018 World Cup by Bill Reno

The last time I wrote a top ten list of World Cup goalkeepers the website promptly folded. So congratulations to American Soccer Analysis on a good run and I wish all the writers the best in their future endeavors. Now with that out of the way, here’s the inside scoop on the top goalkeepers in Russia this summer.

While there are a number of projections and odds on who’s most likely to win the Golden Boot, the Golden Glove typically goes to the winning team’s goalkeeper, regardless of actual performance. Consider this more of a list of goalkeepers most likely to ruin another country’s shot at lifting the trophy. If your country faces one of these goalkeepers, you may want to double down on your pre-game rituals and superstitions.

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The World Cup Team Preview You Didn't Know You Needed: The Referees by McG

The spectacle of the World Cup is upon us once again. Story lines are already emerging, from Mo Salah’s shoulder and how it may drive the fate of his Pharoes, to the evergreen “will Messi finally win on the international stage?”, and of course whether or not the worst ranked host nation will manage to progress from what is statistically the easiest group in the modern era… But there’s myriad journalists and bloggers covering that already.

I’m here to talk about the inevitable villain of this most revered of tournaments, and no I’m not talking about Дядя Вова. No, of course I’m talking about referees who will emerge as the foulest characters of this world cup, unless Nigel De Jong comes out of retirement and files a one time switch. It’s doubtful referee scandals will etch themselves into the collective memory like Hugh Dallas in the minds of USA fans or Byron Moreno for Italians – though already this tournament has had a whiff of scandal as Saudi referee Fahad Al Mirdasi was suspended from the competition before the first kick after being caught in a match fixing scandal.

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ASA Previews the World Cup for the Washington Post by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

The World Cup starts this week! America may not have made it to the tournament in Russia, but American Soccer Analysis still has you covered. We've partnered with the Washington Post on a series of articles previewing some of the most interesting teams. The pieces will be trickling out in the coming days as the tournament ramps up, so we'll be posting the links below as new ones are published. Keep checking back here to make sure you're all caught up.

Friday 6/15/2018
Belgium is a World Cup contender by the numbers, but Eden Hazard is key to backing them up by Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Thursday 6/14/2018
Egypt got World Cup luck of the draw. Now it needs a little luck with Mo Salah’s health. - Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)
Costa Rica will look the same at World Cup 2018, but results might not match 2014 - Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)

Wednesday - 6/13/2018
The odds are against an Iceland World Cup run. You might fall for them again anyway. - Ian Lamberson (@ahandleforian)
Spain enters 2018 World Cup behind David de Gea and a better attack — but without its coach - Joseph Lowery (@joeincleats)

Tuesday - 6/12/2018
Peru could be the surprise team of the World Cup with Paolo Guerrero back - Joseph Lowery (@joeincleats)
Germany’s chances to repeat as World Cup champion could rest with Manuel Neuer - Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

Monday - 6/11/2018
By this measure, Brazil is a bigger World Cup surprise than Iceland - Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

An Early Look at The 2019 USWNT World Cup Roster by Brendan Kent

We’ve got the three stars. We’ve had ourselves a ticker tape parade. And while I don’t think the celebration should end anytime soon, it’s been long enough since the final whistle blew in Vancouver to start thinking about the future of the USWNT.

Using logistic regression on data from all previous WWCs and factoring in position, age, and whether or not the player started the final competitive match in the previous World Cup*, I constructed a model that produces a very rough probability that a player that made the 2015 roster will make the cut for France 2019. Obviously, four years is a long time and a lot can change, so these probabilities are hardly precise and should be taken with a large grain of salt. I have not included goalkeepers, as the very small sample size makes things difficult to predict, and have also left out players that we already know will not play in 2019. Furthermore, I have included forwards but the sample size is also very small, making the probabilities even less precise than that of defenders and midfielders. So at the risk of getting way ahead of ourselves, here are the very rough probabilities that the members of the current squad will be back to defend the Cup in France:

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Tim Howard's effort against Belgium by Matthias Kullowatz

American goalkeeper Tim Howard had a fantastic game against Belgium on Tuesday. It might have been the game of his life, and Wikipedia fittingly gave him a new job. We don't actually have data for every game he's ever kept, but we can put his performance into some perspective. 

On Tuesday, his Keeper Rating---based off each shot's origin, goalmouth placement, and pattern of play---represented the best single-game performance of any goalkeeper thus far in the tournament. Belgium laid siege on his goal, firing off a tournament-high 39 shots. 17 of those were on frame, also a tournament-high. They probably should have scored four or five goals, but that wasn't going to happen on Howard's watch. The chart below summarizes every game of the tournament to date for each keeper.

Keeper Team Opponent SOT Goals xGoals Rating
T. Howard USA BEL 17 2 4.68 -2.68
V. Enyeama NGA BIH 7 0 2.46 -2.46
A. Dominguez ECU FRA 9 0 2.44 -2.44
G. Ochoa MEX BRA 6 0 2.31 -2.31
D. Benaglio SUI ARG 8 1 2.93 -1.93
F. Dauda GHA POR 7 1 2.46 -1.46
T. Courtois BEL KOR 4 0 1.41 -1.41
C. Bravo CHI ESP 6 0 1.34 -1.34
F. Muslera URU ENG 6 1 2.34 -1.34
D. Ospina COL URU 4 0 1.25 -1.25
Julio Cesar BRA CRO 3 0 1.20 -1.20
S. Romero ARG SUI 4 0 1.17 -1.17
V. Enyeama NGA FRA 5 1 2.06 -1.06
C. Bravo CHI AUS 4 1 2.03 -1.03
K. Navas CRC GRE 8 1 1.95 -0.95
E. Kawashima JPN GRE 4 0 0.95 -0.95
N. Valladares HON FRA 5 2 2.84 -0.84
A. Begovic BIH NGA 9 1 1.80 -0.80
N. Valladares HON SUI 10 3 3.79 -0.79
I. Akinfeev RUS ALG 6 1 1.75 -0.75
T. Courtois BEL USA 5 1 1.74 -0.74
H. Lloris FRA ECU 2 0 0.73 -0.73
Alireza Haghighi IRN NGA 4 0 0.72 -0.72
K. Navas CRC URU 3 1 1.71 -0.71
O. Karnezis GRE JPN 4 0 0.62 -0.62
M. Neuer GER POR 4 0 0.61 -0.61
S. Romero ARG IRN 3 0 0.60 -0.60
S. Sirigu ITA ENG 5 1 1.60 -0.60
D. Benaglio SUI HON 3 0 0.48 -0.48
K. Navas CRC ITA 4 0 0.47 -0.47
G. Ochoa MEX CMR 1 0 0.47 -0.47
C. Bravo CHI BRA 6 1 1.45 -0.45
D. Ospina COL GRE 2 0 0.45 -0.45
T. Courtois BEL RUS 3 0 0.41 -0.41
V. Enyeama NGA ARG 13 3 3.41 -0.41
G. Buffon ITA URU 5 1 1.41 -0.41
Jung Sung-Ryong KOR RUS 5 1 1.41 -0.41
M. Neuer GER ALG 4 1 1.33 -0.33
Julio Cesar BRA MEX 2 0 0.33 -0.33
V. Enyeama NGA IRN 1 0 0.30 -0.30
S. Pletikosa CRO CMR 2 0 0.29 -0.29
D. Ospina COL JPN 7 1 1.29 -0.29
T. Howard USA GER 6 1 1.24 -0.24
J. Cillessen NED AUS 4 2 2.20 -0.20
B. Foster ENG CRC 2 0 0.19 -0.19
J. Cillessen NED ESP 4 1 1.18 -0.18
Beto POR GHA 4 1 1.16 -0.16
K. Navas CRC ENG 1 0 0.16 -0.16
A. Dominguez ECU SUI 6 2 2.14 -0.14
O. Karnezis GRE CIV 4 1 1.14 -0.14
Julio Cesar BRA CHI 2 1 1.14 -0.14
J. Cillessen NED CHI 1 0 0.13 -0.13
Kim Seung-Gyu KOR BEL 5 1 1.12 -0.12
A. Begovic BIH ARG 2 1 1.11 -0.11
H. Lloris FRA NGA 2 0 0.10 -0.10
G. Buffon ITA CRC 5 1 1.07 -0.07
H. Lloris FRA HON 1 0 0.07 -0.07
G. Ochoa MEX NED 4 2 2.07 -0.07
F. Muslera URU ITA 1 0 0.04 -0.04
R. M'Bolhi ALG RUS 4 1 1.04 -0.04
R. M'Bolhi ALG GER 12 2 2.01 -0.01
J. Reina ESP AUS 0 0 0.00 0.00
M. Neuer GER USA 0 0 0.00 0.00
C. Itandje CMR MEX 4 1 0.99 0.01
D. Ospina COL CIV 3 1 0.94 0.06
J. Cillessen NED MEX 5 1 0.92 0.08
I. Akinfeev RUS KOR 5 1 0.87 0.13
S. Romero ARG BIH 6 1 0.86 0.14
Alireza Haghighi IRN ARG 4 1 0.84 0.16
A. Dominguez ECU HON 5 1 0.81 0.19
Julio Cesar BRA CMR 1 1 0.79 0.21
A. Begovic BIH IRN 2 1 0.77 0.23
R. M'Bolhi ALG BEL 7 2 1.74 0.26
T. Howard USA POR 7 2 1.71 0.29
D. Benaglio SUI FRA 12 5 4.70 0.30
B. Barry CIV GRE 5 2 1.69 0.31
T. Howard USA GHA 3 1 0.68 0.32
T. Courtois BEL ALG 1 1 0.61 0.39
D. Benaglio SUI ECU 4 1 0.61 0.39
B. Barry CIV COL 6 2 1.57 0.43
I. Akinfeev RUS BEL 2 1 0.54 0.46
G. Ochoa MEX CRO 2 1 0.54 0.46
B. Barry CIV JPN 2 1 0.53 0.47
I. Casillas ESP CHI 4 2 1.50 0.50
F. Dauda GHA GER 4 2 1.49 0.51
M. Neuer GER GHA 6 2 1.45 0.55
N. Valladares HON ECU 4 2 1.43 0.57
O. Karnezis GRE COL 6 3 2.38 0.62
C. Itandje CMR BRA 10 4 3.32 0.68
C. Bravo CHI NED 4 2 1.28 0.72
S. Romero ARG NGA 3 2 1.24 0.76
O. Karnezis GRE CRC 1 1 0.22 0.78
R. M'Bolhi ALG KOR 3 2 1.06 0.94
E. Kawashima JPN CIV 5 2 1.01 0.99
F. Muslera URU CRC 4 3 2.01 0.99
S. Pletikosa CRO BRA 6 3 1.95 1.05
Rui Patricio POR GER 6 4 2.94 1.06
A. Larsen Kwarasey GHA USA 4 2 0.92 1.08
F. Muslera URU COL 4 2 0.89 1.11
Beto POR USA 4 2 0.85 1.15
J. Hart ENG ITA 3 2 0.79 1.21
S. Pletikosa CRO MEX 4 3 1.74 1.26
I. Casillas ESP NED 10 5 3.59 1.41
Jung Sung-Ryong KOR ALG 5 4 2.58 1.42
H. Lloris FRA SUI 4 2 0.58 1.42
Alireza Haghighi IRN BIH 5 3 1.54 1.46
J. Hart ENG URU 2 2 0.45 1.55
M. Ryan AUS NED 9 3 1.43 1.57
M. Ryan AUS CHI 4 3 1.39 1.61
C. Itandje CMR CRO 9 4 2.38 1.62
M. Ryan AUS ESP 4 3 0.90 2.10
E. Kawashima JPN COL 4 4 1.72 2.28

Brazil: better than you think! by Drew Olsen

Admittedly, it hasn't felt like Brazil has played all that well this World Cup.

The referee seemingly made its two-goal victory over Croatia a more relaxed finish than it should have been; against Mexico, the fourth-place team from CONCACAF, it only managed a draw; and Cameroon was just low-hanging fruit. The host team then took a lot of flak for its play in the Round of 16 against Chile, especially for its performance after halftime. Indeed, Brazil conceded a silly goal on a defensive giveaway, and Chile had chances to win that game.

But I'm here to tell you that Brazil has played better that it has looked. Too often, it seems, the scorelines heavily influence our praise and criticism of what's happening on the field.

Brazil dominated Group A in terms of Expected Goal Differential (xGD), and recorded the second-highest tally of any team during the group stage. Brazil's 1.05 xGD during even (tied) gamestates ranked fifth among the 32 teams. You might have expected better from the hosts, but most teams only played about 130 minutes in such gamestates. That's a big enough sample size to get a general idea of which are the best teams, but too small a sample to split hairs over the top five.

Croatia - June 12th

Against the Croats, a penalty awarded to Fred on what appeared to be a dive marred what was actually a solid performance by Brazil. Up to that controversial call, Brazil had earned 1.4 Expected Goals (xGoals) to Croatia's 0.4, dominating in quantity and quality of shots. Even after taking the lead on the penalty, Brazil still edged Croatia in xGoals the rest of the way, 0.30 to 0.24---a differential that matches what we'd expect of teams that were leading in this tournament.

Mexico - June 17th

Mexico is a better team than their last-second World Cup qualification (and that commentator) would suggest. It led the CONCACAF Hexagonal (the Hex!) in shot ratios and is currently ranked 13th in the world in the Soccer Power Index (though some of that improved ranking is because of their tie against Brazil). Despite a disappointing 0 - 0 tie on the scoreboard, Brazil's 1.4 xGoals again dwarfed that of its opponents. Mexico totaled just 0.5 xGoals.

Cameroon - June 23rd

There's not much to say about this one. Brazil's 1.9 xGD against Cameroon was the third highest discrepancy thus far in the tournament, trailing only France's drubbing of Honduras and Germany's handling of Portugal. It should be noted that both France and Germany enjoyed a man advantage for the majorities of those games.

Chile - June 28th

For Chile, the scoreboard and their well-developed rapport with the woodwork are clear indications that they could have won this game. However, the opportunity creation department informs us that Brazil probably should have won, as it did. 94 percent of this game's shots were taken during an even gamestate, either 0 - 0 or 1 - 1, and Brazil outpaced Chile during that time by a full expected goal. Even after halftime, when Brazil looked disorganized and sloppy, it still edged Chile 1.1-to-0.7 in xGoals.

Perhaps Brazil has not "looked" the part of tournament favorites during its first four games, but its shot creation numbers suggest it is definitely playing like one of the best teams. Add that to their pre-tournament resume, throw in the home-field advantage that's not going away anytime soon, and there is little doubt that Brazil is still the favorite to win this World Cup---maybe not with a majority of the probability, but definitely with a plurality.

The Manaus Effect by Jared Young

During the United States' game against Germany on Thursday, it was hard to go 10 minutes without hearing Ian Darke or Taylor Twellman mention Manaus and its effect on the players. The US Men's National team played its previous game against Portugal in the "Jungle City," as did Italy, England, Croatia and Cameroon, before each dropping three points in their next games.

Business Insider pointed out that those first four teams to play in Manaus lost by a combined score of 10 - 3, though it conceded the tiny sample size. A Washington Post article cited the same statistics, and pondered the possibility of a curse in Manaus. The Independent, based in the United Kingdom, noted on June 24th that each of the seven teams that played in Manaus lost its next game. That was confusing since only six teams had played in Manaus to that point, and only four of those had actually played a "next game." But whatever. #stats Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City's All-star midfielder and starter for the USMNT, wasn't having any of it, stating "I don’t think it was that bad to be honest. When it got down to it, at night it cooled off and the humidity wasn’t as bad. I think after about 24 hours the bodies felt great." Hugh Laurie would tell us that everybody lies, especially athletes on record, but there might be something to Zusi's statement. Below is a chart depicting the average temperature, humidity and heat index for each game site. The weather stats were taken from Weather Underground at the beginning of the second half of each game.

City  Games  Temp  Humidity  Index
Fortaleza 4 82.4 62% 85.4
Salvador 4 80.2 73% 83.5
Manaus 4 79.3 81% 82.1
Natal 4 78.5 83% 80.7
Cuiaba 4 78.4 66% 79.1
Brasilia 4 77.5 43% 78.7
Sao Paulo 4 69.4 55% 78.3
Belo Horizonte 4 76.1 40% 77.8
Recife 4 77.5 86% 77.8
Rio De Janeiro 4 75.7 71% 76.6
Porto Alegre 4 65.8 71% 75.5
Curitiba 4 64.0 79% 71.5

It's reasonable to theorize that more extreme environments take their toll on the human body, even professional athletes. But if we're going to get serious here, we need to consider all locales that were exceptionally uncomfortable. Manaus actually ranked third in average heat index, and had a lower average humidity than fourth-place Natal. Italy and England were the first to play in Manaus on June 14th and sparked the notion that it was a hell hole. But while they were duking it out in Manaus, Costa Rica and Uruguay were playing in Fortaleza, number one on that list up there. Though it was less humid to start the second half in Fortaleza, it was actually hotter, and Fortaleza's halftime heat index beat that of Manaus by a few points, 87.3 to 84.6.

It turns out that teams which most recently played in Natal, Salvador or Fortaleza---the other three extreme locations---did alright. Those teams outscored their opponents by a combined five goals. That makes it hard to believe that the conditions of Manaus were responsible for the downfalls of Italy, England and Croatia, though that still leaves the possibility of a non-weather-related curse.

To make this a legit study, there are some other factors we need to control for, and that is why God invented linear regression. Using ESPN's (Nate Silver's) Soccer Power Index, I controlled for each team's overall ability, and then I measured the effects of extra rest and past-game heat index on the goal differential outcome. The output is below:

Variable Estimate P-Value
Intercept -0.37 15.8%
SPI Ratings Differential 1.01 0.1%
Additonal Days Rest (home) -0.21 68.1%
Heat Index Differential 0.01 74.3%

If you're not a linear regression kind of person, then basically what that chart up there says is that neither the heat index of the teams' past games nor any rest discrepancy seemed to matter during this tournament. At least not in terms of goal differential. But we know that goal differential is finicky, and Expected Goals are a better indicator of team performance. Good thing we've got our World Cup Expected Goals data up and running! If we measure team performance by some Expected Goal Differential statistics (xGD), then we get these linear regression outputs:

Expected Goal Diff Estimate P-value Even Expected Goal Diff Estimate P-value
Intercept -0.06 61.9% Intercept 0.01 88.4%
SPI Ratings Differential 0.46 0.1% SPI Ratings Differential 0.34 0.2%
Additional Days Rest (home) 0.13 57.0% Additional Days Rest (home) 0.17 37.0%
Heat Index Differential 0.00 79.7% Heat Index Differential 0.00 86.3%

Again, regardless of whether we look at overall xGD or even-gamestate xGD, there are no statistically significant effects due to extreme heat index figures from past matches. Expected Goals data are obviously not a direct measurement of how heat impacts the athletes' bodies, but they should be a stable representation the teams' relative strengths during a match.

The Swiss were the last team (that is still in the tournament) to play in an 80+ heat index environment, but I wouldn't expect that to matter much based on what I've shown above. What will matter is that Argentina is much better. Talent has trumped the heat index so far this World Cup.



World Cup Statistics by Matthias Kullowatz

We have begun rolling out World Cup statistics in the same format as those we provide for MLS. Scroll over "World Cup 2014" along the top bar to check it out! In the Team Stats Tables, one may observe that the recently-eliminated Spain outshot its opponents, and a much higher proportion of its possession occurred in the attacking third than that of its opponents.

Our team-by-team Expected Goals data shows that England played better than its results would suggest, earning more dangerous opportunities than its opponents. It was a matter of inches for Wayne Rooney a few times there...


Finishing data suggests that James Rodriguez has made the most of his opportunities---surprise, surprise---but did you know that none of Thomas Muller's first seven shots were assisted?

And despite giving up a tournament-high seven goals in the group stages, our Goalkeeping Data actually suggests that Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares performed admirably---especially considering the onslaught of shots he faced that were worth a tournament-most 0.4 goals per shot on target.