Donovan Ricketts

MLS Goalkeepers or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BOB by Bill Reno

It seems like every week I see multiple goalkeepers launch a hopeful goal kick to a teammate close to the sideline, only to overhit it by about twenty yards. While fans may appreciate the invitation to be a part of the game, they’d rather not see their goalkeeper concede possession so easily. MLS goalkeeping standards aren’t the same as La Liga, but surely there is some standard, right?
 
I accessed the secret scrolls of passing statistics dating back to the 2015 season to see just how often MLS goalkeepers launch a ball straight out of bounds. For this exercise, we’ll be using the stat BOB, which stands for for “Ball Out of Bounds” because having a stat acronym with two O’s would jump ASA’s rating from G to PG and I couldn't bring myself to be the sole reason for that. We don't have the data to separate punts, throws, passes, and goal kicks but I think this still addresses the topic at hand. As such, the below BOB pulls in all 'keeper distribution, be it a goal kick launched towards midfield or a toss to a nearby teammate a foot away.
 
Over a total of 1587 BOB in 1622 games puts the average BOB/gm for a goalkeeper at .978.

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GOTY: ASA IDKMYBFFJILL by Bill Reno

The finalists have been announced! We’re down to three goalkeepers that are all quality players in their own right. Bill Hamid. Luis Robles. David Ousted. You know the names or else you wouldn’t be reading this. All three have led their team to playoffs and have just a little time left to show who should become the 2015 Audi Cup MLS Audi Goalkeeper of the Audi Year [sic]. But don’t take my word for it, let’s hear what each of the nominees have to say for themselves. Here at ASA, we’ve obtained quotes from each of the goalkeepers that may or may not actually be from the goalkeepers themselves.

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2015 ASA Preview: Orlando City SC by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Orlando City Soccer Club; a team that has won it all. A team that has seen its share of trophies over a short period of time and accomplished so many impressive feats. Yet, here they are starting anew with no real past. No MLS victories,n o MLS golden boot winners, and no MLS championships. The club has a storied history, it has great (albiet short) history and, yet, all at the same it has no history. This is the life and evolution of the once Austin Aztex and former USL PRO Orlando City grown up and now an expansion team in Major League Soccer as the Orlando City Soccer Club.

Their club is an enigma, and that thought represents the entirety of the season with what lies before them and the many predictions that are being made upon their behalf. Some with swooping claims of cups and glory, yet others with tales of unexpected challenges and a year of transition into an unforgiving league.

Vigorous youth mixed with gritty veterans and all those cute narratives that can be packaged together through the cliché good will is bought and sold around this organization. The question is, even with all the upgraded talent, coming into a tougher league can this club still be among the best?

The Coach

Adrian Heath and his tale is remarkable to me. For those that don't know he was basically hired after a meeting with owner Phil Rawlins in a Newcastle pub and moved his family from England to Texas to coach a team with no name and no pitch, simply trusting Rawlins' dream.

Either that's really stupid or he's just someone that is brilliant at understanding, evaluating and deciphering people. Considering all the talent that he has brought and cycled through Orlando in the last four years, I tend to believe it's the later.

The obvious example of Heath and his ability to deal with talent is the situation of Dom Dwyer. Dwyer was disappointed initially when Sporting loaned him to Orlando City in 2013 as part of the USL-MLS partnership. Dwyer admitted retrospectively to the UK guardian he didn't like the idea of being loaned out but credits the experience as a time growth and that “learned so much, especially from Orlando head coach Adrian Heath”.

Dwyer wasn't the only person that Heath mentored over the years. You could point to Jamaican Dennis Chin, who scored 21 goals in 84 matches for Orlando and was an MVP candidate in 2012. Most recently the example of Heath's work can be found in winger and 2014 USL golden boot winner, Kevin Molino. Many pundits believe that Molino is MLS' newest budding star.

Heath has shown a keen ability to not just mentor talent but put them in logical positions that fit their talents and, at the same time, bolster his schemes. A staunch believer in the 4-3-3 over his time in USL it's very likely that a slight tweak will be in order to facilitate the addition of Ballon d'Or winner Kaká. It's likely that there will be little defensive responsibility on the former world player of the year lending to the idea that Heath might favor a 4-2-3-1.

The Goalkeepers

Donovan Ricketts looks to be the starter early on and MLS pundits will all hail the move. A lot of people are down about Ricketts for goals that he should probably have saved in 2014. They point to routine situations where he has lost his positioning or was slow in identifying movement across the backline. But despite that, our numbers imply that Ricketts has still been pretty good in three out of the four seasons and the two most recent years have some 260 shots involved in them. In 2013 Ricketts won Goalkeeper of the Year, which some say should have gone to Nick Rimando. Our data suggests that Ricketts was well-deserving of the honor. 

The real question is what happens once Tally Hall becomes healthy. Obviously at 37 Ricketts is no spring chicken and this looks like Hall's job for the future. But how will this be handled if Ricketts is still plucking bullets out of the sky and performing when Hall is ready to step back between the pipes?

Furthermore, up until last year our data was pretty certain Hall was a fine starting keeper and at 29 he's about to really start hitting the prime of a goalkeeper's career. It's a big decision and possibly not as easy as it seems.

The Defenders

The Lions were quick to put to use that bang bang allocation cash-ola they get with being an expansion team. The first of many offseason moves was to snag Aurélien Collin from Sporting KC. There are many that have thought the past few years that Collin was among the best defenders in all of MLS, and the numbers lend credence to that thought. He has averaged roughly eight duels won per 90 minutes in back-to-back seasons good for 13th overall in 2013* and 10th in 2014* winning over 50% of his duels in both seasons. But he is also a bit of a card hazard, collecting a total of 15 yellow cards in 2013. Still, he seemed to have scaled back his aggressiveness in 2014 with only two yellows, though this also came with an additional two red cards. His foul ratio also dropped in 2014 from 1.9 in 2013 to 1.5. There were questions last season with Sporting KC defense, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can still be a top-tier defender and anchor a line that is badly in need of support.

I suppose I should throw a sharp little quip about Brek Shea being back at left back, but I really have little opinion on that whole thing. Good for him. He's making some money, doing what he likes and looks to be apart of a team that could be good over the whole of the season. Does he fit at left back? Sure. Should he takes Molino's spot? Nope. Do I think Shea possibly killed Mr. Green in Downton Abbey? Yes, actually, I do.

The Midfielder

I am so interested in Kevin Molino for a few different ones. First his shots attempted have steadily increased each year and with more playing time. Starting off at nearly two shots per 90 minutes played in 2012 and reaching over four shots this past season.

While we didn't have a strong track record for Dom Dwyer, we saw the number of shots that he took during his loan in Orlando carry over to his time at Sporting KC. Obviously this works this way because Dwyer is going to handle the ball and largely hold the responsibility for creating the scoring opportunities.

That said, Adrian Heath has deployed Molino almost as a strike partner for the trio of Corey Hertzog, Chin and Giuseppe Gentile with the way he would make slashing moves into the 18-yard box.

I know everyone is enamored with the idea of Kaká being in MLS and it's cool, it's not a regular thing for this league to attract former Ballon d'Or /World Player of the Year caliber talent, however, I'm not yet certain if I buy him being the same thing that Thierry Henry was for the Red Bulls. I think of him being more of a creator than a goal scorer, and if that's going to be the case the team is going to depend very much upon the talents of whoever ends up with the starting striker job.

Speaking of which...
 

The Striker

I think it's really interesting the comparison between young designated player and probable starting striker Bryan Róchez and “failed” New England designated player, Jerry Bengtson. I say failed with quotes because I'm not personally of the belief that you can label anything a failure without giving it at least a full season of minutes (3,060). Instead he got 2,200 minutes across three seasons, which in turn saw only a paltry four goals created.

However, our data suggests that Bengtson actually didn't fair as poorly as the surface numbers suggest. Expected goals has him for a total of nearly nine goals with a shot leverage of 0.152. These are still not great numbers from a striker but far from the “failed” narrative gets paraded around.

Prior to arriving in MLS, Bengtson was the star striker of C.D. Motagua in Honduras making appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League and scoring a total of 26 goals through 54 games for the Eagles prior to being loaned to New England.

Much like Bengtson, Róchez is coming from Honduras and a club that wasn't necessarily the top of Liga Nacional in Real España. Róchez notched similar numbers to Bengtson with 29 goals over 59 matches. However, the key difference between that Róchez is making this transition having JUST turned 20 in January, compared to Bengston being 24, and has played in only half as many games played (78) in his career compared to what Bengtson had (147) at the time of his arrival to the US.

These are just differences between the two players. They don't necessarily convey talent levels and they won't lead to us anywhere near being able to make any substantial claims one way or another on future success. They're simply just interesting comparisons.

There is a lot of room for error in comparing matches and goal tallies. There is no context to the situation and there isn't much depth to what little information lies on the surface. Will Róchez be any good? It's really impossible to tell at this point, but it's interesting to note what a firm grasp he has on the starting position considering his youth.

The Summary:

I'm not trying to predict where this club is going to land. It's a foolish task. They could win everything, they could win nothing. The truth is that we have no idea how they might succeed and whether or not that potential success is even sustainable. What we do know is that expansion teams tend to have heavy roster churn and changes within the front office,  and while there was some roster turnover because of the expansion the core has remained intact, and the coaching staff office has stuck around. All of these are positive signs.

Only one other club since 1998 has made the MLS playoffs in their first season, and while the East has no powerhouse, it's ruled by many clubs with gross amounts of talent all looking to collect scalps. The question is can OCSC can steal one of those six spots? Any answer seems valid to this point. Yes? No? 17 red cards for Aurélien Collin. Who knows... who freakin' knows? One thing is for sure. This will be a fun team to watch.

 

*minimum 14 match appearances

Season Preview: Portland Timbers by Drew Olsen

Like a hot new boy band busting onto the music scene, the Portland Timbers came out of nowhere last season to  improve more than any other MLS team, jumping from an eighth-place Western Conference finish and 34 points in 2012 to first place and 57 points in 2013. Expectations are high for 2013 Coach-of-the-Year Caleb Porter, and we will soon see which member of the band the Timbers are; a legitimate talent with true staying power like RSL, the Galaxy and JT, or the goofy one that is just along for the ride, like 2007 ChivasUSA, 2010 FC Dallas, and Chris Kirkpatrick. Do the Timbers have a model that will let them hang with the big boys, or will they regress to the mean with a vengeance? ASA readers see them as Nick Carter material, with a majority of voters picking the Timbers to win the Western Conference for a second season in a row. PTFC2013squad

 Players In    Players Out  
Name Pos   Name Pos
Jorge Villafana D Trade from Chivas USA David Horst D Traded to Houston
Norberto Paparatto D Transfer from Tigre Ryan Miller D Option declined
Bryan Gallego D Homegrown player Dylan Tucker-Gangnes D Waived
Taylor Peay D SuperDraft Andrew Jean-Baptiste D Traded to Chivas USA
Steve Zakuani M Re-Entry Stage 1 Mikael Silvestre D Contract terminated
Schillo Tschuma M/F SuperDraft Sal Zizzo M Traded to Sporting KC
George Fochive M SuperDraft Brent Richards F Waived
Aaron Long M SuperDraft Sebastian Rincon F Loan expired
 Andrew Weber GK  Free Transfer Jose Valencia F Loaned to Club Olimpo
Milos Kocic GK Retired

Roster Churn: Portland returns 82.31% of their minutes played in 2013, 6th most in MLS.

 

2014 Preview

Median age: 25 *Designated player

Coming off their first place Western Conference finish in 2013, the Timbers’ theme for the 2014 offseason has been “more of the same”. Led by new coach Caleb Porter and MLS Newcomer-Of-The-Year Diego Valeri, the Timbers were a surprise contender in 2013. Porter's 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrid system was a 180% turn from their philosophy under former coach John Spencer, and it brought the team immediate success. By controlling possession and maintaining the defensive pressure even in the opposition end, the Timbers brought a unique style that was both entertaining and effective. This attack based system saw them finish with the third most goals in the league last year, despite being only 9th in attempts. Not only were their attacks fruitful, they were dangerously efficient. Unlike last season’s roster overhaul, Portland made few big changes in the offseason for 2014, instead solidifying their depth and bringing in two Argentine veterans to shore up the back-line and attacking corps. Clearly, the Timbers are willing to ride Goalkeeper-of-the-Year Donovan Ricketts and playmakers Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe in the upcoming season.

The Attack

As in 2013, Valeri and Nagbe will be relied on to be the catalysts for the Portland offense. Led by their 12 and 10 goals respectively, the Timbers finished with the fourth best finishing rate (goals divided by attempts) in MLS last season. Being two of the most fouled players in MLS last season, and due to Valeri’s somewhat slow recovery from off-season hernia surgery, their health could determine if Portland can continue to finish with similar efficacy this season. Still, the additions of Gaston Fernandez and Steve Zakuani will alleviate some of the dependence on Portland’s playmakers. If injury isn’t an issue, the Timbers can expect to score lots of goals in 2014.

PORINFO

The biggest (and perhaps the only) major offseason subtraction was the loss of Jamaican international and Oregon State alum Ryan Johnson’s nine goals (third on the team last year), as he pursues a career in China. The departure of Johnson will certainly be felt, but late-season acquisition Maxi Urruti had taken over the starting striker position before an injury last year, and he looks to fit perfectly into Porter’s high-pressure defensive scheme. Also significant has been the addition of “La Gata” Fernandez. Besides having the best tribute video on the internet, Fernandez will fill some of the holes left by both Johnson and Rodney Wallace, who tore his ACL in the playoffs and isn’t expected to return until late summer. Fernandez is versatile as an attacking midfielder/forward, and seems likely to assume a utility role on the Left side of Midfield to start the season. Zakuani is an unknown quantity after excelling for the Sounders before enduring two years of injury and disappointment. Few things would be more welcome to Timbers fans than seeing a former Seattle player return to form in Portland, so any significant contribution from Zakuani will be considered a bonus. Couple those additions with first-round SuperDraft pick Schillo Tshuma, who has impressed in preseason, and the Timbers will expect to continue with their high-scoring output last year.

Still, requisite warnings about reading too much into the preseason aside, a lack of scoring (only 6 goals in 7 preseason games) in the lead-up to this MLS season is cause for some concern. For the Timbers system to work they'll need to score goals in bunches.

The Real Bash Brothers

2012 Timbers Army’s player of the year Diego Chara and captain Will Johnson, who saw his career revitalized by a move to Portland last season, will again anchor a high-energy midfield that is likely to be among the league leading duos in minutes and fouls (Chara has finished in the top three in fouls committed in all three of his MLS seasons). While not as flashy as their attacking counterparts, Chara and Johnson are just as important to the Timbers’ success. Their hard-tackling, box-to-box styles are exemplary of Porter’s possession philosophy. The Timbers will expect to win the midfield battle in nearly every game they play this season, with Chara and Johnson expected to neutralize the opposition’s playmakers as a way to free up and start Portland’s multi-faced attack.

Defensive Questions

Despite a conference best 33 goals against last season, center back was a position in flux last year with six different players all getting starts there (Futty Danso, Pa-Moudu Kah, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Mikel Silvestre, Rauwshan Mckenzie, and David Horst). Jean-Baptiste started the most games next to Kah, but lost his starting spot to Danso in the last couple months of the season. Still, Danso’s limitations were exposed in the playoffs last season, and priority number one for the offseason was to find a consistent starter to pair with Kah. Portland ultimately ended up bringing in contender for best-named signing of the MLS offseason, Argentine Norberto Paparatto. While little besides some YouTube highlight videos (especially dubious when judging a CB) is known about Paparatto, judging by his solid if mostly unremarkable preseason the starting spot next to Kah appears his to lose. The outside backs are likely to stay the same as they were for nearly every game in 2013, with Jack Jewsbury and Michael Harrington (fresh off a USMNT summer call-up) being active both as wing-defenders and initiators of the attack.

Ricketts silenced his doubters and skeptics last year by earning his second Goalkeeper of the Year award at age 36. While not getting any younger, the Jamaican did a lot to cover up for the mistakes of Portland's defenders last year, having allowed only 83.2% of the goals a replacement MLS keeper would have, according to our goalkeeper ratings. Along with Nick Rimando, Ricketts was a head above the rest of MLS keepers, having prevented 6.27 goals  more than the average MLS goalkeeper last season. Still, the Timbers appear to be grooming young New Zealander Jake Gleeson (who they have sent on loan to Sacramento Republic FC) to fill Rickett's shoes, so there will be a smooth transition when Ricketts ultimately retires.

2014 Predictions

The 2014 MLS All-Star game will be in Portland, but the Timbers’ organization and fans expect MLS Cup to be held there, too. Under the guidance and leadership of Caleb Porter and Diego Valeri, year two is primed for success. With the Timbers figuring to compete in all three major competitions – MLS, the US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League – this is a team that expects success. Outside of the Cascadia Cup, the Timbers have never brought any silverware back to the Rose City, but this could be the year things change.

Our data suggest the Timbers drastically over performed compared their expected goals for and against last season. Did they just get lucky a season ago, or has the organization finally built a model for success? They return their three best players from 2013 in Ricketts, Valeri, and Nagbe, and hope the added experience and chemistry between these players continues to flourish. A lot is expected of the Timbers this season, and only time will tell if 2013 was a sign of things to come, or in the words of N’SYNC, it will be “Bye, Bye, Bye” for their championship hopes in 2014.

Crowdsourcing Results

1st place in the Western Conference; 204 of 404 (50.4%) readers projected the Timbers to win the Western Conference, and 386 (95.5%) projected them to make the playoffs in some capacity.