Harrison Crow

Postseason Preview: Atlanta United FC by Harrison Crow

We joke about it. Atlanta has become the Marcia Brady of Major League Soccer and while that’s annoying to most all of us, it’s also not undeserved. This talented team has not only assembled a rare grouping of talent but they’ve been able to build upon their first season and grow to become a giant in this league.

While the narratives are often what they are this is a good opportunity to put into context what Atlanta has truly accomplished and what they are at their bones. A really really good team that has few flaws and has managed to minimize their opponents ability to expose those flaws.

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Ranking the Wingers by Harrison Crow

We’re all here because someone on Twitter started a discussion pertaining to ranking MLS wingers. I’m certain that my rankings won’t satisfactorally answer that question to everybody’s liking, but hopefully it adds something useful to the conversation. First of all, let’s establish some rules.

1)    The definition of a winger for this context is going to be super vague. Essentially a wide player lined up in the midfield according to the team lineup provided at the start of a match. Argue that however you wish. This just seems easiest.

2)    The player has to have played 500 minutes in the position his season. We’re not doing this “well--he’s been a winger in the past” or “he’s been really good when played out on the wing in a few games”. I’m not playing this game. It’s 500 minutes, meet it or beat it.

3)    If you’ve met the criteria above you get a mention in this.

4)    I’m going to provide some data with these thoughts. That will of course come from American Soccer Analysis. I could have broken things down far enough to where we only consider the advanced metrics, but we have to draw the line somewhere so we’re using numbers agnostic of the position played.

5)    Look. This is a rankings list. We’re not going to agree on all of these. It’s perfectly reasonable for you to think that I am in fact, wrong. That is fine. I might be.

Let’s get on with it.

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ASA Spring MLS Top-50 Ranking: 30-21 by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Monday, I introduced the who, what, where and why of this ranking, which was culled from the ballots of team front office personnel, MLS players, journalists, league analysts and other MLS experts. I'm sure there are going to be some disagreements, so hit us up on twitter or leave a comment below.

Check back later in the week for the rest of the rankings:
Monday: 50 through 41
Tuesday: 40 through 31
Wednesday: 30 through 21
Thursday: 20 through 11
Friday: 10 through 1

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ExpG: Expected Goals according to our player rankings
ExpA: Expected Assists
ExpSaves: Expected Goals Against minus Actual Goals Against according to our goalkeeper rankings.
Touch%: Percent of team's touches while on the field
TxGp90: Total Expected Goals per 90 minutes
Shots Created: Shots plus Key Passes

30. Sascha Kljestan - Midfielder, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 332

29. Juan Agudelo - Forward, New England Revolution
Total Score: 353

28. Kyle Beckerman - Midfielder, Real Salt Lake
Total Score: 356

27. Dax McCarty - Midfielder, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 356

26. Nick Rimando - Goalkeeper, Real Salt Lake
Total Score: 390

25. Lloyd Sam - Midfielder, New York Red Bulls
Total Score: 395

24. Mix Diskerud - Midfielder, New York City FC
Total Score: 397

23. Matt Besler - Defender, Sporting Kansas City
Total Score: 402

22. Lee Nguyen - Midfielder, New England Revolution
Total Score: 413

21. Javier Morales - Midfielder, Real Salt Lake
Total Score: 416

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How Data Changes My View of MLS or a Frank Exploration of Luck in Dallas by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)\

As I made my way to Toyota Stadium on Friday night I was concerned about just making it to the game on time. The traffic was horrendous and it was my first time driving around Frisco that collectively dragged my pace of getting to the park and was the reason I was walking up to the gate as fire works were set off and the National Anthem finished.

I stood just outside the south gate waiting for my ticket to arrive as Dominique Badji scored the Rapids first goal of the season and I felt a sense of validation in thinking that this was going to be a game that Colorado could be competitive and challenge for full points leaving Texas as I had implied with my post Friday morning.

It wasn't that I thought Dallas was a bad team as I wrote about them. I think Dallas is a very good team even after that beating, and I'm pretty certain they'll make the playoffs out of a very stacked and competitive Western Conference. The problem is that prior to Friday night they had the second highest PDO in Major League Soccer, a metric that is a measurement of luck based upon finishing and save percentage.

FC Dallas had scored a total of eight goals as a team behind the contributions of Blas Perez with three, Tesho Akindele just behind him with two and Fabian Castillo trailing with just one. Those three are what is going to drive the Dallas bus to success, just as the trio did last season, and though goals will come from other sources these are three that you can point to as "the guys".

The problem is that all three have been scoring goals with a much higher efficiency than what we'd seen previously from them. Now from what we've learned about scoring rates is pretty basic; they've had maniac highs and depressive lows. Even with the number of quality chances they're gotten, as described by our expected goal metric, it's not something that we could reasonably expect to continue. Again, not because they don't have fantastic goal scorers or that those players are of a lesser quality to the rest of the league. There are few players in the world that can score at their current rates.

Their high PDO meant that if the volume of Dallas' shots didn't change, they weren't going to continue to scoring goals.

Likewise, Colorado was riding a similar wave of eventual regression.

While Dallas had a high PDO, Colorado had a very low one (956, tied for second lowest in MLS) that was largely driven by their complete lack of goals across 48 shots. Yes, 48 shots without a goal. They should have, by our own measurements, scored four goals by the time they arrived to play FC Dallas this week and instead were sitting on a goose egg. Few teams can take near 50 shots over any given time frame during the season from the attacking third and come up that empty.

Just for a bit of applied science; over the past five seasons only two players have taken more than 48 shots and not scored a goal: Juninho for the Galaxy in 2014 and Kalif Alhassan for the Timbers in 2011. Based on shot leverage we can tell that Juninho was shooting from long distance and wasn't finding a lot of good chances. Likewise, being that he only scored five goals through 94 matches and is now playing in the NASL, it's possible Alhassan does not possess the finishing skills required from most goal scorers at the MLS level.

I'm not trying to say that it was certain Colorado was going to win a game or even score a goal.  Dallas could have very well done things different and there is luck to account for, too. Don't think for a second that shots like Dillon Serna's happen every week, there is a reason why it was special. The shot could have gone either wide or high and I'm a bit surprised that Walker Zimmerman didn't get a boot on it. Most players across soccer LEAGUES (not just MLS) convert those shots into goals in less than three percent of opportunities.

Colorado's eruption was mind blowing in the sense that I didn't expect them to score four goals, blow off the doors and leave Dallas with a clean sheet and all the points. But it's not as though I didn't think it couldn't happen either. That's the thing about all of this; we aren't trying to get a high definition picture of the future or to take the beauty out of anything, but instead it's to give the accomplishment context and measurement while understanding why it could have happened and if we should continue to expect it to happen.

Colorado isn't a team that I'm convinced is going to be anything great. They're probably at very best a 5th or 6th playoff seed if their defense holds up all the way through, which is another topic entirely. Likewise, Dallas has the attacking pieces to continue to beat their expected goal parameters and a top-3 seed isn't out of question. But if they either can't create more opportunities or continue to finish chances at a high rate, their regression may continue.