Kellyn Acosta

Colorado Rapids 2019 Season Preview by Benjamin Bellman

Folks, this is what a re-build looks like. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park might as well have had a “Pardon Our Dust” sign posted at the ticket office every home match, and the only good thing about the Colorado Rapids’ 2018 season is that it’s over. Still, 2018 was not wasted by the club, with players joining and leaving the roster all year. In many ways, this was the “game” that fans, including myself, have really been paying attention to. Head coach Anthony Hudson and GM Padraig Smith certainly had their work cut out for them a year ago, and it’s clear that this was always going to be a multi-year process, especially given the two bloated Designated Player contracts expiring at the end of 2019.

The Rapids are poised for an interesting 2019 season as the roadies for Tim Howard’s Magical Retirement Tour. They won’t (and shouldn’t!) be on anyone’s playoff prediction lists, but they’ll be a sleeper pick by a couple experts (pump Bobby Warshaw’s takes directly into my veins). Now that seven teams from each conference get a playoff game, Colorado should strive to be in the hunt all year, and given the crapshoot that is MLS, there’s no reason to say they can’t make it. But playoffs or not, Rapids fans would be truly pleased with some wins, some goals, and some talented young players to carry the team into a new decade.

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Expected Narratives: DRAAAAAAMA by Ian L.

For many in Sports media around the world, Deadline Day is one that is circled three times on the calendar. The reason? DRAAAAAAMA. So much drama. Helicopters being deployed all over Europe, fax machine malfunctions, Harry Redknapp, players just up and showing up at rival teams training facility hoping to force a move, and of course, the heartbreak for fans and players of dream deals falling just short.

MLS does not have this. The league is too centralized. Europe has an entire industry devoted to transfer speculation and rumor mongering that gets fans into an agitated fugue state. That industry is not as well established here in Major League Soccer. Teams tend to be pretty leaky and so there are very few transactions that come as a real surprise. There is a lot of irony on Twitter about various odd situations that demonstrate how “soccer has finally made it here”, but until we get our own Harry Redknapp getting blockaded in his car by reporters on the way home from practice, we’re still just playing dress up.

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Why is Atlanta's Attack so Dangerous? Ruthless Consistency. by Andrew Smith

As part of the US Soccer hackathon in Chicago last month, our team of Benjamin Harrison, Kevin Minkus, Eliot McKinley, Andrew Crago, and I developed a player decision model to evaluate final third decision making (Editor's note: Andrew is being humble and left out one important point: THEY WON THE HACKATHON. Here's a link to the project). The model uses Gaussian process classification to estimate the decision a player would make—either to pass, shoot, or attempt to take on a defender—at a specific point in the final third. Combining the players on the same team, we can extend this model to estimate the decisions the team as a whole makes in the attacking third. Then, to further understand team decision making in different game situations, the data is stratified into three categories to look at the adjustments in play when behind, tied, or ahead.

There’s not a whole lot that jumps out in an initial glance at the plots—there are no clear similarities between teams at the top or bottom of the league. There is, however, one specific team that stands out. Atlanta is extremely consistent—their attacking strategy is virtually identical regardless of the score. In the often volatile arena of professional sports consistency usually correlates with success, and Atlanta’s 2018 campaign is no exception. But ultimately it’s hard to say whether this consistency is a source or byproduct of their successes this year. Winning tends to alleviate a lot of the pressure on a team, which presumably would lead to more consistent performances, or it’s entirely possible that Atlanta is simply executing well.

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Season Preview: FC Dallas by Drew Olsen

Over the past three seasons, fans of the Hoops have seen their team crash down from the high of a 2010 MLS Cup Finals appearance . In 2012, those same fans endured a 13-game winless streak, to be followed by another 11-game winless streak in 2013, resulting in Dallas missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons. What made matters worse was their red hot start to 2013, where they raced out to a 7-2-3 record and 24 points by the end of May, good for first place in the West. After missing out on the post season following such a hot start, Schellas Hyndman was shown the door (officially resigned), and former FC Dallas player and long time assistant Oscar Pareja was hired to right the ship. There is much optimism surrounding Dallas as they look to put the past behind them and get themselves back into the playoffs in 2014.
2013 Finish: 44 Points, 8th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs FCDallasXI
Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Ryan Hollingshead M 2013 SuperDraft Ugo Ihemelu D option declined
Adam Moffat M traded from Seattle Ramon Nunez M option declined
Brian Span M weighted lottery Erick M option declined
Hendry Thomas M traded from Colorado Jackson M traded to Toronto
Andres Escobar F Loan (Dynamo Kiev) Victor Ulloa M out of contract
David Texeira F Free (FC Groningen) David Ferreira M option declined
Kenny Cooper F traded to Seattle
Roster Churn: 77.97% returning minutes (12th lowest in MLS)
roster-dallasLots of optimism surround the Hoops after the theft appointment of Oscar "Papi" Pareja as head coach, and for good reason. The former Colorado Rapids head coach was highly regarded by the front office, was a contender for MLS DALINFOCoach of the Year after Colorado overachieved last season with their young roster, thanks in some part to Pareja's guidance.
 
While the optimism is high, there are also some concerns with the team, as they jettisoned off a few key pieces from last year (Captain David Ferreira, striker Kenny Cooper, and winger Jackson), and now FC Dallas must work through that awkward transition where new faces and a new coach try to get on the same page. Will the front office and Dallas fans be patient enough to wait for Pareja to work his magic, given they've missed the playoffs two season in a row now? His first season in Colorado was forgettable (11-19-4, no playoffs), but there were clear signs of improvement in his second year (14-11-9, knock out rounds). 
 
With the exception of Blas Perez, the Dallas attack is young. [Fabian] Castillo (21), [Andres] Escobar (22), and [Mauro] Diaz (22) make for a very dangerous trio if they can develop their chemistry together. Diaz has been handed the number 10 jersey and will hold the keys to driving the Hoops offense this season. Much like it was with his predecessor, Captain Ferreira, where Diaz goes, FC Dallas will follow. And while the short glimpses we saw of Diaz were promising last season, being the focal point and main man for the entire season in a new league is another thing to handle altogether. 
 
Last season's Achilles heel had to be the central midfield for Dallas. When holding midfielder Peter Luccin went down with an injury before the season began, FC Dallas was left without any adequate cover, and it lost its midfield bite and any real quality in linking the defense to the attack. That has been addressed strongly this off season with the acquisition of former Rapids midfielder Hendry Thomas (who is basically a tank on cleats) and former Sounder Adam Moffat (better link up player). Not to mention Luccin is back and healthy, and Andrew Jacobson got a good solid year of starter experience under his belt. Dallas' thinnest spot in 2013 has suddenly become their greatest depth in 2014.
 
The Dallas defense looks largely the same with everyone from last year who got significant playing time returning. The debate now is whether that's a good or a bad thing. Jair Benitez is now a year older, and while he provides help in offense (hello golazo!), his defending remains inconsistent. Zach Loyd had a subpar year by his standards in 2013. Whether he can regain his form that led him to be a USMNT call up waits to be seen. 
 
Finally, the last question mark for Dallas is what will Pareja do with homegrown standout Kellyn Acosta? His breakthrough 2013 was a huge step in the right direction for the Homegrown Player program, but where does he fit on this team? In 2013 he filled in admirably---at times better than Loyd at right back---but the teenage star has spoken that his preferred position is defensive midfield. Regardless of where he plays, Acosta is a talent that needs to see the field as much as possible. 
FC Dallas finished 2013 as the epitome of average statistically, posting the 10th best expected goal differential, as well as the 10th best shot attempt ratio. Hope rests in Pareja's ability to work with a team that has added six new players to date, and to inject this team with a little magic that worked for Pareja's former team last season.
 

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 8th place in Western Conference; 107 of the 406 8th-place votes (26.35%), and 321 of 404 (79.5%) of voters felt that FC Dallas would not make the playoffs in 2014.

*ExpGD is the same as our metric xGD.