Going into the 2018 season, Real Salt Lake’s success depended on a few key signings and the growth of their young talents. Both were mixed bags. Heading into 2019, that mix will tilt more heavily toward their youth, as RSL furthers their dependence on an ability to raise and develop young prospects.Read More
After an encouraging 2017 featuring the emergence of a handful of exciting young talent, Real Salt Lake seemed poised to take a step forward in 2018. Technically they did, by making the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, courtesy of an epic collapse from the LA Galaxy. RSL found themselves in that precarious position thanks to a lot of inconsistency. The team’s stretch run, for example, featured a 6-2 dismantling of the Galaxy followed by a home draw to Minnesota, and a 1-1 tie at Kansas City (maybe RSL’s best performance of the year given the context) followed by two blowout losses to Portland. Those painful ups and downs are what happens when you build a team on still-developing stars - it’s just a part of the process. Here it is in graphical form, with their 4-game rolling xGD:Read More
Directional Passes Over Expected: Where do players exceed passing expectations?
During the National League Wildcard playoff game, American Soccer Analysis contributor and Lamar Hunt US Open Cup champion, Sean Steffen tweeted about the baseball stat Directional Outs Above Average. This metric tells you about the defensive range of an outfielder, with positive values indicating a direction where the player is better than average at creating an out and negative where the player is below average. Obviously, this exact type of metric cannot be used in soccer, but it did inspire me to figure out how something like it could be used. Thus, Directional Passes Over Expected (DPOE) was born.Read More
We’re four weeks into the MLS season and have we learned anything about the goalkeeping crew yet? Tough to say. 2017 brings back some familiar faces while other teams are trying their luck by putting some youth in net. MLS is a tricky league for any rookie to hop into, but goalkeepers specifically need to have a few tools under their belt.Read More
In Week Two of the 2016 MLS season, I watched the Houston Dynamo beat FC Dallas 5-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium. After the match I saw the Shot on Target (SoT) statistics and noticed Houston had taken three shots on goal towards the lower right-hand side against Dallas’s keeper Jesse Gonzalez. Was Gonzalez weaker on his left side? Since I was a young boy playing soccer, I've heard numerous coaches talk about a goalkeepers’ “weaker side”. Is there something the coaches know about goalkeeper weaknesses that we analysts don’t?
More after the jump.Read More
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.Read More
For those unfamiliar with ASA’s goalkeeping stats, the long explanation can be found here and the short of it is that the “G - xG” stat column, Goals Allowed Minus Expected Goals, is how many goals goalkeepers are giving up from expected shooting areas. A negative number means they’re doing well, saving their team that many goals, while a positive number means they aren’t performing up to the standard MLS goalkeeper. The table is also reproduced below.
|Keeper||Team||Min||SOG||GA||xGA||G - xG|
|Adam Larsen Kwarasey||POR||477||14||5||4.49||0.51|
By Bill Reno (@letsallsoccer)
2015 could be a big year for Nick Rimando. The RSL goalie is looking to capture his first MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, something he has been robbed of for multiple years now. It’s tough enough for him to earn it this late in his career (he’ll be 36 this summer) but to think of him having a realistic chance next year doesn't sound plausible. We've already seen signs of him aging two games into the season.
Rimando earned a lot of praise in his first game with his mult-save shutout against Portland in week one. However, he followed up against Philadelphia was three goals, all of which he could have played much better.
0:55 - An obvious cross from the right sees Rimando doing his trademark “cheat” out towards the penalty spot. (Think of a defensive shift in baseball.) Rimando knows the future location of the pass - a direct shot is almost definitely not going to happen - so he scoots away from the goal. There a many problems with this idea and the 2002-US-Portugal-esque result is a large one. Rimando doesn’t need the extra step to cover the ground he is responsible for. The goalmouth is the main priority, not the penalty spot.
1:18 - As the ball is cleared out for another throw-in, Rimando turns away and steps towards his goal. He quickly looks back but does not give any call to his defenders for the ensuing danger. After the goal, he screams at his defenders for not paying attention, but the truth of the matter is that is starts with Rimando himself. He is equally at fault if not more so for his lack of positioning on the shot. Watch 1:27-1:28 in slow motion, his right foot steps away from the shot, a classic sign of a stance far too wide. If he closes his gate, he can perhaps take care of the shot.
2:25 - Another crossing situation. Surely the same mistake cannot happen twice.
Rimando’s, ahem, "aggressive" play has obvious problems. First, if anything were to go wrong, the goalmouth is completely open. This applies for crossing situations, 1v1 situations, scrambles in the box, and shots from distance. (Basically every part of goalkeeping.) Secondly, the defense will struggle to know exactly how to play a crossing situation now. Rimando did not play this aggressively last year and now his defense must adjust. In a quick situation, should the defender abandon marking responsibilities to cover the goal? Or do they challenge the loose ball? It is tough to say now.
If he is consistent with other goalkeepers who have taken the path of over-aggressiveness, it will translate into all aspects of his goalkeeping. 1v1 situations will be too forceful and lacking of patience, shots in the box will be met with flapping arms instead of thoughtful positioning, and footwork will become an afterthought. Unfortunately for Mr. Rimando, he shows early signs of a goalkeeper nearing retirement: relying too much on hopeful play that does not trust percentages.
As for the GOTY award, here is your author Bill’s expert opinion on the matter; don’t let this be confused as to which goalkeepers are better, as that is an entirely different question. Think of this as a popularity vote. (See last five years of the MLS GOTY Award.)
Bill Hamid - Only a transfer abroad or injury will drop him from the number one spot.
Bobby Shuttleworth - Had a successful run with the Revs last year and now a great start, despite the six conceded goals. Consistency is still in question.
Steve Clark - Best goalkeeper in MLS will undoubtedly be snubbed again.
Luis Robles - Most consistent goalkeeper might get an added boost from RBNY’s player reshuffle.
Nick Rimando - Will go down as the greatest MLS goalkeeper to never win the award.
Luis Marin - Voters love Kansas City goalkeepers for some reason.
Chris Seitz - Quietly keeping counter-happy Dallas calm in the back.
Joe Bendik - Has the tools but had trouble putting it together in 2014. Could 2015 be a breakout year?
Tyler Deric - Stellar start, minus time time when he kicked the ball off an opposing player and into his own goal.
Stefan Frei - Underrated and has shown true, tangible growth despite the ponytail.
By Matthias Kullowatz (@mattyanselmo)
2014 Review (and beyond)
Real Salt Lake finished third in the Western Conference last season and competed in the MLS playoffs for the seventh consecutive year. RSL’s president, Bill Manning, was awarded Executive of the Year, and for good reason. RSL—the Tampa Bay Rays of MLS—has continued making the playoffs year in and year out on a low budget. In 2014, the team’s total compensation paid to players was sixth lowest in MLS, $2.4M below the league average team.*
The top story around here about Real Salt Lake revolves around its ability to frustrate me. Over the past two seasons, RSL has led the league in scoring more goals than our model expects it to, and in allowing fewer goals than our model expects it to. So what’s in the water in Utah?
Nick Rimando is in the water. Over the past three seasons, Rimando has made saves valued at more than six goals per season better than average.** Using a simple regression, we can estimate that those six goals in a season were worth about four additional points for RSL in the standings each year. Not bad for one player.
Offensively, we've shown that outperforming expected goals becomes a stable metric as the season progresses. The only question is, how does RSL do it? Perhaps of importance, its offense is extremely slow and methodical relative to other teams. According to Tempo Free Soccer, RSL was third in the league in 2014 in passes per possession (PPP) but dead last in possessions per game (PPG). There is certainly a correlation across the league between PPP and outperforming expected goals, indicating that perhaps long possession (by number of passes) frees up players for shots with more time and space. Or maybe teams that are capable of creating time and space know that they need to pass the ball around enough to find the right opportunity. Either way, it’s clearly possible that RSL is such a team that has an ability to outperform its expected goals offensively.
Between 2011 and 2013, striker Alvaro Saborio consistently outperformed his own expected goals by about two per season. In 2014, he started just 13 games and played 1230 minutes, making way for the four-foot-15-inch Ecuadorian, Joao Plata. Plata clearly appreciated his opportunity, producing 56 of his own shots and 13 goals in just 24 starts—6.5 goals more than expected, given his quality and quantity of opportunities. While Plata will likely regress some in the finishing department, it seems that RSL’s style fosters overperformance. It is still up for debate as to how much of this overperformance comes from each of team style, individual finishing, and random variation.
Whenever the season actually starts, RSL will kick off with one of the best goalkeepers in the league once again in Rimando. We’ve talked about him already, but his backup may be one of the more undervalued assets on the team. Jeff Attinella made just below $50,000 in total compensation in 2014, not too far above league minimum of $36,500. Our keeper ratings show that he saved four more goals than expected last season, and while 10 starts is hardly a large enough sample size to conclude he’s a top goalkeeper, a history of success in the NASL suggests that he’s capable. Additionally, our own Will Reno projects him essentially as a typical starting MLS goalkeeper, and Tom Worville suggested that Attinella was an undervalued keeper using WhoScored data. For 50,000 bananas, RSL fans can be reassured that if Rimando were to go down, the season wouldn't be hopeless.
This offseason saw the departure of two starters along RLS’s backline, Nat Borchers to Portland and Chris Wingert (and his classy tucked-in jersey) to New York City FC. They combined for 5,780 minutes, half of which will likely go to the prodigal son, Jamison Olave. Olave will replace Borcher’s position at centerback, but probability in a much different way. Olave features an athleticism that does not conjure up any images of Borchers, though it’s perhaps a reckless athleticism at times. Olave did accumulate eight yellow cards last season, exactly as many as Portland’s Diego Chara who is particularly known for such chicanery. Despite the physical differences, for what it’s worth, some of their statistical outputs are quite similar.
Who will get those other minutes left by Wingert is up for debate, but Demar Phillips appears to be the frontrunner. The Jamaican international joins RSL from Aalesunds FK, a successful team in Norway’s top division. Also an option is the 26-year-old Abdoulie Mansally, who made 11 appearances with six starts last season. Both could provide a stronger offensive presence than Wingert from the back. Mansally was once a forward, and produced more xGoals and xAssists than Wingert on a per-minute basis in 2014, and Phillips has scored 12 goals for the Jamaican international team over the years, indicating some experience being offensive.
RSL is known for its 4-4-2 lineup with an effective diamond midfield. It started four midfielders in every game but one last season, at least nominally. This is interesting because multiple sources suggest that RSL could come out in a 4-3-3 in 2015. After losing Ned Grabavoy to NYCFC in the expansion draft—in addition to a growing pool of forward talent—RSL may be rethinking its personnel and style. Last season the midfield quartet of Grabavoy, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, and Luke Mulholland produced 15.5 expected goals and 16.2 expected assists in 10,581 minutes. For comparison’s sake, D.C. United’s primary middle four logged 10,359 minutes and recorded just 10.8 expected goals and 6.8 expected assists. Though it may not be completely fair to compare them to D.C. United, team style aside, it shows that RSL got a lot more out of its midfield than another successful MLS team that also played a 4-4-2.
Regardless of formation, 2015 is likely to feature more of USMNT member Luis Gil and less of Mulholland. Mulholland outpaced Gil in shots and expected goals last season, but not by much once you consider that Gil played 500 fewer minutes. Just 21 years of age and getting USMNT experience, Gil is ready to start and play 2,500+ minutes. But the question remains, will RSL’s midfield be able to continue to produce high quantity and quality of chances in a new formation? Was Grabavoy more important to the mix than many thought? I don't have these answers, but perhaps 2015 does.
Another reason for the potential formation change may have a lot to do with the emergence of Plata, Olmes Garcia, and Devon Sandoval as good young forwards, as well as the mid-season signing of Argentine striker Sebastian Jaime back in August. With Saborio returning from an injury-shortened season, RSL may feel that it can maximize production by simply allowing more forwards to play at once. The loss of Robbie Findley’s 822 minutes may not even be noticed.
There was a focus Plata’s 13 goals and what he was able to do for RSL by scoring, but I noticed something else in his statistical line. He led RSL’s forwards in 2014 by far in key passes and expected assists with 48 and 5.7, respectively. Of course, he played more minutes, so how about this one: in 2,084 minutes, Plata recorded more key passes and xAssists individually than every other main RSL forward in a combined 4,294 minutes.*** Even if it starts three forwards in 2015, Real Salt Lake would have one that distributes enough to make it work well.
Despite the losses of Borchers, Grabavoy, and Findley, among others, RSL definitely has the fire power to compete for a top three finish in the Western Conference, though that may not be the average projection. I feel that RSL’s success in 2015 hinges on its ability to make the midfield as effective as it was the past, whether it chooses to replace Grabavoy with a forward (4-3-3) or work Gil in with the remaining midfielders (4-4-2). Our predictive model from the end of last season suggested that RSL would be expected to finish essentially tied for fourth in the West with Portland, Sporting KC, and Vancouver. I think it's fair to project RSL to finish somewhere between 3rd and 7th in a tight Western Conference.
**Check out our keeping ratings under the xGoals tabs!
***Includes Saborio, Garcia, Findley, Sandoval, and Jaime.
If you take a look back at 2013's expected goal differentials, probably the biggest outlier was MLS Cup runner up Real Salt Lake. Expected to score 0.08 fewer goals per game than its opponents, RSL actually scored 0.47 more goals than its opponents. That translates to a discrepancy of about 19 unexplained goals for the whole season. This year, RSL finds itself second in the Western Conference with a goal differential of a massive 0.80. However, like last year, the expected goal differential is lagging irritatingly behind at --0.77. There are two extreme explanations for RSL's discrepancy in observed versus expected performance, and while the truth probably lies in the middle, I think it's valuable to start the discussion at the extremes and move in from there.
It could be that RSL plays a style and has the personnel to fool my expected goal differential statistic. Or, it could be that RSL is one lucky son of a bitch. Or XI lucky sons of bitches. Whatever.
Here are some ways that a team could fool expected goal differential:
- It could have the best fucking goalkeeper in the league.
- It could have players that simply finish better than the league average clip in each defined shot type.
- It could have defenders that make shots harder than they appear to be in each defined shot type--perhaps by forcing attackers onto their weak feet, or punching attackers in the balls whilst winding up.
- That's about it.
know are pretty sure that RSL does indeed have the best goalkeeper in the league, and Will and I estimated Nick Rimando's value at anywhere between about six and eight goals above average* during the 2013 season. That makes up a sizable chunk of the discrepancy, but still leaves at least half unaccounted for.
The finishing ability conversation is still a controversial one, but that's where we're likely to see the rest of the difference. RSL scored 56 goals (off their own bodies rather than those of their opponents), but were only expected to score about 44. That 12-goal difference can be conveniently explained by their five top scorers--Alvaro Saborio, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, Olmes Garcia, and Robbie Findley--who scored 36 goals between them while taking shots valued at 25.8 goals. (see: Individual Expected Goals, and yes it's biased to look at just the top five goal scorers, but read on.)
Here's the catch, though. Using the sample of 28 players that recorded at least 50 shots last season and at least 5 shots this season, the correlation coefficient for the goals above expectation statistic is --0.43. It's negative. Basically, players that were good last year have been bad this year, and players that were bad last year have been good this year. That comes with some caveats--and if the correlation stays negative then that is a topic fit for another whole series of posts--but for our purposes here it suggests that finishing isn't stable, and thus finishing isn't really a reliable skill. The fact that RSL players have finished well for the last 14 months means very little for how they will finish in the future.
Since I said there was a third way to fool expected goal differential--defense. I should point out that once we account for Rimando, RSL's defense allowed about as many goals as expected. Thus the primary culprits of RSL's ability to outperform expected goal differential have been Nick Rimando and its top five scorers. So now we can move on to the explanation on the other extreme, luck.
RSL has been largely lucky, using the following definition of lucky: Scoring goals they can't hope to score again. A common argument I might expect is that no team could be this "lucky" for this long. If you're a baseball fan, I urge you to read my piece on Matt Cain, but if not, here's the point. 19 teams have played soccer in MLS the past two seasons. The probability that at least one of them gets lucky for 1.2 seasons worth of games is actually quite high. RSL very well may be that team--on offense, anyway.
Unless RSL's top scorers are all the outliers--which is not impossible, but unlikely--then RSL is likely in for a rude awakening, and a dogfight for a playoff spot.
*Will's GSAR statistic is actually Goals Saved Above Replacement, so I had to calibrate.
MLS Fantasy players, it's that time of the week to make your transfers--if you haven't already--and get that starting XI ready for the weekend. Obviously the big winners of the week are basically anyone who owned either Mauro Rosales, Mario Diaz---or to go in a different direction, less 'M' related direction---Federico Higuain. Didn't have any of those picks? Not a big deal, now is a team to reload and get cleaned up. We've got round 2 this weekend with some interesting match-ups. Here is the dream XI for last week:
And here are the current league standings as of round 1.
|2||This Stuff Kicks||Cris Pannullo||75||1.829||75||120.7||Keane||4|
|2||Major League Clowns||Tom Worville||75||1.829||75||118.8||Higuain||22|
|4||Bridgeburners FC||Chris Gluck||74||1.805||74||120.2||Valeri||4|
|5||Cal Poly FC||Emil Barycki||73||1.780||73||115.2||Higuain||22|
|6||En Fuego||e margolis||70||1.707||70||120.3||Nagbe||6|
|8||The Other Higuain||Jacob Beckett||64||1.561||64||119.7||Urruti||4|
|8||A.S. Trincamp||Martin F||64||1.561||64||119.3||Higuian||22|
|11||Real Sporting Utd FC||Eric J. Walcott||60||1.463||60||118||Valeri||4|
|16||PDX Hoosiers||Brad Snook||39||0.951||39||120.2||Nagbe||6|
|16||Draft Code United||Louis Pardillo||39||0.951||39||119.5||Beiler||0|
|19||Tootie Urruti||Drew Olsen||33||0.805||33||118.6||Magee||0|
RD: Round Points
%AARd: Percentage Above Average Round Points
Team$: How much the team spent on their players
A quick thought---and my heart goes out to our own PasarChino! for this one---you gotta start Rimando, buddy! You sat the highest point total in the league. Ouch! As for our crew here at ASA, most of us (Jacob, Drew, Jason, myself and poor Bill) did okay, with the most notable stand out of the bunch being Cris Pannullo and a bit farther down Chris Gluck. We'll head to the next round and see if those two can distance themselves from the rest of the ASA community.
Again, this is for an undisclosed, not-yet-valued prize that is available to all whom play. It could be a Meatloaf interactive blu-ray, it could be a soccer ball, it could be a scarf of your choosing. Matty might spend a couple hours on Skype teaching you how to use R. Who knows what we'll come up with. The only promise is that it won't be terrible. Code to enter is 9593-1668, should you care to join in the fun/recklessness that is fantasy sports.
The three teams that are noticeably absent this round are Columbus Crew, DC United and LA Galaxy. I'm sure this will kind of cause a bit of reshuffling to occur as many, including myself, had been sporting Robbie Keane as their captain, and it will most certainly require some movement along the bench. But this is where you earn the coveted prize. No, not the Sheva, though I'm sure we can come up with an equally inspiring annual trophy name.
I'm sure you all have better advice/thoughts than what I have for MLS fantasy, so I'll point you towards a couple of sites that have some stats and feed back on last week.
- Mr. Fantasy, Ben Jata, recaps the hap's with round 1.
- Big D Soccer does a nice preview of not just Dallas FC players but also some thoughts on MLS as a whole.
- Sticking with the Texas theme, Dynamo Theory has some fantastic numbers/stuff that deserves recognition for their work. Great job by TraviTheRabbi and I would say give him a follow on twitter but I don't see any such thing connected to his account, and that makes me a sad panda. Anyways...go read the article here. Solid, solid stuff.
I leave you with the current top-50 hottest players being selected as of 10:30 last night. I've equipped you to make some good decisions. Now go forth and conquer. The catch is that only one of you will win. Anyone have any top secrets for how they plan on winning the league? I hear finding people that stop goals and in return score goals are really good to have? Any other methods or suggestions?