Those of you who read ASA regularly know that I am tentative declare to others that I am a “Sounders fan” because of the bias and label that it automatically associates with me and my analysis. Last night, to me, was a wonderful game played by titanic rivals. Extra time happened and things began to take shape and my thought was regardless of the outcome we would yet again be talking about the epic-ness of when the Timbers and Sounder meet in battle.Read More
By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
I am a Sounders fan. Let me allow you in on a little secret... there are plenty of people that dislike Sounders fans, and that's warranted—most of the time. There is no one more ready to tear apart a Sounders fan than... well, another Sounders fan. You think you're clever with your little “ACES” slogan or whatever but by the time this is over I'll have more angry comments and hate mail from Sounders fans than I do non-Sounders fans.
There are still supporters wondering why Sigi Schmid has a job. Mind you, the Sounders just won two out of the three trophies they were afforded the opportunity to win last season. Pay all that no mind. We'll argue and talk down and be disparaging to each other for whether or not Brad Evans is good or if Obafemi Martins works hard enough or if he really is 30 years old or not. We're self loathing, scum of the earth and no one hates us as much as we do. And if you haven't figured it out by now, we invented hating the Seattle Sounders.
Last year they didn't win MLS Cup and that's a huge indictment on the organization, front office, coaching staff and players because supporters put such a premium on each season and every single match. Supporters have the highest, and probably a bit unrealistic, expectations every year. Some may choose to look at that as being entitled and I can certainly see the fine line that is walked carefully by many supporters in their realm.
Scoring goals, winning games, hosting cups. These things are expectations of wearing the Sounders badge. The goal every year is to lift the MLS Cup regardless of the probabilities or likelihood of such scenarios from the start. It's setting the bar high and never wavering from that, and that, you have to admit, is ballsy and kind of cool.
Looking back at the 2014 season there are a few things that will stand out, but the one thing above all else is NOT that on the last day the Sounders defeated the LA Galaxy at home to take the trophy. No, more interesting to me is the fact that Seattle kept pace with a club that according to many of our measurements was the best team in MLS, perhaps of all-time. You can argue about Chicago, New England or Columbus in the early, mid and late-00's. DC United in the late 90's or periodically through the years. You could talk about the 2012 version of the Galaxy. I don't care who is actually “the best”. Seattle kept pace with a team that is flat out HISTORIC and that's incredibly impressive.
Seattle didn't have one stretch of more than two games where they didn't have a win. Their biggest slump was taking only seven of 21 points from July 5th to August 20th which they in turn rebounded with four straight wins.
Sigi Schmid is maybe the most under-appreciated coach in US soccer history. He's always considered a second fiddle to Bruce Arena. Despite being one of the winningest coaches in MLS history he's always having something he does questioned, and regardless of how he wins it's never good enough or classy enough or “soccer” enough.
Schmid to me is a coach that is constantly evolving. Looking at the fact the Sounders scored the second most goals (30) in MLS in the final 30 minutes of a match and conceded the least (10) during that same time period speaks to me. I felt his substitutions in the second half where the best by any coach in MLS last season and I just wish he was a bit more respected by both home and opposing fans. When all they have is weight jokes... maybe, it's not such a bad thing.
I've played the back-and-forth game a lot with Stefen Frei. Our numbers last year didn't favor him as Frei accounted for four additional goals by himself. Again, there is a sample size to consider and it's not to say he didn't perform exceptionally well in the playoffs. I personally think, though there are numbers that can be crunched to verify, that he performed better down the stretch of the season once the rust of not playing the past two seasons was shaken free.
That said, the Sounders needed a back-up keeper and made the move to bring in Troy Perkins this off-season. Perkins has been a starter at his last four clubs, but his time in Montreal wasn't great (we account for him adding a full five goals above the average keeper) and while his defense didn't help him (saw nearly six shots on goal a game, top-five during his tenure) neither did being the highest paid keeper in MLS. I'm interested to see if having Perkins will push Frei to be better than last season or create personnel decision and complications for the coaching staff.
Obviously no more DeAndre Yedlin, he's gone. Gone, gone, gone. Yedlin wasn't just fast, he got to a lot of loose, 50/50 balls. He won 53% of his tackles and was in the t-17th in interceptions with 78 and 4th among full backs. It's not that those specific stats yield much difference in expected goals against but he did a great job of helping Seattle retain possession and create shots as quickly as possible. He's going to be missed for more than singular physical attribute—and the cool hair cuts.
Yedlin's absence has given way to the club signing Tyrone Mears, former Bolton Wanderer. So... yeah. He runs like a soccer player, so I've been told. Any other data can remain on the sideline to this point because it's all from England and we don't like data from them because it's all in the metric system.
Also, filed under news I'm sure you already knew, Zach Scott is old! Love the guy and I really love that he's somehow gotten better every year after the age of 30. But the time has come that Seattle has to gameplan that he can't be the fall back guy. The heir apparent for that role seems to be the ever versatile Brad Evans, a guy who most know from his time at right back with the USMNT. He's great with the ball at his feet, was 18th in total aerial duels--winning 60% of them--and had an great foul/win ratio of 1:1. How that translates to being a defender, I guess we'll see.
Lastly, there is Leo Gonzalez whom I can't believe is no longer getting Costa Rica call-ups. His defense is among the best at full back in MLS. The key is health and keeping healthy. Dave Tenney, Ravi Ramineni and the rest of the impressive Seattle Sounders sports science team have to find a way to keep Gonzalez on the pitch for those last five or six games in the playoffs. Basically, I just want a chance to reference Dave and Ravi because I think they're pretty neat fellas.
Lamar Neagle is perhaps one of my favorite things about the Seattle Sounders. Yes, I know Oba and Clint play there too. I'll get to all of that. Over 2500 minutes Neagle projects to create about 10 goals a season. That's not a crazy amount but the fun thing is that whenever he's given the minutes he does all that AND a bag of chips.... not even Lays, no grease!
I wonder if Neagle might be a top-five wide midfielder/winger in MLS. And not only are you, the RSL or Portland fan that is, for some reason or another, reading this article and wanting to barf, but so are most Sounders fans who right now have at least three fingers counting other players in the league they'd rather have.
Look, I'll give you Brad Davis and Graham Zusi for sure, but Lloyd Sam, Darlington Nagbe? I like both a lot and on pure talent you have an argument, but I'm not sure either are better than Neagle or that there is substantial data that proves either theory. Maybe, Ethan Finlay. Maybe. This is seriously an interesting conversation with you start to think about it on a production level.
Real quick, Ozzie Alonso was on a bit of a downward trend with minutes the last four years. From 2011 to 2013 each of his seasons saw decreased minutes and more injuries, which was frighting for any supporter to see happen to a vital member of the team.
Alonso finally breached the 2800 minute mark again (for only the second time in his six season career) in 2014 but is now looking at missing more time after having surgery on his groin. The question I have not just is whether or not the Sounders are going to be able to recover from a losing out on Alonso for any amount of games but if we're going to see that once great ball winner return to be actually great.
I'm not sure two players in Major League soccer have as much fun as Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey do while they are on the pitch together.
Still, when you look at our expected goals and see that we tally Oba with scoring three more goals than the expected goals model predicted last season, that isn't just luck. His Shot leverage (.162), which is the average location and expected likelihood that a shot would score, is the 10th highest in our four year data set. Meaning that Oba doesn't take lucky shots. He's made some lucky shots, but the ones he makes aren't all luck. He obviously has an immense amount of skill in repeatedly getting to his goal scoring locations. While the model hints at some regression, it should be an interesting case study to see if he can continually beat the model and what we can take from how he does it.
Clint Dempsey is awesome too, and expected goals loves what he does more than Martins. That's because of two things: volume and quality. He creates an incredible amount of shots from all sorts of great locations, and while his shot leverage is four points lower than Oba, he makes it up in nearly two and half additional shots created a game.
Seattle has all the pieces to continue being really good and they didn't have a lot of roster churn which I think is vital in MLS. It makes a lot of sense to consider them the team to beat out of the Western Conference and possibly the MLS Cup favorite to this point.
The thing that really distinguished them as a club for me last year was their expected goals against was about in line with what it was last year and the amount of goals they gave up regressed back to the mean. I'm sure a lot of that had to do with using Chad Marshall, but don't underestimate the amount of heartache that defense went through between using the Djimi Traore, Scott tandem and Dylan Remick at full back, too. Finishing 6th in MLS isn't anything to sneeze at and you shouldn't sneeze at things anyway, as it's rather gross.
The team's expected goals in even game states fell back a tiny bit. That is to say the likelihood that the team scores before their opponent. I don't think it's anything to worry about. The take away from an expected goals point of view last year is that they're not as good an attacking team as they seemed, but they're also a better defense team than they seemed, too.
While a first place finish and competing for the Supporters Shield is very possible, I think a 2nd or 3rd place finish is probably more likely for Seattle in 2015.
I've been terrible with trying to keep up with this quantitative metric, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to throw out an updated version in a vain attempt to try to play catch up with the status quo, being that the league is crawling towards the World Cup break. Really, the point of this exercise is to try and capture how often players are creating shots--not just for themselves, but for teammates. It's still pretty simplistic, and by no means the definitive answer to who the most valuable attackers are, but it's a start in moving away from basing value judgements on goal totals.
To be as clear as possible this is not a metric that measures quality or success of the shot. It's purely about opportunities to score. Either by way of putting mates* in position to score through passes that lead to shots--key passes--or to create a shot by himself--assisted or not--are the ways I count shots created.
*Editor loves word choice.
One thing I did do to include the best available and least luck-influenced player was to set a threshold of 700 minutes played. That limit was arbitrary and selected merely based upon the results of compiling the list. For that reason, and no other, you won't see individuals such as Michael Bradley, Gilberto, Brad Davis, Joao Plata, Marco Di Vaio and Kekuta Manneh on this list even though their shot creation rates merited a position in the top 50. I am very high on both Plata and Manneh, and I would love to see both surpass the 600-minute mark and really fly beyond 2,000 minutes this season so we can see what their stable versions look like.
50-33: The Above Average
I'll admit there is quite a bit of disparity between Diego Fagundez (#33) and Nick DeLeon (#49). This group does however hold a few names seems that, to my mind, seem to fit together. Blas Perez (#50), Erick Torres (#45), Jack McInerney (#44) and Andrew Wenger (#34) all are viewed a bit differently in terms of success, but, again, this isn't about results-based productivity so much as process-based productivity. We're merely looking at how much they're involved in creating goal scoring chances, regardless of the quality of those chances or where they are located. In that context it makes more sense.
The lone surprise for me in this tier is Justin Mapp. I would have assumed he'd be much higher on this list being that he's been on the few bright spots for Montreal a long with JackMac.
32-10: The Good.
32Chris WondolowskiSan JoseFWD8106030364.00
26Shea SalinasSan JoseMF9163247434.22
22Alvaro SaborioReal Salt LakeFWD8695235424.35
Two other names that are notable here. Edson Buddle (#27)--whom everyone thought was done two years ago when he was traded to Colorado--and Marco Pappa (#16), who was kind of a last minute signing before the start of the season, and who was a serious question mark considering his lack of playing time in the Netherlands. Now both of these individuals that were stamped as likely non-essentials are two of most involved in the creation of their clubs attack. Lee Nguyen (29) coming in higher than Obafemi Martins (31) makes me laugh, simply because Martins is second in the league in assists and most people still hold that to being the truest or, perhaps, the most obvious sign of team goal contributions. Yet Nguyen has been a catalyst for New England and is simply their most valuable player when it comes to finding the ability to create chances. This is the meat and potatoes of the list.
9-4: The Elite.
9Javier MoralesReal Salt LakeMF115441521675.23
So there that is. There shouldn't be any argument here with any of these names. Fabian Espindola (#8) is the sole reason DC even has a shot at the playoffs. He is going to get every opportunity to be 'the man' in black and red. Landon Donovan (#6) despite his uncanny snubbery from the US National Team is still clearly a major factor for the Galaxy and their attack. Sticking with the theme of decline in skills, Thierry Henry (#5) is still one of the greatest to ever play in MLS.
Oh, and I'm just biding my time for Higuian to get past this "slump" and jet into the MVP Candidate category... because that's simply where he belongs. More on that down the road.
3-1: The MVP Candidates.
Clint Dempsey (#2) has had the kind of year that is simply bananas. It's been so crazy that it's somehow eclipsed the Pedro Morales (#1) show that is going on just a few short hours north of him. Sure, these guys take penalty kicks, but that's only a small fraction of their shots generated. If these two take this same show into the later stages of the season I can't think there would be much reason to consider anyone else for MVP.
Oh, I guess you could probably throw Robbie Keane's (#3) name in that list, too. People forget about ol' faithful, but even without his P.I.C. (read: 'Partner in Crime' for those that aren't as hip as I am) for a game or two here and there, he's still been incredible. Currently he ranks third in individual expected goals, proving that he also finds dangerous places to take his shots and doesn't hesitate to pull the trigger. Oh, and despite the angry looks and words AND finger wags, he gets his teammates those same opportunities.
And here's the Excel File for the top 50.
The Sounders history comes at you as if you had just yelled "come at me, bro!" and meant it. The Sounders didn't just come out of the gate in 2009, they came out of the gate like they had just stolen a car, killed a hooker in GTA, and they weren't interested in stopping until they got those five stars and summoned multiple helicopters. The funny thing is that with all this "success," they've never won a single piece of MLS-specific hardware. Yes, they've earned 3 U.S. Open Cup trophies and fell just short on penalties to Sporting KC for a fourth, and the club has tallied the 2nd-most total points in MLS since its inception (266 total points, 53 points per season). But the Sounders have inevitably faltered when the time has come to step up and win the trophy. Adrian Hanauer and Co. are set on changing that in 2014. 2013 Finish: 15-12-7, 52 points; 42 GF, 42 GA. Fourth place in Western Conference. Lost in MLS Cup Conference Semi-Finals.
|Players In||Players Out|
|GK||Stefan Frei||Trade (Toronto)||GK||Michael Gspurning||Option Declined|
|F||Tristan Bowen||Trade (Chivas)||D||Marc Burch||Option Declined|
|D||Chad Marshall||Trade (Chivas)||M||Blair Gavin||Option Declined|
|F||Kenny Cooper||Trade (Dallas)||F||Steve Zakuani||Option Declined|
|F||Corey Hertzog||Re-Entry Stage 2||M||Mauro Rosales||Trade (Chivas)|
|M||Aaron Kovar||Home Grown Player||M||Adam Moffatt||Trade (Dallas)|
|F||Sean Okoli||Home Grown Player||F||Eddie Johnson||Trade (DC United)|
|F||Chad Barrett||Re-Entry Stage 2||D||Jhon Kennedy Hurtado||Trade (Chicago)|
|D||Jalil Anibaba||Trade (Chicago)||D||Patrick Ianni||Trade (Chicago)|
|M||Marco Pappa||Allocation||F||Fredy Montero||Transfer (Sporting CP)|
|D||Jimmy Ockford||Loaned (NY Cosmos)|
|F||Eriq Zavaleta||Loaned (Chivas)|
|M||Alex Caskey||Traded (DC United)|
Roster churn: Seattle returns 58.9% of its minutes played from 2013 (15th most in MLS and 7th most in the Western Conference)
Now, after an extremely disappointing finish in 2013 to not just the season but the playoffs, the Sounders have rebuilt their squad with dynamic talent that specifically caters to their team chemistry---and, side note, they may be just as dynamic off the pitch as on it. Seattle invested in the team's spine by finding new keeper Stefan Frei to fill the boots of the departed Michael Gspurning, acquired Chad Marshall from Columbus, signed critical midfielder Ozzie 'Honey Badger' Alonso to a designated player contract, and then traded Adam Moffat for Kenny Cooper. Cooper looks to be inserted in the spare striker role and work with Obafemi Martins in lieu of the wayward Eddie Johnson.
The team has a pretty solid line-up and even includes some interesting youth beyond just that of DeAndre Yedlin. Tristan Bowen, the original home grown player (HGP), joins the attacking front line and should get some looks up top this season. Along with him, the club will be expecting big things from central midfielder Andy Rose. Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar, who could contribute to the season in their own ways, lead the second coming of Sounders HGP.
Overall, the club wasn't bad in 2013. However, "not bad" wasn't on the list of ideal outcomes at the beginning of the season. Seattle limped out of the gate in 2013, and without key pieces in the lineup, the Sounders found that they weren't generating as many opportunities as their opponents, and the poor results followed suit. It came as little surprised that, without big-money players in the lineup, and with no CCL money available or that four-year bubble money for new teams, the Sounders were just too thin to deal with the weekly roster trimming.
Both of those financial sources that we went dry were also helping to soak up the payroll strains of having Steve Zakuani on the roster. It's not his fault that problems have continued to occur following that horrible incident, but it left the Rave Green with an extremely tough decision to make this off-season. A decision that forced the club to decline to tender a contract to Zakuani, which ended in the delight of many Portland supporters--as the Timbers swooped in and signed him--and the sobs of Emerald City Supporters.
Before today, we knew the Sounders would be playing a lot of new players this season, and the roster churn continued today with the move of Alex Caskey to DC United. This will be one of the "newest" teams in MLS in some ways, especially when you consider that Clint Dempsey only played nine games for the Sounders last season. The squad is nearing completion with the likelihood that they'll add a trialist to an important rotation spot. Now that we pretty much know who's on the squad, the question is how consistent they will be.
As mentioned, Seattle's numbers from 2013 all look very much mediocre. Those are, of course, averages from an entire season, and this only serves as another reminder that the mountain peaks were high and the valleys were equally low last season. Games against FC Dallas, San Jose and even Real Salt Lake at home were decisive victories by a team that ruled its opponents both on the scoreboard and by the numbers. Then they saw embarrassing losses on the road against those same Real Salt Lake and Dallas teams, as well as against Colorado. Not to mention that Vancouver pretty much won the Cascadia Cup by a landslide at Century Link field in a game that piled on to the fact that the club had gone from Supporters' Shield favorite to being on the cusp of falling out of the playoffs. The club isn't as bad as the ratio numbers display---as suggested by our soon-to-be-published xGD 2.0---but it wasn't the type of season that they want to pin up on Mom's fridge.
Going forward, with all the pressure the supporters have on Sigi Schmid, this is a season where he may need to find the minimum of an MLS Cup Final appearance to save his job. With an improved back line and a full season of both Martins and Clint Dempsey, along with the addition of a creative player like Marco Pappa coming out of the midfield, the club has all the pieces at their disposal to get to the playoffs rather comfortably. And once they get there, it's all going to be all about the current health of the squad. The injury bug has not been favorable for the Sounders in the past, but that said, their depth has also improved. The patience has worn thin on the Schmid coaching regime. It's time for some real hardware.
American Soccer Analysis readers seem to think that the Sounders will continue to have success in 2014 . They have projected Seattle to finish 3rd in the Western Conference this season, with 28.1% of voters placing them there, and 63.3% of voters placing them somewhere in the top three. There are only a few doubters, with a very small 6.4% of voters placing them in spots six through nine, out of the playoffs.
Today, I was asked simply, which team has the best pairing in MLS? It's a good question, and oddly one that I've been asked a lot and. Despite the frequency of requests, it's something that I have trouble answering. There are a lot of ways to measure performance for attacking personnel, but due to my time restraints I found the easiest way to do this was to go to Squawka and use their attack score. Below is a listing of teams and their two highest* attacking score combos. Since it's a purely cumulative stat I pro-rated it to 90 minutes. As you probably wouldn't be shocked to find out. Mike Magee, Landon Donovan and Federico Hinguian round out the top-3.
|Player||Team||Minutes||Attack Score||AS per 90|
|Carlos Alvarez||Chivas USA||1653||360||20|
|Eric Avila||Chivas USA||1634||260||14|
|Dwayne De Rosario||DC United||1208||343||26|
|Kyle Porter||DC United||1403||244||16|
|Blas Perez||FC Dallas||1569||584||33|
|Landon Donovan||LA Galaxy||1380||753||49|
|Robbie Keane||LA Galaxy||1320||698||48|
|Marco Di Vaio||Montreal||1868||897||43|
|Diego Fagundez||New England||1621||613||34|
|Lee Nguyen||New England||2137||527||22|
|Thierry Henry||New York||1952||854||39|
|Tim Cahill||New York||1761||441||23|
|Sabastian Le Toux||Philadelphia||1864||729||35|
|Chris Wondolowski||San Jose||1890||530||25|
|Shea Salinas||San Jose||1400||434||28|
|Graham Zusi||Sporting KC||1860||680||33|
|Claudio Bieler||Sporting KC||1986||620||28|
|Jonathan Osorio||Toronto FC||1164||397||31|
|Robert Earnshaw||Toronto FC||1495||333||20|
There are a couple of key individuals missing from this list that may or may not "pop out" at you. The first is Philadelphia's top goal scorer Jack McInereny. Part of this is due to his missing time with the Mens National Team during the early rounds of the Gold Cup tournament. The other part is that outside of his bunches of goals scored early in the season he hasn't done much else with his time.
The other name, though less likely to be spotted, is Luis Silva. Since arriving at DC United, he's posted the top overall score determined by Squawka, as well as the highest rating on Whoscored, with his new club. However, he's only played 5 games and a total of 420 minutes for DCU, so it's a small sample and I decided to drop him from the listing. This lowered DC United's end score rather dramatically and yet corresponds quite well with whatever combination player they might be able to muster.
Now, taking all those dynamic duos and adding them together gave us a combined score of the two best attacking players on each team. Here are those in order.
|AS per 90|
It's not a surprise to see LA at the top of any such list. Robbie Keane and Donovan have long be herald as the best dynamic attacking duo of the league. But if you are looking beyond those two the teams are rather surprising. Vancouver, Chicago, Columbus and Philly all make up the top-5 with the often scrutinized Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson contributions falling just outside the grouping.
Another interesting note, taking us further towards the discussion of single best player. While individual performances matter, it's about team accomplishment rather than singular performances over the stretch of the season. It's obvious that while Chicago and Columbus both have had outstanding performances from their key men up top, they are lacking something on a team level such that these individual metrics don't correspond entirely to the tables at the end of the day.