Omar Gonzalez

USMNT 1-2 Jamaica: The Reggae Boyz clear the dance floor by Jared Young

Hey U.S. fans, look on the bright side. We get an extra soccer game this fall! The USMNT will be in a one game playoff against either Mexico or Jamaica for the privilege of representing CONCACAF in the 2017 Confederations Cup. That bit of fun was brought to you by a loss of stunning proportion to Jamaica. The U.S. gave up two goals in five minutes off of set pieces in the first half and couldn’t mount a useful attack against a determined Jamaican defense. The 2-1 loss, the first to a Caribbean side on U.S. soil since 1968, will sting for a long time, especially for yours truly who was looking forward to going to the Gold Cup Final to watch the U.S. with his son. Not all stories have Hollywood endings. And certainly sports wouldn’t be sports without the heartbreak.

This game was a perfect example of why soccer statistics can sometimes lie. If you didn’t watch the game and just looked at the box score you might think that the U.S. was simply unlucky. They held 60% of the possession and completed 82% of their passes. They outshot the Jamaicans 20-10 and put 7 more shots on goal (10-3). The U.S. won the expected goal battle by a score of 2.3.-1.0, but looked up at the scoreboard at the end and saw the final score was actually reversed.

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2015 ASA Preview: LA Galaxy by Sean Steffen

*xG = expected goals, xA = expected assists, xGD = expected goal differential. For more information see our xGoals by Team page.

By Sean Steffen (@seansteffen)

With the retirement of Landon Donovan, the Galaxy have lost a player who in large part defined their identity. To say that the LA Galaxy are a team in flux is an understatement, which makes making predictions about next season a fool’s errand. But the fear of looking foolish has never been an adequate deterrent in my writing career, so let’s give this a shot. 

Let’s make no mistake about it: Landon Donovan was a chance creating God.  Last year 32.2% of the Galaxy’s total xG came from either a Donovan shot or pass. His stylistic impact on the team was perhaps even greater. This can be backed up by my own recent passing analysis of the team which can be read here

In short, I isolated two distinct buildup styles that the 2014 Galaxy employed to score and Donovan was involved in 75% of them. He was also the driving force behind the famed "Tiki-Taco" style of play which lead to Gyasi Zardes getting so many uncontested shots within the box, a phenomenon I wrote about here. Now that 75% is admittedly skewed somewhat by my methodology since my article was aimed more at analyzing style than overall number, however, if does show that Donovan either scored or was within four passes of a bare minimum of 39% of the Galaxy’s assisted non-set-piece goals.

It took a lot of math, but I think we've finally proven this Donovan fellow was pretty good at soccer. The obvious question becomes, who replaces him, and how does that effect the Galaxy’s xG numbers? This is a huge question mark because the Galaxy have played few preseason games and have rotated players at left mid to a point that it’s impossible to guess who will be starting. As of now, Bradford Jamieson IV looks to be Bruce’s pick to be the starting left mid on opening day (whenever that will be).  We have no data available on Jamieson, but his season in USL Pro last year suggests he will be a player that will contribute mainly by way of expected goal and will have few expected assists. Now, from a numbers standpoint, a goal is a goal, however, the expected goal numbers of an entire team fall when chance creation is depleted, which is a very real possibility for the Galaxy next year. 

Luckily for the Galaxy, however, their expected goal difference totals from last year were so great, that they actually have a considerable amount of xG to give, if the defense can remain consistent. I addressed this quite thoroughly in this article, but here is a key takeaway

Team Expected Goal differential per 90
2014 LA Galaxy 0.88
2014 Seattle 0.41
2012-2014 Avg. Supporters Shield Winner 0.28
2012-2014 Top of the West 0.34

The Galaxy somehow managed to lose the Supporters' Shield race last year despite a redonkulous xG differential. This is can be viewed as a cushion, of sorts, because it means that, with a bit more luck and better game management, the Galaxy can lose a lot of xG and still be a top team. Here are the quick hit points. 

From a numbers standpoint, the Galaxy could replace Donovan with a player that contributes 0 xG by way of shot or pass and would still have a 0.43 xG lead on the Supporters' Shield average over the course of a full season. If you apply the same neutral left mid scenario to the average for teams that finished top of the west over that period, the  Galaxy only fall under the western mark by 1.39xG. And finally, subtracting Donovan’s output last year still only puts the Galaxy 3.88 xG behind Seattle in xG differential. That’s a marginal difference, and one that can be easily overcome by a combination of Stefan Ishizaki shouldering more of the chance creation load, and the xG Bradford Jamieson IV brings to the table. 

There is also the matter of Steven Gerrard, who arrives in mid July, and will surely boost the Galaxy’s numbers; however, his impact on the Galaxy’s xG Differential numbers will probably be a bit more complex than him boosting xGF. History suggests that his addition might be at the expense of more shots against.  

You see, the data we have on the Galaxy is interesting. The first year available is from the famous 2011 team, who many consider to be the greatest MLS team of all time. Of the four total years of data, we have two years in the Beckham era and two years in the post Beckham era. During the Beckham years, the Galaxy played a lethal brand of counter-attack soccer. In the years following Beckham, the Galaxy became an elite possession team. Over the four years of data, the Galaxy won three MLS cups, but by using two very distinct styles of soccer. 

Why do I even bring this up? The data clearly shows that the Galaxy’s defense improved by leaps and bounds in the post Beckham years. This may come as a shock to some, as the 2011 LA Galaxy team is generally regarded as one of the best defensive sides of all time, sporting a goals against average of 0.79 a game,  however, the data suggests that the Galaxy’s goals against numbers were anomalous that year. 

Now I do not know if this jump in improvement is related more to tactics or personnel, since Beckham wasn't exactly the best defender, but I can say with much confidence that the Galaxy were simply a better defensive team post Beckham. 

Let’s dive into the data and look at goals against average.

As you can see above, the Galaxy’s goals against average has consistently been well below that of the conference for three of the four years.  The problem, however, is that the xGoals against data shows that the 2011 Galaxy’s numbers may be a bit of an outlier. From an xG standpoint, there is a very clear distinction between the Beckham and post Beckham years.  Take a look.

The very same thing can be said for shots against. 

Well what about shot leverage? That is, the positions of the field he Galaxy are giving up shots. Has that remained constant?

At first glance, yes, despite the varying levels of shot volume faced. 

Metric 2011 2012 2013 2014
Avg Shot Leverage against 0.095 0.104 0.09 0.093
Shots Against 408 439 326 348

The problem, however, is if you plot it against league averages, the Galaxy during the Beckham era were giving up shots of leverage consistent with the rest of the league. Over a four year span, shot leverage has climbed league wide, however, in the post Beckham years, the average shot leverage given up by the Galaxy was in decline.

The Beckham years saw a very defensively oriented Galaxy team. Ironically, however, it is the post Beckham years that have yielded the best defensive numbers (ignoring the anomalous goals against totals of 2011 for the reasons shown above.)

This is in large part thanks to the staggering decrease in the number of shots the Galaxy give up. Now some of this probably correlates to possession, however, if you look at the Goals 3.0 table, you’ll find that possession is a poor corollary to shots against. In fact, there isn't a stat listed on that page that isn't.

Now, perhaps buried deep in the numbers is a great explanation as to why certain teams are so good at limiting shots, however, I would postulate that it is in large part tactical and linked to how many men you have tracking back.

If I am correct in this assumption, then I feel that the Galaxy will continue to dominate MLS in terms of giving up the least number of shots next year, at least until the arrival of Gerrard, as their shape and general personnel make up hasn't changed. Yes they lost Marcelo Sarvas, but Baggio Husidic is a player who tracks back just as much and makes as many tackles.

Of course, when Gerrard arrives, it’s anybody’s guess how the Galaxy will utilize him. Bruce has stated that he wants him closer to goal, which seems to rule out the possibility that we see Gerrard play in the role of deep-lying playmaker which we saw David Beckham play so well. This could suggest that the Galaxy’s xGA numbers will not rise above the totals we saw in the Beckham years, and the same can probably be said for shots.

While Gerrard still has some legs in him and still averages about three defensive actions a game, his ability to get back into the Galaxy’s shape will probably be less than whoever it is he replaces in the lineup. This means that the Galaxy probably will give up more shots against per game after he arrives. This more than likely means higher xG against, and higher goals against, but again, not as high as the Beckham years.

In other words, the Galaxy data during the Gerard era may fall about halfway in-between the 2012 and 2013 numbers.   

Season Preview: LA Galaxy by Drew Olsen

There are few clubs in MLS that are affiliated with distinct "eras." In L.A., you've got Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Ruiz, Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane. A team that has finished first in the Western Conference eight times and only missed the playoffs in three of 17 seasons. The Galaxy are the diamonds of MLS, the staple of the league, and the example of sustained success in this country when it comes to soccer. Think Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and so forth. The LA Galaxy have had the success, the names, and the lineage to be known as one of MLS' first "Superclubs."* LAG-XI

Roster Churn: The Galaxy return 73.1% of their 2013 minutes played (5th in the East, 11th in MLS)

2014 Preview

lag-rosterIII'm not going to lie. The 2013 LA Galaxy we're pretty much boring. Typically one of the top goal scoring clubs, their ability to squash shots before they happen was as important last yearlainfo as the offensive heroics. However, it's foreseeable that the goals against total should have been low, and will be again in 2014.  Not only did LA limit the shot totals, they also did a heckuva job limiting the positions in which their opponents were firing those shots. The Galaxy finished second behind Sporting Kansas City in expected goals allowed last season.

Unfortunately, for most of the year it was Carlo Cudicini who seemingly made mistake after mistake that led to inopportune goals and limited the point total. Sure, it's a convenient narrative to put it all on one person, but blaming the Galaxy's slow starts has merit, and consider the fact that the club played an excess of 48 regular season, post-season, US Open Cup, Champions League and other games during the season (most in MLS). It led to a busy nine months, and very likely thinned the club that already was reduced to bare bones at times.

Fast forward to this off-season; big names have often become synonymous with L.A., as the they have been the team that sets the bar when it comes to spending money and acquiring talent...well  until Tim Leiweke moved to Toronto last summer. Leiweke, who masterminded David Beckham to  the states was the engineer behind Jermain Defoe to Canada this off-season. While Toronto became the big spenders this off-season, L.A. was forced to stand pat with all three of the designated players slots being filled and little available "extra" cash. That may have seemed to bother some people, but not Bruce Arena. Arena took advantage of the off-season to deepen his bench with veterans, raw youth talent  and an unknown from Brazil.

The Backline

Omar Gonzalez, whether you find him overrated or not, is the anchor to this defensive line. Despite the fact that there are still some holes to be filled, especially with the loss of Sean Franklin, the Galaxy took a huge step forward in reinforcing the defense with the discovery of Jaime Penedo last year.

Gonzalez will obviously miss some time with the US National team at the World Cup, so the big questions going forward are whether or not the club can manage the permanent loss of Franklin, and the temporary drop in talent from Gonzalez to whomever else wins that job in roughly the next 88 days. Not that anyone is counting. Even when Gonzo is around, the right outside fullback positions is still an apparent weaknesses, and considering they don't have much depth on the wings going forward, it would appear width could be an issue throughout the roster. I fully expect Todd Dunivant to continue his reign as an unspoken and underappreciated left back in this league.

The Midfield

Bruce Arena was quoted as saying that Landon Donovan will drop into the midfield and, conjecture on my behalf, probably take over the role of Hector Jimenez who has since been traded to Columbus. While this can provide some width, I suspect that he'll almost be seen as a third forward at times as he does get up the pitch and like to cut into the box on runs. Despite being 32, he may still be the top-scoring midfielder in MLS. The club does still have Robbie Rogers, but unfortunately his return to MLS has been rather disappointing, and he's been nowhere near the quality of Mike Magee, for whom he was traded last season.

The new international Baggio Husidić returns to MLS from the Swedish second division club Hammarby IF. A former cog in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Chicago Fire, and a former Generation Adidas midfielder, Husidić is the hope behind the two top central midfield pair in MLS. The blues aren't just about the glitz and the flash, as additions over the last couple of years have displayed grit---a word notorious for its usage in American football, but appropriate here I think. Marcelo Sarvas and his team-mate/Brazilian countrymen Juninho efficiently rock 'n roll in the midfield, and have become what some people refer to as the Galaxy engine room, forcing turnovers and providing quick and smart passes outlets to the wings and up the pitch to create quick opportunities. Adding the Bosnian-American Husidić to that depth is nothing but a good thing at this point for a club that has youth but not much veteran depth.

The Forwards

What did you say about veteran depth?!? Well, let's talk Rob Friend! Friend, a Canadian international with 32 caps to his name, is coming to Hollywood fresh off his loan to 2. Bundesliga club 1860 München, where he put home five goals in 24 matches over the past season and change. It is currently unknown where Friend will fit in, though it will most likely be as a rotating element up front. With Donovan stationed on the left and Gyasi Zardes down the right, the Galaxy will look to Friend to help provide quality depth in the 18, and he may also see legitimate chances to start.

The unknown quantity here is Samuel, yes, ANOTHER undiscovered Brazilian talent found by the scouting staff down in South America. I would imagine that Samuel could be exactly the "right" partnership that Keane needs up top. Fast and versatile. Someone who can drop back into space as well as find the open pockets of space behind the defense that Robbie Keane creates.

And, oh yeah!, Robbie Keane returns for yet another season? Oh, what's that? You can't wait until the end of the year when his contract's up? Well, tough luck. The runner up for 2013 MLS MVP  just signed a two-year extension that will essentially guarantee that he'll still have a Galaxy crest on his chest when eating those senior citizen dinners at Denny's before suiting up on to make your club look stupid.

As someone who loves his deep Irish lineage, I get a bit embarrassed at the thought of Robbie Keane being pretty much the most iconic player from my homeland. Still, I'm unabashedly proud at the incredible things that he does and how he backs up the intense ferocity on the pitch. His 0.64 goals per game since arriving in MLS two years ago is actually the highest goal scoring rate in the league over that period, just edging out Chris Wondolowski at 0.62 goals per game. Our Expected Goals 2.0 data also suggests that Keane scored more than twice as many goals as one would expect from an average player taking the same shots he took. That's good for second in MLS among players with at least 50 shots.

Conclusions

While LA might have taken a slight step back at different points over the last few years, and while they quietly were put down against RSL in the playoffs last November, it's safe to say that Bruce Arena has yet to lose his Midas Touch. The Galaxy are going to be a dominant force next year, one might actually consider LA a quiet contender for the MLS cup. With the flashiness of Seattle, the pop turn of Portland, as well as Kansas City's defensive dominance and New York's offensive juggernaut, L.A. might be playing from the shadows a bit more than usual this season. It would still be surprising for them to finish anywhere outside the top-3 in the Western Conference, and inconceivable for them not to make the playoffs. This is a year that should continue their Yankees-like reign over silverware, and the dominance they've displayed over their three decades of existence will be on full display.

Crowdsourcing Results

A plurality of ASA readers picked the Galaxy to finish second in the West this season (134 of 406 votes; 33%), and an overwhelming majority believe they will make the playoffs in some capacity (384 votes; 94.5%).

*Drew can teach you how to say "Superclub" at minute mark 15:58

LA Galaxy And A Thought About Jaime Penedo by Drew Olsen

After a short discussion on twitter here, is the record of the LA Galaxy with Jaime Penedo and then again without him. It's an extremely small sample size (7 games with vs. 25 without), and so you have to, of course, approach it with a sense of skepticism.

 Penedo Status PPG
with Jaime Penedo 1.44
without Jaime Penedo 1.57

How good are they? Are they an MLS Cup contender? Well... I generally believe once you get to the playoffs you're a contender regardless. But the question still remains, can the Galaxy still be a team that wins silverware? Maybe, maybe not. It's really hard to judge at this point. For what it's worth, I think it's clear that they are a much better team with him than without. Small sample sizes leave me with only my eyes.

Also, I still think they made a mistake signing Omar Gonzalez to DP contract. I guess that's another can of worms.

Analysis Evolved Podcast: Episode XXI The One Where We Reflect On Costa Rica and Mexico by Drew Olsen

This was suppose to be a quick 15-to-20-minute podcast that turned into an almost 52-minute single segment ramble about all things US in the past week. It was just Drew and I, covering just about everything conceivable over the course of the loss to Costa Rica on the road to the win in Columbus against Mexico. No spoilers; just have a listen. [audio http://americansocceranalysis.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/asa-episode-xxi.mp3]

*Editors note:

Matthias to Drew by text after CR's second goal: [Howard didn't look ready for that one. I think he could have done more.]

Matthias to Drew by text after CR's third goal: [The defender definitely got beat, but the Costa Rican player didn't even get to the ball until it was 23 yards out. That's Howard's ball. 

Drew on Podcast: "...and Matthias was texting me...Matthias was like 'what's he doing in there? These goals are all his fault.' "

In a private interview with the Matthias, the editor was assured that Matthias never thought the goals were 100% Howard's fault, as Matthias---a student of probability---rarely believes anything is 100%.

Oh, and Drew is a poophead. 

 

**Editors note part 2:

Matthias edited is the editor of the site, just in case you didn't realize that.