Sporting KC

2016 ASA PREVIEW: SPORTING KANSAS CITY by Kevin Minkus

During a span lasting from late April to mid-August, Sporting Kansas City picked up 31 points over 15 games. That tremendous run was highlighted by a 4-0 thrashing of FC Dallas and a gripping 4-3 result over Vancouver. During that stretch, SKC did it all. They put up four goal games. They eked out 1-0 nail biters. They created chances from the middle of the park. They created opportunities from the wings. They looked like a complete team. Sporting KC's form during that stretch is the stuff Supporters' Shields are built on (and the stuff their phenomenal Open Cup run actually was built on).

After a 5-0 home loss to San Jose on August 19th, though, that form began to crumble. The team lost seven of their last 12 games, on their way to a sixth place finish in the West and an exit in the knockout round after a heartbreaking penalty kick loss to eventual champions Portland.

The question is, which Sporting Kansas City side should we expect in 2016? The team that looked like true MLS Cup contenders, or the good, but not great, side we saw at the end of the season?

The answer, like with many questions (“What is the best Muppets movie?” being an obvious exception) probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two options. Using the simple, though by no means definitive, metric of performance relative to expected goals (G – xG), suggests Sporting Kansas City's true form may have been worse than they looked from April to mid-August, and better than they looked from mid-August through October. During the aforementioned 15 game run of mostly impressive performances, SKC over-performed their expected goals by eight goals. This over-performance came from converting a high (though not necessarily unsustainable) 16% of shots into goals. During the mostly dismal stretch of 12 games at the end of the season, they underperformed their expected goals by about five. They converted only 8% of their shots into goals over that part of the season.

This rough analysis, then, suggests Sporting Kansas City last season were neither true championship contenders, nor a side that should've struggled to make the playoffs. Intuitively, that feels about right. Do they have the pieces to make that ascension in 2016?

A look at the roster after the jump.

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The Weekend Kick-off Round 34: #DecisionDay by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

Listening to the weekly podcast circuit something that was a bit of a theme among all of them was how underrated Columbus is going into the last week of the season. Obviously this coming off a pretty significant win against Toronto FC and it's easy to praise a team when they do well and then wait to kick them when they're down.

I'm going to go against both my personal feelings and the current narrative being pushed by… well, the entire MLS community concerning the men in yellow. They're a good team, maybe, an average team at worst. But they're not a great team.

Let's be honest, sometime's they're incredibly disjointed, Federico Higuian has very scarily gone missing at times or under-performed at huge junctions and it seems that Kei Kamara is bailing them out in ways that I've yet to really distinguish. Columbus is good. So are half the clubs in MLS.

The other side of the coin is Sporting Kansas City and their two-nil loss to Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night. While people are talking about how they were “shocked” and “didn't/couldn't get it done”, this is the definition of a very good team and one that isn't getting it due.

Krisztián Németh is one of the most underrated players coming from the 2014 winter transfer period who thrown up 10 goals and added six assists. It's possible had he played more than 2,000 minutes that he'd recieve some deserved recognition. But much like Chris Carrabba, Németh goes unnoticed.

However Benny Feilhaber has gotten plenty of praise, and deserved it all. Well, most. Coupled with Dom Dwyer, the three combine for SKC as the only team to sport a trio of double-digit goal scoring figures in MLS.

Most stats we use give general outcomes. But according to the most of these vague numbers Sporting Kansas City deserve what they get in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe they get a home game maybe not. The reality is they're possibly one of the best team in MLS (see, no definitive statement!) and despite that most people are overlooking them because... Graham Zusi is overrated or they lost a game they shouldn't have.

This reminds me of the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs where LA Galaxy dispatched a very good San Jose Earthquakes just after winning the Supporters' Shield. It's not that San Jose wasn't a good club. Both were very good, well matched clubs but the difference and distinction between the two was so much more similar than most were lead to believe. That everyone was shocked LA managed to take a two-legged series from the Quakes.

MLS Cup playoffs are maybe as chaotic and random event as there is in soccer. Heck, the Rapids won the 2010 MLS Cup, the Houston Dynamo beat multiple superior teams to reach the MLS Cup… twice. And seven of the last 10 clubs to reach the MLS Cup final in the last five seasons have been different.

So… maybe, Columbus has a chance? I don't know, all I know is this: Sporting is good, probably better than we recognize and Crew SC is good but that's probably it. And while the best team doesn't always win don't confuse that concept with a team being better than what we had thought beating a team we probably overrated.

- CCLQuarter-final Match-ups: MLS v. Liga MX

The next stage of the CONCACAF Champions League has been announced and it's an uncanny match-up of Liga MX and MLS. An us versus them delivering a brand new kind of hyperbole. Which is exciting if you love to watch people freak out and embellish on opinions of things that they can't really know or haven't even attempted to do the home work to learn.

My problem, which I've seen limited people mention, is the poor manner in which teams achieve their placement within the quarter-finals. Goal Differential from the group stage makes a sort of sense but comparing the competition Club America had in the group stage (CD Motagua and Walter Ferretti) to that of UANL Tigres (who faced Herediano and Metapan) there exists a lack of considered symmetry.

Goal differential as tie breaker is fine, I suppose, but there is a better way to match teams in this case; I suggest a random draw . I'm sure there are more efficient or tactically better methods than this but without really breaking a mental sweat let's focus on the merits.

Leagues and Confederations are simply different eco systems so proposing something on the basis that it works elsewhere is a false argument. But how UEFA has executed the random draw at each stage has worked well and it sets up some interesting match-ups that aren't predicated by how a team performed in a very limited sample size that spanned multiple months.

If we were talking about a few more games, maybe even double the amount in the group stage, like eight, that might give us a better or strong idea of these teams. We know that it takes 17 games to establish expected goals as some sort of an accurate predictive measure. It's possible that in a smaller group playing in a round robin fashion that an accurate and effective model could be established.

The problem is to establish an effective manner of weighting each club is all intense work that isn't necearily going to even do it accurate. Randomizing it removes the worry about number one or number eight seeds and pits good teams against other good teams. 

Merely a thought.

- The weekend ahead

I got some flak last week for saying the Red Bulls have been the best team in MLS this season. But the point remains the same as Sporting KC and LA Galaxy would still rank top amongst the pack and with the Red Bulls likely skimming off a conference that had two expansion teams (scoring 12 out of a possible 15 points against the new comers).

This isn't taking anything away from a team having a very successful season and will finish top of a but those points plus winning series against Philadelphia, stealing some easy points from Chicago and an early season Montreal that struggled early.

They took advantage of the teams they played and ended up with a great season. That said they're likely not as dominating of a club as they as they at least appear by way of the goal differential statistic. That said their upbeat tactics and high press combined with the depth of their squad obviously makes them a very tough team.

- #DecisionDay Match-ups

5 PM, EST

Toronto FC @ Montreal Impact

New England @ New York City FC

DC United @ Columbus Crew SC

Orlando City SC @ Philadelphia Union

7 PM, EST

New York Red Bulls @ Chicago Fire

Houston Dynamo @ Vancouver Whitecaps

Real Salt Lake @ Seattle Sounders FC

San Jose Earthquakes @ FC Dallas

Colorado Rapids @ Portland Timbers

LA Galaxy @ Sporting KC

 

Shot Limiting: Bringing the heat (maps) by Sean Steffen

Earlier this year, I decided the world needed a 30 page paper on shot limiting in MLS. Of course, the powers that be found this to be a tad self indulgent, and more accurately, sad that I had the time to do such a thing. They ended up talking me down to a slightly more readable 20 pages, which can be read here.

But my art will not be compromised, gosh darnit! There is still so much to be learned about this topic, and, more to the point, my obsession hadn’t been quenched. Several questions were raised within the paper that I simply didn’t have the necessary data to explore.

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Dynamo Dynamic in Attack and Bulls Bullish on Defense - Week 9 Ends in MLS by Drew Olsen

Taking a team to L.A. and winning 4-1 sounds incredible until you offer up the caveat that it wasn't against the Galaxy. The doormat this year seems to be shining earlier than last. The Houston Dynamo have dominated in dynamic fashion; wow - good on you Giles Barnes...

So how exactly did that powerful attack look compared to other four-goal outbursts this year - was it really that special?

In all the four-goal games this year, here's a quick breakdown on which teams accomplished that and then who's been tops in their Possession with Purpose and Expected Wins statistics for those games:

  1. DC United vs FC Dallas
  2. Sporting KC vs Montreal Impact
  3. Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids
  4. Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers
  5. New York Red Bulls vs Houston Dynamo
  6. Houston Dynamo vs Chivas USA
  7. Houston Dynamo vs New England Revolution
  8. Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders
  9. Vancouver Whitecaps vs New York Red Bulls

Tops in overall possession in those high scoring affairs was DC United at 67.04%. Tops in passing accuracy across the entire pitch was, again, DC United at 84.17%.

Tops in penetration percentage based upon passes completed in the final third vs. across the entire pitch was Houston vs. New England at 28.94%.

Tops in percentage of successful passes within the final third was Vancouver at 74.55%. Tops in shots taken compared to passes completed in the final third was Houston vs. Chivas USA at 39.13%.

Tops in shots on goal compared to shots taken was Vancouver at 71.43%; and finally... tops in goals scored vs. shots on goal was FC Dallas at 100% versus Houston.

So while Houston did well this weekend, and got their second four-goal game, it wasn't dominating compared to others - sorry Houston. It was three points (which is the target) but it wasn't really that special when viewing who you played against... more later on just how weak Chivas are in Possession with Purpose.

However viewed, Houston still had the best attacking outcome this week. So here's my PWP Attacking Player of the Week... Giles Barnes.

PWP Attacking Player of the Week 10

Moving on to the Defensive side of the pitch - FC Dallas saw red this past weekend and it wasn't just their kit, the Red Bulls kit or Dax McCarty's hair - it was Watson (elementary my dear) who got red.  

Things don't get better for Dallas either - they travel to Seattle for a midweek clash this Wednesday and then must fly down to San Jose for another on Saturday... wow.   Might we see Dallas drop three in a row?  I'm not sure and if you want to know my MLS picks for this week check here.

Anyhow, I digress - the PWP Defending Player of Week 9 is Jamison Olave...

PWP Defending Player of the Week 10

So was that a worthy three points for New York and should it have been expected?  I'm not sure and here's some information to consider:

Below is a list of games, this year, where the first team listed got a Red Card:

  1. DC United v FC Dallas
  2. Columbus Crew v DC United
  3. Columbus Crew v Sporting KC
  4. Sporting KC v Columbus Crew
  5. Sporting KC v New England Revolution
  6. Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake
  7. FC Dallas v Chivas USA
  8. FC Dallas v DC United
  9. FC Dallas v New York Red Bulls
  10. FC Dallas v Portland Timbers
  11. New York Red Bulls v Philadelphia Union
  12. Houston Dynamo v FC Dallas
  13. Houston Dynamo v Philadelphia Union
  14. Chivas USA v Houston Dynamo
  15. Chivas USA v San Jose Earthquakes
  16. Chivas USA v Seattle Sounders
  17. Chivas USA v Vancouver Whitecaps
  18. Portland Timbers v Colorado Rapids
  19. Portland Timbers v FC Dallas
  20. Vancouver Whitecaps v Colorado Rapids
  21. Colorado Rapids v Portland Timbers
  22. Colorado Rapids v Sporting KC
  23. Montreal Impact v Philadelphia Union
  24. Chicago Fire v New England Revolution
  25. Chicago Fire v Portland Timbers
  26. San Jose Earthquakes v Colorado Rapids
  27. Seattle Sounders v Columbus Crew

Twenty seven in all and only Colorado, New York, FC Dallas twice, Sporting KC and DC United won games yielding just a 22% chance of winning when seeing Red.

FC Dallas and Chivas USA lead MLS having received Red Cards in four games.  But here's where the more later comes in for Chivas - check this out.

FC Dallas (when short handed) have an Attacking PWP Index = 2.3976.  Their Defending PWP Index = 2.3914 and their Composite PWP Index = .1472.

By contrast, the Goats PWP Indices (at full strength this year) for Attacking = 2.1685; for Defending = 2.5446 and for Composite PWP = -.3760.  If I were a Chivas USA supporter that is a pretty depressing statistical output - FC Dallas, short-handed, are more productive in Attack and more effective in Defense than a full-strength Chivas... wow!

In circling back to my question on whether or not it should have been expected that New York would win?   Perhaps now, seeing how effective FC Dallas is, even when short-handed, it wasn't quite the cake-walk one would expect.  Key for Dallas these next 7 days will be the health of Diaz and the discipline to minimize Red Cards...

In closing...

After nine full weeks of MLS here's how things stand with my Composite PWP Index along with a few quick thoughts plus the Top 3 in Attacking and Top 3 in Defending.

PWP Cumulative Composite Index through Week 10

LA Galaxy remain atop the table even with their 1-nil loss in Colorado - if Robbie Keane hits that PK, LA doesn't drop one point.  As for Columbus they drop down to 3rd with Sporting KC pushing up to spot #2.

Seattle, FC Dallas, Colorado and Columbus still stay in the top 6 while RSL continues to move forward - inching one space higher into 7th with New York and New England swapping places.

Note DC United dropped a few places and the bandwidth between the Revolution, United, Union, Whitecaps, and Portland got a bit tighter while Houston pushed forward past both Montreal and Chicago after thrashing Chivas.

Settling into last is Chivas, by a large margin, while the Fire and Impact hover on the low end as well...

Did a change in Managers (Head Coaches) really make a difference when looking at the End State? I'm not sure; for now it doesn't appear that either Klopas or Yallop have really changed things up when viewing the bottom line...

The top three teams in overall Attacking PWP (after 9 full weeks) are FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders, and Columbus Crew - can their approaches in possession continue to keep them there?

The top three teams in overall Defending PWP are Sporting KC, LA Galaxy and New England Revolution - some might offer elsewhere that it is surprising to see the Revolution somewhat higher in the table compared to others; is that surprising?

I don't think so... they have shown pedigree in defending for over a year now and with an improved attack it only stands to reason that their overall position finds them where they are...

Finally, have you made adjustments in your Fantasy teams yet?

If not and you are looking for a consistent (team back-four) you may want to add the Revolution to your list while spending a bit of change in leveraging Lloyd Sam from New York (cheap and cheerful) or latching on to Jaoa Plata if you haven't already...

Best, Chris

xGD in CONCACAF Champions League by Drew Olsen

Understanding that not everything has to mean something, we still try to provide meaning to things. Deriving meaning becomes infinitely harder when sample sizes are small: what size sample is important when considering a specific set of data? We don't always know, but I present you the CONCACAF Champions League data anyway. Below is the Expected Goals 1.0 data from the group stage of the CCL that I've compiled in the last couple of days.

Team  xGF   xGA   xGD 
Cruz Azul 8.578 4.112 4.466
Toulca 7.528 3.488 4.04
Tijuana 6.617 3.018 3.599
America 6.975 4.017 2.958
Dynamo 5.683 3.417 2.266
LA Galaxy 7.052 4.95 2.102
Sporting KC 4.785 2.699 2.086
    SJ Earthquakes 4.768 2.962 1.806
Montreal I.    3.816    8.796    -4.98

To be honest, this is my inventive way to present this information to you. I wanted to do an article about various things concerning CCL, but the problem always kind of leads back to sample size. Four games just isn't that much. The thing is, while you may not be able to draw any solid conclusions from this, it does give us a rough assessment for how Liga MX compares to MLS at this juncture, and it tells us that for the most part, MLS and Liga MX teams are better than the competition.

Mind you, teams have changed between when they qualified for CCL 2013-14 and now. This San Jose Earthquakes squad, for example, has quite a few new faces. Houston also has added a couple of pieces and underwent a some changes in the defensive rotation scheme.

xGD wasn't going to tell us too much about the semi-final matches that were played the last two nights. We knew that it was improbable that even two clubs were going to move forward. Furthermore it seems awkward to even consider that San Jose was the closest to advancing--and had it not been for a bad call, it probably would have.

What xGD did tell us is that all four Mexican clubs performed better in that short period than any of the MLS sides. Sure, a "duh" statement is in order, but this clarifies that point further than a cute 1990's radio morning drive show with catchy sound effects could. Cruz Azul seemed a superior team, for example, as they were nearly two expected goals better than any MLS side. In a short tournament that says something stronger than their actual goal tallies.

Yes, I realize the whole sample size thing, and really it's funny submitting qualifying statements, but it's even more silly to consider that we qualify them despite the fact that we don't actually know if we need to. For all we know xGD stabilizes as a metric at six games or maybe even four. We'll get Matty on that...

Mexico's teams were better, and judging from everything going down on  Twitter and how the fragile psyche of the average US Soccer fan seems almost devastated by this fact, the reality is that MLS is better than it has been. The league has grown so much, and considering the issues that still limit organizations from competing against Mexico, it's surprising how well we really do in this competition.

Now American teams aren't yet on the "elite" level yet. But they are still very good and are nearing the imaginary line of being able to compete on a greater level with Mexico. As the budgets of MLS increase, and the depth charts along with the academies grow deeper, you're only going to see MLS teams get better. Stating that an MLS team will never win the CCL is one of those hyperbole statements that is just crazy to me. I think it's an eventuality at this point that some club somewhere will knock Mexico off it's perch...sooner rather than later.

Vegas Posts Odds on MLS Cup 2014 by Drew Olsen

I'm not usually interested in sports betting. I think most would find that surprising because we run an analytics site, and most analytics fit jointly, at least in Europe, with gambling. I avoid gambling for numerous reasons, but in general because I like the money I have and would hate to lose it.  However, there is a bit of value in looking at the betting lines and understanding which teams are favorites and why. It can give us a bit of early insight into who people consider "the best" teams. In case you missed it, Las Vegas odd makers metaphorically walked to the front of the class room and posted the first pre-season grades, identifying who they believe to the best teams in MLS. Basically they painted big red targets on the back of the LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City going forward.

Here is a little snap shot of the complete lines, courtesy of Steve Davis and NBCSports.

Here are few things that pop out at me just looking at this list.

First, the LA Galaxy are a club that we liked a lot going into the MLS Cup. We ranked them second in terms of the probability of winning the Supporters Shield and then third in the likelihood of winning the end of season tournament. Being cast aside by Real Salt Lake in the first round was not unimaginable, and yet it kind of took us all back for a moment. It's not surprising to me that they probably hoist the imaginary pre-season trophy at this point.

Second, Portland and Seattle are neck and neck in odds. If you thought the rivalry between these two I-5 teams culminated with the playoff match, you have another thing coming. This season is going to be rife with parity, and the difference between the 1st seed and the 5th could be substantially less than what it's been in a number of years. This is only going to throw more wood on the fire for clubs like Seattle and Portland, creating an even more tension filled stadium. Oh, hey Vancouver, you're there also... your just not "there" yet.

Third, Toronto goes from being on the worst teams in the league to big signings and having the 8th best odds to come home with silverware at the end of the season. The tides look on the brink of turning in the Queen City and could yield a very fun summer for the Reds. Some thing well deserved for their fans with the incredible support shown through some disappointing years, and really since their arrival to MLS in 2008.

Lastly, who could blame you if really you wanted to throw five dollars down on DC United. Eddie Johnson/Fabian Espindola, a rebuilt back line, and young potential US internationals in Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid. 50-1 odds? Heck, I may just throw 20 dollars on them and become a season long United fan.

ASA Podcast XXXIII: The one where we talk Re-Entry Draft by Drew Olsen

First and foremost, I want to pre-apologize for you having to tolerate terrible audio on the podcast. We've generally had good quality with just a few quirks in the system. This time around my microphone had an issue, and we couldn't figure it out with the limited time that we had to record. Second, because we had limited time to record the podcast feels a bit rushed, and I'm sorry for that. I really wanted to get something together since it'd been a couple weeks since we last recorded, and I felt there were some good topics for us to touch on. Today, we talk Portland, DC United, Seattle, while touching a bit on the Columbus and Sporting KC keeper trades. We roll into the SKC-versus-RSL MLS Cup and just give a few spare thoughts. It's only 30 minutes and I think, despite the short time, we stay on topic and hit a lot of good highlights.

We'll be back after the start of the new year and we'll have our act together then. I still think today's has some pretty good stuff, though!

[audio http://americansocceranalysis.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/asa-podcast-xxxiii-re-entry-draft-talk.mp3]

ASA Podcast Episode XXIII: The One Where We Talk TFC Reconstruction and RSL Playoffs by Drew Olsen

Our most recent episode finds Drew and I doing a review of the MLS table, a US Open Cup preview and a short look at the weeks Champion League results. We transition to a discussion about the rebuilding of Toronto FC and then a playoff preview of Real Salt Lake. I hope you enjoy it.  

[audio http://americansocceranalysis.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/asa-episode-xxiii.mp3]