Steve Beitashour

Breaking the Unbreakable: LAFC is Dominating MLS but Can Anybody Stop Them? by Cheuk Hei Ho

LAFC aren’t just good. They are a force.

They have 1.43 Expected Goal (xG) differential per game. No team in MLS history has had more than 1 xGD/game since 2013. LAFC’s xGD is only 0.12 fewer than Atlanta United’s and Red York Red Bulls’ COMBINED. Granted, we haven’t finished even half of the schedule. Things may change comes the last part of the season when LAFC slow down to prepare for the playoffs. But for now, you are witnessing the best team MLS has ever produced. They don’t just beat you, they obliterate you. 

The Supporter Shield is as good as gone; our prediction model gives LAFC 76% to win the league. But MLS is about the playoffs. In the new single game format, you only need to get lucky once. Every team has weaknesses. You just need to find those cracks.

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Los Angeles FC 2019 Season Preview by Eric Walcott

Los Angeles Football Club was, according to points total, the best expansion side in the history of Major League Soccer. They’re hoping to improve on that in 2019.

2018 in Review

LAFC’s 57 points surpassed the 56 earned by the 1998 Chicago Fire and the 55 by 2017 newcomers Atlanta United. They scored the second most goals all-time of an expansion side, with 68. By all accounts, it was a very good debut season.  

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2015 ASA Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps by Drew Olsen

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

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

For a team that entered 2014 with middling expectations, securing 50 points for the first time in MLS club history and making the playoffs was no small success for the Whitecaps. But this is a team that has finished with between 43 and 50 points each of the last three seasons and been eliminated twice as the 5th seed in the playoffs. Vancouver is beginning to take on the same role Costa Rica occupies in CONCACAF qualifying; both are good teams that can be counted on to pose a challenge to any opponent, but are not contenders to finish near the top of the standings.

To try to change that reputation the team is building a young, talented roster led by 2nd year coach Carl Robinson. It is a roster that is unlikely to win MLS Cup in the next season or two, but has lots of promise for the future. With eight homegrown players 22 or younger plus the addition of Young DP Octavio Rivero, the future looks bright in Vancouver.

Expectations are tempered for 2015 and it will be difficult for the Whitecaps to make the playoffs again in a competitive Western Conference, but that does not mean this season won't be a success. With an average roster age less than 24, this year is likely to be a stepping stone towards eventual success in Vancouver.

Defense

There is plenty to build on from last season, beginning with the Whitecaps' stingy defense. Allowing only 1.17 goals per game last year kept Vancouver in many games, and our expected goals metrics suggest they actually got a bit unlucky by allowing as many as they did. In other words, the quality of this defense was no fluke.

David Ousted was an exactly average keeper last year, and it's unlikely much will change for him in 2015. Jordan Harvey started every game last season, and he will again join Steven Beitashour at fullback. The question mark comes from the center of defense, where last year's starters for much of the year, Johnny Leveron and Andy O'Brien, have both moved on. If the quality on the backline of 2014 is to continue, it will have to come with a new centerback pairing. Kendall Waston looks likely to take one of the starting spots, with newcomers Pa Modou-Kah and Diego Rodriguez fighting for the other starting position. The 34 year old veteran Kah comes from Portland, where he has been in and out of the starting lineup for two seasons. Rodriguez joins from Uruguay, by way of La Liga side Malaga. It is not an understatement to say the Whitecaps' season may depend on the ability of its defense to mesh.

Midfield

Anchored by DPs Pedro Morales and the now officially signed Matias Laba, the midfield will again be one to be reckoned with. Morales' 20.75 xG + xA was 4th in the league last season, and he will continue to be relied on to create for the young attacking corps. Laba isn't afraid to get stuck in, and should provide a valuable bit of protection in front of the new centerbacks.

Russell Teibert returns on the left side after a disappointing 2014. A lot was expected from him after two goals, nine assists, and 35 key passes in 2013, but he managed no goals and just two assists and 24 key passes, despite playing 2000 more minutes last season. Erik Hurtado may end up on the right, and also might compete against the aging Mauro Rosales for playing time. Rosales started the final 10 games of the season after coming over from Chivas USA, but at age 34 he set a career high for most minutes since coming to MLS. Whitecaps mainstay Gershon Koffie will also try to regain a foothold in the midfield after missing the end of last season with injuries.

Forwards

Despite the hype surrounding young strikers Kekuta Manneh (20 years old) and former Rookie of the Year Darren Mattocks (24), scoring proved difficult last season. The 42 goals Vancouver netted were 6th worst in the league and six fewer than any other playoff team. To bolster their attack, Young DP Octavio Rivero was signed from Chile, where he scored 10 goals in only 18 appearances last season. Rivero looks ready to contribute from day one, having scored a brace in his preseason debut.

Prognosis

Vancouver has a very young team that looks to be both fun and frustrating to watch this season. While the attack has been improved, a drop-off in defensive quality is likely. It will be difficult to return to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, but if the defense can meld and Rivero can score, the sky is the limit.

Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes by Drew Olsen

Soccer in San Jose has a unique history, going back to the Clash earning MLS’s first ever victory in 1996. The franchise changed its name to the Earthquakes in 1999, and a few years later it started winning MLS Cups thanks to a Landon Donovan-sized gift from Bayer Leverkusen. A young Donovan helped to lead San Jose to MLS Cup wins in 2001 and 2003. But after the 2005 season, the ownership group grew tired of failing to embezzle funds from Silicon Valley’s tax payers and moved head coach Dominic Kinnear and the rest of the team to Houston. The Earthquakes were not reborn until the 2008 season, and since then they have been mired in a streak of mostly 6th and 7th-place finishes, with an out-of-the-blue, historic 2012 season sprinkled in.1

2013 Starting XI

SJ11

Transactions

Player Added Position From   Player Lost Position To
Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi M Out of nowhere Ramiro Corrales M Retired
Atiba Harris F Trade from Colorado Nana Attakora D Option declined
Billy Schuler F Weighted lottery Dan Gargan D Option declined
Tommy Thompson M Homegrown Marcus Tracy F Option declined
Shaun Francis D Re-Entry Stage 2 Evan Newton GK Option declined
Brandon Barklage D Re-Entry Stage 2 Peter McGlynn D Option declined
Bryan Meredith GK Free Cesar Diaz Pizarro F Option declined
J.J. Koval M SuperDraft Mehdi Ballouchy M Out of contract
Justin Morrow D Traded to Toronto FC
Rafael Baca M Transferred to Cruz Azul
Jaime Alas M Loan expired
Marvin Chávez M Traded to Colorado
Steven Beitashour D Traded to Vancouver

Roster churn: San Jose returns 68.8% of its minutes played from 2013, 14th in MLS and 6th in the Western Conference.

2014 Preview

SanJoseINFOComing off a 72-goal, 66-point performance in 2012’s regular season, many thought San Jose would likely find the playoffs again, and even be in the running for an MLS Cup Trophy. But 2013 saw the Earthquakes miss out on the playoffs completely, abruptly ending their hot run during the second half of the season. Striker Chris Wondolowski’s past two seasons mirrored those of the team, eclipsing the league in 2012 with 27 goals, and then failing to reach half that tally in 2013. Our upgraded shot locations data suggest that Wondo scored just 88.5 percent of the goals that a league-average player would be expected San Jose's 2014 Rosterto score based on his shot opportunities. Will 2014 see the return of Wondolowski and San Jose to one of the top seeds in the West, or will it prove to be the franchise that has placed 6th or 7th in five of the past six seasons?

San Jose was a perplexing club from a statistical standpoint last season. Our expected goal differential statistics (xGD) really liked the fact that the Earthquakes earned 4.8 shots per game from zone 2---the dangerous area around the penalty spot---which was good for second best in the entire league. San Jose finished with the league’s third-best xGD at +6.8. Those metrics seem to suggest that the second half of last season, when San Jose earned 33 points over 17 games, was more representative of their true ability. Indeed, it's worth noting that San Jose has been one of the best teams in the league for three-quarters of the past two seasons.

Before we get moving too quickly, though, we have some new data to bring the Goonies partway back to earth. This year’s version of shot locations data will break shots down by how they were taken, specifically headed versus kicked. With almost all the data in, now, it turns out that San Jose took nearly 23 percent of all its shots as headers---second only to Seattle---but headers are finished at about half the rate of kicked shots. The upgraded xGD 2.0 pegged the Earthquakes at an xGD of about +2.0 in 2013, which placed them fifth in the West. Fitting, as our readers picked San Jose to finish 5th in this coming season.

Of course, statistics from last year have a hard time determining the effect of losing players like Steve Beitashour and Marvin Chávez (the team’s assist leader in 2012). The major scoring pieces are still there in Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, and Steven Lenhart, but it’s harder to peg down the importance and replaceability of those midfielders and defenders.

If San Jose can continue to generate dangerous opportunities, as they have in each of the past two seasons, then look for the Earthquakes to regain a playoff spot in 2014.

Crowd Sourcing Results

5th place in the Western Conference; 138 voters (31.4%) felt that San Jose will be either a 4th or 5th seed in the playoffs in 2014, but 228 voters (56.4%) projected them to miss the playoffs completely.