During a recent American Soccer Analysis shareholders meeting in the penthouse suite of the swanky hotel we built in Minecraft (it’s our Slack channel), we discussed our favorite ASA articles of the past year. Because it is the season of listicles and we relish every chance to talk about ourselves, we decided to put them all together in one official post. Also, our site traffic is essentially zero at this time of year, so it seemed like an easy way for us to remember where we put them.
It was a great year for MLS (though perhaps not American soccer overall) and the most successful in our five year life as a website. We added interactive tables, introduced xPG, rebooted the podcast (new episode coming out soon! …probably), and added a lot of great new writers to our existing ranks of stale old writers. They’re not all represented in the list below, but special shout out to our weekly contributors who put together content every week - Little Things (@harrisonhamm21), Lowered Expectations (@harrison_crow), Expected Narratives (@ahandleforian), and Setting the Table (@ericwsoccer) - showed us the individual plays each week that made up the whole of the MLS season. We’d also like to extend a special thank you to Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, for including us as a part of the WaPo’s incredible World Cup coverage. Read More
In Game of Throw-Ins, I characterized and introduced an expected throw-in possession retention model (xRetain) for MLS. Go read the whole thing, but it showed that throw-ins are more likely to be completed and possession retained when they are thrown backwards, quickly, and outside a team’s defensive third. But what are MLS teams and players doing with their throw-ins?
To help differentiate teams’ throw-in styles, I turned to hierarchical clustering (see the graph below). I won’t get into mathematical details, but you can think of it sort of like an evolutionary tree. However, instead of the branches separating species, they are separating different throw-in angle frequencies. Kind of like how humans and chimpanzees are near each other on the branches of an evolutionary tree but far away from birds, teams which always throw the ball backwards and short will be far away from those that always take throw-ins forward and long. Read More
Much has been written and studied about set pieces in soccer. Penalty kicks have been Bayesed multiple times, I’ve analyzed free kicks in MLS and at the World Cup, corner kicks have been rigorously studied. But what about the humble throw-in? Aside from when teams develop a long throw-in program (see Delap, Rory) they are largely ignored or even ridiculed, in the case of Liverpool hiring a throw-in coach (see the first comment here).