Weekend Kick-Off

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

 

The Weekend Kick-off Round 33: Red Bulls, FC Dallas and the Supporters' Shield by Harrison Crow

Leaving BMO Field on Wednesday there were plenty of reasons to be surprised with the score line, as the Red Bulls lost to Toronto FC helping them clinch a playoff spot for the first time in their nine year history. The Red Bulls have simply just been the best team in MLS. It's not just their exciting up-tempo tactics and high press. They are one of three clubs with a goal differential above 10 and have more than double the expected goal differential than the club in second place.

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Weekend Kick-off Round 31: The ASA awards by Harrison Crow

The theme or narrative I've pushed, and really most of us over the last few week, has surrounded the end of the season. We've talked about the playoffs probabilities, Supporter Shield finalists, MLS Cup winners and in the end, possible CCL bids. But as we talk about the end of the season we've neglected to mention much concerning the individual accomplishments or hardware that might be awarded after the season. I'm not talking about the 'Landon Donovan MVP trophy or whomever the new comber of the year award is given. Those are all stupid.

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Weekend Kick-Off: Round 29 by Harrison Crow

This week we inch closer to what the playoffs might look like coming November. Though it's not that we don't already know what the picture looks like. I mean, even going by last week's odds, I think we all were sitting in the same situation we were back in 6th grade watching 'Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?' as they reveal the third piece of the puzzle and we're all pretending as if that wasn't the Eiffel Tower in the background… “guess we need one last piece, huh!”.

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Weekend Kickoff by Harrison Crow

In most sports after an All-Star game, the remaining portion of the schedule is called the “second half of the season.” But with the manner in which Major League Soccer administers it's schedule and the general accumulation of games that are played during that time period,. I look at it slightly different. I look at pre-All-Star game as the first act, the All-Star game is intermission, and post All-Star is the second act.

In other words, Soccer is straight drama. The great Bill Shakespeare once said:

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Weekend Kickoff: The Return to League Play by Harrison Crow

There are a lot of crazy things going on this week. Forget all the hype and insanity that has taken center stage around the Cascadia Open Cup match-up. After losing to the Cosmos in the USOC this week, NYCFC continues to look bad and perform terrible. Philadelphia somehow staved off a very tenacious Rochester Raging Rhinos club that had upset written all over it. Charlotte Independence found a way to be the first USL Pro team to knock off a MLS club in the tournament and lastly Orlando beat former USL foe Charleston that went to penalty kicks (Danny Mwanga!).

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Weekend Kick-off: Chicago Tries to Burn down City and the return of the Watchability Scale by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

Tonight our soccer weekend is treated to a special showcasing of New York City and Chicago Fire with two great American midfielders battling head-to-head. Yep, you guessed it; Dax McCarty v. Ned Grabavoy. Still a better and more pay-per-view worthy showcase than Mayweather vs Pacquiao. Still I will guess there will be at least two shoving altercations between the two in the match and that'll be something special.

Chicago went from being a team that you didn't know if they would win any games two months ago to questioning your sanity with if they could be contending for a playoff spot. I've said it once before and I'll say it again in a more cunning way; the Chicago Fire will go as far as their bleeding gunshot victim defense will allow them to go. It's not that they're bad so much as it's just that they're not good. They don't have one person on the defense that can stand up in the last few moments of a match and be the the difference maker. The whole time the Fire are leading you're not wondering if they can keep the lead but if they can score again to win the game... despite already leading. It's exciting and awful all at the same time, kind of like eating one of those 2,500 calorie burgers that you know are going to blow up your heart or clog your arteries. At least you'll enjoy the moments leading right before death.

New York City is kind of like that, only much worse. Much, much, worse. How much worse? They're a 2,500 calorie burger you're trying to eat in under five minute for a t-shirt" worse. A LOUSY T-SHIRT! Adam Richtman nearly died and we're still doing this. WAKE UP, SHEEPLE.

I suppose you could be a nihilist and point to the fact that NYC keeps possession of the ball. Heck, they rank second for possession. But as you might have figured out possession means squat. Oh, don't come at me with this whole Manchester United and Barcelona are good teams playing attractive soccer argument; for every one of those teams there is an equally beautiful team losing.

New York City attempts to play entertaining soccer, but they don't do it well. Whether that fault lies with Mix Diskerud, David Villa or someone else, on the pitch the bottom line lands just south of "it hasn't all clicked". I have a very rough guess of where things stem from but I don't think it'll be very welcomed. (This is where I share them regardless of if they are welcomed or not) I personally believe that some of this has to be laid at the feet of Diskerud. Not because of who he is or what he was supposed to be to this team, but the fact that his team holds the majority of it's possession in the midfield and he leads his club in touch% with 12.4%.

NYC hasn't used a lot of long passes (14th in MLS), thriving instead on short passes connecting the defense to the attack through a type of tiki-taka style possession intended to open up and expose their opponent's defensive shortcomings. Unfortunately for them, this has led to the most turnovers in MLS, most often occurring in the midfield, explaining why they have one of the highest expected goal differentials in MLS, sitting in the negative (because teams counter attack them to death). Yes, Chicago aren't a team that is traditionally going to punish you quick on the counter, but they have some pieces that could do it. Please wave high, David Accam. *David waves hello*

FANTASY PERSPECTIVE

CHICAGO FIRE

Harry Shipp (24.3% Selected, $7.9 Cost)

Shipp is possibly the most exciting player to emerge from MLS into the US pool in the past few years. It's not just that he plays a position that has some questions surrounding it in the coming future. He's unique in his approach and shows creativity, a skill that is specifically lacking within the depth.

Lovel Palmer (11.1% Selected, $5.8 Cost)

Make all the jokes you want about Palmer and his propensity for launching shots from 30-40 yards out like he was Morten 'Great Dane' Andersen running around with one bar on a football helmet.  But he doesn't cost much and his return on investment from is actually pretty good because... well, Chicago has no full back depth.

NEW YORK CITY

David Villa (12.1% Selected, $10.3 Cost)

If we've learned much to this point about New York City it's that the attack begins and ends with David Villa. The cost is steep but if he plays the payoff should be worth it. The question most will have to consider is the how Villa's health will continue to hold up.

Mix Diskerud (8.8% Selected, $9.1 Cost)

A good amount of people keep spending the money on Disk and I don't know why. Look, Mix is a good soccer player--he even came in 21st in our MLS Top-50 this week--but he's not a great fantasy player because what he is good at doesn't translates to most numbers that are of value in MLS fantasy. He's 39th overall in total points for MIDFIELDERS. Just not what I'd call a good buy.

THE WATCHABILITY SCORE

The Watchability score is back, get excited!

We're back at it and just right off the top you'll see the score really likes NYC-CHI Friday night. This is largely due to NYC being considered the most watchable team in MLS right now. It's also to do with the fact that both teams create shots, don't turn the ball over too often, and don't often foul or get fouled.

WS = Watchability Score, xGD Even = Expected goal differential in even game states

WS = Watchability Score, xGD Even = Expected goal differential in even game states

Looking ahead to Saturday, Houston and Portland looks to be a good game likely due to the amount of pretty ball handling and x`the likelihood for a close score line. Sporting and Colorado could be fun too (which is interesting considering one team takes tons of shots and another team prevents very few shots) and Sunday's Philadelphia and DC game might surprise you too because MLS!

Interestingly enough, the model isn't keen on two top of the standings teams facing off in Frisco with Dallas and Red Bull prepared to exchange blows. The model surprisingly projects this match to be one of the least interesting match-ups this weekend. This could be to the overwhelming amount of fouls that Dallas is apt to provide while also being apt to allow their opponent the lions share of possession against a team from Harrison, New Jersey that wants all the possession. This model might actually be onto something. The other is followed the next day by two bottom of the table teams in Montreal and Real Salt Lake.

THE WEEKEND MATCH-UPS

(expected goal differential in even game-states)

FRIDAY

New York City (-0.62) AT Chicago Fire (0.11)
Prediction: I'll take Chicago

New York Red Bulls (-0.02) AT FC Dallas (0.31)
Prediction: Surprisingly enough, I'll take Red Bulls. I'll admit that's because of BWP and my blossoming man-crush.

SATURDAY

Real Salt Lake (-0.69) AT Montreal Impact (-0.10)
Prediction: Montreal, I guess.

Seattle Sounders (0.39) AT Vancouver Whitecaps (0.15)
Prediction: I call a Draw. Bring it on Canada. I'm prepared to be wrong and considered bias. I just think Vancouver is falling back to earth.

Toronto FC (0.19) AT New England Revolution (0.35)
Prediction: Draw. Leave TFC alone!

Portland Timbers (0.03) AT Houston Dynamo (0.03)
Prediction: Draw...because somewhere there is a joke. Yes?

Columbus Crew SC (0.42) AT San Jose (-0.22)
Prediction: I'll say Columbus here but I'm 100% prepared for San Jose to do something ridiculous.

SUNDAY

LA Galaxy (-0.20) AT Orlando City (-0.05)
Prediction: Orlando City, if only because we'll get more stories about Steven Gerrard retiring to MLS and LA being in trouble.

DC United (-0.38) AT Philadelphia Union (-0.42)
Prediction: Philly, because you know what--they deserve something special damn it. I love you Jared, have a good weekend!

 

NERD IMAGERY


Because New York City is basically the sports embodiment of Britta Perry. It's true. Sad, but still true. Call me when Jason Kries gets desperate enough to start Patrick Mullins every match.