chicago fire

The good, the bad, and the unlucky: What Expected Points tell us about the 2018 MLS season by Eliot McKinley

Expected goals (xG) has finally made it, the Times of London are including an alternate table for the English Premier League based upon per game xG for this season. While using only which team had the highest xG in a game for determining a winner is problematic, it is still a step in the right analytical direction.

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Setting the Table: Week 12 by Eric Walcott

Welcome to Setting the Table, this week featuring a whole lot of Houston vs Chicago. Each week we take some time to focus on the best chance creators in MLS from the last weekend. If you want to see the best chances that were wasted check out Lowered Expectations. Here we focus on chances that ended with the ball in the back of the net.

#5 Nemanja Nikolic to Diego Campos, Chicago Fire, 16th minute, 0.369 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 2

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Chicago Fire 2018 Season Preview by Kevin Minkus

The Chicago Fire had a tremendous 2017, and it seems their 2018 squad will mostly look like that one. In many leagues, this stability, paired with the team’s younger players developing further, would spell positive results for the upcoming season. But the increasing amount of allocation money coming into the league means that the Fire’s competitors are stockpiling TAM-level players while Chicago stands pat. In all, the Fire may fail to improve without adding a few more pieces.

2017 RECAP

The Chicago Fire’s 2017 season should be considered a remarkable one. After two consecutive wooden spoons, the Fire finished the season in 3rd in the Eastern Conference. They put together an 11 game unbeaten streak that had them at the top of the East on July 1st. They had the league’s Golden Boot winner, Nemanja Nikolic, who put in 24 goals. Though they ultimately bowed out of the playoffs with a 4-0 home loss to the Red Bulls in the knockout round, the massive turnaround from 2016 should mark the season a success.

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Expected Goal Chains: The Link between Passing Sequences and Shots by Kevin Shank

For those who are not familiar with Expected Goal Chains (xGC), the metric looks at all passing sequences that lead to a shot and credits each player involved with the xG. Instead of just looking at expected goals and expected assists, which primarily benefits strikers and attacking midfielders, xG Chains is beneficial to every player involved in a sequence. Most importantly xGC credits those defensive or two-way players who are integral to a play’s build-up but don’t necessarily serve that final key pass. To calculate xGC, I assembled every pass, shot, foul, and defensive action so far in MLS and assigned a unique ID to each passing sequence. When a sequence ended in a shot, each player is attributed with the xG from that shot. StatsBomb defines it very succinctly, so the below steps are stolen directly from them: 

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Chicago Fire 2017 Season Preview by Mike Fotopoulos

If it were truly possible to tank in the Major League of Soccer, the Chicago Fire have been making a valiant effort to test that theory in recent seasons. What was once only considered gross incompetence has been given a shiny veneer of professionalism with the addition of Nelson Rodriguez in 2016. By proceeding to sell everything that wasn’t nailed down for various forms of GarberBucks, the roster began to resemble the closest thing to a full rebuild that the club has desperately needed since the waning days of the Blanco era. The remaining question, as has always been the question in the annual reshuffle of the Men in Red, is will this process actually succeed? Is it even a process at all? If a team fails in the suburbs, does anyone even notice?

There is, however, cause for hope. Piles of league money, in various shapes, sizes, and colors, has slowly turned the roster from a collection of aged out journeymen and long-term projects to…a slightly more cohesive group of journeymen and slightly less speculative projects. The mysterious departure of Harrison “Don’t Call Me Justin” Shipp aside, the outlines of Rodriguez’ plan has been to build prudently through the draft and complement with a very specific type of experience. Everything outside of this, every scrap of dead money, wrung out to sale for as much as he can grab.

Dax is after the jump.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: CHICAGO FIRE by Tom Worville

Here we go again, another season of MLS and another season preview of the Chicago Fire and how things “might change” and how this “could be their year”. Usually these statements are made in reference to them reaching the playoffs, but I’m just hoping this year they aren’t left at the foot of the table come October.

To put it bluntly, the Chicago Fire were terrible in 2015. The last game of the season summed up their entire year. Lackluster defending, toothless attacking and, ultimately, a defeat to the New York Red Bulls meant they finished the year with just 30 points: less than one point per game and the worst total in the whole league.

Looking at the overall league table, the Fire had the joint leakiest defense in the league with NYCFC, conceding 58 goals (a massive 1.7 per90) but a decent attack, scoring 43 goals (1.27 p90). The sheer number of goals conceded meant that they had the worst goal difference in the league (-15) something that the team will no doubt be looking to rectify this year.

See their Elo rating after the jump:

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Patrick Nyarko And Playing the Game: Redux by Harrison Crow

Last year, I wrote about Patrick Nyarko and his contract extension with the Chicago Fire. Fast forward through a rough 2015 campaign and while I wasn't necessarily wrong about the deal, as Nyarko reached more minutes than I had expected and ended up being was a useful option off the bench, the Chicago Fire ended up on the lesser side of the deal paying him more than what he was worth in 2015. That was largely due to injuries that sidelined him the first half of the season, one of the primary reasons I remained rather gloomy concerning the size of the contract.

Nyarko is now "supposedly" headed to DC after requesting to leave the windy city and despite his limited time on the pitch last season there are performance indicators that United could be set to inherent a solid “buy low” candidate should a trade be worked out.

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Which MLS players take "good" shots? (And does Lovel Palmer take all the bad ones?) by Drew Olsen

I have been a frequent and vocal critic of Lovel Palmer, and his all too frequent tendency to launch shots from 40 yards into the 40th row.

Ask around, and the journeyman is hardly beloved by the fans of any team he’s played for. When I unscientifically surveyed a few friends who are separately fans of his former teams, Palmer did not once get described using the words “quality”, “ability” or “skill.” Indeed, nearly everyone described him with a different variation of some four-letter word, but “frustration” is an apt synonym that sums them up. And most had a similar complaint; for every solid defensive play he makes, it always feels like he kills his own team’s attack because of his overconfidence in his long-range shot. A shot that has earned him four goals in his MLS career, and only one in the last three seasons. While my memory of his time with the Timbers may be unreliable, it seemed he was good for at least one cringe-worthy long distance shot per game. The below video encapsulates what I’m talking about:

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The Weekend Kick-Off: New York City FC To Play With Fire; Hoping Not To Get Burned by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

This season started off with Chicago being a punch line. They looked bad against LA and were arguably worse against Vancouver a week later. They were not aesthetically pleasing and their new star Shaun Maloney wasn't doing much to inspire visions of a team turn around.

Nearly five weeks later the team has back-to-back wins and Maloney is not looking as bad (sporting an xG+xA of .81). Shockingly enough, Chicago isn't the dumpster fire it once was. There may even be enough pieces with the return of Mike Magee to make a push for a playoff spot.

I'm not trying to get ahead of myself; there are still 29 more matches to play. Chicago could still be a bad team but there is something about having either an above average defense or offense that presents a complicated variable.

Chicago might be a mess defensively (1.40 xG against) but their attack has all sorts of interesting pieces. Harry "don't call me Harrison" Shipp is perhaps one of the most interesting American attacking pieces in Major League Soccer. Kennedy Igboananike is very quietly having a strong first year. Quincy Amarikwa is still doing his thing as perhaps the most under-appreciated striker in MLS, and Joevin Jones has been a nice little pick-up too.

The sum of the team has melded to make a greater whole than the individuals. We'll see this weekend if their success can continue.

Whereas Chicago has been defeated by their poor and mistake prone defense, it's been New York City's moments without David Villa on the ball that has been their downfall. Villa has been worth just about every penny. The problem has been outside of Villa. They've gotten league average assistance from his trio of strike partners Khiry Shelton, Adam Nemec and Patrick Mullins. But inconsistent creation from the midfield and a defense that is still trying to get on the same page has created problems.

Mikkel Diskerud has shown moments of brilliance between his slick passes and curling shots finding holes for goals. But he's still working through adjustments to the league and he's perhaps not the pure creator that Jason Kreis or NYC needs. Maybe Frank Lampard will be that person, and maybe not. Maybe it will take the summer transfer window to acquire that player.

Right now, New York City boasts a defense that has pieces and talent but somehow hasn't yet translated that to being successful. Currently averaging 1.40 xG against and standing 15th overall, the  scary thing is that their PDO is sitting around 987, right near the normal resting heart rate of a club. In other words, they probably are what they are as a team. I'm sure they'll have some ups and downs through the season, but without limiting the shots this club isn't going to really take that step.

They already found out that backup striker Tony Taylor is out for the season. Should NYC loose out on Villa tonight, and that's the current rumor going around, they will have to not only figure out how to make up the difference in his ability to create and score goals but hold to bay a team that actually has a decent attack of their own.

The real outcome of this match will boil down to whose defense holds. Will Sean Johnson show up for this match and can Josh Saunders continue to be an above average keeper? This season is still young and while a single game hardly defines the destiny of a season, I suspect these two clubs will be dancing around each other through the season in the standings.

Tonight, for mostly obvious reasons, I'm taking the Chicago Fire for all three points. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if their defense collapsed and a draw was a result but either way I shade in the Fire's direction of earning points.


Chicago Fire

Harrison Shipp (Selected 26.1%, Cost $7.9)
There are few entertaining and redeeming qualities about the Fire and Shipp is one and perhaps all of them at the same time. I can't imagine that his cost is going to stay suppressed for much longer if he keeps putting together the goal scoring opportunities for his strikers and finding the back of the net himself.

Lovel Palmer (Selected 12.3%, Cost $5.9)
There are few players in MLS as versatile as Palmer which translates to more minutes because of it. He'll never be an individual that puts together huge games in terms of points. But it'll be consistent point allotment from match to match and in MLS Fantasy that's a huge quality to be find.

New York City FC

David Villa (Selected 20.3%, Cost $10.3)
The 33-year old Spaniard looks out this week so he probably doesn't impact fantasy this week but looking down the range, once he heats up, he'll be the best striker in MLS. Write it down.

Mix (Selected 10.9%, Cost $9.1)
This is one of those occasions that I don't get the price relative to the production that an owner is going to get. There are a lot of people that bought into him early (probably due to the pairing of Villa) and kind of got burned. He's a player that we're still learning about because we didn't have a lot of concrete data on him. I think he still has a bright future with the US and in MLS.


(expected goal differential in even game-states)


Dallas FC (0.04) @ Colorado Rapids (-0.20)
Prediction: Draw

Philadelphia Union (-0.03) @ Columbus Crew SC (0.29)
Prediction: Columbus

Real Salt Lake (-0.37) @ New England Revolution (0.32)
Prediction: New England

Sporting KC (0.78) @ Houston Dynamo (-0.18)
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City


DC United (-0.49) @ Vancouver Whitecaps (0.00)
Prediction: Whitecaps

LA Galaxy (0.08) @ New York Red Bulls (-0.01)
Prediction: Draw

Toronto FC (-0.46) @ Orlando City SC (0.13)
Prediction: Draw

Portland Timbers (0.22) @ Seattle Sounders FC (0.86)
Prediction: Draw