and then, the hex

Shortlist: Christian Pulisic, and the Path of the Top 100 Players

Each year, The Guardian releases its Top 100 players in the world.  I looked at the 2017 list to analyze just how players arrived on this stage.  The Guardian compiles this list across 169 judges from 63 countries, giving this list a global, broad-reaching scope.  The stories of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (once again #1 and #2 on the list) have dominated the global soccer narrative over the past decade, but analyzing the full list shows a variety of paths to earn this acclaim. Continue reading “Shortlist: Christian Pulisic, and the Path of the Top 100 Players”


Repeatability of Goals and Assists in MLS 2016-2017

Utilizing American Soccer Analysis’ excellent xG Interactive Tables, I looked at attacking stats for all players who played at least 700 minutes in MLS in 2016 and 2017.  The 700 minutes figure allows us to analyze players who joined in MLS’ summer transfer window, such as Nicolas Lodeiro and Alejandro Bedoya.  Restricting the analysis to those who spent two seasons in MLS also minimizes the effect of switching leagues (positively or negatively.)

I looked at the repeatability of four year-over-year stats:

  • Actual goals and assists
  • Actual goals and assists per 90 minutes
  • Expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes
  • The delta in goals and assists compared to xG and xA

Actual goals/assists and actual goals/assists per 90 displayed similar trends, so I’ve included the per 90 stats here.  An full interactive version of all of the charts is available here.  Let’s start with the goal-scorers.  Continue reading “Repeatability of Goals and Assists in MLS 2016-2017”

When the US Solved a Spanish Puzzle

The US script at international tournaments often includes moments of triumph and tragedy, luck and misfortune.  World Cups generally regarded as successful required an 88th minute South Korean post in 2002 and a Landon Donovan miracle goal in 2010 just to escape group play.  A poor tournament, like 2006, still featured a point off of eventual winners Italy.  2014 illustrated how quickly a narrative could shift with the right results: the US were a last-minute Portugal goal from six points in the group stage, and nearly stole the Belgium game against the run of play.

No tournament exemplified this capacity better than the 2009 Confederations Cup.  It’s the US’ South African road trip film: hijinks, half-baked plans, serendipity, a triumphant turning point, and despite the odds, arriving at the destination. Continue reading “When the US Solved a Spanish Puzzle”

Getting Sharp, Fast: Early-Season MLS and World Cup Qualifiers

It’s rare that tension rises this high, this early for the US in a World Cup Qualifying cycle.  Zero points in the first two games, though, led to the heightened importance of this Friday’s home qualifier against Honduras.  The US hired Bruce Arena in the interest of short-term stability, and a review of previous campaigns show that this low-risk approach made sense.  Here are the points by matchday for each US World Cup Hex, from 1998 through today: Continue reading “Getting Sharp, Fast: Early-Season MLS and World Cup Qualifiers”

Global Leaders in Key Passes and Shots

After the in-depth look at MLS Key Passes, let’s look at those findings in a global context.  I analyzed the top 10 players in key passes for the Big 5 Euro leagues, MLS, and added the top-flight from Argentina and Brazil.  All eligible players played at least 500 minutes, and all stats are from the current season or most recent season (2016 for Brasileirão and MLS): Continue reading “Global Leaders in Key Passes and Shots”

Over There: US National Team Transfers from MLS to Europe

In a turbulent year for US Soccer, Christian Pulisic’s rise at Borussia Dortmund emerged as a positive.  Not since John O’Brien at Ajax and Jonathan Spector at Manchester United had a US player charted a similar development path.  Like O’Brien and Spector, Pulisic earned his first US cap in the same year as his professional breakthrough.  However, in the global context, this path is atypical.  It’s more common that a player debuts professionally with a team in his home country and then transfers abroad.

For an American player, that means playing in MLS and then heading abroad.  Where can a player with national team aspirations reasonably expect to go? Continue reading “Over There: US National Team Transfers from MLS to Europe”

Risk and Reward: Key Passes in the 2016 MLS Season

Pep Guardiola, the vanguard of possession soccer, had an innocuous quote turned into an amusing headline when he said Manchester City passed too much against Hull.  What the article misses is that the specific quote about passing less is not a contradiction of the possession philosophy.  As Thierry Henry articulates in this video, Guardiola utilizes possession to advance the team to the final third, where advantageous attacking opportunities mitigate the need for more passing.

The major upsets of 2016 – Leicester’s Premier League title and Portugal’s Euro championship – signaled a blow for possession soccer.  Rather than react away from a possession-based philosophy, though, many top European teams spent this season re-enforcing the benefits of pressing and direct play within the possession framework.  With opponents sitting deeper and deeper, there is an elevated need within this structure for players who can create goal-scoring opportunities.  The trade-off calculation for managers is to field players who assume the right amount of risk.  When should players attempt a riskier pass, one that might lead to a shot for a teammate but could increase the chances of killing the attack? Continue reading “Risk and Reward: Key Passes in the 2016 MLS Season”

Arena’s First Order of Business? Address the Midfield

Even the best of national team management tenures usually end poorly, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s was no different.  After a somewhat self-inflicted loss against Mexico and capitulation against Costa Rica, the US found itself in last place in the Hex.  Enter a manager change: the USSF hired Bruce Arena to ensure the US’ qualification for the 2018 World Cup.  Even with the two game deficit, odds are that the US should still qualify.  What’s unknown is what Arena’s team might look like at the World Cup itself. Continue reading “Arena’s First Order of Business? Address the Midfield”

US Attacking Options Against Mexico

It’s US v Mexico, Round 8 for Jurgen Klinsmann.  Klinsmann started his US coaching tenure with an appropriately disjointed 1-1 draw against Mexico.  Only Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard, and Michael Orozco remain from the starting XI that day.  However, the approach to attacking chances represented US v Mexico games in the Klinsmann era.  Mexico favor a high-volume approach to shooting, while the US tend to take fewer shots, but place a higher percentage of those shots on target.

Last year’s Confederation Cup playoff game, though, broke the trend.  Continue reading “US Attacking Options Against Mexico”

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