and then, the hex



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”


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”

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”

The Ballad of Tommy Thompson, MLS Homegrown Attacker

San Jose won the Supporters’ Shield in 2012 in style, scoring a commanding 72 goals and generating a +29 goal differential.  After grabbing a 1-0 lead away, a slip-up against Los Angeles in the return leg of the playoffs tainted an otherwise stellar season.

In hindsight, the 2012 season was an aberration.  The following four season recaps range from “Average” to “This Season Never Happened”.  Worst of all was a dire 2014, when San Jose finished last in the West with a mere 0.88 points per game, its lowest total since rejoining MLS in 2008.  The highlight of the season was a noble shoot-out loss to Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League with an injury-plagued team.

Amidst such carnage, fans look for optimism wherever they can find it.  One source emerged from the signing of Tommy Thompson, San Jose’s first (and only) homegrown player.   Continue reading “The Ballad of Tommy Thompson, MLS Homegrown Attacker”

Evaluating 2015 MLS Passing and Dribbling Success

For the past 8 years, the Spanish/Barcelona possession-based philosophy cast a long shadow over the soccer world, inspiring imitators and reactive trends alike.  Of course, there are many ways to attack, and teams such as Atletico Madrid and Leicester City have thrived recently without dominating possession.

While possession dominance hasn’t correlated to MLS success, it is still important to have individual players who can successfully complete a pass and retain possession when needed.  The expectations for how many passes a player should complete will vary by role on the field and a team’s tactical plan.  Let’s look at multiple passing statistics from the 2015 MLS season for a better sense of the league norms.  Continue reading “Evaluating 2015 MLS Passing and Dribbling Success”

Ten Suggestions for the MLS Audi Performance Index

The new Audi Performance Index promises fans “new insights to debate and discuss the sport they love in a new way.”  What is there to debate, though?  The index rates Ignacio Piatti and Dom Dwyer as the top players in Weeks 1 and 2, with scores of 2102 and 1547 respectively.  These numbers mean little in isolation, and the metric’s Web site is intentionally vague on additional context.  Let’s find a way to make this better. Continue reading “Ten Suggestions for the MLS Audi Performance Index”

On MLS, Liga MX, CONCACAF Champions League, and Promotion/Relegation

Yet another year with the same outcome. When all four MLS teams crashed out of the CONCACAF Champions League this past week, it ensured a Mexican team would win the competition for the 8th straight season.  Frankly, it hasn’t been close: Real Salt Lake and Montreal have each made a final, and LA and Seattle reached the semifinals once.

In the immediate aftermath, the obvious question is, “How do MLS teams do better?” Continue reading “On MLS, Liga MX, CONCACAF Champions League, and Promotion/Relegation”

Analytics, Scouting, and MLS Attacking Tendencies

A 2014 McKinsey report on the data analytics revolution highlights the need for “translators”, those with a skillset that spans some combination of data, analytics, IT, and business decision-making.  The recent OptaPro Forum echoed this need in the soccer world: how do analysts, scouts, and decision-makers best bridge the gap from the technical world to the soccer world?  Continue reading “Analytics, Scouting, and MLS Attacking Tendencies”

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