MLS Cup: Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake…It’s Finally Here

I wish I could write this long-winded and amazingly-thought-out post. This just won’t be the case. I’m mostly missing the vocabulary to mark the occasion of the biggest match of the American soccer season. Without really prolonging the post or trying to set it up by way of a specific perspective: I was digging around through Squawka and Whoscored data in preparation for tonight’s podcast and found some things that I thought were interesting, and I thought that I would share them with you.

First thought: Sporting Kansas City pretty much owns the defensive metric counting stats that are available to us, as well as those that I took the time to put together. They rank first in defensive actions recorded, which is simply blocked shots, interceptions and clearances. There isn’t anything that I’ve seen or read that correlates any of these numbers to being a successful team in terms of collecting points.

That being said, it’s reasonable to suspect that their ability to prevent shots and produce them at a higher ratio has something to do with these defensive statistics. I personally would associate SKC’s shot ratios with two specific abilities : their possession—which we will get in first—and then prevention.

Possession doesn’t tell us whether or not a club is successful, but we have mentioned that it mostly just explains how they going about being successful. Sure, a lot of people take it that when a team is holding onto the ball, that reduces its own opportunities to score. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t reducing their opponents’ opportunities, though. In fact a club that holds on to the ball and makes a lot of successful passes does exactly that.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at defense or preventing the opposition from generating shots. It just means that they might potentially reduce the number of chances that an opposing team gets. Again, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to earning points, but that does lead to us to the topic of prevention. Sporting is dominant in MLS with intercepting and clearing balls from their attacking third. Controlling possession 58% of the time at home and completing 81% of their passes, they are mitigating opponents’ opportunities, and the same can be said with clearing balls off the backline and preventing the ball from coming into the attacking third at all.

Clearing the ball obviously presents the chance that the open play becomes “reset”. That the pressure applied by the opposing attack has to reposition themselves in an manner that would create another chance against the goal. Sometimes that happens quickly sometimes it leads to a turnover in possession.

I’d really like to know the percentage of how many times a team got the ball into the final third and then created a shot. I suspect that Sporting Kansas City isn’t necessarily any better than any other team at actually stopping a team from creating chances once they get into the attacking third. Possibly it just limits those entries.

However, if a team isn’t getting many opportunities to possess the ball, and their chances of breaking into the attacking third are repelled by clearances, it has to limit the creation of shots. This is my theory on how Sporting KC has produced that positive shot ratio and why their defensive counting stats matter. I don’t really know if any of it actually holds up.

Second Thought: Real Salt Lake is basically the best litmus test for this theory. A club that has superior passing talent, that also maintains the ability to possess the ball, and doesn’t inadvertently turn it over with the frequency that others do.

Again, for like the thousandth time, this doesn’t relate to obtaining points. However, it maybe the specific method they go about for shot creation which does lend itself as predictor. Creating shots is the name of the game, and RSL is one of the better road teams in MLS who matches up well with SKC in that regard.

If SKC’s deterrence method for shots is more about mitigation of possession to specific areas of the pitch which potentially lends itself to preventing shots, then the counter is that RSL is third in away goals from outside the box with 4 converted shots by way of 74 shots.

RSL is one of the better teams at converting from distance—and while that could be as much by the way of luck as it could be by the talent of the line-ups they’ve fielded—the importance of this is that they aren’t afraid of taking attempts from distance, and that maybe one of the best ways for them to manage a goal against SKC.

That leads into this final thought:

Looking at shots, it’s a duh statement to say that SKC creates a lot of them. Unfortunately for Real Salt Lake, Sporting creates even more at home than what it normally creates on the road. What is more surprising, though, is that of those shots, the majority come from outside of the 18 yard box.

Why would it matter if a team creates more shots from a far than closer to the box? The obvious answer is that it decreases the probability of a goal scoring opportunity. Taking shots is important, regardless of where it’s taken from. Without the shot there is a lack possibility that the ball actually goes into the back of the net…well, unless you are D.C. United and the rest of the league leads your team in goals scored.

I certainly approve of most shots because they creates chances. A shot that is parried or even deflected back into a crowd is another chance, a better chance, to score a goal. The problem is when you take a shot you are also conceding possession, as well as position in the attacking third. Better position equates to a higher possibility of a scoring chance and ultimately that’s what your trying to do: increase the odds of scoring a goal. Despite taking 164 shots from outside the box at home, Sporting only scored 5 goals, opposed to 29 goals from 105 shots inside the box.

Taking shots from better locations is going to improve your odds, but it’s more than that. It’s about finding the opportunity to win games. Saturday will simply be about finding those moments, finishing them and then, hopefully, winning.

Both teams have remarkable similarities and they both possess the ability to expose the others weaknesses. This has the potential to be one of the best MLS Cups in recent memory. That isn’t to say that LA and Houston pounding on each other hasn’t been somewhat entertaining.

But SKC and RSL bring to the table a style of soccer that is pleasing to watch, and each procures shots—which is one of the biggest complaints from people who are infrequent viewers. It also will, hopefully, attract some of those individuals who usually are less inclined to watch American soccer, relegating themselves to the European versions.

Here is just hoping the game is just interesting.

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