5 Reasons Why You Should Watch Major League Soccer

So you’re excited about the US Men’s National team breaking through the group stage? It may even be that you find yourself liking this whole soccer thing. That’s not surprising; most Americans you talk to that follow soccer, including myself, have had that specific moment that sealed commitment, a moment often from a past World Cup. Whether that be the 2002 World Cup run in South Korea or the 2010 heart break against Ghana that brought you to the “beautiful game,” because of the placement that soccer has in the standings of American culture, it’s just common to have these iconic moments associated with the sport.

The thing that distinguishes people like us from the rest of the excited US supporters across the nation during this time is that, once the World Cup tournament concludes, we’ll still want more.

Well, fear not because there is a serious and thriving league here in the US. If you are or have ever been called a ‘Euro snob’, then you can probably stop reading now. You’re going to argue and just generally disagree with most everything I have to say. So what’s the point? I’m not trolling you and it’s great that you like soccer in Europe. But we’re to talk to these new recruits about soccer in the United States. So here we go. Here are five reasons and examples about soccer in the US, and why you should follow it after the World Cup.

 

1)   Soccer in the United States is actually good.

Once upon a time Major League Soccer was viewed as a retirement league. A place where aged stars came for one last pay day once they were out of their prime. It was viewed as such simply because it was exactly that. It wasn’t that long ago, and because of that there some pretty common misconceptions about MLS.

“It used to be that just CONCACAF [The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] internationals and retirees came here. In 2014 Brazilians, Spaniards, Englishmen (that just miss out), Australians, Persians (Iran), and Irish all play in MLS, and they also play roles for their home countries in the World Cup, or are of World Cup quality.”

Look, most people that don’t like MLS likely have not watched more than a couple of games; which is silly considering they base all their opinions on those few games. It would be like me basing the entirety of the NBA on a Cleveland and New Orleans games or New Jersey and Phoenix. Neither of which are what we would call riveting match-ups.

The quality of MLS is improving every year. If you believe MLS still to be a ‘retirement league’ or a ‘first division with watered down depth’ you haven’t really invested any time in getting your facts straight. Truth is most people are forming opinions based on a small sample size from years ago.

Looking at numbers produced by Dave Clark and the statistician known by the handle Sidereal, one finds strong indicators that MLS has just continued to improved over the last few years. The league is gaining traction to being near par with some quality European soccer leagues.

2) MLS is on the verge of getting even better and it starts with increased wages.

“Although not often addressed, there’s no question that achieving that vision will require increasing MLS player salaries to attract more top players. It’s just a question of how fast, and the salaries may need to increase much sooner than 2022.”

“…”

“What could the future MLS look like? Or what would it need to look like for the Don Garber to see his vision meet reality? Let’s build the reality. Let’s assume by 2022 the MLS will pay their players 50% of total revenues, in line with the current Bundesliga level. MLS won’t need to reach revenues of the Bundesliga to be considered a top league in the world, but they will need to be close to be paying quality players closer to market rate. Let’s assume that MLS can achieve Don’s dream by reaching Ligue 1 revenues but paying Bundesliga salaries. Finally, let’s assume that Ligue 1 revenues grow at a modest 4% per year until 2022.”

“…”

“The target MLS revenue growth of 16% is very aggressive but Don Garber has a good amount of low hanging fruit to pick. The new rumored TV deal is for about $100M in 2015 and would increase the 2012 revenues (the basis for these numbers) by nearly 15%. The next TV deal might fetch the same 15% growth or more. MLS has also announced a five-team expansion plan which will bring at least 26% growth as the teams come on. Without doing much, MLS can get almost a third of the way to the goal according to my calculations.”

Okay, I pray that Jared will forgive me for lifting so many of his brilliant words from the following article. Go read the whole piece because it’s great. Unfortunately it’s a bit of an involved article, and I just wanted to frame a great thought from his head.

The United States first division is growing, and growing at a substantial rate. That is due to the injection of money and the fact they can start paying players what their worth. This brings in more players from all over the place that can use the league as not just a place to end their career, but really to start it.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be negotiated this year after the season is over. I get that most of us sports fan are sick of labor talks and news of player strikes. I read you loud and clear. The thing that makes this different is simply that the league gets better with increase salary caps for clubs and the increase of minimum player wages. I don’t want there to be a work stoppage, but with the increased revenue from the TV deal that MLS just signed, they owe it to the players and fans to further the cause of soccer in this country.

 

3a) It’s not just about overpaying old guys to get eyeballs, MLS is acquiring young and exciting talent…

The main example you could probably point to for young guys coming into the league is Fredy Montero. Montero has transitioned over the last 18 months from one of the MLS top scorers to being a perennial talent in Portugal. Montero, who spent four very good seasons in Seattle, had the opportunity to make mistakes in a league that pushed his abilities enough even four years ago.

Montero’s arrival was followed by an influx of young international talent.

Darlington Nagbe, for example, is an international and former collegiate star at the University of Akron. He has been a critical piece for the Portland Timbers, is one of the most creative and eccentric talents in all of MLS.

Fabian Castillo, the Columbian winger with plenty of technical prowess, passed up opportunities in Europe for a stable playing environment and a chance for consistent playing time in Dallas.

Deshorn Brown is a high-end prototypical speedster from Jamaica. In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, he lead his club in goals scored and took them to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

For every Montero, however, there will always be a player that just doesn’t work out. The examples are many. In spite of that, MLS has begun the reverse transition from retirement league to what many would call a feeder league. While many, if not most, would not purpose to spend the prime of their careers in MLS (see point: 3b), they can still make a fine career for themselves and good wages because of how the league has grown to reward these players.

More and more young players are coming here in the vein of Montero, now viewing the US as an opportunity to get on the radar of European scouts and develop a pathway to launch a more lucrative career while still having stability and having the chance to prove them in a physical league.

“The increased visibility in M.L.S. is attractive to the players, who also benefit from the league’s financial stability compared with some leagues in their home countries.” (Leander Schaerlaeckens, NY Times)

It’s true that MLS still has more players retire at the end of the year from soccer than will transfer out of its league, but the players that are being transferred out are going to better and better clubs.

 

3b) …and some of that league talent is even in its prime.

As I said, there aren’t many who look at MLS and think “gosh, I could have a good living in the US in the prime of my career.” However there are a few where the stars lined up perfectly and they’ve chosen to play in America rather than going abroad with their talents. Such examples are:

Diego Valeri, the creative midfielder from Argentina, has been a force since arriving in Portland. And teamed with their young budding star, Nagbe, they’re a spectacular pair just to watch.

Juninho, the Brazilian, is often glossed over in terms of the whole league, but his consistency in LA and his ability to play both ways centrally is fantastic. He could be earning much more abroad but the allure of being on an iconic franchise and coached by one of the best US coaches in the business, Bruce Arena, keeps him in LA… for now.

Osvaldo Alonso is a unique case. His heroic escape from Cuba and passport situation limit his options abroad, but believe me… he has them. Yet, he loves Seattle and MLS. He’s easily a top-3 midfielder in the entire league and still has a couple prime seasons left in the tank.

Matt Besler, the Sporting KC and USMNT centerback has had chances to go abroad, and yet here he is in his prime. This has happened by way of MLS introducing retention funds to pay for… well, people whom they define as worthy of using it. His salary relative to the cap has been kept manageable because of those funds and he loves playing in Kansas City. He’s possibly and probably the best defender in MLS.

 

4) It’s not just about foreign talent; we have a thriving league to grow future US national team talent.

Players like Shane O’Neil (Colorado), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Chicago) and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle) are just a few names that play significant roles on their MLS clubs, and they still can’t drink legally in this country. You could almost have thrown Will Trapp (Columbus) on this list too, but he busted the beer-drinking landmark at the beginning of the year.

All four have been featured in U-23 matches gearing up for the Olympics, just two short years away, and all look to be prominent members of future World Cup teams. There are others worth mentioning also, but the point here is that MLS is starting to become a facilitator of growing US talent. That’s important.

That doesn’t even highlight players such as Gyasi Zardes or Jack McInerney, who are both big-time names in the league and may not qualify as members of the Olympic roster. It also doesn’t include 19-year old striking sensation Diego Fagundez, who just graduated from high school two weeks ago and just entered his fourth season as a member of the New England Revolution. Sadly enough, he is still technically not a US citizen…yet.

 

5)  There is parity, and possibly more so here than in any other relevant league in the world.

“The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric. Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15-league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.”  – Alex Olshansky

 

“This consistency, when combined with MLS’s overall lower variation, results in a lower proportion of the MLS’s points variation resulting from actual talent differences. The overall impact is that MLS table results are nearly a 50/50 split between talent and luck.” – Zach Slaton

Everyone hates the Yankees and yet wants to be them. It’s one of the greatest catch-22’s in sports. We all hate the winner—unless, of course, it’s us. MLS has developed a single entity program that just doesn’t lend itself to helping clubs that win, but it helps those that do not. In fact it’s worse to finish middle of the pack in the league than to finish at the back.

The league subsidies the salary cap of certain teams based on the order in which the teams finished. Teams towards the bottom get certain stipend (called allocation money) that assists in pay down contracts for cap purposes. Teams at the top also are awarded this money as a means of deepening the team for international competition in CONCACAF Champions League. This enables them to compete against the Mexican League teams that often tend to be superior in talent depth.

This all creates an environment on a yearly basis that creates volatility in casting predictions and makes the whole process rather difficult. A team can be good and have bad luck (see: LA Galaxy) or it can be mediocre with good luck (see: Real Salt Lake, according to Matthias), or it can have best of both worlds (see: Seattle Sounders). The beauty is that teams are never that far out of it, and never that far ahead.

The team that serve as the best example of this anything-can-happen league is DC United. Our readers had predicted prior to the season that they would miss the play-offs and would be generally sit near the bottom. In fact 15% thought they would end up dead last, opposed to the less than 1% that thought they would win the conference. Currently sitting nearly halfway through the season, they are in good position to fight for that very chance. And last year, this is the same club that nearly set all types of records for being anemic and generally pathetic in their overall performance.

There are few, if any, instances in which you can point to a club going from worst to best in a single season. The 1990 Atlanta Braves come to mind for me, but thinking abroad in the world of soccer, that seems improbable if not all together impossible. In MLS, it’s a yearly event.

——-

These are just a few reasons on why you should turn your attention to Major League Soccer after the World Cup. I’m sure others could add to this list, and generally speaking I know I missed things that others would include. But in talking with so many people down here in the South, I felt compelled to at least try to provide a this motivation to get involved in a dynamic league right here in the United States.

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Top 50 Total Shots Created: MLS Week 13

I’ve been terrible with trying to keep up with this quantitative metric, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw out an updated version in a vain attempt to try to play catch up with the status quo, being that the league is crawling towards the World Cup break.

Really, the point of this exercise is to try and capture how often players are creating shots–not just for themselves, but for teammates. It’s still pretty simplistic, and by no means the definitive answer to who the most valuable attackers are, but it’s a start in moving away from basing value judgements on goal totals.

To be as clear as possible this is not a metric that measures quality or success of the shot. It’s purely about opportunities to score. Either by way of putting mates* in position to score through passes that lead to shots–key passes–or to create a shot by himself–assisted or not–are the ways I count shots created.

*Editor loves word choice.

One thing I did do to include the best available and least luck-influenced player was to set a threshold of 700 minutes played. That limit was arbitrary and selected merely based upon the results of compiling the list. For that reason, and no other, you won’t see individuals such as Michael Bradley, Gilberto, Brad Davis, Joao Plata, Marco Di Vaio and Kekuta Manneh on this list even though their shot creation rates merited a position in the top 50. I am very high on both Plata and Manneh, and I would love to see both surpass the 600-minute mark and really fly beyond 2,000 minutes this season so we can see what their stable versions look like.

50-33:  The Above Average

Rank Name Club Position Minutes Key Passes Assists Shots ShC ShC/90
50 Blas Perez Dallas FWD 899 6 2 24 32 3.20
49 Nick DeLeon DC MF 1026 12 2 23 37 3.25
48 Vincent Nogueira Philadelphia MF 1348 17 2 30 49 3.27
47 Juninho LA MF 962 9 3 23 35 3.27
46 Benny Feilhaber KC MF 1260 26 3 17 46 3.29
45 Erick Torres Chivas FWD 1186 8 1 37 46 3.49
44 Jack McInernery Montreal FWD 844 11 1 21 33 3.52
43 Baggio Husidić LA MF 761 13 1 16 30 3.55
42 Dillion Powers Colorado MF 825 21 3 9 33 3.60
41 Lamar Neagle Seattle MF 987 10 2 28 40 3.65
40 Teal Bunbury NE FWD 1170 15 3 30 48 3.69
39 Felipe Martins Montreal MF 996 15 2 24 41 3.70
38 Jairo Arrieta Columbus FWD 818 9 0 25 34 3.74
37 Max Urruti Portland FWD 744 5 0 26 31 3.75
36 Justin Mapp Montreal MF 949 17 4 19 40 3.79
35 Travis Ishizaki LA MF 735 20 1 10 31 3.80
34 Andrew Wenger Philadelphia FWD 1012 11 1 31 43 3.82
33 Diego Fagundez NE MF 1086 8 2 37 47 3.90

I’ll admit there is quite a bit of disparity between Diego Fagundez (#33) and Nick DeLeon (#49). This group does however hold a few names seems that, to my mind, seem to fit together. Blas Perez (#50), Erick Torres (#45), Jack McInerney (#44) and Andrew Wenger (#34) all are viewed a bit differently in terms of success, but, again, this isn’t about results-based productivity so much as process-based productivity. We’re merely looking at how much they’re involved in creating goal scoring chances, regardless of the quality of those chances or where they are located. In that context it makes more sense.

The lone surprise for me in this tier is Justin Mapp. I would have assumed he’d be much higher on this list being that he’s been on the few bright spots for Montreal a long with JackMac.

 

32-10:  The Good.

Rank Name Club Position Minutes Key Passes Assists Shots ShC ShC/90
32 Chris Wondolowski San Jose FWD 810 6 0 30 36 4.00
31 Obafemi Martins Seattle FWD 1246 19 6 31 56 4.04
30 Michel Dallas MF 740 14 2 18 34 4.14
29 Lee Nguyen NE MF 1032 24 0 24 48 4.19
28 B. Wright-Phillips NYRB FWD 1051 8 0 41 49 4.20
27 Edson Buddle Colorado FWD 707 10 1 22 33 4.20
26 Shea Salinas San Jose MF 916 32 4 7 43 4.22
25 Sabastian Fernandez Vancouver FWD 654 10 0 21 31 4.27
24 Will Bruin Houston FWD 1221 20 1 37 58 4.28
23 Graham Zusi KC FWD 794 24 3 11 38 4.31
22 Alvaro Saborio Real Salt Lake FWD 869 5 2 35 42 4.35
21 Leonardo Fernandez Philadelphia FWD 701 13 1 20 34 4.37
20 Giles Barnes Houston FWD 1335 12 2 51 65 4.38
19 Gaston Fernandez Portland FWD 757 19 0 18 37 4.40
18 Mike Magee Chicago FWD 714 9 2 24 35 4.41
17 Harry Shipp Chicago FWD 894 23 4 17 44 4.43
16 Marco Pappa Seattle MF 751 12 1 24 37 4.43
15 Mauro Diaz Dallas MF 646 16 2 14 32 4.46
14 Bernando Anor Columbus MF 718 11 0 25 36 4.51
13 Cristian Maidana Philadelphia MF 871 23 2 20 45 4.65
12 Quincy Amarikwa Chicago FWD 880 15 4 28 47 4.81
11 Dom Dwyer KC FWD 1050 7 0 50 57 4.89
10 Deshorn Brown Colorado FWD 902 6 0 43 49 4.89

Two other names that are notable here. Edson Buddle (#27)–whom everyone thought was done two years ago when he was traded to Colorado–and Marco Pappa (#16), who was kind of a last minute signing before the start of the season, and who was a serious question mark considering his lack of playing time in the Netherlands.  Now both of these individuals that were stamped as likely non-essentials are two of most involved in the creation of their clubs attack. Lee Nguyen (29) coming in higher than Obafemi Martins (31) makes me laugh, simply because Martins is second in the league in assists and most people still hold that to being the truest or, perhaps, the most obvious sign of team goal contributions. Yet Nguyen has been a catalyst for New England and is simply their most valuable player when it comes to finding the ability to create chances. This is the meat and potatoes of the list.

9-4: The Elite.

Rank Name Club Position Minutes Key Passes Assists Shots ShC ShC/90
9 Javier Morales Real Salt Lake MF 1154 41 5 21 67 5.23
8 Fabian Espindola DC FWD 1086 30 4 30 64 5.30
7 Diego Valeri Portland MF 1117 28 5 37 70 5.64
6 Landon Donovan LA MF 802 24 2 25 51 5.72
5 Thierry Henry NYRB FWD 1170 23 4 49 76 5.85
4 Federico Higuain Columbus FWD 1080 39 5 27 71 5.92

So there that is. There shouldn’t be any argument here with any of these names. Fabian Espindola (#8) is the sole reason DC even has a shot at the playoffs. He is going to get every opportunity to be ‘the man’ in black and red. Landon Donovan (#6) despite his uncanny snubbery from the US National Team is still clearly a major factor for the Galaxy and their attack. Sticking with the theme of decline in skills, Thierry Henry (#5) is still one of the greatest to ever play in MLS.

Oh, and I’m just biding my time for Higuian to get past this “slump” and jet into the MVP Candidate category… because that’s simply where he belongs. More on that down the road.

3-1:  The MVP Candidates.

Rank Name Club Position Minutes Key Passes Assists Shots ShC ShC/90
3 Robbie Keane LA FWD 990 19 2 45 66 6.00
2 Clint Dempsey Seattle MF 751 14 2 43 59 7.07
1 Pedro Morales Whitecaps MF 821 31 4 38 73 8.00

Clint Dempsey (#2) has had the kind of year that is simply bananas. It’s been so crazy that it’s somehow eclipsed the Pedro Morales (#1) show that is going on just a few short hours north of him. Sure, these guys take penalty kicks, but that’s only a small fraction of their shots generated. If these two take this same show into the later stages of the season I can’t think there would be much reason to consider anyone else for MVP.

Oh, I guess you could probably throw Robbie Keane‘s (#3) name in that list, too. People forget about ol’ faithful, but even without his P.I.C. (read: ‘Partner in Crime’ for those that aren’t as hip as I am) for a game or two here and there, he’s still been incredible. Currently he ranks third in individual expected goals, proving that he also finds dangerous places to take his shots and doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Oh, and despite the angry looks and words AND finger wags, he gets his teammates those same opportunities.

And here’s the Excel File for the top 50.

MLS Week 8: Top 50 Shots

Okay, shots. We talk a lot about shots because, well, shots lead to goals. Obviously you can’t have a goal without first attempting a shot. I know that was a deep thought, but just go with me here.

We put a lot of emphasis on shots here and have dug into their expectation leading to goals. It’s backed by the belief that shots are important statistics in correlation to team success. Now there are plenty of caveats to shots and we use them to influence our ideas of what is good or bad. Matthias has taken time to explain at least some of them.

So with all that said you can’t read too much into all of these numbers. Take for instance the fact that Frederico Higuian creates 7.03 shots per 90 minutes. That’s nearly a shot and a quarter more than Brad Davis at 5.79. Is Higuian a better shot creator because he creates one additional shot over the course of a single match? If that shot is from zone 4 or even 5, the value of that single shot becomes marginalized in that specific instance.

Despite all of those various acknowledgements of how this is marginally interesting, and yet mostly a useless exercise, I put together a follow-up of last week’s top 50 individual shots creators in Major League Soccer. I decided it was best to cut up this data and present it via a tiered system to make it a bit more palatable and to highlight the players that have set themselves apart from their peers. Also, this allows me to be a bit creative in the tier process.

IBC Root Beer Tier – “The Best of the Best.”

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
1 Marco Di Vaio MTL F 326 1 1 24 4 29 8.01
2 Clint Dempsey SEA M 393 6 3 23 7 33 7.56
3 Federico Higuain CLB F 538 4 2 20 20 42 7.03
4 Robbie Keane LA F 450 4 1 22 12 35 7.00
5 Pedro Morales VAN M 472 1 2 19 15 36 6.86
6 Thierry Henry NY F 449 2 0 23 9 32 6.41

Oh, yeah… Marco Di Viao. He’s also pretty good at this whole soccer thing. I guess we can all say that we could have guessed every singl–what the hell is Pedro Morales doing in there??? I guess that probably explains a lot about what’s been happening in Vancouver. He’s second overall in total Shots Created and he could very well be a shoo-in for MLS Newcomer of the Year.  He’s like the offensive equivalent of what Jose Goncalves was last year to New England. I only have one question: who is this Camilo guy everyone was talking about?

Stewart’s Root Beer Tier – “You don’t have IBC? Who doesn’t have IBC?”

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
7 Landon Donovan LA M-F 450 0 2 13 14 29 5.80
8 Brad Davis HOU M 311 0 2 3 15 20 5.79
9 Graham Zusi KC F-M 450 1 3 9 16 28 5.60
10 Diego Valeri POR M 579 1 0 19 16 35 5.44
11 Dom Dwyer KC F 427 4 0 22 3 25 5.27
12 Leo Fernandes PHI F 436 2 1 13 11 25 5.16
13 Lloyd Sam NY M 621 1 3 12 20 35 5.07
14 Mike Magee CHI F 450 1 2 15 8 25 5.00
15 Giles Barnes HOU M 527 0 1 22 6 29 4.95
16 Justin Mapp MTL M 585 0 3 11 18 32 4.92
17 Michael Bradley TOR M 433 1 0 6 17 23 4.78
18 Mauro Diaz DAL M 604 2 3 13 16 32 4.77
19 Quincy Amarikwa CHI F 548 4 1 16 12 29 4.76
20 Felipe Martins MTL M 626 1 2 18 13 33 4.74
21 Gilberto TOR F 423 0 0 13 9 22 4.68
22 Cristian Maidana PHI M 425 0 2 11 9 22 4.66
23 Deshorn Brown COL F 448 1 0 19 4 23 4.62
24 Chris Wondolowski SJ F-M 450 3 0 20 3 23 4.60
25 Fabian Espindola DC F 531 2 2 11 14 27 4.58
26 Michel DAL M-D 401 3 2 11 7 20 4.49
27 Lamar Neagle SEA F 506 2 2 16 6 24 4.27
28 Obafemi Martins SEA F 620 2 4 13 12 29 4.21
29 Erick Torres CHV F 603 6 0 22 6 28 4.18
30 Javier Morales RSL M 527 0 2 7 15 24 4.10

Justin Mapp has the same amount of total Shots Created as Mauro Diaz in almost 20 minutes less field time. Try thinking about that next time you’re frustrated by Mapp’s hair line. Try.

Dom Dwyer does not go away. This guy could be someone that we may need to start legitimately talking about in the coming weeks. You should probably add Leo Fernandez and Lloyd Sam to that obnoxious hype list too.

Speaking of Sam, I added him to my MLS Fantasy Roster for tonight, hedging the bet that he finally scores a goal. At last look, the guy currently holds the highest xGoal predictor score without actually scoring a goal. If there was ever a guy that was “due” to score a goal, it’s him and I’m virtually betting on it happening.

On the note of not scoring goals, “Hi, Landon Donovan“. Who, in case you didn’t notice, is still a good player even when not putting the ball in the back of the net. Because, you know, skillz.

 

Barqs Root Beer Tier – “Old Reliable”

Player Club POS MINS G A SHTS Key Passes Sh-C Sh-C p90
31 Dwayne De Rosario TOR M 254 0 0 10 1 11 3.90
32 Mauro Rosales CHV M 626 0 3 10 14 27 3.88
33 Kenny Miller VAN F 537 3 1 14 8 23 3.85
34 Bradley Wright-Phillips NY F 358 1 0 12 3 15 3.77
35 Darren Mattocks VAN F 580 2 3 13 8 24 3.72
36 Jack McInerney MTL F 436 2 1 13 4 18 3.72
37 Will Bruin HOU F 539 3 1 14 7 22 3.67
38 Baggio Husidic LA M 344 1 1 7 6 14 3.66
39 Bernardo Anor CLB M 497 2 0 16 4 20 3.62
40 Hector Jimenez CLB M 523 1 2 9 10 21 3.61
41 Teal Bunbury NE F 630 0 1 14 10 25 3.57
42 Diego Fagundez NE M-F 584 0 0 19 4 23 3.54
43 Sal Zizzo KC F 433 0 2 10 5 17 3.53
44 Kenny Cooper SEA F 358 2 1 12 1 14 3.52
45 Benny Feilhaber KC M 539 1 1 8 12 21 3.51
46 Juninho LA M 448 0 2 8 7 17 3.42
47 Andrew Wenger PHI F 528 2 0 14 6 20 3.41
48 Eric Alexander NY M 451 0 3 7 7 17 3.39
49 Alex CHI M 512 0 0 12 7 19 3.34
50 Saer Sene NE M 355 0 0 8 5 13 3.30

 

There are roughly 19 names here and I’m not going to go through them all. But key surprises are Jack McInerney, who everyone continues to think is “slumping” when he’s not scoring goals. Baggio Husidic is making waves in that flashy new diamond attack in LA. Husidic is filling the hole that once upon a time existed out wide and makes the Robbie Rogers-trade look worse and worse, as he likely won’t make it past a bench position upon return. Bernardo Anor has been doing a lot for Columbus out of the midfield but, perhaps, the bigger story than Anor–or even the LA trade for Rogers–is that fact that Gregg Berhalter pretty much stole Hector Jimenez who is looking brilliant in his new Crew colors.

Lastly, three other off season moves are having impacts with their new clubs.

  1. Teal Bunbury is finally being “the other guy” and taking shots in New England. Lord knows they need to start converting those opportunities.
  2. Sal Zizzo wasn’t exactly a headline move this off-season, but since being let go by Portland this past off-season he’s been a gold staple in the Sporting KC line-up.
  3. Kenny Cooper is having himself a quietly productive first season in the Emerald City. Yes, it’s towards the bottom of the line-up and it doesn’t really mean much of anything. But he’s been reliable and fits in with Clint Dempsey and Oba Martins, playing the third/fourth fiddle and doing whatever needs to happen. Great role for him and he’s doing it well.

There are a lot of things to take away from this. Like why didn’t I just make two tiers: IBC Rootbeer and Barqs, which is basically all you’re going to go with unless there is some local brewed Root beer that you want to try for funsies. Anyways, some information here. Not necessarily good information, but at this stage of analysis and data when it comes to MLS, and really soccer in general, what is “good” information?

Montreal and Philadelphia Swap Young Strikers

Okay, I’m sure by now that, given you follow our site, you’ve also probably been made aware of the fact that the Philadelphia Union (an underrated team in my opinion) traded their young 20-year old striker Jack McInerney to the Montreal Impact for their young 22-year old striker Andrew Wenger. The trade has a very Matt Garza for Delmon Young feel to it, leaving me with an odd taste in my mouth. Are the Montreal Impact selling low on Andrew Wenger? It’s, at the very least, presumable that they know something that we don’t about him and his nature. The question becomes, then, is that assessment accurate?

Obviously the idea of a poacher is one that is met with a bit of contention,  in the sense of how do you measure being in the “right place at the right time” for an individual? However assessing the 86 shots taken by ‘JackMac’ from the 2013 season, we can know that no fewer than 57 of them came from inside the 18 yard box, courtesy of digging around on the MLS Chalkboards. It’s obvious that he’s a player that can get the ball in advantageous locations. Already on the season he’s put together 12 shots and 11 of them have come inside the 18-yard box with 6 coming directly in front of goal. He’s been appropriately tagged on twitter as a “fox in the box”—hold the sexual innuendos—and I think the term poacher probably comes naturally with that association. Unfortunately, that term may harbor and imply the idea that he’s more lucky than good. I’m not sure I entirely buy that approach.

 

JmC-AWen

Meanwhile with everyone’s attention directly focused on McInerney–audaciously stamped as ‘The American Chicharito’–having already being called in the USMNT Camp for training during the Gold Cup, people are forgetting about Wenger and his potential that once made him a #1 overall MLS draft pick. Back in 2012, Wenger was painted as a potent and rising talent in MLS, named to MLSSoccer.com’s 24 under 24 roster, coming in 7th overall. Just one year later McInerney jumped onto the list himself, rocketing to 4th overall, while Wenger was left off. The perpetual “what have you done for me lately?” seemed to come out in these rankings.

Wenger–despite all his talent–has run into a slew of various injury-related setbacks the last two seasons; it’s so much failing to perform. The talent is still there, and I fully expect John Hackworth to tinker in an effort to get as much out of him as possible. The easy narrative here might just be the returning home to “revitalize his career” or something like that. Instead I think Philadelphia possibly got an undervalued piece in this move.

Looking at the last two years and a total of 31 shots Wenger has taken, 24 of those came from inside the 18-yard box, a higher percentage than that of JacMac. With that you can see above with xGpSH (expected goals per shot) that Wenger’s average shot has been more likely to become a goal than that of his counterpart. Now, understand that this all comes with the requisite small sample sizes admission. Wenger has played less than half the amount of time as McInerney and has less than half the amount of shots. However, estimations based upon their current performances with creating shots has them near the same level as that of Eddie Johnson, Will Bruin and Chris Rolfe in years past.

Creating shots isn’t everything. Creating shots in important positions is something. As we attempt to analyze the value of certain events on the pitch and how certain players are responsible for those events, we’ll see some things and maybe understand how to assess performances. It’s easy to overact to certain things that come with doing this type of analysis— Such as McInerney, Wenger, Bruin and Rolfe all averaging about 4.0 shots created per game individually. That seems rather important, but there is additional data that is missing. How much was each shot that they created worth? What other attributes do they bring to the match? This is just an simple break down between two players and comparing how they’ve impacted their respective clubs.

Personally, looking at all of this data, I’m of the mindset that Montreal got the better player. However, it’s extremely close and that isn’t taking into account the rosters in which they are joining or how they might be utilized on the pitch with their new teams (4-3-3 concerns vs. 4-4-2 placement). I would say at this time the difference between the two is that one is younger and has more experience. That might be a bit simplistic approach but honestly both create shots the same way in the same space. McInerney does so at a higher rate but Wenger has made up for taking less shots with taking advantage of his more experienced partner, Marco Di Vaio, and feeding him opportunities.

This may be one of the more interesting trades in recent memory. I’m fascinated to watch what happens next and how each of these two players develop. Their career arcs will go a long way in providing the narrative for this trade and I’m not so certain that this is as one-sided as some people might think. Referencing baseball again, the Tampa Bay (then, Devil) Rays were largely regarded as having “sold low” on Delmon Young. We can now see, looking over the past decade,  that he never managed to put together all those tools that we once believed he had. The lesson being: don’t be too quick to judge Philadelphia. This isn’t necessarily going to be something as easily evaluated by just a single season, and time will reveal the significance of this day.

Season Preview: Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union is a club that doesn’t have much in the way of a history. That isn’t a knock.  But what they have done is built off plenty of American Soccer history that surrounds Chester, PA. They’ve taken time to acknowledge the roots that were here in the country long before MLS and even NASL, embroidering the once famous American club Bethlehem Steel logo on both the back and inside of their third kit introduced last season. This is easily one of my favorite things about any third kit out there. Now with their roots going into the community, the club has targeted 2014 as the year they want to start establishing more of their own history.

2013 Finish: 46 points; Sixth place in Eastern Conference, Missed MLS playoffs

Phil11

Players In Players Out
GK Brian Holt Free Transfer GK Oka Nikolov Waived
GK Andrea Blake MLS SuperDraft M Greg Jordan Waived
D Ethan White Trade (DC) M Kléberson Waived
D Austin Berry Trade (Chicago) F Don Anding Waived
M Maurice Edu Loan (Stoke City) D Chris Albright retired
M Vincent Nogueira Free Transfer(Sochaux) M Michael Farfan Transfer (Cruz Azul)
M Cristian Maidana Free Transfer D Jeff Parke Trade (DC)
M Corben Bone Re-Entry Stage 1

Roster Churn: 82.19% returning minutes (7th most in MLS)

2014 Preview

phil-rosterPHIINFO

The Union are not a club short on questions. Are they too young? Can Maurice Edu and Austin Berry be enough to limit the WW-II-like gun fire shots that destroyed Zach MacMath‘s confidence and their play-off chances in 2013? Can Jack Mac finally score goals on a consistent basis? Oh, and can someone finally explain what the heck is #DOOP?

The club won only three of its last 12 games over the final three months, compiling a paltry total of 12 points over that period. I think it’s kind of funny that the Union’s answer to that would be to seemingly to kick their young goalkeeper in the balls.

Maybe that’s not entirely fair to the front office, as picking up goalkeeper Andre Blake wasn’t necessarily about improving right now, or even about MacMath’s performance last season. Yet it seems, albeit a bit unfairly, that some of the blame of their collapse is attributed to him and how he performed.

Again, I’m not down with that narrative that MacMath had a direct hand in the club flailing about at the end. Surrendering 14 goals over a 12 game stretch and not winning is less about how one individual performed and more about the team as a whole. It’s important to understand that goal totals over any specific time period isn’t ever a true representation of talent, as it’s impossible to say from that tally how many shots were attempted and the quality of them.

If the opposition only fired 14 shots over those 12 games and they were from outrageous locations, such as some where deep in the midfield, then we’d all be appalled with his lack of skill. This isn’t the case with MacMath and the reality is that during that time the Zolos went five games without scoring, and their opponents went seven games without scoring.

While there was disappointment by the fan base, I feel that the front office tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. Sure, they upgraded the defense, and adding Maurice Edu to the midfield is only going to further help and strengthen that back line. These were all general problems that weren’t going to be real hampers when considering whether they had enough talent to get into the playoffs.

I’ve already mentioned the whole problem of dropping points due to the lack of goals, and the goal-scoring drought of Jack McInerney certainly did not help. Going from June to October without scoring goals was a deeply frustrating time for the striker, as he’d admitted in several interviews. Only 21 years old, he’s already seen time with the USMNT being called up to the Gold Cup roster. Though remaining uncapped, it was a great opportunity for the young striker. Unfortunately, his return to Philly seems to coincide with the point where he completely “collapsed.”

Now, people are still trying to identify whether or not goal-scoring ability is really about putting a ball where you want it versus the quantity/quality of the shots that are generated by the individual. I’m personally of the belief that there has to be an in between for those two possibilities. Though at the professional level the question of whether or not it matters, or if there exist significant finishing gaps between strikers, is an interesting discussion. McInerney is obviously one of these strange cases to consider. Bestowed as the ‘American Chicharito’ it’s been said that he’s always in the right place at the right time. This is basically the secret to Wondolowski’s success, and it might highlight why he also went through his own scoring drought, but I think it also has something to do with the lack of support from the midfield creating chances.

The additions of both Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira suggests that this year’s midfield will be an improved one for creating goal-scoring opportunities. While it’s impossible to say how these new imports will fair in MLS, we’ve seen success from other attacking midfield Argentinians over the last couple of years, and it will be interesting to see if Maidana will follow in the foot steps of Morales and Valeri.

I see the club’s final placement as high as 3rd and as low as 8th, though I’ve heard a couple of different individuals cite them as possible wooden spoon holders, considering the amount of hope they’ve invested in several positions and improvements. However, despite making major improvements with Austin Berry, Maidana, Nogueira and Edu, the club has a youthful core with a future.

I think the crowd sourcing group got this one right. They’ve got a bit of helium but things don’t go as planned for any team in MLS ever. There will be problems, and while I’m not sure they will be able to handle all of them, I think they’ve improved enough to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference. It’s going to be tight and it’s going to be difficult, but I can see it; and if you can see it, you can build it.

Crowd Sourcing Placement

5th place in Eastern Conference; 53 of the 404 5th-place votes (13.1%), but 250 of 404 (61.9%) don’t think Philadelphia will make the playoffs.

MLS Attack Pairings

Today, I was asked simply, which team has the best pairing in MLS? It’s a good question, and oddly one that I’ve been asked a lot and. Despite the frequency of requests, it’s something that I have trouble answering. There are a lot of ways to measure performance for attacking personnel, but due to my time restraints I found the easiest way to do this was to go to Squawka and use their attack score.

Below is a listing of teams and their two highest* attacking score combos. Since it’s a purely cumulative stat I pro-rated it to 90 minutes. As you probably wouldn’t be shocked to find out. Mike Magee, Landon Donovan and Federico Hinguian round out the top-3.

Player Team Minutes Attack Score AS per 90
Mike Magee Chicago 1051 582 50
Patrick Nyarko Chicago 1554 527 31
Carlos Alvarez Chivas USA 1653 360 20
Eric Avila Chivas USA 1634 260 14
Dillion Powers Colorado 2035 576 25
Deshorn Brown Colorado 1800 448 22
Federico Hinguian Columbus 2142 1162 49
Dominic Oduro Columbus 1987 610 28
Dwayne De Rosario DC United 1208 343 26
Kyle Porter DC United 1403 244 16
Blas Perez FC Dallas 1569 584 33
Michel FC Dallas 2004 538 24
Brad Davis Houston 1408 540 35
Will Bruin Houston 1721 472 25
Landon Donovan LA Galaxy 1380 753 49
Robbie Keane LA Galaxy 1320 698 48
Marco Di Vaio Montreal 1868 897 43
Felipe Martins Montreal 1768 535 27
Diego Fagundez New England 1621 613 34
Lee Nguyen New England 2137 527 22
Thierry Henry New York 1952 854 39
Tim Cahill New York 1761 441 23
Sabastian Le Toux Philadelphia 1864 729 35
Conor Casey Philadelphia 1528 667 39
Darlington Nagbe Portland 1895 761 36
Diego Valeri Portland 2072 725 31
Javier Morales RSL 1796 838 42
Ned Grabavoy RSL 2043 467 21
Chris Wondolowski San Jose 1890 530 25
Shea Salinas San Jose 1400 434 28
Eddie Johnson Seattle 1300 461 32
Obafemi Martins Seattle 1024 448 39
Graham Zusi Sporting KC 1860 680 33
Claudio Bieler Sporting KC 1986 620 28
Jonathan Osorio Toronto FC 1164 397 31
Robert Earnshaw Toronto FC 1495 333 20
Camilo Sanvezzo Vancouver 1674 876 47
Kenny Miller Vancouver 1305 506 35

There are a couple of key individuals missing from this list that may or may not “pop out” at you. The first is Philadelphia’s top goal scorer Jack McInereny. Part of this is due to his missing time with the Mens National Team during the early rounds of the Gold Cup tournament. The other part is that outside of his bunches of goals scored early in the season he hasn’t done much else with his time.

The other name, though less likely to be spotted, is Luis Silva. Since arriving at DC United, he’s posted the top overall score determined by Squawka, as well as the highest rating on Whoscored, with his new club. However, he’s only played 5 games and a total of 420 minutes for DCU, so it’s a small sample and I decided to drop him from the listing. This lowered DC United’s end score rather dramatically and yet corresponds quite well with whatever combination player they might be able to muster.

Now, taking all those dynamic duos and adding them together gave us a combined score of the two best attacking players on each team. Here are those in order.

AS per 90
LA Galaxy 97
Vancouver 82
Chicago 80
Crew 76
Philadelphia 74
Seattle 71
Montreal 70
Portland 68
RSL 63
New York 62
Sporting KC 61
Houston 59
FC Dallas 58
New England 56
San Jose 53
Toronto FC 51
Rapids 48
DC United 41
Chivas 34

It’s not a surprise to see LA at the top of any such list. Robbie Keane and Donovan have long be herald as the best dynamic attacking duo of the league. But if you are looking beyond those two the teams are rather surprising. Vancouver, Chicago, Columbus and Philly all make up the top-5 with the often scrutinized Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson contributions falling just outside the grouping.

Another interesting note, taking us further towards the discussion of single best player. While individual performances matter, it’s about team accomplishment rather than singular performances over the stretch of the season. It’s obvious that while Chicago and Columbus both have had outstanding performances from their key men up top, they are lacking something on a team level such that these individual metrics don’t correspond entirely to the tables at the end of the day.

Fun, or not so fun, Factoid of the Day

While digging through Wikipedia and various articles yesterday, I noticed the following. In 2010, after the expansion draft, DC United traded midfielder Fred Carreiro, allocation money and the #8 pick in the 2010 super draft to Philadelphia in return for goalkeeper, Troy Perkins. That #8 draft pick was used to draft Jack McInerney. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Keep that in mind when people mention the need for DC to find a goal scorer.