MLS Week 2 Review: That LAFC-Philadelphia and is Chicharito Done?

There were a number of mediocre games throughout MLS this week, but at least it ended with an outstanding one. That LAFC-Philadelphia game will be our focus, along with worrying signs for D.C. United and the Galaxy discussed last week that continued to stand out.

LAFC 3 – Philadelphia 3

Expected Goals: LAFC 2.57 – Philadelphia 1.04

LAFC Win Probability: 70%

Draw Probability: 16%

An absolute screamer of a free kick is one way to outperform your expected goals; it might not be sustainable, but I doubt Union fans care when they can watch this over and over.

While LAFC and their fans will likely be disappointed to have not come away with the full three points, this was a clearly the best game of the week for the neutral fan as both teams were consistently aggressive and pressed high up the field. Philadelphia made the most of their chances, and both teams were efficient with their shots. LAFC put 11 of their 21 on target, while Philadelphia was on target with 5 of 9. The league as a whole is at 35% accuracy so far this year, so this was a solid display of efficiency from both teams.

If I have one complaint about this game it would be the start time – a 10:30 game is bad enough for those on the East Coast, but not starting until well after that is bad for every fan.

Key Stat: Turnovers and Times Dispossessed

While it doesn’t explain the result, the number of turnovers and times each team was dispossessed points to why this game was so exciting for the neutral fan. LAFC committed 27 turnovers and were dispossessed 18 times, while those figures for Philadelphia were 19 of each. This is a situation where stats require the context of watching the game; these high figures could represent bad offense, but on Sunday they were driven by strong pressure applied by both teams defensively. While these didn’t lead to any shots generated on the counter for either team, it did help account for an exciting game.

Vancouver 1 – LA Galaxy 0

Expected Goals: Vancouver 1.41 – Galaxy .56

Vancouver Win Probability: 58%

Draw Probability: 27%

Throughout it’s history, the use of Designated Players among the contending teams inside of MLS has fallen into a few general categories: aging players brought in from European leagues, American players being brought back home, and teams exploiting inefficiencies (often by bringing in South American players). Ideally teams are looking for players throughout these categories that can be both marketing tools and have a positive impact on the field; and that was certainly the hope when the Galaxy brought in Javier Hernandez. While it’s only been two weeks, I think it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be another in the MLS line of aging players brought from European leagues who aren’t able to deliver on the field.

In last week’s post, one of the concerns I had about performances around the league was the lack of touches for Chicharito, and in particular an absence of touches in the opponent’s box. This week was no better; Hernandez had only 32 touches and just 8 inside Vancouver’s penalty area. He generated only one shot, and that was blocked. While some of the blame can certainly be placed on the rest of the team not giving him enough delivery, I’m worried when I look back at his last few seasons. While hampered by injuries at West Ham, he only delivered 17 goals across two and a half seasons; following a move to Sevilla, he found the net just three times in 15 games. I hope he’s able to turn it around, but this may be a case of a player brought into MLS when he’s no longer able to contribute significantly on the field.

D.C. United 2 – Inter Miami 1

Expected Goals: DC 1.36 – Miami 1.36

D.C. United Win Probability: 37%

Draw Probability: 26%

D.C. United controlled the possession in this game (including before the red card to Romàn Torres), but Miami generated the higher quality chances; Miami likely would have had the far better expected goals total without the impact of D.C.’s penalty.

Similar to the Galaxy, the concern pointed out about D.C. last week was not improved in Week 2. Even with changes elsewhere in the lineup, Julian Gressel and Edison Flores continued to see their touches contained with in the same area – their heat maps almost entirely overlap along the right side of the field. D.C. generated a lot of possession in the wide areas of the field but were not able to transition that into quality opportunities in the middle of the field.

Much of this has to be attributable to a lack of organization causing poor spacing. D.C. consistently showed their skill in the open field once they gained possession, but then would bog down with five or six options all on the same side of the field. Ben Olsen needs to quickly find a solution for this issue in order for D.C. to meet its attacking potential.

Key Stat: Shots within the 18 Yard Box

Miami generated 15 shots on Saturday, and 11 of those were inside of United’s 18-yard box. Miami needs to be commended for playing an impressive game, but this also points to another disturbing trend for D.C. United. D.C. is allowing the most shots in the league through two weeks, and Colorado was able to generate 16 of their 21 shots from within the area as well. Bill Hamid won’t be able to sustain the team forever if they keep allowing so many opportunities from dangerous areas.

Around the Rest of the League

New England 1 – Chicago 1

Expected Goals: New England 3.21 – Chicago 1.15

New England Win Probability: 77%

Draw Probability: 13%

Chicago is another team with a troubling trend continuing from last week; xG based on actions around the field gave them an advantage in this game, but the shot-based models dramatically favored New England. Seattle did not see as dramatic of a difference in week two as they had against Chicago, so it will be worth monitoring if Chicago’s defense continues to allow such high-quality shots relative to the other team’s possession.

Real Salt Lake 1 – NY Red Bulls 1

Expected Goals: RSL 3.96 – Red Bulls .18

RSL Win Probability: 97%

Draw Probability: 3%

Real Salt Lake rebounded from a poor effort against Orlando City to generate a number of great chances against the Red Bulls; unfortunately for them, the majority of those were cleared off the line and RSL was the unluckiest team of the year so far when compared against the win probability. It could have been worse – until the 90thminute goal, the Red Bulls were in line for all three points.

FC Dallas 2 – Montreal 2

Expected Goals: Dallas 2.47 – Montreal 1.46

Dallas Win Probability: 60%

Draw Probability: 19%

Key Stat: Clearances

Montreal had 32 clearances, along with 17 blocks as well. This effort, combined with generating high quality opportunities with their limited chances, helped to get a point in a game that Dallas largely controlled. For Dallas, this helped put them on the opposite end of last week where they used their strong defensive effort to limit Philadelphia; they had just five clearances, compared to 36 last week.

Toronto 1 – NYCFC 0

Expected Goals: Toronto 2.1 – NYCFC .68

Toronto Win Probability: 70%

Draw Probability: 19%

Toronto generated 13 shots inside of the box, including 2 inside of the six-yard box, in a game that they largely dominated. NYC had the majority of the possession, but Toronto was clearly the more efficient with the ball – they generated .38 shots per minute of possession against NYC’s .21.

Atlanta 2 – Cincinnati 1

Expected Goals: Atlanta 1.9 – Cincinnati .55

Atlanta Win Probability: 70%

Draw Probability: 20%

This game was a bit of a mixed bag for Atlanta. For sure, in the first game after Josef Martinez’s injury they’ll be happy to have gotten the win and to have demonstrated they have others who can finish. However, the offense continues to bear watching as they generated only 8 shots against one of the weakest teams in MLS.

Minnesota 5 – San Jose 2

Expected Goals: Minnesota 2.19 – San Jose 2.26

Minnesota Win Probability: 39%

Draw Probability: 20%

Minnesota was outstanding at generating quality chances in this game, generating seven shots on target from within the penalty area. Meanwhile, San Jose put only six total shots on target and two of those were from far outside the box. It would be easy to look at the goalkeeper stats in this game and think that was the deciding factor when one team gives up five goals, but Minnesota was generating the far more dangerous chances.

Sporting KC 4 – Houston 0

Expected Goals: KC 2.74 – Houston .71

KC Win Probability: 80%

Draw Probability: 13%

Sporting KC continued their strong start to the season with an impressive effort; they also demonstrated how most advanced stats will see anomalies even out over time. Last week their shot based xG model far underperformed the non-shot based; this week that was flipped. That is why we often emphasize that larger sample sizes are needed in order to determine if the stats are telling a true story.

Colorado 2 – Orlando City 1

Expected Goals: Colorado .63 – Orlando City .85

Colorado Win Probability: 25%

Draw Probability: 37%

This was a very even game in which both teams showed strong defensive efforts despite seeing three goals scored. With both also coming off great defensive showings in week one, these teams are worth monitoring as potentially being more challenging than we may have expected before the season.

Seattle 1 – Columbus 1

Expected Goals: Seattle 2.06 – Columbus 1.06

Seattle Win Probability: 60%

Draw Probability: 21%

Seattle’s overall effort deserved all three points, but their lack of finishing quality is what did them in. In contrast with the efforts of LAFC and Philadelphia mentioned earlier, Seattle put only three of their 16 shots on target; two of those three were from well outside the box.

Portland 1 – Nashville 0

Expected Goals: Portland .18 – Nashville 1.11

Portland Win Probability: 6%

Draw Probability: 33%

Nashville was the stronger looking team overall, but will continue to wait for their first points. Portland was able to score the lone goal despite generating only three shots, and putting only two on target.

All Expected Goals amounts below are from MLS (which they source from Opta). I’ve then turned these into win probabilities. Opta calculates expected goals based on the type of shot, type of pass leading up to the shot, and where the shot is taken from.

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