OPTA Spotlight: Who the stats say should start vs. Chelsea
PHILADELPHIA – The final decision is Ben Olsen's, but that doesn't mean we can't take a crack at the starting lineup for Wednesday's AT&T MLS All-Star game (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada; LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com).
Of course, instead of taking multiple aspects into consideration like Olsen – form, on-field chemistry, personal preference et al – this lineup is determined strictly by the numbers.
Which of the 19 players available are statistical darlings? And will those be the players who actually get the call come game time?
With both Jimmy Nielsen and Dan Kennedy enjoying fine seasons, this one is a toss-up.
It all depends on which statistics you value most, and in this case, Nielsen's save percentage on shots inside the box gives him the upper hand. While both 'keepers have admirable goals-against averages – among starters with more than 900 minutes played, Nielsen leads MLS with a 0.90 mark, while Kennedy sports a respectable 1.11 figure – the White Puma has saved 67.3 percent of shots inside the penalty area to Kennedy's 60 percent.
That may seem like a minor discrepancy, but the vast majority of goals are scored from within the confines of the 18-yard box and it adds up over the course of 20-or-so games. And since there aren't many other significant differences between the two, Nielsen gets the nod.
In the middle of the field, the numbers make Aurélien Collin and Jay DeMerit easy choices.
Collin is tops in MLS in CBIT (combined blocks, interceptions and tackles) with 265 and is likely MLS' most dominant defender in the air, winning 71.9 percent of his aerial challenges and blowing away the rest of the pack by winning 69 of those duels. DeMerit has similar credentials, narrowly trailing Collin with 251 CBIT and actually has a higher winning percentage in aerial duels (77.4 percent).
On the wings, Olsen doesn't have many choices, but Steven Beitashour and Ramiro Corrales make it easy for the D.C. United manager. Beitashour is tops among MLS outside backs with six assists. Corrales has been in and out of the San Jose lineup, but still manages to lead outside backs in big chances created with five.
In a statistician's midfield, Osvaldo Alonso is a lock. There really is no defensive midfielder in MLS capable of competing with the honey badger when it comes to recovering the ball and breaking up attacks.
He's nearly doubled his competition – all of which are defenders – in tackles with 103. He's getting better and better with the ball at his feet as well, completing a respectable 82.7 percent of his passes and is flirting with a top-10 finish in total completions and attempts.
Of course, someone has to feed the forwards and provide some punch from the middle of the park, and Olsen will have plenty of options to fill those holes.
Graham Zusi, for one, is a shoo-in. He leads MLS in chances created by a comfortable margin with 58, 11 more than Landon Donovan, which have led to eight assists. Three of Zusi's assists are secondary, while Donovan has seven direct helpers. Both get the nod and are joined by Chris Pontius, who has played up top recently for D.C. but slots in on the left in this lineup.
Pontius has the second best-goals-to-shots ratio in MLS, converting exactly a third of his attempts to collect nine goals. If he puts it on frame, that number jumps more than 50 percent, which isn't surprising considering his blistering form this season.
Two words: Chris Wondolowski.
When it comes to stats, nothing is more compelling than raw goals, and Wondo has that aspect of the game locked up in 2012 with 17 tallies. Apart from that however, not much seperates the Golden Boot favorite from his competitors from an analytical standpoint. He simply finds ways to get on the end of more goal-scoring chances than anyone else in the league.
Partnering the midseason MVP favorite up top is Eddie Johnson, who has made big-chance conversion look easy in his first season back in the league. Only Kenny Cooper has a better conversion percentage – incredibly, the New York forward has finished all seven of his big chances – with Johnson rippling the back of the net on five-of-six attempts.
So while his shooting accuracy and shot-to-goal ratio are nothing out of the ordinary, feasting on the service of Mauro Rosales and the rest of the Sounders' creative contingent.