Playoffs Scoreboard

Recap
Leg 1
11/23 FINAL
1LA
0SEA
RECAP
Recap
Leg 2
11/30 9:20pm
SEA
LA
ESPN
Western Conference Championship
Recap
Leg 1
11/23 FINAL
1NY
2NE
RECAP
Recap
Leg 2
11/29 3:00pm
NE
NY
NBCSN
Eastern Conference Championship

Central Winger: Whose goal is best? It's all about timing

Juninho - Central Winger

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

In Week 6, David Beckham's curling, 91st-minute golazo put the LA Galaxy ahead of the Portland Timbers 3-1. This goal was spectacular – vintage Beckham – and won the AT&T Goal of the Week by collecting 73.8 percent of the votes. However, Beckham's shot overshadowed the absolutely crucial go-ahead goal scored by his teammate Juninho just a few minutes earlier.

On the score sheet, each of these goals count as a single tally for each player. But are each of these goals truly worth the same?

GOAL: Juninho blasts gives LA the lead

Beckham's goal, brilliance aside, did very little to effect the eventual outcome of the match. Sure, it deprived Portland any hope of snatching a draw – but it was Juninho's goal that changed the game.

One analyst that aims to quantify this difference is Ford Bohrmann (@SoccerStatistic) of SoccerStatistically.com. Modeling off of the last 10 years of English Premier League results, Ford has developed formulas that suggest the likelihood of winning, losing and drawing a match based on its current goal differential and the current minute.

By scoring a go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute, according to Ford's Outcome Probability Calculator, Juninho increased LA's chances of winning from 14.0 percent to 92.3 percent. On the other hand, Beckham's goal increased LA's winning probability from 97.6 percent to 99.9 percent.

While Juninho's goal may not have been the "best" goal of Week 6, it was certainly one of the most crucial.

Also, by looking at each of these situations, and controlling for the different possible game results (three points for a win and one point for a tie) we can calculate the Expected Points in each situation. Before Juninho's 83rd-minute goal, the Galaxy were only expected to walk away with 1.2 points. After the Brazilian's strike, they were expected to run out of The Home Depot Center with a very attractive 2.8 points. 

By looking at the change in Expected Points that every MLS goal in 2012 has caused, we can determine which players have added the most to their team's campaign.

Player Team Goals EPA
Maicon Santos  D.C. United             4.73
Chris Wondolowski  San Jose Earthquakes    4.24
Kenny Cooper  New York Red Bulls      4.04
Bernardo Corradi  Montreal Impact         4.02
Brek Shea  FC Dallas               3.94
Thierry Henry  New York Red Bulls      3.83
Will Bruin  Houston Dynamo          3.59
Kyle Beckerman  Real Salt Lake          3.58
Steven Lenhart  San Jose Earthquakes    3.47
David Estrada  Seattle Sounders FC     3.33

From D.C. United, Maicon Santos leads the way with 4.73 Expected Points Added (EPA) from only six goals. This is unsurprising because five out of his six tallies have been either equalizers or go-ahead goals – he's had a flair for the dramatic as D.C. have climbed the table.

Thierry Henry, despite having scored a league-leading nine goals for the New York Red Bulls, only has 3.8 Expected Points Added. This is because a handful of Henry's goals were essentially meaningless. Four of his goals – including both in the 4-1 rout of Columbus, the 72nd-minute consolation goal at RFK Stadium and the final goal of his hat trick against Montreal – had a combined EPA of less than a single point.

While it's not fair to criticize the Frenchman for being clinical in front of goal in any context, his goal total has likely benefited fantasy players more than his own front office.

Conversely, Steven Lenhart has 3.5 Expected Points Added from just two goals – the most efficient in the league. Both of these go-ahead goals came in dramatic fashion just this past weekend as San Jose edged past Philadelphia on the shoulders of his brace.

Like shots, not all goals are made the same. When we begin to add extra context to these game-changing events, we begin to get an idea of who converts important opportunities ... and who merely scores in consolation.

Devin Pleuler is a computer science graduate from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, where he played on the men's varsity team as a goalkeeper. He's certified as a coach through both the USSF and NSCAA, and writes the Central Winger analytics column for MLSsoccer.com.