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Central Winger: Houston have a weapon on the throw-in

Brad Davis - Central Winger

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

The throw-in is the second most common on-the-ball event in soccer, closely followed by the more traditional pass via the foot. Yet it's unsurprising that throw-ins are analyzed considerably less than the more rare set plays like free kicks and corner kicks.

Throw-ins aren't glamorous – but they are undoubtedly important. And the Houston Dynamo seem to have picked this low-hanging fruit.

Houston, almost certainly, take their throw-ins very seriously. They complete nearly 90 percent, well above the league-wide average of around 80 percent. At first glance, this doesn't seem like a huge difference, but when the average team attempts around 23 throw-ins per game, Houston can expect to complete 21 of them instead of 18. 3 extra completions – and the three extra resulting possessions – add up over the course of the season.

READ: Central Winger archive

While Houston lead the league in throw-in completion rate – they also seem to be rather efficient immediately after completing a throw-in. The league-wide average number of passes during possessions resulting from a completed throw-in is 2.0. Houston lead the league by a significant margin at 2.7 passes. That's about 25 percent better than the league average and 15 percent better than the New York Red Bulls, their next closest competition.

Team Throw-In Completion Percentage Pass per possession
Houston Dynamo          0.908 2.71
Real Salt Lake          0.896 2.10
Vancouver Whitecaps     0.889 2.16
New York Red Bulls      0.889 2.36
Chivas USA              0.867 2.22
Montreal Impact         0.854 2.01
Colorado Rapids         0.831 2.23
Philadelphia Union      0.803 1.80
LA Galaxy    0.792 2.03
Columbus Crew           0.784 1.83
FC Dallas 0.782 1.82
Portland Timbers        0.772 2.12
D.C. United             0.770 1.87
Seattle Sounders  0.758 1.83
Toronto FC              0.757 1.78
New England Revolution  0.751 1.87
Sporting Kansas City    0.745 1.92
Chicago Fire            0.724 1.84
San Jose Earthquakes    0.683 1.86

Perhaps what's most impressive is that Houston have scored five goals from possessions initiated by throw-ins. The San Jose Earthquakes have four, while no other team has scored more than two. And, of the 19 teams in MLS, nine of them have not scored from a throw-in initiated possession at all.

By my count, Houston score a goal from a throw-in initiated possession about 0.9 percent of the time. With the average of 23 throw-ins per game suggested above, that's about one goal every six games. Aside from San Jose, no other team in MLS is even half this efficient.

READ: OPTA Spotlight archive

It's a long stretch, statistically speaking, to conclude that Houston are earning cheap goals by taking throw-ins with particular efficiently. But, in their defense, every avenue I turn looking at throw-ins, they're dominating the competition. So, no matter if the Dynamo's efficiency is either trained or simply a nice side effect resulting from their style of play, they may be worth emulating.