Opta Spotlight: Crunching the numbers on the greatest attacking teams in MLS history
What team boasted the most-prolific attack in MLS history? The easy answer is the 1998 LA Galaxy, who scored 85 goals in 32 games, a number that hasn't really been approached since then.
But raw numbers are just one way of answering the question. Add a little context, and the parameters change.
Here's the issue: MLS is young, yet it still has a diverse history when it comes to style of play. And 1998 fell smack dab into the middle of the "run and gun" years.
The first few years of MLS were markedly more open, which of course resulted in more goals. Between the years of 1996 and 2001, teams averaged 1.63 goals per game, hitting a high of 1.78 in 1998. Then 2002 saw a large drop-off to 1.50 goals per game, and since 2003, MLS teams have averaged 1.33 goals per game.
Goals Per Game Per Team
Let's provide a little more context for 1998: Not only are LA's 85 goals the single-season record, but D.C. United's 74 that year remain the second-best single-season output in league history. Those are two of only four 70-plus goal teams in the MLS record books.
Want to make it even more stark? In 1998, there were five teams that scored 60 or more goals. Since 2001, exactly one MLS team (we'll get to them in a second) has scored 60 or more goals in a season.
So were the '98 Galaxy really the best? To answer that, we've got to paw through some other resumes.
A strategy recently used in a recent Grantland article helps us distinguish each team using standard scores. Essentially, what is being measured is how far each team deviates from the mean in a given year.
In more basic terms, it shows how much better (or how much worse) a specific team is than the average team that year. For goals scored, the higher the number, the better. Below are the 10 teams that were highest above the average.
Best Goalscoring Teams in MLS History
The 2012 San Jose Earthquakes were, in fact, the best goalscoring team in MLS history by these measurements, clocking in at 2.54 standard deviations above the mean (here's a useful link if you're struggling to remember the lessons learned in eighth-grade math class). In raw numbers: They scored 72 goals in 2012 when the league average was 45. They are the only team since 2001 who've scored more than 60 goals in a season, and they became one of just four teams to ever score 70 or more.
Stat types find that a little more impressive than scoring 85 goals in a year in which teams averaged nearly 60. The Galaxy were still an attacking juggernaut, but they're fifth on the above list. And you can see just how big the gap is between the 2011 Sounders at No. 2 and the 2012 Quakes at No. 1.
The 2013 Supporters' Shield-winning Red Bulls, meanwhile, rank as the 16th-best goalscoring team in league history. On the flip side, D.C. United’s attack in 2013 was the second-worst in MLS history behind only the United team of 2010 (No pressure, Eddie).
Considering these facts, it’s probably time to take a closer look at individual statistics. While Roy Lassiter’s 27-goal season in 1996 was impressive, it doesn’t really compare to Chris Wondolowski's 27 tallies in 2012. It was simply easier to score goals in Lassiter’s era.
Anyway, Goonies never say die, and they also are the most prolific attack in MLS history.
Or were. The big question for 2014 is, "Can they get there again?"