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Opta Spotlight: Which MLS player best exemplifies the "clutch" gene?

San Jose celebrate a goal (OPTA)

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USA Today Sports

There has been a lot of talk in the analytics community about the "clutch" gene and, generally, a player’s ability to come up big in pressure situations has not been found to be a consistent skill. But while this may be true on the whole, one player in MLS history seems to pick the perfect times to get the ball into the back of the net more often than the rest.

Yesterday, when discussing the best goalscoring seasons in MLS history, game-winning goals were included as a category. While this is an imperfect stat, it can provide a good indication of just how meaningful a player’s goals are.

The one player that stood out particularly in this category is Chris Wondolowski. Forty-three percent of the 79 goals Wondolowski has scored in his MLS career have been game winners. Of the top 25 goalscorers in MLS history, only Eddie Johnson comes close to him in that category, and even then the gap between him and Wondolowski is comfortable:

PLAYER % OF GOALS THAT WERE GAME WINNING
Chris Wondolowski 43%
Eddie Johnson 38%
Kenny Cooper 32%
Jeff Cunningham 30%
Edson Buddle 30%

Like I said above, though, game-winning goals is an imperfect stat. For example, a player gets credit for a game winning goal when he puts his team up 2-0 and his team ends up winning 2-1. Digging a little deeper into the situation of the game gives a clearer picture as to how important the goals scored by Wondolowski actually were – almost 60 percent of Wondolowski’s goals gave his team the lead.

This is the highest percentage among himself and players that sit above him on the all-time MLS goalscoring list. He has not separated himself from the pack as much in this stat category but a 6 percent gap is still quite large.

PLAYER % OF GOALS THAT GAVE TEAM THE LEAD
Chris Wondolowski 59%
Taylor Twellman 53%
Carlos Ruiz 52%
Dwayne De Rosario 51%
Jeff Cunningham 51%

Do these stats mean that Wondolowski possesses the “clutch” gene? Maybe. What it does mean is that he certainly has a knack for scoring timely goals.