Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Thoughts & Numbers: What I'm watching for in MLS Matchday 10


We’re two months into the season and entering “you are what your record says you are” territory.

As always, all the stats are from TruMedia via StatsPerform unless otherwise noted. Let’s go.

Nashville SC vs. Atlanta United

I thought Nashville did a great job of playing through Dax McCarty at the back point of what was essentially a midfield diamond in last weekend’s 1-1 draw vs. LAFC. Dax is one of the best the league’s ever had at playing third-line passes to playmakers in the pockets.

The thing was, though, against LAFC it was mostly Teal Bunbury checking off the line as a hold-up 9 or Alex Muyl, who was the right-sided shuttler, receiving those balls from McCarty. Hany Mukhtar, on the other hand, only received two passes from Dax. That connection could/should be more fruitful.

Atlanta’s midfield rotations, from a defensive perspective, are a lot less reliable than LAFC’s. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Gary Smith run his ‘Yotes out in the exact same formation with the exact same XI and the exact same game plan as Matchday 9. They just need a little more interplay between the No. 6 and the No. 10.

Columbus Crew vs. Inter Miami CF

Aidan Morris is fourth in the league in touches, behind only Gastón Brugman (LA), Riqui Puig (LA) and Jackson Yueill (San Jose). Wilfried Nancy is doing his damnedest to turn Morris, who’s always been more of a ball-winner or destroyer, into a tempo-setter.

Miami absolutely let you play through central midfield, so look for Morris to get on the ball a ton.

D.C. United vs. Charlotte FC

D.C. United haven’t entirely given up trying to play, but their issues building from the back, coupled with Christian Benteke’s dominance, point them in an obvious direction: when in doubt, hit it long.

So yeah, the Black-and-Red are second in the league in total long balls, and third (behind only RBNY and Portland) in share of total passes hit that are long balls. Charlotte have to know what’s coming.

New England Revolution vs. FC Cincinnati

Last year Luciano Acosta finished first in the league in expected assists with Carles Gil (New England) second. This year they are sixth and 11th, which speaks to neither team quite hitting their stride yet in terms of chance creation.

Orlando City SC vs. LA Galaxy

Greg Vanney insisted in the postgame of last weekend’s 2-0 win over Austin that his Galaxy were lined up in a 4-4-2, not a 3-5-2, and… fine. We can call it that, as long as we understand that it’s a 4-4-2 where the right back doesn’t overlap and the left one does, which means you’re always defending in a back three.

To that end, here’s Calegari’s pass map from that game:

Calegari v Austin

Not pushing up, not hitting crosses, not combining in the final third. It’s a right center back’s passing map.

If I was Oscar Pareja, I’d be preparing to face a 3-5-2 this weekend.

Toronto FC vs. New York City FC

I was actually surprised to see that when NYCFC go on the road, they press a little higher (as per passes allowed per defensive action, which is a rough measure of how hard teams press) and possess a bunch more (55.5% on the road vs. 49.5% at home) so far this season.

I think game states have something to do with that – they haven’t trailed much in New York City. I’m sure Toronto would like to get on the board early and put the numbers to the test.

Austin FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Austin are, yes, regressing to the mean. Last year they outperformed their expected goals differential by 22.06 goals according to the nerds at American Soccer Analysis. This year they’re underperforming at -3.03.

The thing is, though, that even if they were hitting their marks, they’re still 27th in expected points as per the ASA model. So this isn’t just finishing: they’ve been poor in almost every phase of the game.

A win vs. San Jose would take some of the pressure off.

Chicago Fire FC vs. New York Red Bulls

The Fire allow the fourth-fewest shots in the league but the third-highest percentage of the shots they give up come from within the box. We’ll see if that plays into the hands of an RBNY team that shoots often (fifth-most shots in MLS) but lacks the build-up patterns or final-third quality to generate high-xG looks.

Sporting Kansas City vs. CF Montréal

Sporting have won the ball in the attacking third 66 times, which is more than anyone else in the league. But they’re still allowing 5.5 passes per opponent possession, which is down near the bottom of MLS.

That tells you that when Sporting’s press gets broken, teams get real comfortable knocking the ball around against them, and using that possession to create chances. Montréal haven’t really had that in their bag this season, but maybe this weekend’s the time for it to show.

St. Louis CITY SC vs. Portland Timbers

RBNY are first in the league in total duels with 1,137. St. Louis are second in the league with 1,136.

If you’re not ready to win the physical battle when you face CITY SC, you’re going to get pummeled. Portland – who are third in the league with 1,034 total duels, though many, many more of those duels are in their own box – should consider themselves warned.

Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders FC

Seattle put on a clinic back on Matchday 2 when they hosted RSL. They held 59.5% of possession and generated 19 shots (while holding RSL to just seven), which was good for 2.79 xG to just 0.48 for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

We’ll see if things change in the rematch in Sandy.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Colorado Rapids

Brian White’s had a frustrating season, scoring just twice on 4.62 xG as per ASA. That G-xG is worst in the league and, while I run the risk of this blurb ending up in #OhBobby since some nerds will say that G-xG is demonstrably meaningless… nah. It’s a pretty good measure of form and confidence.

But on a long enough timeline, guys who have a track record of knowing where goals come from (White does) and a track record of actually putting the ball in the net (White does) find a way to come good.

That might already be happening as he’s got two goals in his past three MLS appearances for Vancouver. Expect him to test the Rapids' defense, which has been very good lately.

Minnesota United FC vs. FC Dallas

While new signing Sang Bin Jeong hasn’t exactly set the world alight in his first three appearances, he has managed to create four chances in three games. That’s not a lot, but he’s literally the only player on the Minnesota roster who’s generating more than one chance per game, so I guess that does, in fact, make him the No. 10.

Dallas will have to deal with him on Sunday night.