Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Thoughts & Numbers: What I'm watching for in MLS Matchday 31

Doyle - Thoughts Numbers - 9.7.23

A short week means a short column. As always, all stats below are per TruMedia via StatsPerform unless otherwise noted.

Let’s dive in:

D.C. United vs. San Jose Earthquakes

With a change in shape from a 3-4-2-1 came a change in game model from D.C. United last weekend. On the season they average just 3.1 passes per possession, which is down near the bottom of the league. Last weekend they were at 3.8 passes per possession, which was 10th.

More patience and more passes in possession means more time for fullbacks in a back four to get forward. Wingbacks tend to start higher, so a back three just functionally allows teams to be a little more direct.

The Earthquakes are mid-table in basically every possession-based and attacking stat. For me, anyway, that confirms my prior viewpoint, which is they don’t really have an identity this year.

Inter Miami CF vs. Sporting Kansas City

There’s a misconception that teams who possess more run less, when actually the opposite tends to be true. Spain, for example, were second at the men’s World Cup in ground covered per game, behind only the United States (who played possession-heavy soccer at a World Cup for the first time ever).

Central to that is always the central midfield, and we’re seeing that with Miami as well. The guy who consistently leads everyone on the pitch in ground covered game after game is Sergio Busquets. This was once again the case Sunday night at LAFC, when he ran 6.62 miles as per Sportec’s tracking data.

Sporting KC’s Remi Walter did even more running for his side in their 2-1 win over St. Louis, covering 7.21 miles. But let’s give a special shout to center forward Alan Pulido, who scored a brace, but also pressed and dropped into midfield a ton and ended up covering 7.16 miles himself. That’s a huge number for a center forward.

Pulido is making a real Best XI presented by Continental Tire and Golden Boot presented by Audi push, by the way. He’s got 12g/3a and has been the most influential No. 9 in the league this year, as Sporting collect almost 1.6 ppg when he starts and 0.4 (yikes) when he doesn’t.

Minnesota United FC vs. New England Revolution

Another guy continuing to play at a Landon Donovan MLS MVP-caliber clip is Emanuel Reynoso. American Soccer Analysis' “Goals Added” metric rates him as the best player in the league this year on a per-96 basis (minimum 500 minutes). As with Pulido, the on/off numbers are telling: The Loons score 2.0 goals per game when Reynoso starts, and just 0.9 when he doesn’t.

Tomás Chancalay’s ability to find chances diving in from the wing has been crucial for New England’s attacking success in the 4-2-3-1 shape. When they tried to play that formation earlier this year, the center forwards tended to get stranded all alone because the wingers stayed too wide. Chancalay’s nose for goal has helped (though be wary of the small sample size).

Portland Timbers vs. LAFC

The Timbers got a gift in Seattle last week, capitalizing on Léo Chú’s sending-off to rally back for a 2-2 draw via a goal off a throw-in and a banger from Evander.

But even with the man advantage, Portland didn’t create much from open play, which has been the story of their season. They are 28th in the league in expected assists, only ahead of an Inter Miami team that spent most of the year without a playmaker.

As for the Black & Gold, I agree with this tweet:

I think most of this comes down to Steve Cherundolo’s game model, but part of it is age catching up with Carlos Vela. He’s down to 0.19 xA per 96, as per ASA, which is by far the lowest number of his MLS career.

LA Galaxy vs. St. Louis CITY SC

You can get a good idea of how Greg Vanney wants his Galaxy side to play from two numbers:

  1. They hit the fewest long balls in the league, with just 1,072 so far.
  2. They complete 58.8% of those long balls, which is No. 1 in the league by a good margin.

So they will try to play through the St. Louis press (St. Louis are second or third in all pressing metrics), but have the ability to play over or around it when the moment asks for that.