Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Thoughts & Numbers: What I'm watching for in MLS Matchday 32

Doyle Thoughts Numbers - 9.14.23

We are fully into the stretch run and, given the state of the standings, basically every game is a six-pointer of some kind.

As always, the below data is as per TruMedia via StatsPerform unless otherwise noted. In we go:

New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls

It feels like if it was gonna happen for NYCFC, it would’ve taken a healthy Maxi Moralez. And if it was gonna happen for the Red Bulls, it would’ve taken the DP attacking duo of Dante Vanzeir and Luquinhas to look like actual DPs.

And it’s bizarre, since the underlying numbers still love these two teams. American Soccer Analysis’s Goals Added metric has RBNY as the best team in the league by virtue of the fact they make the game happen where they want it to happen, and that games almost always happen on their terms (basically everybody who plays the Red Bulls has their worst passing game of the season). They just lack that cutting-edge quality from their DPs, and goalkeeper Carlos Coronel has not been great this year.

The Pigeons aren’t quite so good, but are still seventh by that same metric and were climbing with Maxi’s return. Alas.

Anyway, this is a true six-pointer. Both teams desperately need this one in order to keep their fading Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes alive. RBNY haven’t missed since 2009, and are currently tied with Seattle for the longest-ever streak (13 seasons). NYCFC haven’t missed since 2015 (when they joined the league).

Atlanta United vs. Inter Miami CF

Another six-pointer, and naturally the focus will be on the Argie international No. 10s. Let’s stick with the ASA gang:

As per goals added (individual, not team), Atlanta’s Thiago Almada is the best player in the league this year with +4.61 (he leads the league in G+ via dribbling and passing, and is third in shooting). The kid has shown up week after week and more than lived up to the hype.

As per goals added (individual, not team) controlled per 96 minutes, Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi is… yeah, the best player in league history (minimum of 200 minutes played). The old man has shown up week after week this summer and more than lived up to the hype.

One note on him, though: He hasn’t been much of a dribbler thus far in MLS, and as a matter of fact, the one patented Messi goal we haven’t seen yet is when he can isolate on a defender and just rip his soul from his body, Boateng or Gvardiol-style.

Just saying.

Charlotte FC vs. D.C. United

Teddy KDP was awesome last week for D.C. in what turned out to be a brutal, scoreless home draw vs. San Jose:

United score 1.6 goals per 90 when he’s on the field this year, and allow just 0.8. When he’s not out there they score just 1.0 goals per 90 and allow 1.4.

This is more of a tactical note than anything numbers-related, but Christian Lattanzio has rookie CB Andrew Privett (a converted midfielder out of college) playing something close to the John Stones role for the Crown. By that I mean he’s a center back in a back four who has more than license to step into midfield – he’s actually required to do so, both on and off the ball.

I love this so much.

CF Montréal vs. Chicago Fire FC

Montréal have probably found their long-term forward partnership in Kwadwo Opoku and local kid Jules-Anthony Vilsaint. It’s showing up in the data, as ASA rates them as the best defensive pairing in the league among teams that play a front two instead of a front three (beware of small sample sizes).

The Fire have the opposite problem, as most of their attackers rate as well below average defensively. There’s a reason they’re so easy to build against.

Orlando City SC vs. Columbus Crew

Orlando City already had the widest attack in the league over the first part of the season, with their average attack stretching the field horizontally 36.1 meters. They’ve upped that to 37.9 meters – widest by a mile – since Leagues Cup.

Pulling teams side-to-side and getting the fullbacks forward has always been essential to Oscar Pareja’s blueprint.

The Crew were seventh in attacking width in the first part of the season, but have dropped to 12th since Leagues Cup. That’s not a reflection on their wingbacks, but on their improved chemistry and cohesion up the gut, which means they’re holding the ball in central midfield more often than they were to start the year.

Philadelphia Union vs. FC Cincinnati

The Union, meanwhile, are the narrowest team in the league this season at 31.5 yards. They do not switch play and patiently build.

So that makes this weekend a contrast in styles, as Cincy are the second-widest team in the league all year behind only Orlando. There are a lot of similarities between these two sides – both GM Chris Albright and head coach Pat Noonan came from Philly – but we don’t often hear about this one pretty glaring difference.

Toronto FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Vancouver’s expected goals total of 43.8 leads MLS, and their expected goals differential of +9.3 is fourth-best in the league.

Toronto are dead last in both stats.

FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders FC

The Sounders continue to be one of the most deliberate teams in the league, with 3.8 passes per possession (third-most), and a direct speed of just 1.33 meters per second, which is 19th-fastest. I’m good with both numbers and last time out, against Portland, they showed how their patience on the ball can control a game (at least until Léo Chú’s unfortunate red card).

Dallas are also that kind of team, with 3.5 passes per possession and just a 1.29 direct speed. The difference is, though, los Toros Tejanos haven’t turned that into consistent chances the way other methodical teams like Seattle, Columbus and Miami (of late) have managed.

Houston Dynamo FC vs. St. Louis CITY SC

Houston are, against all expectations, also worthy of inclusion in that group. They hit 3.6 passes per possession, which is ninth-most in MLS, and have a direct speed of 1.29m/s. They have done their best to control games in midfield all year long.

St. Louis are the opposite, hitting 2.5 passes per possession (second-fewest in MLS) and posting a blindingly fast direct speed of 1.82 m/s, which is the fastest in MLS by a mile.

They get the ball and they go.

Minnesota United FC vs. Sporting Kansas City

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi appears to be healthy again and it’s awesome to watch. The 29-year-old is completing 88.9% of his passes that finish in the attacking third, which is the best number in the league among attackers (minimum 200 minutes). He’s also getting on the ball a ton, with 53 passes received in the attacking third in just 255 minutes.

Minnesota’s got a +6 goal differential in those minutes, by the way. It’s not a coincidence.

Sporting KC are a weird team. They are ninth in the number of touches in the box per 90, but only 26th in the percentage of their shots that come from inside the box. One team posting both of those numbers kind of breaks my brain.

Colorado Rapids vs. New England Revolution

Colorado’s lack of final-third quality is tough to miss. They’re 25th in total chances, 26th in touches in the opponent’s box per 90 and dead last in expected assists.

New England have better numbers, and as usual, a lot of it is running through Carles Gil. However, there’s some interesting stuff to be found in ASA’s passing data:

  • Gil’s touch percentage of 11% is still high, but actually the lowest of his career (save for the injury-marred 2020 season).
  • His average pass is traveling 22.93 meters, which is the longest of his career.
  • His average pass is traveling vertically just 5.23 meters, which is the shortest of his career (again, except for 2020).

I think this speaks to New England’s more patient approach overall this season.

LAFC vs. LA Galaxy

LAFC are generating middling chances this year at just 0.106 xG per shot, good for 15th in the league. Last year they were seventh at 0.118 xG per shot, and yes, I think a big part of that is/was Chicho Arango’s ability to find (and convert) great looks. They’re still missing him.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, have dropped from fourth in that stat last season (0.127xG/shot) to 25th at 0.096xG/shot.

There’s been no replacing Chicharito’s movement. The stuff he did off the ball didn’t only create chances for himself, but it defined both the scope and effectiveness of the Galaxy’s build-up play.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake

I’m gonna borrow a line from my buddy Colin Etnire, who does a great job of covering San Jose along with the entire gang at Quakes Epicenter:

As per ASA, Daniel is top of the league in G-PSxG (on a per-game basis) and would be top 10 of all seasons since tracking began. And the crazy thing is that’s pretty much exactly what he did in Brazil!

He won’t win Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year – Roman Bürki will and deserves to – but Daniel’s been amazing. He was a great find by the Quakes’ front office.

RSL haven’t gotten that kind of performance from Zac MacMath, though the veteran’s had a nice year with basically a dead even G-PSxG.

Austin FC vs. Portland Timbers

Austin are just 19th in the league in passing sequences that get to the attacking third. Last year they were seventh.

The Timbers were 20th in that stat last year, but have actually climbed to ninth this season. Evander finally settling in over the past two months has really helped.