The throw-in is the second most common on-the-ball event in soccer, closely followed by the more traditional pass via the foot. Yet it's unsurprising that throw-ins are analyzed considerably less than the more rare set plays like free kicks and corner kicks.
Throw-ins aren't glamorous – but they are undoubtedly important. And the Houston Dynamo seem to have picked this low-hanging fruit.
Houston, almost certainly, take their throw-ins very seriously. They complete nearly 90 percent, well above the league-wide average of around 80 percent. At first glance, this doesn't seem like a huge difference, but when the average team attempts around 23 throw-ins per game, Houston can expect to complete 21 of them instead of 18. 3 extra completions – and the three extra resulting possessions – add up over the course of the season.
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While Houston lead the league in throw-in completion rate – they also seem to be rather efficient immediately after completing a throw-in. The league-wide average number of passes during possessions resulting from a completed throw-in is 2.0. Houston lead the league by a significant margin at 2.7 passes. That's about 25 percent better than the league average and 15 percent better than the New York Red Bulls, their next closest competition.
|Team||Throw-In Completion Percentage||Pass per possession|
|Real Salt Lake||0.896||2.10|
|New York Red Bulls||0.889||2.36|
|New England Revolution||0.751||1.87|
|Sporting Kansas City||0.745||1.92|
|San Jose Earthquakes||0.683||1.86|
Perhaps what's most impressive is that Houston have scored five goals from possessions initiated by throw-ins. The San Jose Earthquakes have four, while no other team has scored more than two. And, of the 19 teams in MLS, nine of them have not scored from a throw-in initiated possession at all.
By my count, Houston score a goal from a throw-in initiated possession about 0.9 percent of the time. With the average of 23 throw-ins per game suggested above, that's about one goal every six games. Aside from San Jose, no other team in MLS is even half this efficient.
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It's a long stretch, statistically speaking, to conclude that Houston are earning cheap goals by taking throw-ins with particular efficiently. But, in their defense, every avenue I turn looking at throw-ins, they're dominating the competition. So, no matter if the Dynamo's efficiency is either trained or simply a nice side effect resulting from their style of play, they may be worth emulating.