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How much different are MLS's and Liga MX's styles of play?

CONCACAF Champions League is a way for leagues to measure themselves against one another. While in past years we have seen teams from many different countries advance to the knockout rounds, this year there was only two: MLS and Liga MX.

In past match-ups, the rivalry between these two leagues has been virtually non-existent. MLS teams have won just two of 14 two-legged series and have been able to win just two games in Mexico in competitive games. That is something that the four MLS teams will try to overcome next week.

One thing that pundits have looked at when trying to compare the two leagues is the differences in styles of play. Liga MX has generally been looked at a faster-paced league with more technical players. While it’s hard to objectively judge this, you can look at some statistics to help define the styles of play in each league.

We took some per-game numbers from the 2015 MLS season and the 2015 Liga MX Apertura to compare the two leagues. Some of the statistics you would expect, others you may not.

First, let’s take a look at some of the passing statistics that come out of each league. Given the belief that Liga MX is faster paced, you would think that games in the league would average more passes, but that is not the case.

All numbers below are per game and provided by Opta Sports.

League Passes Crosses from Open Play Long Balls Dribbles Attempted
MLS 810.30 26.73 131.03 31.53
Liga MX 749.20 26.76 103.32 28.65

With the total passes statistic, let’s keep in mind that many Liga MX games are played at altitude, including some more than two miles above sea level.

Another number that stands out in the above chart is the vast disparity in the number of long balls that teams in each league play. Long balls are defined by Opta as passes that travel more than 35 yards. The stat suggests that Liga MX teams are more likely to play it out of the back than MLS teams. This most likely comes down to the differential in goalkeepers and defenders launching the ball forward.

The crosses from open play and dribbles attempted statistics suggest that the two leagues generally use wide areas in similar ways.

Physicality is another way to compare leagues, but looking at the stats, the difference between these two is minimal.

League Fouls Tackles
MLS 25.85 35.98
Liga MX 27.98 31.18

Of course, just looking at fouls and tackles does not 100 percent explain the physicality of a league, but it at least gives you an idea.

Scoring, and the ways in which teams score, is another way to compare leagues. Liga MX games averaged more goals than MLS in this comparison, and it seems that difference is due to a specific reason: Mexican teams take two more shots per game and those shots came from outside the box.

League Goals Goals from inside box Goals from outside box Shots from inside box Shots from outside box
MLS 2.76 2.38 .37 14.30 10.20
Liga MX 3.01 2.54 .48 13.99 12.20

Looking at all these different statistics, the styles of play in the two leagues have some differences but are more alike than most fans would think.