Fantasy: Can Expected Goals help you find the best players?

The crew (not the Columbus variety, but our MLSFI hosts, of course) recap Round 12 of MLS Fantasy and preview Round 13.

For those that are already following soccer analytics, the phrase "expected goals” may already be a familiar term. Expected goals, or xG as it is commonly abbreviated, represents the chance of a goal to be scored from each particular shot attempt. Similarly, expected assists measure the quality of chances a player is creating. Ben Baer has written several great articles on expected goals, including how it can be related to events like Atlanta United's and Chicago Fire’s strong starts

For MLS Fantasy purposes, expected goals can tell us when a player is exceeding expectations, or if a player is getting a lot of good looks at goal, but has potentially been unlucky in finishing his chances.

Let’s take a look at the top 20 attacking players in terms of points-per-90 minutes played (“PP90”), and what their xG numbers provided by Opta can tell us:

Player PP90 G A PP90(G+A) xG xA xPP90(G+A)
David Villa (NYC) 8.93 8 4 5.10 3.38 2.07 2.27
Romain Allesandrini (LA) 8.49 6 5 4.15 2.10 1.72 1.45
Diego Valeri (POR) 8.38 6 4 4.40 1.59 3.44 1.91
Lee Nguyen (NE) 8.22 5 5 3.78 2.78 2.71 2.08
Victor Vazquez (TOR) 7.96 1 7 2.91 0.80 2.92 1.43
David Accam (CHI) 7.93 6 4 4.44 2.05 2.78 1.96
Erick Torres (HOU) 7.89 9 1 5.12 2.38 0.53 1.44
Sebastian Giovinco (TOR) 7.84 6 1 4.17 3.00 1.61 2.51
Nemanja Nikolic (CHI) 7.81 10 1 4.65 5.50 1.16 2.72
CJ Sapong (PHI) 7.52 8 2 4.43 4.30 1.94 2.64
Miguel Almiron (ATL) 7.47 5 4 3.68 1.69 2.30 1.53
Justin Meram (CLB) 7.33 7 4 3.87 4.47 2.40 2.43
Benny Feilhaber (SKC) 7.30 2 3 1.90 0.80 3.32 1.40
Kevin Molino (MIN) 7.30 5 3 3.27 2.04 2.74 1.77
Anibal Godoy (SJ) 7.29 2 1 1.21 0.80 0.67 0.56
Romell Quioto (HOU) 7.24 4 2 4.09 2.12 2.09 2.66
Jahmir Hyka (SJ) 7.19 3 3 2.50 2.30 2.33 1.92
Ignacio Piatti (MTL) 7.11 6 1 3.73 1.56 1.73 1.47
Maxi Urruti (DAL) 7.11 6 2 4.06 2.14 0.84 1.49
Nicolas Lodeiro (SEA) 7.08 3 4 2.25 1.66 3.36 1.53

David Villa leads the way in PP90, and nearly leads points-per-90 solely from goals and assists (“PP90(G+A)”). Out of all of the shots he’s taken this season, he has only been expected to score slightly more than three goals on average, so the fact that he’s scored seven from the run of play speaks to how well he’s been finishing his chances so far this season.

That being said, I’m not too worried about his luck changing too much, as even if he dips in scoring form, he still has one of the highest number of expected assists among the top scorers. Taking his expected goals and expected assists and applying them to MLS fantasy points over a 90-minute period (“xPP90(G+A)”), he’s expected to score 2.27 fantasy points on average just from goals and assists alone. That’s sixth in the league, so he’s both seeing and creating a lot of good chances for goals.

Lee Nguyen is an interesting case where his chances for big points are almost exactly split between goals and assists. He has five goals and five assists through 12 matches, which is almost double his expected values. However, if you take his PP90 and compare it to the PP90(G+A), over half of his points are coming from plays not directly related to goals, such as bonus points and minutes played. If you’re looking for the most dependable source of points through the course of the season, I’d argue that it’s Nguyen.

If you want to see the other side of the spectrum, Erick “Cubo” Torres has produced 7.89 points per 90 minutes, however, he has done it primarily through scoring nine goals from only 2.38 xG in the run of play. He has converted a league-leading five penalty kicks, so even though he’s seventh in PP90, I would be worried about relying on that, since it’s mostly dependent on the Houston Dynamo being awarded an unusually high number of spot kicks so far this season.

Do you think you’ll use the expected goals stat to help determine who to choose on your MLS Fantasy team? Let us know in the comments below!

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