Steve Fenn with analytical look at MLS in the wake of The Departed
Which teammates did David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Roger Espinoza, Kei Kamara, and Freddy Montero interact with most often in 2012?
Much been made of MLS departures (or, in Donovan’s case, his walkabout in Cambodia) this offseason, but most of these articles have been conjecture about marketing, merchandising, etc. Let’s see what a quantitative on-field analysis tells us. (Editor’s note: Thanks Steve. Long needed.)
Opta passing matrices specifically list how many passes these players sent to or received from teammates in 2012. Here’s a visualization of that data for the Galaxy:
Interesting, but a little overwhelming. More revealing with a narrower focus.
First, this study only includes outfield players on the club’s 2013 roster who played over 800 total minutes in 2012. It is fairly irrelevant at this point that Beckham didn’t exchange many passes with Edson Buddle last year.
In all of the following visualizations, passes from “The Departed” (Beckham, Donovan, Espinoza, Kamara, Montero) are on the left, and passes to them on the right. Also, teammates are ranked very roughly by position, and all keepers (including those no longer with their teams) are lumped together at the top.
Passes are listed per 90 minutes those 2 players shared the pitch. The width of each bar is driven by the minutes-shared total
Unsurprisingly, Beckham sent many passes to nearly everyone he shared the field with. Some may have overlooked how often he provided on outlet for LA’s defenders and goalkeepers (though not the Houston Dynamo it’s a good bet who were laid to waste by Beckham being the point guard on the counter in the MLS Cup something awful).
Someone else will need to show for the ball when Omar Gonzalez looks to transition the Galaxy into the attack. Note that.
Most striking, perhaps, is Robbie Keane’s reliance on Donovan and Beckham. Overall Keane received 1180 passes in 2012, and 28% of them were from Beckham and Donovan, even though all three only shared the field at the same time for 1397 of Keane’s 2519 minutes, roughly 55%.
This is as good a place as any to mention that these figures do not include crosses. However, even with a crosser of the ball as skilled as Beckham, none of his teammates received more than 11 in total via his right peg all season (Keane got on the end of that many). A likely issue for the club, but it would be very hard do specify which player will miss this Beckham skill most.
Sporting Kansas City:
Bobby Convey, Seth Sinovic, and Chance Myers are interesting for their varied interactions with SKC departures. Per 90, Kei Kamara partnered with Myers on 14.4 passes, but only 5.6 with Roger Espinoza.
On the flipside, Convey and Sinovic exchanged the ball with Espinoza 14.9 and 13.9 per 90, respectively, but only 3.5 and 5.0 in an average match with Kamara.
Both Espinoza and Kamara were very active with Graham Zusi, and accounted for 295 of the passes he received and 251 of those he completed over the season. That’s 23.3% & 23.2% of his season totals while sharing only 1960 of his 2788 minutes with both of them.
Fredy Montero’s data is striking for its peaks and valleys. He combined often with Osvaldo Alonso (7.9 passes to/from per 90), Alex Caskey (8.2), Brad Evans (9.5), Mauro Rosales (9.8), Eddie Johnson (10.4), and David Estrada (10.7).
Meanwhile, passes involved Montero and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado or Patrick Ianni less than once per 90. Montero didn’t pass to Ianni once in 1111 minutes together. Some might say that’s a good thing.
Many of these figures are largely driven by relative positioning in the Sounders 2012 tactics, but they do point out which players are more likely to be effected by Montero’s absence in 2013.
In all of these cases, nominal replacements have either been acquired (Feilhaber, Bieler) or seem inevitable (Martins, Lampard, Donovan himself). No two players are the same though, and it should be interesting to see how Zusi, for example, combines with Feilhaber and Bieler in comparison to his constant partnerships with Espinoza and Kamara.
This data does have its limits, though. There is no weighting for length, location, or quality of these passes. Beckham’s passes to some teammates may have been mostly short and routine, while other players more often got on the end of a jaw-droppingly beautiful 50 yard dime.
Also worth noting that these numbers are rooted in various factors such as relative positioning, tactics, chemistry, etc. Accurately teasing specific causes and effects out of them can be quite difficult.
Even so, passes per 90 minutes are a clear record of how often these MLS departures interacted with their former teammates. It should be interesting to see how the coaches and teammates left behind adjust to their absences and replacements.