Klinsmann Selects Eric Lichaj and 22 Others To Ax Scotland & Austria

"Hey man, I didn't think you'd be here." "Yeah, didn't think you'd be here either."

“Hey man, I didn’t think you’d be here.” “Yeah, didn’t think you’d be here either.”

Welcome back tot he living Eric Lichaj. Kljestan and his mustache travel too. Chris Wondowlowski gets his shot–but is his right peg fit.

Will Geoff Cameron get to hock his wares–deservedly–at CB?

Can certainly, certainly see Ale Bedoya getting a runout at RB. And I think it makes a lot of sense.

GOALKEEPERS (3) : Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

DEFENDERS (7) : DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Michael Orozco (Puebla)

MIDFIELDERS (7) : Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Stoke City)

FORWARDS (6) : Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

The Lalas Proclamation: Is MLS The Most Competitive League In the World?

On August 25th, basement-tenant-on-rent-control Chivas USA whupped up on the New York Red Bulls, 2-0. That would be the 2013 MLS Supporter Shield victorious Red Bulls.

On August 25th, basement-tenant-on-rent-control Chivas USA whupped up on the New York Red Bulls, 2-0. That would be the 2013 MLS Supporter Shield-winning Red Bulls.

Alex Olshansky does Alexi Lalas a solid…and contributes the column below….

Parity is a popular topic of conversation in MLS.

Because of league salary and roster rules, it has traditionally been very difficult for any team to consistently stay at the top. Similarly, unless you are Toronto FC, it is not unusual for teams to go from the bottom of the table one year to the top the next. Alexi Lalas famously (infamously? serendipitously? kidding..) proclaimed the league to be “the most competitive league in the world.”

Is he right? Is Lalas’s assertion on point?

To investigate, a representative group of 14 other leagues from around the world were tested on three key metrics that–it says here–are believed to be the best measures of league parity (or competitiveness… let’s consider them interchangeable).

Intra-Table Parity

To measure this, we looked at the standard deviation of points per game (PPG) for each league. In effect, this measures the variance in results across the league. A lower number means teams are more closely grouped towards the average, a higher number means more teams are further from the average (both good and bad).

Very interesting professor....

Very interesting professor….

Year Over Year Parity

This table is the average change in year over year points per game.

This measures how much results vary from year to year. The EPL obviously has a very low number in this metric as generally the top 5 teams have been the same for the past handful of years (as have the mid-table teams).

*It should be noted that this is only from one year’s worth of data, and likely would be different if looked at over multiple years.

Ah-ha...yep...right...right...

Ah-ha…yep…right…right…

The Haves (10%) vs. The Have Nots (90%)

Quite simply, this measures how much goal differential the top 10% of clubs in each league are responsible for–let’s call this The La Liga Conundrum.

A competitive league should not have the top couple teams hording all the results.

For example, look at the difference between who is responsible for the majority of the goal differential in the Bundesliga (Bayern/Dortmund) and MLS (Chivas USA/DC United).

Ze Germans are weak!

The Bundesliga is like MLS’s evil doppelganger dude!

—-

Overall

The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric.

Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15 league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.

But for today Alexi Lalas …. you are correct, sir.

...

MLS Playoff Ball: Who Are the Belles?

"Hey, go lock this thing in the cabinet!"

“Hey, go lock this thing in the cabinet!”

(by) Steve Fenn, numerically speaking…

The New York Red Bulls earned their precious Supporters Shield (Editor’s Note: Writer is a Pittsburgh-based … FC Dallas fan!), but they only have a ten-point edge on the Montreal Impact, whose 49 points are the least of any 2013 playoff team.

In an average MLS year, that gap is 17.7 points, and almost all of those seasons featured 8 playoff teams, not ten. The only year with a point difference of ten or less was 2009 with Columbus in pole position on 49 from 30 matches and Real Salt Lake sneaking into 8th with 40 points.

With all playoff teams jammed into a narrow point range, can we be certain that any one of them is superior to the rest?

Theoretically that’s what the playoffs are for, but let’s take a deeper look at some telling numbers to get a better feeling for playoff clubs’ relative strength heading into the second season.

As we discussed in August, expected goals differential (xGD) driven by shot locations has been a much better predictor of results than were points, raw goal differential, or shooting stats in MLS this season. Revisiting this study using the full season’s results, here are the R² of stats from the first 17 matches versus points and goal differential of the last 17 for each club.

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[ Once again all shot location data was generously mined and shared by the good folks at American Soccer Analysis ]

Just as it was in the earlier study, xGD is far more predictive than the other options from the first half of the season. Goals are just too scarce to be reliably distributed, and so it makes sense to take a step back and find a larger-sample stat that is the most-significant factor leading to goals on both sides of the field. I have yet to find a better stat than xGD toward that end, though it would very likely be improved by adjusting for set pieces, which part of the body was striking the ball, etc. Having established the importance of xGD, let’s look at league-wide trends in shot locations and outcomes, as well as data at the club level.

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[Caption: This visualization defaults to the LA Galaxy, the league leaders in xGD, but in the interactive version you can switch to other clubs ]

As you can see, across the league teams are quite inefficient in all zones but 1 & 2, scoring on less than 7.14% in zone 3 all the way down to 2.33% in zone 5. For a clearer comparison of the playoff clubs, the below graph is sorted by total xGD (blue bar), with a red bar displaying actual goal differential.

xGD ranking

The Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City are clearly way ahead of everyone else here.

The difference between LA’s expected and actual goal difference is driven mainly by their defensive performance (as I said in August, The Cudicini Effect), while SKC underperformed mainly on offense. These seem consistent with an eye test.

Overall, these xGD scores are the best guide to offer for team strength.

Take note, however, of the proximity of these scores.

Divide any of the figures by 34 games and the gap between the best (LA with +0.57 per game) and worst (Montreal’s -0.16) playoff teams is only 0.73 expected goals per game.

In fact, take out LA and SKC and you’ll see that the other 8 are all within 0.32 xG/game. You could certainly project a winners of match-ups based on such tiny margins, but no MLS Cup predictions this year should be made with a great deal of certainty.

Tonight, xGD and home field advantage make Houston a significant favorite over Montreal, but the Impact are absolutely capable of overcoming the odds. That match’s winner will join the top 3 seeds and Seattle in the conference semifinals where home field advantage is effectively balanced. Everyone left is so close in quality that it would be folly to say any one club is more than 20% to win the 2013 MLS Cup. That may be frustrating for anyone who wants to identify a true frontrunner, but for the rest of us it should be exciting to see who will scrap their way to the top of the heap.

If I had to bet my life on the outcome of these playoffs, I’d say LA will visit Kansas City for the MLS Cup Final and SKC will take the trophy, but I’d immediately review my last will and testament. The best teams don’t always win, and this year even those that seem to have an edge don’t have an overwhelming advantage over all the other good teams in these playoffs.

USWNT versus New Zealand

I’m no Matt Mathai, but here are a few pics of the recent friendly between the USWNT and New Zealand in beautiful, warm, state of the art Candlestick Park. Much thanks to the US Soccer Federation for allowing me to shoot on the pitch and being helpful at every turn of the way.

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MLS Playoffs Set-Up: Light Fuse, Run Away

Even the littlest guy has a chance to make the playoffs this year....

Even the littlest guy has a chance to make the playoffs this year….

Steve Fenn provides this week’s playoff implications Cliff Notes.

Those who make the MLS schedules are probably used to being questioned.

Why are clubs so often uneven in number of games played? Why doesn’t the league put a high-profile match or two on the day after baseball’s All-Star game, the slowest sports day of the year? Why aren’t the regular season finales synchronized?

All valid on certain levels, but the schedulers do deserve a little praise for getting the whole league even on 32 matches played right now, making the march into the playoffs pretty cleancut. (Editor’s note: You say schedulers; I hear single entity).

New York, Portland, Kansas City, Salt Lake, Seattle and LA are within two points of each other in the Supporter Shield race. Montreal, Chicago, and Philadelphia are tied for 4th in the East, with Houston only two points ahead and New England just a single point behind.

Colorado, San Jose, and Vancouver are also within just one result of each other.

I haven’t found a precedent for a playoff race in any sport being this close across an entire league with 2 games left. Portland has the best Supporters Shield odds (by a hair), but hasn’t clinch a playoff spot yet. Even in a league that highly values parity, we may never see a race like this ever again.

Every MLS fixture this week will have a significant influence on playoff seeding.

To get a feel for the implications, here are some graphs of each club’s current playoff odds, and where those odds will be if they win, lose, or draw this weekend. Odds taken from Sports Club Stats, who run Monte Carlo simulations weighted by each team’s goal differential.

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You can clearly see that the 3rd through 7th seeds in this conference are fluid. All of them are at significant risk if they lose, and they make huge strides with a win. Columbus are the walking dead, and can only get in if they sweep New England in their season-closing home-&-home while 2 other clubs fall by the wayside.

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Not as many contenders as the East, but at least more of they are all playing each other. If Colorado beats Vancouver and LA beats San Jose, the conference’s top five will be set, with order relative to each other the only Western issue to be sorted out next week.

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Clearly, none of these clubs can really afford a loss, and draws are generally pretty bad, too. While Portland narrowly has the highest odds currently, the biggest takeaway is that no one’s Shield chances are in any way stable.

Of note for all three of the races we’ve discussed, every result has trickle-down effects on third parties. Probability is zero sum, meaning that when one club loses odds that percentage is split between everyone else. For example, here are the probability swings for Shield contenders if RSL and the Timbers tie:

...

While Portland would obviously the most effected by this outcome, Sporting Kansas City’s odds would increase more than Salt Lake’s would be hurt, and New York is about even. Meanwhile this is clearly one of the results that the longshot Galaxy and Sounders should be rooting for. Look at pretty much any other fixture this weekend and you’ll see that it’s outcome will impact the postseason chances of multiple non-participants, too.

We may be heading into the most exciting weekend of regular season MLS matches ever. Every manager should know just how important a win would be, and none should view a draw as an acceptable result.

USA v. Panama: Live Commentary

ZusiTime

ZusiTime

The marbles are already in the bag.

Which “B” teamer shows their wares tonight? Starting line-ups shortly.

USA 2 – Jamaica 0: Selected Images

From the wonderful eye of Matt Mathai….


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