MLS attacking & defensive performance: 12 June 2015

Now that a decent number of matches have been played, I thought that it’d be worth taking a look at the MLS using my updated scatter graphics to see how the teams are shaping up. As usual there are three graphics – the first looking at shots taken vs. faced and the latter two looking at attack and defence specifically.

If you’ve not seen these before, they’re explained here. You can click on any graphic to bring up a full-sized version in a new tab.

Edit: There’s a nice discussion going on over on the MLS subreddit about these.

Shot dominance

As usual, I’ll start by looking at how the number of shots taken by each club compares with those they face in return. In this graphic, the average number of shots taken per match by each club is on the horizontal and the average number of shots faced is on the vertical, so bottom right (take plenty, allow few in return) is good while top left (take few, allow plenty) is bad: MLS Att Def 2015-06-12 The stripes are basically contours where, in this case, the ratio between shots taken and shots faced is the same, coloured using the standard “green = good, red = bad” approach. Teams in the same stripe are performing at a similar level. The axes are still centred on the average and one of the diagonal lines passes right through it – this is the line where shots taken = shots faced, so everything below it contains teams who take more shots than they face, with the stripes getting greener as they get more dominant, and everything above it contains teams who face more than they take. Some observations to give you the idea:

  • Seattle Sounders appear to have spent the season on the back foot so far, which is odd considering that they’re top of the Western Conference. The two graphics below should help us understand what’s going on.
  • Sporting Kansas City and Chicago Fire are the most dominant sides so far, with the former the best at restricting opponents’ chances and the latter creating more than a shot per game more than the next most productive attack.
  • LA Galaxy matches have been unusually quiet on the shot front so far.

Now let’s look at attacking alone. The horizontal axis stays the same as in the graphic above, but now the vertical shows the average number of shots needed to score each league goal. Therefore bottom right is good (taking lots of shots and needing fewer efforts to convert) and top left is bad: MLS Att Eff 2015-06-12 The contours now show sides who scored goals at the same rate, so clubs in a greener stripe have scored more goals per match and vice versa.

  • Despite taking the third fewest shots per match, Seattle Sounders are the most clinical team in the MLS so far, needing an average of just over 7 shots to score each goal: around 3.4 fewer than the average side.
  • Spare a thought for Colorado Rapids who – despite taking a healthily above-average number of shots – are the most profligate side in front of goal, taking 17.6 shots for each goal they’ve scored.
  • Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC have the most effective attacks so far, with both making the most of a relatively modest number of chances.

Finally let’s look at the defensive situation – basically take the above chart and replace the word “taken” for “faced” on both axes. Now top left is good – facing fewer shots and able to soak up more per goal conceded – and bottom right is bad: MLS Def Eff 2015-06-12 The stripes now pick out clubs who have conceded at the same rate.

  • Once again Seattle Sounders are an outlier, squirrelled away in the top right. Despite allowing the most shots per match at their goal, they’ve soaked up just shy of 19 attempts for each one they let through. Such an obscenely high number is unlikely to be sustainable over the season, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it up.
  • Despite allowing a relatively low number of shots per match, the Chicago Fire defence requires the fewest shots to breach on average: just over 7.
  • Although their attack is having a frustrating season, Colorado Rapids‘ defence is performing well at present: absorbing plenty of shots.
A quick note on the stripes

I’m still experimenting with how wide to make each stripe and to tie them to something tangible. At the moment I’ve picked numbers that give a sensible number of stripes – for the latter two graphics each stripe is about 15 minutes wide – but I’ll make this more explicit in future posts.