MLS attack & defence: 17 Aug 2015

While waiting impatiently for the new season’s data to accumulate over here in Europe, I realised that I could scratch my itch for churning out scatter plots by updating the MLS scatter plots that I last looked at back in June.

If you’ve not seen these before, they’re explained here, but in essence they’re a way of visually comparing each team’s shot and goal counts.

First up, here’s the overall “shot dominance” plot:MLS Att Def 2015-08-17

Straight away I’m interested to see that there’s no runaway dominant team in the bottom right “green corner” like there usually is in most of the top European top divisions. Sporting Kansas City are a class apart at preventing shots (but take a relatively average amount themselves) and nobody is massively out-shooting the rest.

What’s even more intriguing is the identity of the team most embedded in the seemingly-undesirable top left “red corner”: DC United are top of the Eastern Conference but take fewer shots and allow more than anyone else. We’ll see exactly how they’ve pulled this off a bit later on.

Moving on to the attacking plot, where the horizontal axis stays the same but we now have shot conversion on the vertical:MLS Att Eff 2015-08-17I’m not sure exactly what Colorado Rapids are doing to put themselves way up in the wasteful top right, but the impressive number of shots they’re taking isn’t doing them much good. They need over twice as many attempts to score each goal as LA Galaxy, the most clinical team so far and at the opposite end of the Western Conference.

The next two most profligate sides after Colorado are even more shot-happy, with Chicago Fire firing in (narrowly) more efforts than anyone else and almost four more per match than DC United, although slightly less wastefully than Portland Timbers, and currently prop up the Eastern Conference.

We can see here that DC United in the bottom left are among the better sides at converting their chances – perhaps they’re only shooting when they get the ball into good positions?

Finally let’s look at the defensive picture (basically just replace “taken” with “faced” on both the axes above:

MLS Def Eff 2015-08-17As I mentioned when we looked at the first graphic, DC United – and to a similar extent Seattle Sounders – are doing something unusual. They’re allowing a lot more shots at their goal than the average side – almost three extra per match in DC’s case – but are by far the most effective at keeping shots out. It takes around four additional attempts to find a way past them, which is pretty impressive if they can keep it up.

I don’t watch much MLS so I’m not sure if this is a deliberate tactical choice e.g. to soak up pressure before countering and/or forcing teams to shoot from bad positions. Given that DC are top of the Eastern Conference, they’re either incredibly lucky or they know exactly what they’re doing.

The stripes here act as “goals per game” contours, so we can see that DC are conceding at roughly the same rate as Sporting KC despite the latter allowing opponents five fewer shots per match. They’re also soaking up almost twice as many shots for each goal conceded as the leakiest defence, which belongs to Philadelphia Union.