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A Statistical Look at the Whitecaps' 2011 MLS Season

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Those who try to compile soccer statistics get a lot of stick. Soccer is a game with twenty-two people on the field at any given moment, each of whom have vastly different responsibilities, many of which defy easy quantification. How many defenders have we seen who make lots of tackles, but have to because they let their man get open so many times? Or the midfielder who completes a high percentage of his passes without sending them anywhere useful?

No reasonable person can deny that there's some useful information the leagues don't always give us. A player who scores 5 goals in 300 minutes is not equally as valuable as a player who scores 5 goals in 600 minutes; indeed, he should be more valuable than a player who scores 6 or 7 goals in 600 minutes. The number of goals a goalkeeper allows isn't as important as the percentage of saves he makes, particularly when compared to his teammate who plays behind the same defense.

This is why I take the time to come up with these little statistical vignettes. Was Camilo Sanvezzo really the best scorer on the Vancouver Whitecaps last year, or did he just play the most? Did Davide Chiumiento really dominate the assist charts like most of us thought? And who's better, Joe Cannon or Jay Nolly?

This is the third in a three-part series recapping the Vancouver Whitecaps' summer seasons statistically. Part one, about the Whitecaps Residency USL PDL season, went up back in November and can be found here. Part two, reviewing the Vancouver Whitecaps Reserves, can be found here.

A note on Major League Soccer statistics: Stat keeping in Major League Soccer is very inconsistent. The biggest difference you will notice when comparing these stats with those on is that the statistics listed here include fewer assists. This is because the player statistics on include second assists. Second assists are scored extremely inconsistently between games and are not even noted in the game logs. Therefore, because of this inconsistent scoring, and because the other leagues I've looked at in this series do not score second assists, my statistics include only first assists.

2011 Whitecaps Minutes Played and Scoring Leaders
Minutes Goals Assists
Player Born Min G A Player Born Min G A Player Born Min G A
Camilo 1988 2484 12 1 Camilo 1988 2484 12 1 Chiumiento 1984 1674 2 7
Koffie 1991 2467 1 0 Hassli 1981 1864 10 1 Khalfan 1988 1066 1 3
Rochat 1983 2434 3 1 Rochat 1983 2434 3 1 Harvey 1984 1257 0 3
Hassli 1981 1864 10 1 Harris 1985 444 2 1 Salinas 1986 1696 1 3
Leathers 1985 1840 0 0 Chiumiento 1984 1674 2 7 Dunfield 1982 928 1 2

Yes, that is Jordan Harvey tied for second on the team in assists with three. He didn't get them all in that late-season run he had at left wing, either: one on August 7 vs. the Chicago Fire, one on August 20 at Portland, and one on October 12 from the wing in our victory over D.C. United. Harvey beat Alain Rochat in assists fair and square, and it's sort of staggering to see it.

Harvey's assist total is probably the only surprise among the raw numbers. I was taken aback to see Camilo Sanvezzo had played so many minutes; this after starting the year as the third forward. Camilo went 90 in 11 of 12 matches between July 6 and October 2 and, in the last ten matches of the season, had 755 minutes to Eric Hassli's 571. Jonathan Leathers playing the fifth-most minutes despite his late-season injury causing Tom Soehn's Right Back Roulette is a statement on how vital he was in the first half, as well as how few players put together the over-2,000-minutes numbers expected of an everyday starter.

The fact that Atiba Harris, who played 444 minutes, finished tied for fourth in team scoring speaks for itself. Behind the left back.

2011 Whitecaps Scoring Rate Leaders (minimum 1000 minutes)
Goals/90 Minutes Assists/90 Minutes Goals + Assists/90 Minutes
Player Born Min G G/90 Player Born Min A A/90 Player Born Min P P/90
Hassli 1981 1864 10 0.483 Chiumiento 1984 1674 7 0.376 Hassli 1981 1864 11 0.531
Camilo 1988 2484 12 0.435 Khalfan 1988 1066 3 0.253 Chiumiento 1984 1674 9 0.484
Rochat 1983 2434 3 0.111 Harvey 1984 1257 3 0.215 Camilo 1988 2484 13 0.471
Chiumiento 1984 1674 2 0.108 Salinas 1986 1696 3 0.159 Khalfan 1988 1066 4 0.338
Khalfan 1988 1066 1 0.084 Hassli 1981 1864 1 0.048 Harvey 1984 1257 3 0.215

1,000 minutes per season seems a reasonable place to draw the line for rate statistics. Over a 34-game MLS regular season that means averaging less than half an hour of playing time per game. 263 players got in over 1,000 minutes this MLS season, or 14.61 players per team. If you didn't play 1,000 minutes, you didn't play enough to be considered a regular and that's the end of it.

If we were to count those who played fewer than 1,000 minutes, Atiba Harris's 2 goals in 444 minutes gives him 0.405 goals/90; third on the team. Long Tan is fourth with 1 goal in 437 minutes or 0.206 goals/90. Omar Salgado, of all people, is fifth with 1 goal in 507 minutes. With one goal in 928 minutes, Terry Dunfield was this close to sneaking in ahead of Nizar Khalfan on the table up there.

The goals-per-90-minutes numbers are so pathetic it's almost awe-inspiring. The 2010 USSF D2 Whitecaps, who were famously underwhelming offensively, had five players who got in over 1,000 minutes and had scoring rates superior to 2011's leaders (Khalfan again with 2 goals in 1087 minutes, Greg Janicki with 3 goals in 2113 minutes, Martin Nash with 4 goals in 2394 minutes, Cornelius Stewart with 2 goals in 1332 minutes, and Blake Wagner with 4 goals in 1217 minutes). Subtract Hassli and Camilo and this team was spectacularly bad at putting the ball in the net; only our two pricey imports salvaged anything.

Of Camilo and Hassli, obviously Camilo scored two more goals overall but it's interesting to see that Hassli played 620 fewer minutes to get those two goals. Many of those 620 minutes are Hassli's own fault, what with the suspensions and sendings-off, and Hassli started to lose minutes late in the year when he was scoreless in the last twelve games. All these statistics must be taken with a grain of salt, but if we're asking who the Whitecaps' best goal scorer is the answer isn't automatically Camilo.

The play-making statistics aren't better, where it's Davide Chiumiento and then the field. And Chiumiento died towards the end of the season: six of Chiumiento's seven assists came in the first half of the year, while his only second-half helper was on September 24 against Seattle. Chiumiento only played 641 minutes in the last half of the season, but a rate of 0.140 assists per 90 minutes in the second half is sub-Shea Salinas stuff.

2011 Whitecaps Goalkeeping Statistics
Goals Against Average Save Percentage
Player Born Sh GA GAA Player Born Sh GA S%
Cannon 1975 99 32 1.60 Cannon 1975 99 32 0.677
Nolly 1982 63 23 1.64 Nolly 1982 63 23 0.635

There's been controversy over Martin Rennie's decision to keep Joe Cannon over Jay Nolly. Rennie's defense has been that Cannon is just a better goalkeeper. A first glance at the numbers puts Cannon in front... but only marginally.

The 0.042 difference in save percentage between Nolly and Cannon is small but significant. If Nolly hadn't let that one ball squirt through his legs at D.C. United he'd have been up to a 0.651. It would have taken Nolly stopping three shots that otherwise went to finish ahead of Cannon in save percentage; likewise, if Nolly had allowed the same number of goals but faced eight more easy shots and stopped them all the two would be almost tied.

Three goals isn't enormous but, in Nolly's 1,260 minutes, it's important. It is impossible to dispute that, by the numbers, Cannon was just a bit better. Nolly's defenders will point to his being younger, as well as the fact that he had the disadvantage of a more depleted defense. I'll make a comparison between Nolly and Cannon in more depth later today, but suffice to say there's some truth in the statement that Nolly had less defending to work with than Cannon did.