The Vancouver Whitecaps now know who is in their group for the MLS is Back Tournament. We are just weeks away from the players we support leaving one of the safest places in North America to travel to the state with the third fastest growing number of COVID-19 cases in the country with the most cases in the world. Very cool!
here's your covid-19 case counts for today pic.twitter.com/ivIQPAI23I— nobody (@petbugs13) June 14, 2020
15 fastest growing states pic.twitter.com/TN2BlLLfm2— nobody (@petbugs13) June 14, 2020
Oh but don’t worry, the county the games are going to be played in has a very low case number. It’s not like the US has been resistant to doing the necessary amount of testing in order to keep their numbers artificially low! It’s also not like there has been a mysterious increase in deaths from “pneumonia” across the US, OR that there is evidence the state of Florida is fudging its numbers, OR that the average person who gets COVID-19 infects 2.4 other people and that 2600 cases can grow into a nasty situation really quickly. It’s all fine! Don’t think about it too much.
Anyway, for better or worse this thing is happening. This being a Whitecaps fan site we should probably talk about what their chances are in the MLS is Back Tournament.
Most people have resigned themselves to the idea that the reigning MLS champions will top group B. But i’m not sure that’s a forgone a conclusion.
Seattle obviously won the 2019 MLS cup. But, as we all know by now, playoffs, while fun, do not always lead to the best team winning. Playoffs reward short term form and luck, especially in a sport as low scoring as soccer. So would you be shocked to learn that the 2019 MLS champions were actually kind of bad?
Seattle were fourth from the bottom of the western conference in American Soccer Analysis’ expected points metric. Their xG differential was in the negative. This was partly due to Raul Ruidiaz struggling with injuries but the point stands that Seattle was not invincible in 2019 by any means.
The Majority of their offence came from Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, and the aforementioned Ruidiaz. On average they had about 50% possession and were outshot by their opponents 14-13. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei saved the 4th most goals above expected in the league in 2019 and is always capable of stealing a game.
2 games in 2020*:
In two games in 2020 Seattle did legitimately look decent. They beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 and drew 1-1 with the Columbus Crew. They lead the Western Conference in ASA’s expected points model, lead the Western Conference in xG and had the 4th lowest xGA. Over their first two games Seattle outshot their opponents 32-17.
The additions of Miguel Ibarra (one of several good players let go by Minnesota United for no apparent reason) and Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo have looked effective so far with both players generating a fair amount of xG in the first two games.
In defence the sounders added Ecuadorian international centre back Xavier Arriega and Yeimar Gomez, a player with 89 Argentine first division appearances. It’s going to be interesting to see how a defence that essentially has two brand new centre backs deals with coming into a tournament like this. In two 2020 games Stefan Frei was once again a positive influence, saving 0.58 goals above expected.
Since there has been a big increase in set piece goals in other leagues that have come back I think it is worth looking at how teams have fared on them so far in 2020 and how they did in 2019. Seattle had 0.9 xG from dead ball situations in the first two 2020 games and only conceded 0.1 xG. This is pretty good. Notably Kevin Leerdam is able to deliver long throw ins, essentially increasing the number of set piece situations Seattle has access to. If I were them I would look to exploit this as much as possible. Here is a video showing all of the Seattle’s chances for and against from set pieces so far in 2020:
In 2019 however Seattle was near the bottom in xG generated from set pieces. Conversely they were the second best team at limiting the opponent's set piece chances, conceding only 6.3 xG in 2019. I think it is safe to say that Seattle is good at defending set pieces but it remains to be seen if their chance creation can be maintained for more than two games.
Seattle are undeniably a very strong team but they can be beaten. I am not nearly as scared of them as I would be LAFC.
Trying to figure out F.C Dallas before any given season is always difficult. They never have very many players who are well known outside of Dallas, nor do they spend very much money, but they bring through so many talented youngsters that they can often surprise people.
in 2019 Dallas were strong, perhaps even more so than they were given credit for. They were 4th in ASA’s expected points model and 7th in actual points. They had a positive xG differential and the 4th most goals in the Western Conference. They had the 6th most average possession in the league and on average outshot their opponents 14-13. They were eliminated in the first round of the MLS playoffs but pushed eventual champions Seattle to extra time. They were by no means the best team in the league but they were a tough opponent for any team.
Dallas’ attack was mostly through Jesus Ferreira, Zdenek Ondrasek and Michael Barrios. Ondrasek, nicknamed the Kobra, played only 830 minutes but came 6th in xG/96, ahead of players like Raul Ruidiaz, Kei Kamara, and Brian Fernandez. Ondrasek wasn’t really used in the first two thirds of the season but then went on a tear, scoring 7 goals and 2 assists in the last 8 games of the season.
2 Games in 2020*:
Dallas opened 2020 with a 2-0 win over Philadelphia Union and a 2-2 draw with the Montreal Impact. They were 6th in the West in ASA’s expected points model. They had 3.4 xG and 2.2 xGA. They outshot their opponents 26-22 over those two games and like last season had the better of possession. So far it seems Dallas, like in 2019, are a challenge for any team.
One wrinkle in Dallas’ plans is that their first choice keeper, Jesse Gonzalez, is currently suspended by MLS after reports from the Frisco Police Department alleged instances of domestic assault. This means that they will be left with Jimmy Maurer in goal. Maurer hardly played at all in 2019 but had a solid campaign in 2018 where he made 15 appearances. He was basically an exactly average MLS goalkeeper, allowing 0.15 more goals than expected. In 2019 Gonzales stopped 2.35 more goals than expected. So while Gonzalez is pretty clearly better, Dallas are by no means doomed being without him. Where they might be in trouble is if, for whatever reason, Maurer is unavailable for a game. If that happens then Dallas’ only option is Kyle Zobeck, a 30 year old goalkeeper with only 13 professional appearances, none of which are in MLS.
Dallas’ biggest offseason signing was 31 year old Liga MX striker Franco Jara. Jara had an impressive goals record in Mexico, used to play for Portuguese giants Benfica and has four caps for the Argentine national team. But he seems like an odd signing considering Dallas only plays with one striker and they already have Ondrasek. Then again they are hardly the first MLS team to spend a whack of cash on a striker when they already have one who’s pretty good (looking at you Portland). Jara is yet to make an appearance so we don’t really know how they will work him in. That will be something to watch.
Other notable players are analytics darling Ryan Hollingshead and American Wonderkid Paxton Pomykal.
Dallas has managed 0.6 xG and 0.3 xGA from set pieces in 2020, both of which are middling. You can see all those chances in this video:
So far they haven’t really distinguished themselves either positively or negatively.
In 2019 Dallas also had middling xG from set pieces though the they had the 4th least xGA from dead ball situations.
Like Seattle, Dallas are a tough opponent but they are beatable. They could potentially have a goalkeeper crisis but for the most part they are a solid team.
If you’re reading this then the Whitecaps are probably the team you are most familiar with. I won’t spend a ton of time on them here but if you want a deeper dive you can read my article which explores how prepared they are for the Orlando tournament.
You know what happened.
2 Games in 2020*:
Vancouver dropped a 3-1 game to Sporting Kansas City and beat the LA Galaxy 1-0. They were second in the West in ASA’s expected points model, with 2.9 xG (6th) and 1.4 xGA (3rd). Although they came out pretty well in the xG, Vancouver still struggled to control their games and were outshot 23-21 over their first two matches.
Vancouver has generated a very small amount of xG from set pieces (0.4) in 2020 but fortunately for them they have conceded even less (0.1). They have conceded a goal from a set piece but considering they’ve only given up 0.1 xG from them I think we can chalk that up to “shit happens.” You can see all those chances in this video:
In 2019 Vancouver was very bad at set pieces (what a surprise!) generating a paltry 5.2 xG. However they conceded surprisingly few xG from them giving up “only” 9.5 xGA, good enough for 8th in the Western Conference. There are some signs that Vancouver is able to defend set pieces well but they are yet to prove they can be a consistent threat from attacking dead ball situations. Like everything to do with the Whitecaps, we just don’t really know.
Nobody really knows what this team is and I doubt we will really know one way or another by the end of this three team tournament. They were genuinely awful in 2019 but there were positive early signs in 2020 and they brought in some young players with some interesting profiles. They could win all three group games or lose all three and I wouldn’t be particularly shocked by either.
The Earthquakes are coming into the MLS is Back Tournament as perhaps the most disadvantaged team. They have spent the least amount of time with access to their training facilities due to local government restrictions. They seem doomed but this is MLS and crazy things happen all the time.
In 2019 San Jose was a dangerous attacking team but they conceded so many goals that they missed the playoffs. When it came to attacking, only LAFC had more expected goals than the ‘Quakes. Unfortunately for them they also conceded 55 goals. On average they outshot their opponents 17-13 and lead the league by averaging 55.8% possession. Their games certainly weren’t boring. San Jose came second in ASA’s expected points model, but missed they playoffs so they will feel like they have something to prove in 2020.
2 Games in 2020*:
In an effort to improve their defensive performance the Earthquakes brought in Mexican international centre back Oswaldo Alanis. So far that has not worked out. San Jose have conceded 7 goals in their first two games and sit joint bottom of the Western Conference. They drew 2-2 with Toronto F.C and lost 5-2 to Minnesota United. In fairness San Jose has probably not been as bad as their record suggests. In those two games they generated 2.3 xG and gave up 2.4 xGA. They also outshot their opponents 29-25 through their first two matches. The ASA model gives them 1.5 expected points, placing them third from the bottom of the Western Conference. It looks like San Jose is exactly what they were last season. A dangerous attacking team who’s strengths are undercut by issues at the back. I am not optimistic about this team holding up after being unable to train for so long.
San Jose have only generated 0.3 xG from corners and have given up 0.6 xGA. Both are the 4th worst in the Western Conference. They have also conceded two penalties from corners in their first two games and conceded two directly from corners against Minnesota United. This means that four of their seven goals conceded have involved a corner in some way. You can see all of that here:
In 2019 San Jose had the 4th most xG from dead balls and the 5th least conceded. It will be interesting to see if they can right the ship.
Although it is possible they go on a crazy tear and hurt teams with their offensive fire power, I expect them to get tonked.
I expect San Jose to finish bottom but other than that it’s really hard to predict. I could see any of the three other teams finishing in any order. But to live up to my headline, here is what I would predict with a proverbial gun to my head:
4th: San Jose
*Yeah, I know you can’t draw any conclusions from two games, but we’ve gotta get some content out of this whole situation somehow.