One stat that defines every MLS Western Conference team right now

Quick Hits
  • As we head into the final stretch of the regular season in MLS, we’re looking at one key stat for every team in the Western Conference
  • From sluggish attacks to insane depth, there’s plenty to discuss
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Look away Pablo Mastroeni and Bruce Arena. We’re about to dive into one important stat for each team as we enter the final stretch of the season. Yesterday, we went through the Eastern Conference. Now it’s time for the West.

Let’s get to it.

Sporting Kansas City

Stat: 1…goal scored by starting strikers not named William Agada

Striker has been a position of famine for Sporting Kansas City this year. Most of that comes from the fact that Khiry Shelton started 14 games and scored zero goals for Peter Vermes. Before Willliam Agada signed with SKC, Johnny Russell (in a rare appearance up top) was the only player to start and score as a No. 9.

The good news for SKC is that Agada has three goals in three starts for them since joining in the latest transfer window. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the league for the rest of the year.

San Jose Earthquakes

Stat: 3rd…Ebobisse’s rank in expected goals

According to FBref, Jeremy Ebobisse ranks 3rd in MLS in expected goals (11.9) and fourth in goals (14) this season for the San Jose Earthquake. For some reason, though, his play hasn’t been a big talking point. Do we only have the capacity to talk about one American striker having a great season? Regardless, Ebobisse is a quality building block for San Jose as they continue to recover from whatever Matias Almeyda did to them.

Houston Dynamo

Stat: 8.31…progressive passes per 90 for Herrera

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, which includes a 6-0 shellacking against Philadelphia, things are not ok in Houston. But the Dynamo still have a reason to be optimistic: Hector Herrara’s passing numbers look fantastic so far. That won’t mean anything in terms of results until the Dynamo put a more talented roster around him, but it is something.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Stat: 12,558…passes completed by opponents

That’s a big number – and it’s more than 1,000 passes more than the next closest team, according to FBref. The Whitecaps are a defensive-first team in Vanni Sartini’s three-at-the-back system, but they haven’t been all that good at the whole defense thing, especially on the road. They’ll have to be better if they want to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs. 

As a bonus stat, the Caps are also tied for last in the league with only 13 nutmegs. You can be better than that, Vancouver.

Colorado Rapids

Stat: 0.55…xG per 96 for Zardes 

According to ASA, Gyasi Zardes ranks 9th in the league among players with at least 1,000 minutes in expected goals per 96 minutes. He’s in great form with five goals in his last five games, which is excellent news for the Rapids as they’ve been searching for the right attacking threat alongside Diego Rubio.

Seattle Sounders

Stat: 774…minutes that Ruidiaz has played in MLS this year

With Seattle’s playoff chances fading, the Sounders really need Raul Ruidiaz to be the player that we all know he can be. It’s not surprising that the Sounders’ best run of form came from the period from May 15 to June 14 where Ruidiaz started five games, scored five goals, and helped Seattle cash in four wins. 

The Sounders need that version of Ruidiaz as soon as possible or their season just might be over.

Portland Timbers

Stat: 1…loss when Niezgoda scores

Jaroslaw Niezgoda has nine goals this year for the Portland Timbers and, barring an unforeseen catastrophe, he will score double-digit goals for the first time since joining the Timbers in 2020. So far this year, Portland only have one loss when Niezgoda scores at least one goal. However, he doesn’t seem capable of creating the kind of high-quality scoring opportunities that you see from the other elite strikers in MLS. According to FBref, he is overperforming his non-penalty xG by over four goals. That could spell trouble for the Timbers.

Nashville SC

Stat: 13…nutmegs this season

According to FBref, Nashville is currently tied for last in MLS in nutmegs. Now is the number of times a player dribbles the ball through an opposing player’s legs a really important measure for analyzing a team’s performance? Absolutely, not. However, in this particular case, it does call attention to a real lack of creativity that has plagued Nashville’s offense with the exception of Hany Mukhtar this season.

Nashville’s overly conservative nature might need a refresh especially if they continue to struggle at home. Someone tell Gary Smith to live a little.

LA Galaxy

Stat: 106…touches in the box for Chicharito 

The LA Galaxy have been one of the most inconsistent teams in MLS this year. At their best, they look like they’re among the league’s elite and at their worst, there are major questions about the front office’s vision. With the playoffs closing in, the Galaxy need to integrate new pieces like Riqui Puig into their starting lineup. 

The challenge will be how to integrate those pieces to maximize Chicharito’s production. Per FBref, Chicharito has seen a 9% decrease in touches in the penalty area per 90 and a ~18% decrease in expected goals per 90 compared to 2021. The Galaxy’s No. 9 has largely suffered without a consistent playmaker feeding him in the penalty area to take advantage of his elite poaching ability. 

Real Salt Lake

Stat: 656…progressive passes 

Pablo Mastroeni once infamously said, “Stats will lose to the human spirit every day.” Now as manager of RSL, Mastroeni is proudly waging war against statistics…and he’s kind of winning?

Real Salt Lake are in 5th place in the West despite scoring only 32 goals. It’s easy to see why they’re struggling to score goals: according to FBref, RSL rank last in MLS in progressive passes. If you read ASA’s “Where Goals Come From” project, you’ll learn that progressive passes create more goals than any other method by an overwhelming margin. Their research showed that in MLS from 2015-2020 were created by progressive passing by 42%. Creating a system that disregards progressive passing without compensating for a lack of offensive finesse by pressing (like the Red Bulls) seems like an antiqued way of running a team.

Minnesota United

Stat: 17.84…progressive passes and carries per 90 by Reynoso

Emanuel Reynoso has largely carried the Loons on his shoulders this season, especially with inconsistent production for their No. 9s. With his ability to drive the ball forward on the dribble or thread passes forward to his attacking teammates, Reynoso is must-see-TV in MLS. 

Per FBref, he ranks in the 95th and 96th percentiles, respectively, for progressive passes and progressive carries per 90 minutes among attacking midfielders and wingers in 2022..

FC Dallas

Stat: 15.2…non-penalty xG+xA for Ferreira

People expected big things from Jesus Ferreira after FC Dallas gave him the No. 10 shirt and a Designated Player contract and boy has he delivered this year. When you look at his stats, Ferreira’s non-penalty xG+xA ranks only behind Hany Mukhtar in MLS. Then, his 20 combined actual goals and assists rank only behind Austin FC’s Sebastian Driussi. 

FC Dallas look pretty comfortable with their third spot in the West with Ferreira playing like this.

Austin FC

Stat: 21.65…more xG than actual goals

Austin fans are probably tired of hearing from spreadsheet merchants like myself about how Austin FC are overperforming their xG. But Austin could be on pace for some historical overperformance. Since 2013, only two teams in the ASA database have overperformed their xG difference at a greater rate: 2017 Atlanta and 2017 Toronto. 

If they continue at their current per-game overperformance rate, Austin will easily surpass both. It’s not the worst company for Austin, though. That 2017 Toronto team is considered by some to be the best MLS team of all-time.

LAFC

Stat: 15…different players have scored this year

Why are LAFC so good? Their depth is a major factor. They have tons of quality in the attack, in midfield, and in the backline. Gareth Bale and new DP Denis Bouanga aren’t even starting yet. Does LAFC even need them?