Major League Soccer: the Summer months

Major League Soccer has gone to great lengths to enhance the quality of play this season. In addition to new teams and sponsorships, the league has invested in enhancing the analytical content for fans. As we head into the summer months, which should represent some of the best soccer of the season, here is a synopsis of how Major League Soccer has fared statistically from 2002-2010.

June

June has consistently been a particularly strong month for goals per game. This is not surprising because June is also consistently above the season average in shots per game. Although June is slightly less consistent with the shots being on target, the difference is negligible.

June is not only strong in attacking statistics, but also attacking efficiency. June has also been the most efficient summer month for getting shots off in the penalty area. This means a team needs less touches in the attacking half before getting a shot off. This efficiency is what leads to positive attacking statistics. For example, because June is the most efficient for getting shots off in the penalty area, it is not too surprising that June is consistently above the season average in penalty kicks per game from 2004. This shows urgency in attack, and is a factor in June being a strong attacking month.

June is also consistently above the season average in completed passes, including 2008 when it was significantly better. The statistics also show that June had a low amount of lost passes. When this information is combined with the attacking numbers, it shows that teams are not just keeping more possession in June, they are making sure that the possession is getting them somewhere.

So what we’re seeing in June are more completed passes throughout the field, and less touches in the attacking half before a goal is scored. Perhaps this is due to familiarity within a team and the uncovering of their identity as they are now 6-10 games through a season. Part of the reason could also be the momentum from May, which has stayed above the season average in goals per game since 2006. May and June are also consistently above the season average in corner kicks per game, meaning that there is more of an attacking mentality.

One factor that does not seem to have as much of an effect on teams is travel. The statistics show that travel does not have a major effect on either the attacking efficiency or the ability to keep possession. For example, In June 2008, teams traveled an average of 1427 miles per game, yet were still efficient with their attacking play, and their overall possession. In contrast, In July 2002 teams only travelled 985 miles per game, but were inefficient when in attacking touches per goal, and significantly inefficient when it came to getting into the opponent’s penalty box.

July

The momentum from June does carry into July, although things get a little less consistent. July has been below the season average in goals per game since 2004. However, in 5 of the last 7 seasons, July was simultaneously above the season average in shots per game, and below in goals per game. This suggests teams are seemingly getting less quality chances in July, and is a less efficient month for attacking play.

However, this trend seems to be shifting. Since 2008, July has been above the season average in corners. In that 2008 season, teams only needed 55 touches in the attacking half to get a shot on goal (lowest July total since 2002). In July 2009, teams only needed 112 attacking touches to get a shot on in the penalty area, 18 touches less than the season average, and the lowest July total ever. This is despite the fact that teams travelled 1302 miles in July 2008, and 1559 miles in July 2009, showing again that the amount of travel did not have a large impact.

Although July is less consistent in attacking, the speed of the game has not been compromised. Fouls per game in July have been below the season average every year since 2002, and there are not as many lost passes as there are in other months of the season. In fact, since 2008 July has the lowest amount of lost passes per month. This proves July is on its way to becoming a more consistent month in both attacking efficiency and possession.

August

Similar to July, August is not as consistent with attacking statistics as June. However, August is interesting because although the attacking is very efficient, it has not always translated to more goals per game.

An example of this is shots/shots on goal. August was below the season average in shots per game in 5 of the last 8 seasons, but at the same time it was above the season average in shots on goal per game in 5 of the last 8 seasons. This has not always lead to more goals per game in August, but it does indicate there are more quality chances than there are in July.

August is also the most efficient attacking month for statistics that lead to goals. Teams consistently have the least amount of attacking touches per goal, and the least amount of touches per shot in the penalty area. It is interesting that these trends do not lead to more goals per game. For example, in August 2009 teams needed 40 less touches (than the season average) in the attacking half to score a goal, yet only managed 1.17 goals per game.

Outside of attacking, teams are doing a good job of keeping possession in August. There are not as many lost passes in August as other months in the season, and lost dribbles are also below the season average. Neither statistic has been above the season average since pre-2002, meaning that teams are keeping possession as they move into the attack.

The main point here is that the games in August are high in quality and urgent in attacking, but teams are simply not finishing opportunities. It is difficult to find an explanation for this trend, but nevertheless it does show that August is an exciting month, and it would be interesting to compare the ratings and attendance between June and August and see what fans think.

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