The Union’s lack of scoring this year doesn’t just look bad to the human eye. It looks bad by statistical measures, too.
For proof, look at a widely-used metric called expected goals. It uses quantity and quality of shots to judge how many goals a team should have scored in a game or season.
Opta, MLS’ official stats provider, gave the Inquirer and Daily News the league-wide ranking of what it calls Goals Above Average: the difference between a team’s expected goals and scored goals. Going into the weekend, the Union (1-2-2, 5 points) ranked dead last. They have three goals in five games, the second-worst scoring total in MLS. The expected goals formula says they should have nearly six more.
|New York City FC||4.56|
|San Jose Earthquakes||2.88|
|Los Angeles FC||1.92|
|New York Red Bulls||1.62|
|Sporting Kansas City||0.21|
|New England Revolution||-0.12|
|Los Angeles Galaxy||-0.71|
|Real Salt Lake||-1.63|
It’s not for lack of trying. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Union’s average of 17.2 shots per game is the highest in MLS, according to Opta. Second-place Sporting Kansas City averages almost one shot fewer. The big question is: Why aren’t those shots going in the net?
The Union would say there’s an element of bad luck to it. Perhaps there is, given the saves opposing goalkeepers have made in recent games. But it’s also worth noting shots aren’t going toward the net as often as they could. The Union average 5.2 shots on target per game, sixth-highest in MLS. The New York Red Bulls rank No. 1 with 7.4 shots on target per game.
The stats look bad at the individual level too. David Accam, C.J. Sapong and Fafa Picault — the three attackers on the Union’s front line — each rank in the bottom 25 of the league for Goals Above Average. Sapong, who hasn’t scored since the season opener, ranks second-worst overall at -2.27. Accam, who hasn’t scored this year, is 12th-worst at -1.14.
“We’re creating chances and we just lack a little bit of final quality,” said Accam.
Accam knows what it takes. The Ghanaian scored 14 goals last year for the Chicago Fire and has scored at least nine every season he’s been in MLS.
Seventeen players across MLS have a GAA of -1.0 or worse, with Atlanta United star Miguel Almirón’s -2.38 at the very bottom. But Almirón has MLS’ top scorer this season, Josef Martínez, playing in front of him. Atlanta is in second place in the Eastern Conference thanks in part to Martínez’s five goals.
The Union don’t have anyone of either player’s caliber, not to mention price tag, on their squad. They have who they have, and those are the players who must execute — and it starts with Sapong.
“Personally, for me I think about just being a little hungrier and willing yourself to win. … that no matter how the ball goes in, just get it in the net,” he said. “With results not going our way, it’s easy for guys to try too hard to do all the functional stuff the best that they can, and sometimes that takes time and energy away from putting that power into mentally just finding a way to win.”
Sapong got it done last season, scoring a career-high 16 goals. It seemed he might have overcome the long scoring droughts that followed past hot streaks. But he has one goal in five games this year, and some glaring misses.
“The scoresheet is all that people see at the end, it’s all that makes people money, it’s all that gets people to write their articles — but also, the journey and the process is the big part of it,” he said. “We can’t just undermine that because the standings and stat sheets aren’t looking the way we would like them to.”
Perhaps not, but the process is a lot harder to trust when the ball isn’t going in the net.
Ranking MLS players by goals above average
|Miguel Almirón||Atlanta United||-2.38|
|C.J. Sapong||Philadelphia Union||-2.27|
|Daniel Royer||New York Red Bulls||-2.08|
|Alberth Elis||Houston Dynamo||-1.93|
|Jozy Altidore||Toronto FC||-1.87|
|Marco Ureña||Los Angeles FC||-1.79|
|Justin Meram||Orlando City||-1.68|
|Yohan Croizet||Sporting Kansas City||-1.66|
|Sebastian Giovinco||Toronto FC||-1.59|
|Khiry Shelton||Sporting Kansas City||-1.59|
|Will Bruin||Seattle Sounders||-1.22|
|David Accam||Philadelphia Union||-1.14|
|Mason Toye||Minnesota United||-1.13|
|Mattocks, Darren||D.C. United||-1.12|
|Ola Kamara||Los Angeles Galaxy||-1.06|
|Maximiliano Urruti||FC Dallas||-1.05|
|Enzo Martinez||Colorado Rapids||-0.86|
|Saphir Taïder||Montreal Impact||-0.85|
|Andrew Wenger||Houston Dynamo||-0.84|
|Samuel Armenteros||Portland Timbers||-0.84|
|Jefferson Savarino||Real Salt Lake||-0.83|
|Fafa Picault||Philadelphia Union||-0.82|
|Cristian Martínez||Columbus Crew||-0.82|
|Ismael Tajouri-Shradi||New York City FC||3.01|
|Felipe Gutiérrez||Sporting Kansas City||2.95|
|Brek Shea||Vancouver Whitecaps||2.19|
|Bradley Wright-Phillips||New York Red Bulls||1.94|
|Anton Tinnerholm||New York City FC||1.87|
|Carlos Vela||Los Angeles FC||1.74|
|Jeisson Vargas||Montreal Impact||1.72|
|Dom Dwyer||Orlando City||1.65|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||Los Angeles Galaxy||1.62|
|Josef Martínez||Atlanta United||1.60|
|Magnus Eriksson||San Jose Earthquakes||1.59|
|Kei Kamara||Vancouver Whitecaps||1.55|
|Kevin Molino||Minnesota United||1.44|
|Diego Rossi||Los Angeles FC||1.35|
|Sebastián Blanco||Portland Timbers||1.35|
|Diego Valeri||Portland Timbers||1.3|
|Yamil Asad||D.C. United||1.19|
|Joe Mason||Colorado Rapids||1.11|
|Graham Zusi||Sporting Kansas City||1.11|
|Roland Lamah||FC Dallas||1.05|
|Ricardo Clark||Columbus Crew||0.96|
|Jahmir Hyka||San Jose Earthquakes||0.96|
|Philippe Senderos||Houston Dynamo||0.95|
|Andrew Farrell||New England Revolution||0.94|
Union at FC Dallas
Saturday, 8 p.m. at Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Union’s record: 1-2-2, 5 points (8th in the East); 0-1-0 on the road
Dallas’ record: 2-0-3, 9 points (5th in the West); 1-0-3 at home
Series history: Dallas 5 wins, Union 1 win, 4 ties
At Toyota Stadium: Dallas 4 wins, Union 0 wins, 1 tie
Dallas players to watch
M Roland Lamah: The speedy Ivory Coast native can create and finish from his perch on the left side of midfield. He has three goals and two assists this season.
M Mauro Diaz: A classic Argentine playmaker, he has long been the straw that stirs Dallas’ drink.
GK Jimmy Maurer: After five seasons with the lower-league New York Cosmos, the 29-year-old has made the most of his shot in MLS. With normal starter Jesse Gonzalez injured, Maurer has played five games and pitched two shutouts.