Digging into the Chalkboards on Chivas USA

CARSON, CA - JUNE 01: This photo is from last season. But the heading didn't look so effective here, did it? (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Ok, so last night was rough. But just like anytime you feel upset, it is good to take the advice of others, sleep on it, and take a second look. No question about it, the loss yesterday was rough. But Chivas USA lost by a goal. They outplayed the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first half, and while they looked poor on the offensive end for most of the second half, it was still a hard-fought match. I thought one way of looking at last night's performance would be to look at the chalkboards of the match, as found on the official report of the match on MLSsoccer.com.

I haven't used the chalkboards a great deal on this blog, mostly because I'm still trying to figure out how to best use them. The heat maps are fun to look at, but they are particularly useful in seeing when a player is out of position. Since these guys are professionals, though, they aren't usually out of position. The other useful feature is that there is a statistical breakdown of each player. Again, when looking at statistics like, "Tackled and possession lost" and seeing a high number, you have to compare it to other players, especially those of a similar position, in order to get a sense of its significance.

I want to highlight a few Chivas players and some interesting statistics based on the chalkboard feature from last night.

Casey Townsend: The youngster had the best chance of the game for Chivas, in the first half, on his weighted shot to the far top corner that was just saved by Joe Cannon. Although the team needs goals now, he put in a good shift on the night and showed promise at the MLS level. But the statistic that jumps out the most from last night is his headers. The official stats showed him winning eight headers against the Whitecaps. That was most on Chivas, and second most overall, just behind Eric Hassli's nine. Hassli is listed at 6'4" however, while Townsend is listed at 5'11". It seems the scouting report on Townsend coming into the SuperDraft about his aerial ability was correct. A forward who can win headers in the open field as well as near goal is a hot commodity, in any league, and Townsend looks capable of winning headers with ease, at least compared to the rest of his team. I hope the team is practicing crossing into him in the box in practice, so that they can take advantage of this skill moving forward.

Rauwshan McKenzie: For a player who had previously only made nine starts the past three seasons, McKenzie has been pretty sharp in his first two games with Chivas. And don't forget he is supposed to be the backup at center back. But he seemed to have a statistically successful day, especially compared to his teammate at center back, Heath Pearce. McKenzie tied Vancouver's centerbacks, Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour, for clearances, with 6. He also led Chivas players in Recovery with 10, and was second overall to only Vancouver's right back Young-Pyo Lee. Opta, the organization that developed the chalkboard and keeps statistics for MLS, defines Recovery as "where a player wins back the ball when it has gone loose or where the ball has been played directly towards him." So, it could be argued that players who lose the ball easily and then win it back will have inflated stats compared to players who can keep clean possession and successfully pass the ball to teammates. But this statistic indicates a willingness to win the ball and not give up on a play. I think watching McKenzie play the last two games bears this out. He has acquitted himself well so far with Chivas.

James Riley: He lead both teams in clearances last night, with eight. Again, this could be a double-edged statistic, in that holding onto possession can be preferred to just booting the ball out. But smothering chances by any means necessary is the objective of defenders, and Riley was very active on the night. In addition, his heat map was by far the largest from goal to goal. He was present all over the right side of the field up and down the pitch, and the expectation that he would get up the field, unlike Zarek Valentin last season who stayed very much at home, seems to be taking place. The next step will be for him to get involved in the goals. He has never been much of a scorer, but if he can contribute a few goals, and especially several assists, that would help Chivas' attack tremendously.

Again, statistics need to be weighed appropriately, but I think these three players had pretty good nights, and the statistics seemed to support that perception. What do you think of this discussion? Should I delve into the chalkboards more often? Leave a comment below!

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