Five Games In: Chivas USA's Offensive Evaluation

USA TODAY Sports

This is the second part of our ongoing series on Chivas USA's season with five games in the books.

Like our earlier post on the Goats' defensive stats five games into the 2013 season, we now examine Chivas USA's offensive metrics using the side's first five matches of 2012 as a benchmark.

Through round five of the 2013 Chivas USA led MLS in goals scored (they remain tied for the lead through six weeks, despite having a bye). That is not a typo. This is the same team that mere months ago nearly broke longstanding MLS records in longest scoreless streak and home futility. The team spent its offseason gutting its roster, hiring a foreign coach with no MLS experience, and shedding millions of dollars off their books often in some comically one-sided deals.

It defies belief but yet here we are: across the board scoring and shots (both on target and off) are up while shots being blocked are down.

Season Goals Scored GD Attempts on Goal Shots on Target Shots off Target Shots Blocked
2012 3 -1 45 14 20 11
2013 10 3 55 20 25 10
Diff 7 4 10 6 5 -1

How is Chivas USA doing it? For one thing, El Chelis took Rachna's advice and stopped having the team try to mimic Barcelona. The number of passes (and the accuracy of those passes) has plunged between seasons and that's even with the team's near doubling (68 in 2013, 38 in 2012) of "lay offs" (a term used by Opta when a player receives a pass and passes it back to the teammate who passed it to him). Tiki-taka soccer this is not.

Total Passes Passing Accuracy % Lay off
2012 2164 76.4% 38
2013 1482 67.8% 68
Diff -682 -8.6% 30

Perhaps a reason for the passing decline is an uptick in "take ons" or as they are described in Opta as Successful (and Unsuccessful) Dribbles. The attempted take ons have doubled but with only a moderate increase in success.

Successful Dribble Unsuccessful Dribble Total Attempts
2012 17 25 42
2013 36 54 90
Diff 19 29 48

Whenever a new coach is hired, you always hear the terms "aggressive", "attacking" but seldom is this transformation truly apparent. But so far under Chelis, the aggresive and attacking ethos has most certainly been evident. There's hints of aggression all over the place.

Take throw-ins for example. Under Coach Fraser throw-ins were the domain of defenders. Of 124 throw-ins, only 14 were taken by someone other than Ante Jazic, James Riley or Heath Pearce. Contrast that to 2013 where only six players (out of 20) have not attempted a throw-in (Giovani Casillas, Marvin Iraheta, Julio Morales, Juan Agudelo, Carlos Alvarez and Oswaldo Minda). Where Fraser seemed content to the let the opposing defense get settled, Chelis sees the opportunity to take advantage of an opponent.

Another way to track the team's aggression/attacking chops is through a statistic Opta tracks called "Chances Created": That's the sum of a team's Key Passes plus assists. (Opta defines a Key Pass as "The final pass or pass-cum-shot leading to the recipient of the ball having an attempt at goal without scoring." A key pass is not a pass that leads to an assist. For example Eric Avila set up Carlos Borja's assist to in the draw with the Galaxy that set up Carlos Alvarez's equalizer).

I'm surprised to say this but there is not much of a difference between the first five games of 2012 in comparison to 2013. There were 34 Chances Created in 2012 and 42 in 2013. An uptick of course, but I guess what we can conclude from this is the 2013 is making a whole lot more from its chances than the 2012 team ever did.

Lastly, the team's aggressiveness can also be measure by the number of fouls committed.

Fouls Committed Yellow Cards Red Cards
2012 55 9 0
2013 90 11 1
Diff 35 2 1

Analysis:

Rachna - I should probably put a disclaimer up and say I've only actually watched one full match this season, and the rest I saw through highlights and clips (this whole no TV thing sucks). I'm going to attribute much of the increase in offense to two things: aggressiveness and urgency. I think there's more of an attempt to really go after the ball, especially when mistakes are made. Last season, all to often we would turn over the ball and then pull back and be on the defensive. While that still happens, I sense a greater urgency to go after their mistakes and actively fix the problem made, as opposed to letting the defense absorb it. This is tied to urgency - someone, somewhere, has really lit a fire under these players. There's a desire to win in the way that the play that was not always apparent last season.

I also think the shots attempted statistic is interesting. Is this because we are getting more opportunities to go forward than last season? I know it's only 10 more, and the differences in the other categories related to that are not that large either. However, the increase is coming from somewhere, and it's working thus far.

Alicia - I don't need to add much to what Matt and Rachna have laid out here. I will say that while the team has increased their attempts at goal and become statistically more aggressive in taking on opposing defenses, they are still scoring at a remarkably efficient rate. Is it sustainable over the course of a season? Almost certainly not. It appears the lucky bounces are possibly apt to be on their side this year, but they are going to have games where they'll be wasteful in their shots. Can they ramp up their attempts on goal in order to account for this? That has to be the ultimate goal in order to maintain the hot scoring pace. That said, we're still in the "whatever works" phase of this season for this team, so I'm not going to complain if they score and win games on a single shot on goal.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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