It is not an exercise, I repeat, it is not an exercise. The 2022 MLS regular season begins this weekend.
The final leg of preseason is usually a time of hope, a time when you’re allowed to believe whatever you want about your team.
But with days to go until MLS returns, I’m going to pour some cold water on you. Instead of looking at what might be going well for your team this year, we’re here to talk about what your team should be. a little nervous at the start of this new season.
Last week, we looked at a stat every Eastern Conference team should worry about in 2022. This week, we’re moving on to the Western Conference.
0.72 xG allowed per 90 minutes in transition
Austin FC had some great possession streaks last year, but they were leaking during the defensive transition.
In 2021, they allowed 0.72 xG per 90 minutes of transition, which was the worst total in MLS. The addition of Colombian central midfielder Jhojan Valencia to the squad should help, but if Austin is to improve on his 12th-place finish from last season, they will need a better counter-pressing approach in 2022.
7.5 xG from their main attacker
It’s old news at this point, but the Colorado Rapids don’t have a regular scorer. In Michael Barrios (who led the team with 7.5 xG in open play in 2021), Jonathan Lewis, Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki, they have players who can to score goals. But they don’t have the guy.
The Rapids had 61 points and won the Western Conference without a dominating scorer last year — and if they want to finish near the top in the West this year, it looks like they’ll have to score by committee again.
0.84 meters forward per touch
Just a few weeks ago I wrote about how FC Dallas had an extremely valuable and flexible presence at left back. Well, uh, that presence is gone.
Dallas traded Ryan Hollingshead to LAFC in exchange for Marco Farfan on February 10. Where Hollingshead finished 2021 in the 87th percentile of average number of defenders bypassed per touch among left backs and left wingers, Farfan finished in 64th. And where Hollingshead finished in the 90th percentile in distance covered per touch, Farfan finished in 14th.
Dallas has more talent on their roster than in recent memory, but I have a few questions about their left-back situation. Maybe he’s looking for a more defensive presence?
2.9 shots per 90 minutes of passing from key attacking areas
When looking for ways to improve Houston, new head coach Paulo Nagamura may want to examine his team’s chance-creating struggles.
In 2021, Dynamo created the fifth-fewest shots (2.9 for 90) from passes from the 14 area or outside channels of the box.
Houston doesn’t need to be a high-volume possession team in 2022 (it probably shouldn’t be), but it needs to start moving the ball into the right spaces to create scoring opportunities.
1.2 xG in open play allowed every 90 minutes
Only four teams have given up more xGs in open play than the LA Galaxy in 2021.
The Galaxy’s open play xG of 1.2 allowed per 90 minutes hurt their ability to control games and played a significant role in their absence from the Audi MLS Cup playoffs in Greg Vanney’s first season under the center.
New signing Mark Delgado’s energy in midfield should help LA close some of their defensive shortcomings, but even with Delgado the Galaxy will need to improve their defensive structure.
31.7 progressive passes per 90 minutes
LAFC will be a fascinating team to watch at the start of 2022. I’m curious to see how Steve Cherundolo sets up his midfield and how he asks his squad to play.
Without Eduard Atuesta’s progressive passing ability (31.7 progressive passes per 90 minutes, 99th percentile among MLS midfielders last year), does Cherundolo take LAFC even further down the road? vertical pressing?
How much will things change depending on whether it’s Kellyn Acosta or Illie Sánchez at 6? I have questions. But either way, LAFC will miss Atuesta’s soothing presence on the ball this year.
46% high pressing efficiency
Adrian Heath has a lot of attacking talent at his disposal, especially in Emanuel Reynoso and Franco Fragapane. However, Minnesota may want to address what happens when they don’t have the ball.
Last season, the Loons pressed a lot – they were the sixth most active high-pressing team in MLS. However, they weren’t very good at winning the ball when pressing. Minnesota only forced a turnover in under five seconds on 46% of their team-wide pressures in the final third, which put them in the 11th percentile last season.
To really fly in the West, MNUFC will have to up their press game.
1 xG in open play every 90 minutes
Nashville gobbled up the ball defensively in 2021 and was one of the best teams in the league in the defensive stages.
That said, they have room to improve their game on the ball in 2022. Hany Mukhtar has had a great year, but pulling even more from other attacking pieces will be a big part of this team’s evolution.
Collecting more than the 1 xG in open play per 90 minutes they collected last season (which puts them 17th in MLS) will go a long way to making Nashville SC even more dangerous as they enter the West.
23.7 assists allowed per 90 minutes
The Portland Timbers reached the MLS Cup in 2021 and could have easily walked out of Providence Park with silverware.
If they are to maintain those levels this season, it will be essential to step up their defensive work. In addition to allowing the most xGs in their 2021 organization, the Timbers allowed the second-most assists in 90 minutes.
Giving opposing teams so much access to valuable space behind is a dangerous thing.
Albert Rusnák wasn’t Real Salt Lake’s most important player, but losing him to the Sounders in free agency makes Pablo Mastroeni’s life harder.
Rusnak and his combined 11 goals and assists left for Seattle. Does RSL have enough quality to cover this lost attack output? I am not sure.
Maybe Damir Kreilach has another level in his game. Maybe Rubio Rubín can hit double-digit goals in open play. Maybe Sergio Córdova can be something special. May be.
1.9 meters forward allowed per touch
The San Jose Earthquakes are struggling to control space defensively. With the man-marking defensive approach that Matias Almeyda often relies on, San Jose can be separated with a combination of well-coordinated off-ball movements and aggressive forward dribbling.
Last season, San Jose allowed the fourth-highest xG in MLS and 1.9 yards forward per opposing touch, which was the second most allowed distance in the league.
They will have to do a better job of restricting space and movement if they want to make the playoffs in 2022.
8.3 possessions with seven or fewer assists ending one shot per game
Between Raúl Ruidíaz, Jordan Morris, Nico Lodeiro, Albert Rusnák and Cristian Roldán, the Sounders have a lot of talent in the forward positions. However, I’m curious how this talent will 1) fit in and 2) improve Seattle’s ability to create danger on quick attacking streaks.
On paper, Seattle’s offense in 2021 should have been very good at turning quick possessions (those with seven or fewer assists) into shots. In reality, however, they finished 13th in MLS last year by turning just 8.3 quick possessions into shots per game.
Adding to that number in 2022 could make the Sounders even more dangerous than they have been in previous years.
1.6 key passes per 90 minutes
The loss of Alan Pulido to a season-ending knee injury is a blow to SKC’s 2022 hopes.
Not only is Pulido an effective scorer – he finished in the 91st percentile in xG in open play every 90 minutes among players with at least 1,000 minutes last year – but he often acts as the connective tissue between the middle of Kansas City ground and offense. Pulido’s 1.6 key assists per 90 minutes puts him first in the league among No.9s with at least 1,000 minutes.
Can Peter Vermes keep his team humming without Pulido? Can Khiry Shelton or Nikola Vujnovic overcome defeat? We will find out.
7.7 expected goals after shooting
Although Vancouver has promising young talent in Thomas Hasal at goaltending, by trading Maxime Crepeau to LAFC earlier this offseason, the Whitecaps sent one of MLS’ most effective shooters to a conference opponent. .
According to FBref, Crepeau had the best shot-stopping metrics in the league last season, saving nearly 7.7 more goals than expected based on post-shot xG.
Vanni Sartini’s safety cover is gone, which could make his first full season in charge of the ‘Caps difficult.