The Breakdown breaks out the stats to show why the stylistic debate about Portland's reliance on set pieces is a bit off the mark in a league where goals are at a premium.Seattle coach Sigi Schmid sparked off a war of words in the Pacific Northwest with a few pointed post-match comments about Portland's attacking approach in the wake of Sounders FC's 1-1 draw with the Timbers last weekend.
“Their game, as we talked about earlier in the week, is predicated around free kicks and set pieces,” Schmid told reporters after the match. “That's what their danger is. That's what they live for. The referee gave them quite a few. It seemed like our fouls were happening for us on our end of the field and theirs happened on their end of the field. At the end of the day, we have to defend those things and we have to take care of that business.”
Push aside the obvious retorts – both Portland and Seattle secured victories via set piece goals this weekend and Schmid subsequently said the Timbers shouldn't apologize for their dead ball prowess and noted that he used similar tactics during his time in Columbus – to this quasi-excuse for a second and focus on the valid theme of the comments: the Timbers fuel their attack through dead ball chances. No MLS team is better in those situations. Portland has scored more goals from set pieces (8) than any other team in the league without conceding a goal from similar opportunities.
Is there something wrong with using set pieces to score goals on a regular basis? Perhaps from an aesthetic standpoint, but those romantic sentiments look somewhat out of place when placed in the context of this league. It is hard enough to score goals in MLS without quibbling about how a club decides to generate them.
The proof lies in the numbers:
95 – total matches played (through May 23)
6 – number of matches in which both teams have held the lead, according to Climbing the Ladder, a blog focused on MLS and U.S. soccer statistics.
221 – total goals scored (through May 23)
2.33 – goals scored per game
3.57 – highest goals per game average in MLS history (1998)
2.46 – lowest goals per game average in MLS history (2010)
Average goals per game in selected European leagues in 2010-11
3.23 – Eredivisie
3.00 – Swiss Super League (35 of 36 rounds played)
2.92 – Bundesliga
2.80 – English Premier League (the highest per-game average since 1967-68, according to Opta)
2.74 – English Championship
2.74 – La Liga
2.56 – Scottish Premier League
2.55 – Danish SAS Ligaen (31 of 33 rounds played)
2.51 – Serie A
2.32 – Ligue 1 (37 of 38 rounds played)
2,194 – total number of shots (through May 23)
23.1 – number of shots toward goal in the average match
25-27 – the range of the average number of shots taken toward goal in the top four European leagues, according to the New York Times' Goal blog and soccerbythenumbers.com.
760 – total number shots on goal (through May 23)
8 – number of shots on goal in the average match
9-13 – the range of the number of shots on goal in the average match in the top four European leagues, according to the New York Times' Goal blog and soccerbythenumbers.com.
The paucity of goals this season continues a downward trend in goalscoring over the past couple of seasons. MLS set new lows in average goals scored per game in 2009 (2.54) and 2010 (2.46) in the wake of a surprising goalscoring spike in 2008 (2.81, a .15 jump from 2007).
Although there are no direct explanations for the modest decline in goalscoring, several factors likely play a significant part in the decreased output. Expansion serves as perhaps the most notable influence. The addition of eight teams since 2004 has increased the travel demands – and the corresponding fatigue and injury concerns – on clubs and has arguably weakened the concentration and the cohesiveness of attacking talent from team-to-team. Other factors – budgetary constraints, the inability or unwillingness to compete for creative attacking players in the world transfer market and tactical approaches from coaches around the league, for example – could also play a role.
While the causes of the overall decline remain uncertain, the increased difficulty in front of goal suggest teams must do whatever they can to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net. The bottom-line ethos may not always garner style points, but the overall picture shows that clubs can't afford to pick and choose about how they breach opposing defenses.
Five Points – Week 10
1. Another timely point about the importance of dead ball situations: Eight of the thirteen goals scored on Saturday came from set pieces. The eight strikes mark the highest number of dead ball goals converted in one day since May 2009, according to Peter Hirdt of Elias Sports Bureau.
2. Carlos Ruiz's stunning volley breaks Philly's attacking hex: Philadelphia entered Saturday's 2-1 victory over Chicago with a damning statistic in its corner: the Union hadn't scored a pair of goals in any single game this year until this weekend. Ruiz gave the Union its first two-goal showing of the season and sealed all three points by sensationally volleying home with his left foot from all of 35 yards to send the PPL Park into rapture. Ruiz hasn't excelled for the Union this year, but his wonderful strike ensures that he will at least carve out a place in the running for Goal of the Year honors.
3. Quality, not quantity, at the sharp end this week: In addition to Ruiz's goal, there were laudable tallies from Chad Barrett (a well-placed header from David Beckham's free kick in Los Angeles' 1-0 win over Chivas USA), Bobby Convey (a left-footed curler of a free kick off the far post in San Jose's 2-1 win over New England), Michael Farfan (a low drive through traffic from a set piece for the Union) and Dane Richards (a long-distance screamer to open the scoring in the first minute of New York's 2-2 draw at Houston) to punctuate the proceedings on Saturday night. Portland also deserves credit of a different sort for its well-worked quick free kick to prompt Eric Brunner's decisive header against his former Columbus teammates in the Timbers' 1-0 victory at JELD-WEN Field.
4. Maybe those spring Sunday night fixtures in Frisco aren't such a good idea: FC Dallas suffered through its second lightning delay of the season in its 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake. FCD and RSL cooled their collective heels for nearly two hours after lightning struck in the 83rd minute – the same exact minute in which FCD saw its match postponed against Los Angeles for the same reason three weeks ago – before returning to the field to finish out the remaining seven minutes without incident. The match took three hours and 43 minutes to complete, according to the Real Salt Lake communications department.
5. RSL finally breaks its Dallas duck: The Claret-and-Cobalt entered that drenched draw at Pizza Hut Park hoping to register its first point at FCD. RSL shipped 18 goals and tallied just five times in its previous nine visits (eight in MLS play, plus the first leg of the 2010 Western Conference semifinal series) to the Metroplex before posting a shutout against FCD.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.