Thomas Floyd: Analyzing the MLS regular season in numbers

Goal goes down the Opta rabbit hole to offer statistical insight on the 2014 MLS campaign.

Down the Opta rabbit hole we go.

With eight months of MLS action in the books, I decided to take a long, hard look at the numbers during this breath before the playoff plunge.

Of course, evaluating players isn't just about goals and assists anymore. Statistics such as interceptions, recoveries and chances created have emerged to help measure individuals' contributions.

So what story do Opta's analytics tell? Here's what I found:

Does possession equal success? Not always — but often. The LA Galaxy led MLS in passes completed (13,487) en route to nearly winning the Supporters' Shield, while a strong Columbus Crew team topped the league in passing accuracy (83 percent). Woeful Chivas USA, on the other hand, was last in both categories (9,059 passes completed at 76 percent accuracy).

All about opportunism. Playoff-bound FC Dallas was 18th in MLS with 269 chances created, yet tied for fourth with 55 goals. The Houston Dynamo, meanwhile, were third with 368 scoring chances but 16th with 39 goals.

The best of the best. It's not a flawless formula, but I like to start the MVP conversation by looking at the number of non-PK goals a player scored or assisted. The 2014 leaders: Robbie Keane (32), Obafemi Martins (29), Landon Donovan (26), Thierry Henry (24) and Diego Valeri (24).



Above the crowd. Defensive midfielders typically fly under the radar. But in 2014, two players separated themselves from the statistical pack. The Seattle Sounders' Osvaldo Alonso (1,972) and the Galaxy's Juninho (1,985) easily led MLS in passes completed. At 91 percent and 89 percent, respectively, they finished 1-2 in accuracy. Alonso also led field players in recoveries (341) and was second in duels won (236).

In safe hands. Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando stopped a remarkable 4 of 5 penalty kicks faced in 2014. When it came to MLS goalkeepers finding their inner Manuel Neuer, the Philadelphia Union's Zac MacMath rose to the top with 54 "keeper sweepings."

Midfield maestros. Landon Donovan (109), Diego Valeri (103) and Javier Morales (99) led MLS in chances created. You can't create without a little risk, though: No players lost possession more often than Valeri and Morales.

Quantifying defending. D.C. United's Bobby Boswell and Seattle's Chad Marshall will likely top the Defender of the Year voting. The veterans, after all, provided stability for their new clubs en route to first-place finishes. But the individual numbers support them as well: Boswell led MLS in clearances (234) while Marshall was first in interceptions (136).



Close but no cigar. LA's Robbie Keane and Seattle's Clint Dempsey hit the woodwork five times each to lead MLS. That's not much of a surprise, considering they finished first and third, respectively, in shots taken.

In and out. Leandro Barrera, Luis Silva, Marco Pappa and Lamar Neagle tied for the league lead by being substituted 20 times each. New England rookie Steve Neumann finished first with 20 appearances off the bench.

A pain in the box. Chicago Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa led the league with five penalty kicks drawn. On the other end of the spectrum: Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry was called for four penalties to top MLS.

Sorely missed. Then-Sporting Kansas City midfielder Uri Rosell completed 158 passes against Montreal on May 10 — 53 more than any other player in a single game. Fatigue and defensive injuries have hampered Kansas City, yet the loss of Rosell to Sporting Lisbon could be the biggest factor in the club's slide down the standings.

Long-range ambitions. Why are Lee Nguyen, Diego Valeri and Fabian Espindola considered MVP candidates? For one, they're experts at making something out of nothing: The trio tied for the MLS lead with five goals apiece from outside the box.

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