To quote Phil West in the Verde Letters piece for the Striker Texas, “get ready for some nerdery.” In that piece, he points to Expected Points as one of his most intriguing data points of 2022.
If you want to learn more about xPts as a stat, feel free to check out their piece or Soccerment’s overview. At a high level, xPts uses a team’s xG and xGA to make predictions about the likelihood of a win/draw/loss in each matchup. From there, you get a value associated with how many points the model thinks a team should have. We put together a justice table for the MLS now that we’re about ⅓ of the way through the season, but if you’d like some other examples, we took inspiration from the pros over at @xGPhilosophy on Twitter who’ve been in this space for the EPL for a while now.
These stats come from American Soccer Analysis, and here’s how the data lines up. As always, these are on a per 90 basis to account for the unevenness of the MLS schedule.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that Austin doesn’t sit in the vaulted position that we’ve been used to for the start of this season. Interestingly enough for tonight’s matchup, neither does LAFC who — despite still topping the west — wouldn’t look heads and shoulders above the rest of the league. There’s certainly a wide gap between how the models think Austin should be doing and how that’s played out in reality. Still, by just looking at the model, the Verde & Black would sit in 6th place in the West with a fairly significant gap between them and the other conference opponents hunting for those final playoff spots.
Should teams start to normalize to their xPts, Austin wouldn’t be pushing for the Supporter’s Shield or a top 2 spot, but 6th in the West and a playoff spot would be a huge jump from their inaugural season. The flipside of this is that we’re only a third of the way through the season and these numbers can change quickly with just slight changes with xGD.
Statistically, Austin likely won’t play a more well-rounded team this season. In fact, the only thing Austin FC does better than LAFC is keep possession, and that’s only by a single percentage point.
The silver lining tonight is going to be the absence of both Ryan Hollingshead and Eddie Segura who are out with injuries. The two defenders have played in ten out of LAFC’s first eleven games and have been integral in establishing them as one of the best scoring defenses in the league. Hollingshead in particular is a monster in the air, and his absence should give us more of an advantage on set pieces on both sides of the ball. Look for Julio Cascante — who boasts one of the team’s best +g — to be a weapon on crosses and set pieces.