Los Nerdes Verdes: Expectations vs Reality

Beginner’s Luck?

The dictionary defines luck as At face value, Goal Differential minus Expected Goal Differential is a statistical representation of how far above or below a team’s actual results are compared to modeled expectations. A big talking point over the offseason was whether Austin would be able to maintain the significant overperformance of their xG, and how much that would affect their ability to win games. As the graphic shows, Austin are getting substantially less “lucky” than last year. Whether that’s a primary factor in the drop in results is up for debate, but it is worth noting that at the same point last season, ‘22 Austin had won just two games in which they also didn’t accumulate more xG than their opponent — the exact same amount as this year. To us, the issue has been much more around creating consistent high-quality chances rather than an issue with conversion. 

Here are some trends from around the league:

The 2023 MLS debutantes, St. Louis City SC are outperforming their xG and xGA at a historic pace. Their supporters likely don’t want to hear it, and who can blame them, but between their incredible results in the face of middling underlying numbers and the fact that opponents couldn’t stop gifting them easy goals to start the season, it’s hard to argue for anyone else being the “luckiest” team in the league. Whether they can parlay their momentum into a deep playoff run like 2022 Austin is the big question. 

Atlanta United have both the most goals for and the most goals against. Their xGA is 24.7, but their actual goals against is a whopping 34! While Atlanta fans have a reason to feel hard done, you also have to look at the goalkeeping as a major factor. Both of their primary keepers this season, Guzan and Westberg, have negative PSxG-G.

Despite not having as dominant of a season as last year, Philadelphia have the largest actual GD at 14. While they are overperforming on that front, their xGD of +6.4 is still 2nd-best in the East.

Seattle supporters have to feel like they’re in a decent spot even during a bad run of form. Currently sitting 3rd in the West, the underlying stats show that they have a good case for being one of the best teams in the league. Their +11.4 xGD is by far the highest across both conferences — 2.5 above 2nd-place LAFC and 14.4 above conference leader’s St. Louis.

The Red Bulls, who boast one of the league’s most notable tactical philosophies, continue to act true to form — giving up just 17.8 xGA. You can’t win if you can’t put the ball in the back of the net, however, and that’s proving true for the New York side who currently sit in 11th in the East.

Minnesota United have the honors of being the “unluckiest” team in the league with an actual GD 13.2 points worse than their xGD would predict. If there’s any silver lining for the West’s 12th-placed team more than halfway through the season it would be those underlying numbers. Between those stats, the return of Emanuel Reynoso, and the signing of Teemu Pukki, they could be a dangerous side if they’re able to sneak into the playoffs. 

Today’s opponent’s, Inter Miami, have scored the 5th-fewest goals in the league and given up the 11th-most. With all of that, the advanced stats suggest that they’ve actually been getting a bit lucky. You can bet July 21st can’t come soon enough for their supporters.

The Matchup

Calling Inter Miami a Lionel Messi waiting room is a bit harsh to the current players but it’s not entirely untrue, and part of that is by design. Because of the myriad of MLS roster rules, courting arguably the world’s greatest ever soccer player was more than selling him on the club and the city – it was about designing a roster that could take on at least one Designated Player. The last thing their already thin roster needed was a series of long term injuries, but that’s exactly what they got. 

Against Austin, they’re looking at the following:

Negri: Out with ACL injury (started 16 of 18 matches)
Yedlin: Out with International duty (played in 16 of 18 matches)
Jean: Out with ACL injury (played in 15 of 18 matches)
Miller: Out with international duty (started in 9 of 18 matches)

Only Colorado have fewer points per game, and Miami’s xGD is by far the lowest across both conferences. They’ve also lost seven on the bounce. On a recent Apple TV segment, Sacha Kljestan broke down how many points Miami will need once Messi arrives in order to even make the playoffs, and the math isn’t good. For Austin, that does mean that they face a team who knows it’s now or never. Whether that’s enough to overcome their bevy of other issues remains to be seen. Listos!