Friday, June 26, 2009

Another post about soccer?

Jerry, over at the Car Wash, linked over to my recent post about the United States' recent 2-0 win over Spain in his post today. In the same paragraph, he also links to this post by friend of the Neighborhood JRS at A Lifetime of Defeats. While I agree with the sentiment of JRS' post (namely that seeing USA soccer do well is awesome and Colin Cowherd is an unrelenting douchebag), I respectfully disagree with the following quote from said post:

"[The U.S.] didn't get lucky either...they just went out and outplayed them."

I actually belive that we were very lucky to come out on top in that match. I know I said in my previous soccer post that I wouldn't give any soccer analysis, but I'm going to try to do just that to prove a point. Namely, that the U.S. was fortunate to beat Spain, when looking at some of the numbers.

First of all, I think one of the most important statistics in soccer is possession percentage. Spain held possession of the ball for 56% of the game (meaning the U.S. had it for 44%, naturally). Taking out stoppage time (because I don't have the time or the inclination to look up how much time was added) that means Spain held the ball for roughly 50 minutes compared to our 40 minutes. That's an additional ten minutes they had to score. Several minutes of googling doesn't seem to turn up any results on team records when winning the possession percentage battle, but I'd bet all my Star Wars collection figures that the team that has the ball for longer in a game wins more often than not. (Except Boba Fett. No matter how sure I am, I never bet the Fett man.) So that having been said, just looking at possession percentage, we've already defied the odds; now let's look at the shot distribution.

Looking at the stats at the bottom of the match report, Spain had 18 total shots, 8 of which were on goal; the U.S. had 9 total shots, 2 of which were on goal. To shoot the ball 18 times, 8 of which caused the goalie to deflect or catch the ball, and not have the ball go in? To me that just screams bad luck. I'll liken it to a statistic in baseball that I just love: BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Basically this is a statistic that measures just how lucky a batter has been. It takes away strikeouts and homeruns from the equation, and measures his batting average on balls that were fielded. If your favorite player is on a "hot streak," it's probably because the balls he's hitting are finding holes in the defense. Let's look at an example.

Here's a look at Oakland's current second baseman, Adam Kennedy. He played in St. Louis for the past two seasons, and generally stunk up the joint. He played so poorly that GM John Mozeliak cut ties with him a year before his contract expired, effectively wasting $4 million of payroll. The A's picked him up, and when their usual 2B (Mark Ellis?) went down with an injury, they plugged him in. From the moment he first started for the A's, on May 9, to the end of the month, his batting average (AVG) was .390, his on-base percentage (OBP) was .462 and his slugging percentage (SLG) was .622. These incredible numbers were accompanied by a ridiculous BABIP of .424. His batted balls (giggle) couldn't find an opponent's glove. *As a quick aside, BABIP is generally thought to stay steady over a player's career. It's a function of line-drive percentage, but I won't go into all that ugly detail.* Kennedy's career BABIP is .313. The .424 was unbelievably lucky. Fast forward to current day. His numbers from June 1 to June 24 are .213/.278/.337 (AVG/OBP/SLG). His BABIP in that time period? .223. Incredibly unlucky.

So what was all that mathematical garbage supposed to mean? It means that a team that has 8 shots on goal would beat a team with 2 shots on goal more often than not. Sometimes, you shoot the ball, and it clanks off the goalpost and into the stands. Sometimes, you shoot the ball, it ricochets off the goalie, clanks on the correct side of the goalpost, and hits the back of the net. Luck. Pure and simple.

Spain also had 14 corner kicks to our 3. Outside of penalty kicks, corners seem to me (a soccer n00b, remember) to be the best chance at scoring a goal. The fact that Spain had that many more corner chances than we did, and still came away empty-handed, also screams luck to me.

So what can we tell going forward based on this information? Not a whole lot. Just because we were lucky in one game doesn't mean we'll be completely unlucky in the next. Just because Albert Pujols goes 5-5 with 3 HR one day doesn't mean he's due to go 0-4 the next. But if we want to have a chance at beating the Brazilians, we'll have to do a better job of holding onto the ball and keeping the pressure on their defenders and goalie, as well as hope that their shots miss the mark just as well as Spain's did. I'll be glued to the TV on Sunday afternoon, hoping and praying that we pull away with a victory. My better judgment says we fall to the Brazilians 3-1. But hey, a second-place finish, including a victory over the world's number one team, in a tournament as big as this one is still a huge deal for American soccer. We should vault into the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings.

Now let's go beat that Brazilian ass (mmm...Brazilian ass...) and make JD eat crow!


jrsuicide said...

i'll admit that i didn't watch the entire game and when i said they outplayed them i meant that the US goalie played his ass off and the US did everything they could possibly do to beat a superior team. but honestly i know nothing about soccer...i just hate Colin Cowherd.

J.D. said...

Hey...hatred of Colin Cowherd is something we can all agree on. Our goalie was definitely the tits the other night. I also agree that given we were facing the #1 team in the WORLD, who was on a major winning/undefeated streak, we had to have a little luck go our way to pull it off. I'm very happy it did, and I just hope we can keep it rolling for 90 more minutes.

By the way, did you see the Iran protesters at the Arch tonight? I almost felt like running over there and causing a ruckus by telling them Ahmadinejad won fair and square (note: don't necessarily believe this, just like to stir the pot).

jrsuicide said...

i avoid arch protests at all costs.