I started looking into Vieira/Torrent splits and found some interesting things. Some offer obvious conclusions, but others not so much.
All NYCFC defensive actions this season under Patrick Vieira versus Dome Torrent. pic.twitter.com/KfKHc9MCth
— Dummy Run (@thedummyrun) October 6, 2018
Click on the images in that tweet and you will see that NYCFChas been much more active on defense under Torrent. His graph does not seem to offer a H/A split, but I think it is likely most of this activity is in Away games.
At home, every number has moved in the wrong direction. Home goals per game and xGoals per game are both down (though the latter by an insignificant amount). Also at home, opponent Goals and xGoals have gone up.
Away, however, NYC goals are down but xGoals are up by a meaningful amount. Opponents goals also are down, while their xGoals are way, way lower.
Under Vieira in 2018, NYCFC gave up an average of 1.7625 xGoals per game Away, and that is down to 1.2975 under Dome. Under Vieira, road opponents never accumulated fewer that 1.4 xG per game in 8 games. Under Torrent, they only exceeded 1.4 xG twice in 8 games.
This chart also shows that in all 4 areas: Home goals for and against, and Away goals for and against, the actual goal change has been worse for Dome than the xGoal change.
I do believe that the improvements in Away xGFor and xGAgainst are big enough that it shows real improvement, especially because Torrent has discussed his emphasis on improving road form. NYCFC’s xG differential has improved by 0.801 per game on the road. I tend to give people credit when they say “my goal is to improve X” and then X improves.
Next I focused on how NYCFC has performed relative to xGoals under Vieira and Torrent. The results are not surprising given the table above, and everything we have seen and discussed the last 2 months.
First 2 lines show the difference between actual goals per game and xGoals per game. In every instance + means the team did better than expected and – means the team did worse than expected. This is where the big dispute comes in regarding whether you think performance relative to Expected Goals is mostly luck, or not. Because again in all 4 categories the team was “luckier” under Vieira than for Torrent, and for NYCFC’s Home goals scored, the difference is massive. Can bad luck be this consistent? I honestly don’t know. Logic cuts both ways. On one hand it seems unlikely that luck would point the same way in all contexts and subdivisions, unless there was a reason outside of luck. On the other hand, there is no reason why the non-lucky explanations should correspond with each other. For example, you might explain the poor results relative to xG scored as being due to a less aggressive, vertical offense in transition. But just because that is true does not suggest a substantive reason for why the club should also underperform on defense. Whether you think it is luck, or there are substantive explanations, you might expect them to be independent.
For additional context, I note that for the entire season, only 5 MLS teams are underperforming relative to xGoals at home. That’s pretty normal. In 2017 6 teams did that, in 2016 – 5, 2015 – 8, and in 2014 – 4 teams. Simply put: Most teams outperform xGoals at Home. Further, underperforming xG at home by -0.443 per game is very unusual. Since and including 2014 through 2018 to date, only 4 teams have underperformed xG by worse than -0.3 per game over an entire season. Now, Dome’s NYCFC team has done this over just 9 Home games, not a full season. Extreme and unusual results are more likely over half seasons than over full seasons. But I still think it is fair to say this result is anomalous. Being so much worse at scoring Goals at Home than accumulating xG is just wrong and unusual.
As a bit more background, it is not unusual for a team to have a wild swing in its performance relative to xG in the middle of a season. For example, here are the GD-xGD figures for 2016 NYCFC and 2017 FCD in the first 17 games compared to the last 17 games:
NYCFC 2016 GD-xGD -0.176/0.759 Swing 0.935
FC Dallas 2017 GD-xGD 0.410/-1.091 Swing 1.501
And here is the split and swing for 2018 NYCFC under PV and under DT:
NYCFC 2018 PV/DT GD-xGD 0.484/-0.478 Swing 0.962
GD-xGD combines both offense and defense, and Home and Away. Are these big swings due to luck or something else? You can explain 2016 NYCFC based on the team getting used to PV’s new system. You can explain this year with the coaching change. I confess I am less familiar with 2017 FC Dallas than either NYCFC iteration, but they had no coaching change and they had an important player, Mauro Diaz, return from injury about 40% into the season. Yet they had an enormous negative swing with no clearly obvious cause. So is it mostly luck, really? Are the NYCFC splits that seem to be based on coaching changes just a pair of big coincidences?
Also, The H/A weighted PPG of opponents facing PV was 1.42, and for Dome to date it is only 1.30. But Dome had more injuries, and a lot of odd double game weeks and rough travel.
I think the data supports enough variations in conclusions that people can argue, but I believe the following with various degrees of confidence.
I think the improved xG figures, on both offense and defense under Torrent, represent something real.
I believe the deteriorated results relative to xG is based both on luck and controllable factors.
I think Torrent has focused on Away form, and controlling possession in the midfield, and defending in the midfield.
I think the poor results relative to xGoal is based on lack of performance in the final third on both ends.
I believe NYCFC’s attack is less direct and gives teams more time to get in front of their goal.
On defense, I look at 3 of the worst games relative to xG (at Chicago, at Seattle, and at Minnesota), and can remember individual plays where an opponent broke us down and/or an NYCFC defender messed up, leading to easy goals against the run of play.
I think this combination of effects can be in sum caused by a team that is uncertain of how to play a new system, combined with a technical emphasis on midfield play.
I fully expect this to improve.
Despite a half-season under the new coach, I believe that whether this does or does not improve in time for the playoffs will mostly be luck, if only because of a super small sample size.
I strongly expect this to improve next year.
I fear it might not improve early, due to roster turnover and a guess that Dome is — believe it or not — holding back, and that next year will bring even more changes for the team to acclimate itself to.