Selected D.C. United Numbers from Game 3 vs. the Chicago Fire

Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport

Let us examine the D.C. United-Chicago Fire game using soccer statistics. I'll be using selective statistics that I find potentially very interesting largely taken from the chapters of The Number Game: why everything you know about soccer is wrong by Chris Anderson & David Sally and Soccernomics by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski.

I know not all statistics are useful for soccer. But empirical evidence shows selected statistics are predictive of results, goals, and player value. I will entertain the notion of doing more complicated analyses or examining additional statistics provided the data are available. I am using data from and

Hopefully these numbers provide useful game insight and predictive utility.

The Weakest Link

Soccer is a team game. According to Anderson and Sally the worst player is more determinant of a team's performance than the best player; hence my focus on the weakest link in a chain. I'll be using player index ratings from WhoScored*. I am not thrilled about using indices where the calculation details are vague but those two are both established and I don't see enough available data available to calculate my own. *An explanation for WhoScored's ratings can be foundhere **I'll look to incorporate the Castrol ratings in the future. They just come out too late for these game-by-game postings and they don't break down by game.


chi 3-29

tor 3-22

clb 3-8

Davy Arnaud




Bobby Boswell




Nick DeLeon




Conor Doyle




Fabian Espindola




Cristian Fernandez




Sean Franklin




Bill Hamid




Jared Jeffrey




Eddie Johnson




Perry Kitchen




Lewis Neal




Jeff Parke




Kyle Porter




Luis Silva





The crazy 8's. Fabian Espindola and Perry Kitchen. It's a wonder what scoring a goal will do for a player's rating. Everyone did better even Davy Arnaud had a respectable rating. One downside is that the subs beside Arnaud did not have good ratings. Once again highlighting the lack of impact from the bench.

In comparison Chicago also had 2 players above an 8. Chicago averaged 6.94 while DC united averaged 7.01. Best team average for DC United and first time they averaged greater than the opposition.


Controlling the game and how that control is achieved is quite predictive of league points. The overall possession statistic is, as we know, not useful for determining what happened. However, having possession is generally important. As a consequence turnovers are indicate how well a team controlled the game. Statistically, the turnover ratio (# DCU turnovers/ (#DCU turnovers + #Opp. turnovers) ) is a good number to examine. Passing data is informative. The sheer raw number of passes (more is better) is basic number to compare the two teams. The type of passes (Longball to Short Ratio LSR = Longballs/(longballs + shortballs); lower number is better) and passing completion percentage correlate (not cause) with the overall number of points a team earns.

Possession: 52% (black of top bar, red being Chicago 48%)

Total passes: 435 vs 392

LSR = .19

Turnovers: 50%


DC United didn't lose. DCU had about the same amount of the ball. DCU had about the same amount of passes. DCU had about the same amount of turnovers. DC United's LSR was acceptable but their highest of the season by .05 (.10 seems to be an ideal).

*I would also point out that the above statistics are correlated with league points earned but that is for an entire season (with European data too - may not apply in MLS) and not necessarily predictive of individual games.

Who's on First?

Scoring two goals is the best predictor of winning points. Scoring a third goal only slightly improves a team's odds above two goals of earning a draw or win. Since, goals were so rare for DC United last year I'm also looking at what predicts goals. An average of 9 shots per game is what it takes to score a goal. Can DC United manage 9 shots per game? A new (maybe just popular) statistic that predicts points is the Total Shots Ratio TSR = Total shots for/(Total shots for + total shots against). TSR is an indirect indicator (as a latent or an emergent variable - I'm not sure) assessment of team strength. The best English clubs have TSR's around .60.

DC United: 17 Shots (9 on goal)

2 Goals

TSR = .57


HOLY SHIT! LOOK AT ALL THOSE SHOTS. AND SHOTS ON GOAL. AND HOLY SHIT GOALS! Their TSR went up from .30 against Toronto to .57 which is great. A positive step. Chicago had 13 shots so the 30 shots should be good for 3 goals. So, that fourth goal shouldn't have happened. Uh, it shouldn't have happened.

Change We Can Believe In

When behind the best times to substitute a player are first by the 58th, second by 73rd, and finally the 79th minute. MLS and national team coaches adhere to those substitution times more than any other league coach in the world. As a consequence of substituting by those times MLS coaches salvage or gain more points (i.e. score game tying or winning goals) than other teams across the world. The weakest link also re-appears here as the weakest link should be the first player substituted regardless of position.

Subs came in at 38th, 63th, 81st.


The Silva injury sub was a necessity. Neal was planned. He's still working his way back to fitness. Interestingly, DCU got its second goal 10 minutes after its second sub. But lost their lead immediately after their third sub in 81st. According the player ratings both Jeffrey and Doyle were among the worst performers and by nearly a full point in comparison to everyone else. Depth seems to be a real limitation on this team.


DC United gave up a lead late. I hate that. Winning teams don't give up late goals and know how to hold on to the ball. But by the statistics these teams were pretty equal. They had the same amount of possession, passes, turnovers, player ratings, and goals. By the individual player ratings this was by far the team's best game. Yet, 1 point. And Chicago was not exactly on fire coming into this game. I don't know if I (or you) should be encouraged or not. It's one game. But the old adage is win at home and draw on the road, not draw at home and lose on the road. But goals! I guess.

I'm compiling stats for every other team and will post a league wide comparison in a few weeks. But the only number that stands out so far is their TSR (shots ratio). DC is far behind the teams with points. See useful statistics. Shooting the ball is important.

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