This weekend is not only the opening week for the 2013 MLS season, but also the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. The conference founded in 2006 is the sports statistician Comic-Con, with a number of speakers talking about increasing role of analytics in the Sports Industry. Although still under-represented at the conference, soccer has played a bigger role each year that includes an annual off campus get-together prior to the conference to discuss ideas and work.
My view is that soccer is still the 'Holy Grail' when it comes to analytics in sport partly due to the size of the game, where last season in transfers alone over 5 billion dollars was spent. As well, soccer doesn't have the history in North American where statistics and analysis plays a major role, not only in front offices, but also in the interest of general fans. One of the problems are when you put a bunch of nerds in a room they tend to over analyze things, so instead of developing products that relate to the average fan they use mathematical formulas that takes so much explanation it will most likely put the reader to sleep.
The work that I produce is simple partly because I started producing it when I was just at 15, but also because I based my work on the traditional scoreboard section in the local newspaper and of what fans of North American sports expect from statistical data. This simplicity has allowed me to quite easily gather information and currently I produce data for over 60 soccer leagues worldwide, including the complete statistical career of over 50,000 professional players. With this information I started developing a system quite common in North American sports called 'projected' or I prefer 'expected statistics', which basically means based on the history of the player and his current situation you try to project what his statistics should be for the upcoming season. Anyone who plays fantasy sports will be familiar with this concept, as you either try to evaluate this on your own, or most likely get the information from a magazine or a fantasy game provider.
Last MLS season was the first time I experimented with this concept and projected, to much criticism, that Toronto would finish last and have a horrible goals against average. Unfortunately for 2013, despite a number of off-season moves and admittedly a better defense, I still have Toronto in a similar position this season struggling in the bottom of the overall table with New England, Portland and Chivas USA. One issue with projected stats is you have to analyze the team based on its current roster so hopefully for Red fans Toronto will bring in a few players to improve its standing.
That being said here is analysis of the current 2013 Toronto FC roster
It is yet to be proven how much significance a goalkeeper plays on the success of a club. That being said, historically a healthy Stefan Frei is a slight improvement over Milos Kocic, which should save Toronto a few goals by the end of the season. I also feel Joe Bendik is a decent back up if needed.
In comparison, the Toronto tandem of Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley is competitive with most fullbacks in the MLS. I still feel Toronto should adapt a 5-3-2 formation to allow Morgan a chance to exploit his offensive potential and remove some of his defensive responsibilities. I do project Morgan to create five assists this season, which would be more than any other defender in the league.
Based on historical data, the expected starting centre back combination for Toronto will be Danny Catliff and Darren O'Dea. Both are proven defenders with O'Dea having the ability to score goals on set plays, although a concern is the tendency to foul, which might lead to cards, free kicks and penalties. Agbossoumonde, who I rated in my top 10 NASL prospects, has great upside although is a little raw and also has a tendency to foul. Based on the added depth in defense I have concerns over Doneil Henry and don't expect a huge improvement or increase of minutes this year from last season.
Currently I have Toronto playing a 4-2-3-1 formation and with Torsten Frings now gone it makes Julio Cesar and Terry Dunfield the likely starting defensive midfielders. Julio Cesear has been as much a defender as he has a midfielder during his career in Europe, and although he's shown great defensive attributes in the MLS he has not been a threat in attack with only 2 shots on net last season (coincidently one of them was against Toronto resulting in a stellar goal). Dunfield has shown the ability to pass as well as score the odd goal, although he sometimes get caught up in the role of a hard-man and can give away free kicks. The loss of Frings will hurt Toronto mostly in two ways: one will be his calmness on defense and the other will be his set play ability to set up the offence.
I have the three attacking midfielders for Toronto being Reggie Lambe on the right, Luis Silva in the centre and Kyle Bekker on the left. All are young and have potential although none have a proven track record at a professional level. I don't project any player scoring more than five goals and if you include all midfielders I have them scoring 15 goals. In comparison, Seattle is projected to score almost twice that amount. With Frings gone, I now project both Silva and Bekker getting more free kick opportunities, which should lead to more assists as well. Both players scored direct free kick goals in College, Silva scoring three and Bekker two, which might lead a goal or two this season. Toronto lacks depth in midfield which I talked about during the draft, and it has been proven statistically in the MLS that non DP signings have failed to improve a club's position, so I don't have much hope for any player currently on a tryout.
When and if Kovermans is fit he has proven the ability to score goals. Based on the projected service I have him scoring more than a goal every two games. Unfortunately I also have him projected to only play 1400 minutes. I feel Justin Braun is a decent signing and given an opportunity can score, and based on his history that would be about 5 to 6 goals a season. The other forwards on the Toronto roster have yet to prove they can score and I have concerns they may miss more chances than they convert. The other issue is they could be a defensive liability via turnovers and failed marking.
Overall I project Toronto to score 35 goals and allow 54 goals for a plus/minus of -19 and using a pythagenpat formula that is equal to about 31 points on the season or 8 or 9 wins. As noted earlier, if Toronto are able to improve the squad using players with a decent historical performance, these results can change although I would say it's very slim that Toronto can gain enough points this season to make the playoffs.
This being said I do feel there are some improvements over last season at the club and key players for the future such as Agbosoumonde, Morgan, Bekker, Silva will be given minutes and should improve. The goal now is to continue to develop the side via depth, or more importantly spend money so Toronto can compete in all positions and ultimately a playoff position.