Atlanta United midfielder Brek Shea (20) reacts after failing a score against FC Dallas during the second half Saturday, April 20, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Dallas won, 2-1.
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

xG OK w/me? No. ATLUTD players seem to agree

Expected Goals.

I don’t like the stat.

Yes, I can be grumpy. Yes, my kids say I’m old.

No, I’m not a Grumpy Old Man. But don’t you dare try to walk on my lawn.

Anyway, Expected Goals is a stat that is supposed to predict the probability of a shot becoming a goal. Depending upon what you read, its history goes back to the early 1990s. But it’s now a part of everyday conversations about soccer on the radio, TV, online, etc.

Anyway, Expected Goals is a big part of the conversations about Atlanta United and its poor start to the season because, according to the MLS website, Atlanta United’s Expected Goals this season is minus-5.12. In other words, it has scored five fewer goals than it should have.

That’s a lot of missed chances through six games and does help rationalize the team’s 1-3-2 record.

In its first season, Atlanta United had Expected Goals of almost plus-22, according to American Soccer Analysis. That means the team scored 22 more goals than it should have, according to the logistic-regression model used in the formula, which you can read about here.

In its MLS Cup season, Atlanta United had Expected Goals of plus 3, according to the same website.

Because Expected Goals, symbolized by xG when used on social media and in stories, has become a part of the sport’s vernacular, I thought I’d ask some of Atlanta United’s players if they had heard of, and appreciated, the stat.

Turns out that three of the first four had never heard of it.

Dion Periera: “I don’t know what that is.”

Darlington Nagbe: “Um. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of it.”

Brek Shea: “No. I’m not a big guy on stats on anything.”

The fourth, Jeff Larentowicz, has but doesn’t much care about stats trying to explain what happens in soccer: “I’ve heard about it. I’ve seen it written. I’m not huge on statistics explaining everything in soccer, at all.”

Why don’t I like Expected Goals?

A few reasons, all of which are because I’m an odd bird and have nothing to do with the credibility of the stat.

Among the reasons I enjoy soccer is because I’m not typically hit over the head with stats and jargon from the first minute to the last, unlike when I watch other sports. Soccer is free-flowing. There are seldom breaks in action. There isn’t time to put onto the screen numbers behind the action. 

I love stats. I do. But I hate it when stats are jammed down my throat. I don’t care about low spin revolutions on a change-up in baseball. I don’t care how high a golf ball was hit or the launch angle off the club face. I don’t care about how high someone jumped for a rebound. 

I can understand why others find that info interesting and useful. I find it not relevant. I just want to appreciate what I’m watching. 

You want to pick and choose spots to use those stats. Fine. 

I don’t want to be hit over the head with them every time I turn on any sport. 

Though it is interesting to use Expected Goals to try to predict results, in my experience it is typically used to explain why a team that didn’t win should have won, or that did win shouldn’t have won because they either outperformed or underperformed their Expected Goals.

Used that way, I think Expected Goals is mostly useless.

A team either scores or it doesn’t. Whether it should have scored is irrelevant when the final whistle blows.

That’s the fault of the person using the stat and not the stat, or the theories behind the stat.

Maybe I am a Grumpy Old Man.

That’s probably expected.

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About the Author

Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson covers the Atlanta United and Major League Soccer.
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