MLS

MLS: The best Opta facts ahead of 2020 season

By Sports Desk February 26, 2020

The 25th edition of MLS gets underway on Saturday and it promises to be the biggest season yet.

David Beckham's Inter Miami and fellow expansion club Nashville SC will enter the league, which will increase to 26 teams.

Seattle Sounders are the defending champions, record-breaking Los Angeles FC will look to go all the way this year after falling short last term, while Arsenal and Barcelona legend Thierry Henry is at the helm of Montreal Impact.

With the season set to kick off, here is a selection of the best Opta facts related to MLS.

 

- Only one of the last eight teams to debut in MLS have won their inaugural match, dating back to Portland Timbers in 2011 (LAFC 1-0 Seattle in 2018). Orlando City and New York City drew against each other in both teams' inaugural match in 2015, while the other five teams that joined the league in that time lost their opening match.

- Of MLS' last nine new teams, only one have failed to score in their inaugural match in the competition. Montreal lost 2-0 to Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012.

- Of the 14 teams to play their inaugural MLS match on the road, only two have managed to win; including Los Angeles in 2018 (also Chicago Fire in 1998, at Miami Fusion). Two more managed draws while 10 of the 14 teams that started on the road lost their inaugural match.

- The last six MLS expansion clubs scored in their first away match in the league dating back to 2015. Five of the teams scored one goal while Atlanta United scored six against fellow newcomers Minnesota United in 2017.

- The last three reigning MLS Cup winners lost the opening match of the following season, including Seattle's 2-1 defeat at Houston Dynamo in 2017 after reigning supreme in 2016.

- LAFC equalled the all-time record for goals scored in a single MLS season last campaign (85 – level with LA Galaxy in 1998). Their striker Carlos Vela also broke the record for single-season goals in MLS history; scoring 34 and beating Josef Martinez's record haul of 31 from 2018.

- Atlanta star Martinez has scored a goal against all 23 of the opposition teams that he has faced in regular-season MLS matches – Nashville will be the 24th different opponent he has played against in the competition.

- New York City's 177 points and 50 wins are both second-most over the past three MLS regular campaigns, both behind Atlanta (182 points and 54 wins). NYC are the only team that have won at least 16 regular-season matches in each of the past three MLS campaigns.

- Last season was the 10th straight in which New York Red Bulls qualified for the MLS postseason. The Red Bulls' 10 successive play-off appearance represent the second-longest active run (Seattle – 11) and the longest in the history of the Eastern Conference.

- New Impact manager Henry took charge of Monaco in Ligue 1 last season between October 2018 and January 2019. During his 12 league games in charge, he won just twice (17 per cent); which was the worst win ratio of every Monaco head coach to take charge of five-plus top-flight games in their history.

- Colorado Rapids have missed the play-offs in three successive MLS seasons for the first time since 2007-2009. They have collected just 106 points over the past three MLS campaigns, only Orlando City (104) have collected fewer among the teams that have been in the league for each season since 2017.

- 85 of LA Galaxy recruit Javier Hernandez's 89 goals within the big five European leagues during his career came from inside the box (96 per cent), including each of the past 30 of these strikes.

Related items

  • Wijnaldum slams 'unacceptable' Everton after Van Dijk injury Wijnaldum slams 'unacceptable' Everton after Van Dijk injury

    Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum has blasted Everton's conduct as "completely unacceptable" following injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara sustained in Saturday's Merseyside derby.

    Van Dijk is likely to miss most of the campaign after suffering anterior cruciate ligament damage following a wild challenge from Jordan Pickford in the 2-2 draw at Goodison Park.

    With Van Dijk having been flagged offside, Everton's goalkeeper did not receive any punishment for the tackle, while the Football Association confirmed on Monday that Pickford would not face retrospective action.

    Premier League leaders Everton did subsequently have a player sent off, with Richarlison seeing red for a lunge on Thiago late on, and the former Bayern Munich star has not made the trip to Amsterdam to face Ajax in the Champions League.

    Richarlison's red card was the 22nd sending off in a Merseyside derby in the Premier League era, with the Toffees having had 15 players dismissed.

    The incidents left a sour taste for Wijnaldum, with the Dutchman believing Everton – who had four players carded on Saturday compared to Liverpool's two – have a track record of being too robust in derbies.

    "Of course we are upset. The way Pickford went in was completely stupid," he said.

    "I believe he didn't want to injure Virgil, but the way he took the tackle, he didn't care. I think we've had it a lot in the games against Everton.

    "In my opinion, they take it way too far in the games we play against them. Sometimes you go a little over the top, but this was too much.

    "We can talk about the tackle from Richarlison, it was also a nasty one. That's what bothered me the most. Accidents can always happen, you can be unlucky, but the way they were doing it was completely unacceptable. It makes it harder that they don't get punished."

    While Richarlison issued an apology for his tackle on Thiago, it was confirmed on Sunday that Van Dijk will require surgery and Wijnaldum acknowledged that the squad are hugely concerned for their star defender.

    "First of all we're still devastated, it's also different than normal. The way it happened is really hard for us," he added.

    "Everyone has a really bad feeling about it. When we were speaking with the players after Saturday I think none of the players slept because of what happened with Virgil. It's a really hard one to take.

    "People will say that because Virgil is really important part of our team. He had really big performances, a really important player for us, a leader.

    "It's quite normal people will say that, but it's up to us. It's a situation we didn't deal with before, but it's what we have to deal with. Everyone can see what kind of impact he's had."

  • Klopp hits out at Carragher as Van Dijk injury fallout continues Klopp hits out at Carragher as Van Dijk injury fallout continues

    Jurgen Klopp has hit out at Jamie Carragher for suggesting Liverpool took a risk by going into the new campaign with just three senior centre-halves.

    The Reds boss opted against bring in another central defender after selling Dejan Lovren to Zenit over the summer, preferring to ask midfielder Fabinho to occasionally operate as back-up to Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk.

    But, with the latter having sustained a serious knee injury during Saturday's trip to Everton, Klopp's options have already thinned significantly.

    That situation led Liverpool great Carragher, now a television pundit, to declare that his former club must enter the January transfer market to strengthen an area he believes was left "weak", with RB Leipzig's Dayot Upamecano his pick.

    However, Klopp has now angrily dismissed that assessment, and remained tight-lipped over whether the Reds are planning any January moves.

    Klopp said: "We went into the season with three centre-halves, Fabinho and young kids.

    "It’s difficult to have four world class centre-halves. It’s not a position you rotate. If anyone wants to tell us we made a mistake, I think Jamie Carragher. There is a reason why they don’t do this job, they do the other job.

    "It’s our situation. We will see how we react. We are still a little sensitive. We are in a completely different mood.

    "We know since yesterday our vice-captain and the best centre-half in the world will not play for us for a long time. For the future, I have no idea."

    Van Dijk's injury was the result of a poor challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, which was neither punished by the referee nor video assistant referee, or indeed retrospectively.

    Thiago Alcantara also ended up on the wrong end of a red-card tackle from Richarlison late in the same game, and Klopp was clearly still angered by both situations, expressing frustration that Liverpool have been the only ones left to "deal with the consequences".

    Speaking ahead of Wednesday's Champions League match at Ajax, which Thiago will also miss, Klopp said: "You judge us, you judge everybody. A couple of days ago something happened that should not have happened in a football game. And it’s not the first time. I see it similar to my players.

    "Both challenges were difficult to accept. What we all can do is try to change these kind of things. I spoke the day after, it’s really hard for us, yes he’s a world-class player, injuries happen.

    "In the last four years, we were the leader of the fair play table. People make a joke about it.

    "In this game, a few things came together. I have to say, first the ref didn’t see it. Michael Oliver, I don’t understand – he had the best view. VAR forgets the rules.

    "As a human being, it’s not that I want a player to be punished, but it’s something we all agree on, you have to deal with the consequences. At the moment, only Virgil and Thiago have to deal with the consequences.

    "You keep all these stories up, I’m here for a Champions League. But you asked these questions. We didn’t do anything wrong in the game, or since then, but our players are the ones that suffer and it doesn’t feel right.

    "We all accept injuries can happen, but it should be in a normal challenge."

  • How does Upamecano compare to Liverpool's defenders amid transfer talk? How does Upamecano compare to Liverpool's defenders amid transfer talk?

    Liverpool may need to make a January move for a centre-back after Virgil van Dijk's serious knee injury. 

    The Premier League champions were dealt a huge blow with Van Dijk set to miss most - if not the remainder - of the season after a tackle from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby draw against Everton. 

    Liverpool have been left with just two senior centre-backs – Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – with Van Dijk's injury, although defensive midfielder Fabinho can also provide cover. 

    Unsurprisingly, there have been transfer rumours in the aftermath, with the Reds linked with RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano and Brighton and Hove Albion centre-back Ben White. 

    Having joined Leipzig from Salzburg for a reported €10million in 2017, Upamecano re-signed earlier this year, but he apparently has a €42m release clause in his contract – although that can only be triggered at season's end. 

    Upamecano is highly rated in Europe and, using Opta data, we assess how his performances compare to Liverpool's defenders.

    Bright future awaits, but would Upamecano improve Liverpool?

    Upamecano, 21, helped RB Leipzig finish third in the Bundesliga and reach the Champions League semi-finals last season.

    The France international's tackling numbers were particularly impressive when compared to Liverpool defenders Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip.

    In the Bundesliga last season, Upamecano had 1.95 tackles per 90 minutes – with Matip (1.66 per 90 in just nine Premier League games) the closest of Liverpool's trio. However, only Van Dijk (52.2) had a worse tackle success rate than Upamecano (58.8), with Gomez and Matip both above 69.

    In the Champions League, Upamecano had 3.4 tackles per 90 minutes , well above Van Dijk (1.08) and Gomez (1.59), and also at a better rate (56) than the Liverpool trio. Matip, often injured in 2019-20, played just 90 minutes in total in Europe's top club competition last season.

    Ready to do battle

    Upamecano contested the most duels (87) of the four in the Champions League, and went at a success rate of 71.26, similar to Van Dijk (70 duels and 74.29 success rate), while he also had a comparable number of headed clearances per 90 minutes (2.04 to Van Dijk's 2.28) and interceptions (1.63 to 1.08). Gomez had 2.64 interceptions per 90 minutes in the Champions League last season.

    Van Dijk's absence will also hurt Liverpool aerially, with the Dutchman an imposing figure in Jurgen Klopp's back four.

    Upamecano, who stands at 186cm, was between Van Dijk and Gomez when it came to aerial duels last season. He won 18 of 27 aerials in the 2019-20 Champions League, a rate worse than Van Dijk (33 of 47) but better than Gomez (24 of 41).

    It was a similar story in the respective leagues, although he contested fewer than Liverpool defenders. An area Upamecano fell short in, at least domestically, was in being dribbled past by an opponent, which happened 20 times in 28 Bundesliga games, a figure ranking him below both Van Dijk (seven times in 38) and Gomez (11 in 28), but ahead of Matip (seven in nine). 

    Boosting Liverpool's build-up play

    A problem set to be exacerbated by Alisson's injury absence, Van Dijk's passing ability in defence is also important to how Liverpool function.

    In this area, Upamecano may offer the Reds the most. In the Champions League last season, his passing accuracy in the opposition half was 83.1 – higher than the Liverpool trio, including Van Dijk (82.7). When it came to passing accuracy ending in the final third, Upamecano again topped the list (74.1), ahead of Gomez (71.6), and that included averaging 11.7 passes into the final third per 90 minutes.

    In domestic action, Upamecano also topped the list in these categories, and his passing accuracy in the opposition half to begin this Bundesliga season is 84.7, while Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip have all dropped off from last season in this area.

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