Bayesian MLS Best XI: Week 2

This week-by-week MLS Best XI aims to take out some of the reputation and biases that exist in creating a Best XI at the end of the season. Using Bayes’ Theorem based logic (not any Bayesian statistics) I am creating my overall Best XI for the 2017 season from the first week through the last. Players will only be replaced when I determine they have passed a player at their position on the whole of the season. There is no set formation and it can shift as it needs to.

My first aim in this little “experiment” was to eliminate biases in creating Best XI’s for the season. My intuition is that reputation of overall quality weighs heavily in creating a Best XI compared to the quality of a given player over that particular season. I’ll quickly note that I’m in favor of including “star” players over currently higher performing players in All-Star Games, just not nearly as much for season Best XI’s.

Unfortunately, I knew I wouldn’t be immune to my own biases. Once things settle statistically a bit, I imagine stats will be a strong factor. My personal viewpoint of what constitutes quality at each position also makes my decisions different from others – as well as whether I’m right or wrong in my evaluations.

After just the first week I noticed that I cheer for certain players to stay on my Best XI – hope may be a better description. There were even moments where I hoped that my decision would be made easier by a player having a steep drop off in Week 2.

This early in the process, there might be more turnover in the team than in the future. After all, Week 2 is worth just as much as Week 1 alone. A good player from Week 1 does have a slight step up, but it can be overcome with a high quality week much easier than it will in Week 25. Returners will get a blurb – at most – on why they’re still here but new players will get a more detailed explanation.

Returners

LB: Greg Garza (ATL)

Garza wasn’t nearly as good going forward as he was last week and his place atop the left back position is in danger, but no one that had a decent first week really took the reins in Week 2.

The coup de grace goal in stoppage time was a cross by Garza, but his overall distribution was worse than Week 1. Understandable with the snow. But with only two weeks worth of information for this style of Best XI, it still hurts the security of his spot.

In the Hunt: Justin Morrow (TOR), Brandon Vincent (CHI), Ambroise Oyongo (MTL)

CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (ATL)

Week 1 was a better showing for Gonzalez Pirez in my opinion, especially going forward. However, the Atlanta offense didn’t need much help from the back line getting past the Minnesota defense. The snow also throws a wrench into that evaluation. Despite the conditions though, Gonzalez Pirez finished the game anchoring the defensive line with 4 tackles, 3 interceptions, 8 clearances, and 3 blocked shots. That’s a lot of work.

In the Hunt: Aaron Long (NYRB), Johan Kappelhoff (CHI), Matt Hedges (DAL), Florian Jungwirth (SJ)

RB: Nick Lima (SJ)

Lima is definitely damaged a bit by the hurting Erik Hurtado put on him for the second goal of the game. Hurtado muscled Lima out-of-the-way in a one-on-one situation to slot a goalmouth pass to Nicolas Mezquida.

Lima was featured in the attack in Dom Kinnear’s game plan and slotted home a shot off a fantastic late run in the second half. That drop pass volley by Marco Urena…magnifique. Just saying.

In the Hunt: Alvas Powell (POR), Harrison Afful (CLB), Keegan Rosenberry (PHI)

CM: Anibal Godoy (SJ)

I’ve never built an xG metric before. Let’s make that clear. Godoy’s game-winning goal in the 79′ did not have a high xG calculation. It was, however, fantastic and beautiful and fun. In all seriousness, Godoy had another good game for the surprising Quakes. He was all over the field and distributed the ball well from his box-to-box position.

In the Hunt: Kellyn Acosta (DAL), Maxi Moralez (NYC), Albert Rusnak (RSL), Haris Medunjanin (PHI)

CM: Diego Valeri (POR)

Valeri was the best player in Week 1 and isn’t like the best player in Week 2, though it is no fault of his own. The Argentinian had another fantastic week with a calm assist – off a beautiful headed pass from Diego Chara – and is leading what might be the most dangerous front-six in MLS. Sorry, Atlanta.

In the Hunt: Kellyn Acosta (DAL), Maxi Moralez (NYC), Albert Rusnak (RSL), Haris Medunjanin (PHI)

Newcomers

GK: Tim Howard (COL)

I’ll fully admit that with this logic, I could have put Joe Bendik in this spot. Howard’s return from injury was a great showing from the lone DP keeper in the league. Goalkeeper could be a rotating position in this Best XI in the early going.

Howard made saves like this look easy. If not for Howard, Bradley Wright-Phillips would be fighting for the Striker position with David Villa and Josef Martinez.

NYRB had an xG total for this game of 1.3.1 A decidedly average number that felt a bit higher while watching. But the xG total doesn’t tell the whole story when you view it from the goalkeepers perspective. There were a lot of on target shots for Howard to deal with. Seven to be exact. The only one ball that got past Howard was an own goal.

Things will develop here, but Howard has a tenuous grasp on the starting spot for the time being.

In the Hunt: Tim Melia (SKC), Luis Robles (NYRB), Jake Gleeson (POR), Joe Bendik (ORL)

CB: Ike Opara (SKC)

The Sporting Kansas City defense is predicated on a full team defense with an aggressive press. This allows the SKC center backs to roam and roam Opara does. The 28-year-old had 6 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1 clearance in Week 2 and has the most tackles in the early season of any CB.

The defensive style of the team gives the CBs less opportunity to rack up stats like clearances but more able to roam for tackles. Players like Johan Kappelhoff and Joao Meira of Chicago are quickly racking up clearances based on the style of defense Chicago plays.

Opara is not a perfect defender and might fall of this list quickly. SKC faced a Dallas squad heavy on Homegrown talent below the age of 20 focusing on counter-attacking and ceding possession to Sporting. Alas, Opara has been consistent through two weeks, if two weeks is really any sign of consistency, and will hold down a CB spot for now.

In the Hunt: Aaron Long (NYRB), Johan Kappelhoff (CHI), Matt Hedges (DAL), Florian Jungwirth (SJ)

LM/LW: Ignacio Piatti (MTL)

This is a similar situation to Howard at GK despite Piatti playing a full 90 minutes in Week 1. Romell Quioto had a very good Week 1 and was still dangerous on the ball in Week 2. His goal was a great reactionary play. Quioto needed to be a bit more dangerous from the left side this week. He completed some great dribbles and found space but failed to do much with that space after he acquired it. Quioto is right behind Piatti, but behind nonetheless.

I can’t be sure if Piatti took being shut down by the San Jose defense in Week 1 personally or not, but he certainly turned the page in Week 2. Piatti looked like the most dangerous left wing in the league in Week 2 using his controlled pace and dribbling into the teeth of the defense and finished the game with a brace.

Piatti dropped a great pass in front of Matteo Mancosu for the opening goal. Few players in MLS have the touch to leave that for a breaking player without putting too close to the keeper.

The goal is where Piatti showed what makes him so special. While on the break, Piatti used an off-ball run by Mancosu as a weapon, keeping the ball at his feet and letting the defense open itself up to Mancosu before slotting the ball to the left of Stefan Frei.

Piatti completed an astounding six dribbles on seven attempts. Montreal did not finish the game with the result they wanted, but Piatti showed that Week 1 was likely an aberration.

In the Hunt: Romell Quioto (HOU), Rodney Wallace (NYC), Justin Meram (CLB)

CM: Miguel Almiron (ATL)

Defense is a bit more of a steady climb from midfielders and I expect I’ll give a lot more credence to that side of the ball as the season moves forward. Until then, I find it difficult to keep out a player that was on the bubble in Week 1 and then blew the barn doors off in Week 2.

Caveats about Minnesota’s defense abound and I punished Fanendo Adi for that in Week 1, but the combined two-week play of Almiron forces me into a 4-3-3 shape. The Paraguayan had an assist, 2 key passes, and 2 goals on the offensive side of the ball while contributing 4 tackles, an interception, and 2 clearances defensively. The most visually pleasing for me of those goals was the volley.

Almiron pulled the strings against a completely ineffective Minnesota defense. I’m tempering my future expectations because of the opponent, but Almiron played as well as could be expected in this scenario. Atlanta has looked very impressive in the early going offensively but they will inevitably hit some adversity.

Miguel Almiron (ATL): Week 2 Passing/Shooting

That’s not the most impressive looking chalkboard from a volume sense. But the early goals, general counter-attack style, and the weather make the efficiency the calling card here. Almiron actually had the third-highest number of passes in the game at just 45 and completed the highest percentage of them at 86.7%.2

Defense will have its day on this Best XI and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it. But through two weeks, goal scoring midfielders have really shown their class. Things will settle in and I expect players like Dax McCarty, Ozzie Alonso, Michael Bradley to start making waves at some point.

In the Hunt: Kellyn Acosta (DAL), Maxi Moralez (NYC), Albert Rusnak (RSL), Haris Medunjanin (PHI)

RM/RW: Ethan Finlay (CLB)

There is certainly some crossover between the left and right wingers and midfielders in MLS, but I’ve found the left side to be more compelling in the two weeks we’ve seen. Jack Harrison has looked consistently dangerous to me for NYCFC, Kevin Molino still played relatively well for a very bad team, and Sebastian Blanco has looked very good if not great.

Sporting KC’s combo of Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing could both find their way into this team eventually. There’s a lot of promise though not a lot of standouts at RM/RW yet this season.

Finlay scored a nice header in Week 1 after showing constant off-ball movement during this build up, not getting the ball when he wanted it, and still finding space as the play developed. I think there were better players in each individual week of this season, but Finlay has had an underrated consistency in attack for Columbus.

Crew SC hasn’t looked like the bounce back candidate that most picked them to be as of yet. The offense hasn’t been much of a problem for that though. Justin Meram looks great this season and probably better than Finlay, but alas, this is the right side. Finlay feels like my least secure player this week with several players nipping at his heels.

The 26-year-old did have four key passes this week – two of them on corner kicks – and has shown some of the best off-ball movement I’ve seen this season. When there’s a pending attack Finlay often finds himself in a very open position where a pass is headed or a pass should be heading.

If Columbus is in the box, you can usually look somewhere on the right side and see Finlay in an exceedingly dangerous position.

In the Hunt: Kevin Molino (MNU), Jack Harrison (NYC), Sebastian Blanco (POR)

ST: David Villa (NYC)

If I felt comfortable finding a fit in a 4-4-2 with the players I’ve seen so far, I would be very tempted to put Josef Martinez in here as well. This is a bit of a 1A and 1B right now. The caveats on Martinez’s fantastic Week 2 push me toward David Villa who was just as impressive against a more impressive opponent.

The goals and shots were great this week, but this assist to Maxi Moralez was my favorite of the bunch.

Villa had great off-ball movement all game, stretching the defense horizontally and finding the holes in the defense both passing and positioning. See the directed header back across the goal for NYC’s second goal. At 35 years old, Villa is still one of the premier goal scorers in the league and is showing no signs of slowing.

It helps that Villa is not dependent on athleticism for his goal scoring. Instead, as previously mentioned, he relies on superior positioning and clean strikes. The fact that his scissor kick shot wasn’t a whiff and was nearly on target says much of what I’d like to say.

Villa was once known as the epitome of the false 9 and he might still have some inspiration of that left in how he currently plays. The width and speed of Rodney Wallace and Harrison on the wings allows Villa to drop back a bit and play a more secondary forward while still being the most dangerous forward. This lets Villa contribute all over the field while being listed as a Striker on the team sheet.

In the Hunt: Josef Martinez (ATL), Erick Torres (HOU), Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB), Fanendo Adi (POR)


  1. According to American Soccer Analysis 

  2. A few players had 100% accuracy with very few passes attempted 

About the author /


Colby is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder and Lead Contributor to Other League. Also a law student focusing on Labor & Employment law and intersections with law and sports. You can find him on Twitter via @Colby_OL.