Bayesian MLS Best XI: Week 3

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. Essentially, this is the 2017 MLS Best XI up to this point. There is no set formation and it can shift as it needs to.

Atlanta United is the team to watch and talk about this season. They’re delivering on most of the hype that surrounded them – at least the more reasonable hype. There are question marks ranging from quality of opponent to surrounding circumstances in every one of their 2017 contests. I recognize that and am hopefully compensating for it.

However, a team that’s playing well early in the season will have several players in a season long – a fantastically lengthy three weeks in this case – best XI. Atlanta has four players overall and at least one player in each area of the field. That’s a pretty good sign.

Short of Atlanta finishing top of the East, I don’t expect it to end that way. It’s not out of the realm of possibility and leaving open strange final circumstances is one of the reasons I wanted to do this best XI this way. If all four of these players are the best at their position after Week 34 based on my viewing and researching then that’s where they’ll be.

I’m interested to see where this Atlanta team continues to go. A few MLS teams in recent years have shown how quickly a team can be turned around. Large variance in soccer generally, a salary cap based league, and one that employs a playoff system allows for quick builds. That’s not to say it’s easy or should be written off as luck. In fact, I hope to celebrate it this season.

The success of one unexpected team comes at the expense of one expected team by necessity. There’s plenty of time for all of this to play out and I’m in no rush. But without making any broad, sweeping statement about where things will end, Atlanta has shown a lot of quality through three weeks. Cheers to them. It’s going to be a fun story all season, whether it involves a return to Earth or a continued ascent.

Returners

LB: Greg Garza (ATL)

Garza is 8th in MLS with 0.88 Expected Assists (xA) according to American Soccer Analysis and it’s not solely through a high volume of corsses. He’s no slouch in that regard, averaging 1.7 crosses per game which is good for 14th in MLS, but it’s not the sole reason for his xA count. My non-quantified take on Garza’s crossing is that he does a great job getting in low, early crosses.

In the Hunt: Justin Morrow (TOR), Joevin Jones (SEA), Fabinho (PHI)

CB: Leandro González Pírez (ATL)

Some players are starting to solidify themselves in my eyes. González Pírez hasn’t necessarily been the best center back every week, but he’s been one of the most consistently threatening on both sides of the ball. More in a passing sense in González Pírez’s case. The Argentinian often connects well with Garza for the pass before the pass.

In the Hunt: Jonathan Spector (ORL), Drew Moor (TOR), Matt Hedges (DAL)

CB: Ike Opara (SKC)

Opara has room to roam for Sporting KC as I noted last week. There are other center back chomping at the bit1 including Jonathan Spector now that Orlando City has played more than one game. A healthy Opara is a good Opara.

That wasn’t this week, but appeals to authority have their place too…right?

In the Hunt: Jonathan Spector (ORL), Drew Moor (TOR), Matt Hedges (DAL)

RB: Nick Lima (SJ)

The San Jose Earthquakes came back to Earth after their torrid first two games. No surprises here, but Lima keeps his spot in the XI because of his previous two weeks and a decent showing in the Quakes loss. Lima looked good in 1-on-1 defense mostly against Jimmy Medranda.

The backline struggled as a unit for San Jose this week and Lima wasn’t a large focus of the team going forward like Week 2. No one took this position from Lima and it’s his to lose for now.

In the Hunt: Alvas Powell (POR), Sal Zizzo (NYRB), Keegan Rosenberry (PHI)

CM: Miguel Almirón (ATL)

Common refrain for all Atlanta United players on this list – a whopping four – is that it’s hard to truly evaluate what they’ve done so far. The offense has purred through three weeks even in scoring only one goal against NYRB. But the surrounding circumstances abound. Snow against a low-quality opponent. Roughly 80 minutes of a 10-man opponent where that red card was given to a starting center back.

Having said all that, Almirón and company continue to deliver when they should. These spots are not set in stone and I don’t expect to see Atlanta have four players in the final edition, but until they stop delivering on their upside, they’ll be here.

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

CM: Aníbal Godoy (SJ)

A pretty invisible Week 3, especially in comparison to his first two weeks. Godoy holds on to one of the center midfield spots despite this. My only true box-to-box midfielder or defensively adequate midfielder is on the shakiest ground of the three. However, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the play of some deep-lying playmakers though several will be out on international duty in the short term – including Godoy.

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

CM: Diego Valeri (POR)

The torrid start to his season continues. Valeri scored his first of the game off a hand ball-induced penalty kick. Not much credit in my book there, though you do have to be taking penalty kicks to get the bonus in the first place. Another headed goal – surprise – has Valeri driving one of the two most effective MLS attacks through three weeks.

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

Newcomers

GK: Tim Melia (SKC)

Melia has been strong all three weeks for Sporting Kansas City, allowing just one goal from 12 shots on goal. Not to mention that Melia is tied for facing the most shots within the penalty box with Evan Bush at seven. There’s not much of an issue with the more esoteric, non-shot stopping parts of being a keeper for Melia as far as I can tell.

From an xG viewpoint, Melia has the fifth highest xGA (Expected Goals Against) while allowing that single goal. This results in Melia holding the early season lead for lowest GA-xGA. The result implying that Melia has saved either a high volume of low expectancy shots or, more likely with the high amount of penalty box shots against, a good amount of high quality shots.

The 30 year old had a slip up foul in the box in Week 1, but has played fantastically since and, quite frankly, in that game as well.

In the Hunt: Tim Melia (SKC), Tim Howard (COL), Alec Kann (ATL), Joe Bendik (ORL), Bill Hamid (DC)

LM/LW: Rodney Wallace (NYC)

I went back and forth on this position, almost awarding it to Romell Quioto. I actually started to do the write up before switching it back to Wallace. Quioto has been fantastic this season and put in yet another goal for the Houston Dynamo this week, but Wallace has been a dynamo all his own for New York City FC. Yes, I did have to turn that phrase.

Wallace isn’t quite the goal scorer yet this year that Quioto has been, though not all goals are created equal. However, I keep seeing Wallace get into dangerous positions and create for the rest of that front line.

The third most impressive thing in the clip below is that Wallace puts the ball in the back of the net.

In order of both time and importance: the touch to Alexander Ring; the movement across the front of goal; finishing the bouncing ball across his body. There have been few players I’ve been enjoying watching more than Wallace marauding down the left side for NYC.

In the Hunt: Ignacio Piatti (MTL), Romell Quioto (HOU), Justin Meram (CLB), Darlington Nagbe (POR)

RM/RW: Alberth Elis (HOU)

This goal made it difficult to keep Quioto out of the LW spot, but look at this pass. The best part is the threaded ball for me.

Guys like Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay (didn’t start this week) have played well for teams that haven’t had a great start to the year, but Elis has been steadily dangerous for Houston. The entire front line is in contention at each spot, much like Portland players are in contention all over the field.

Elis sits precariously atop this position because he needs to be more successful in his dribble attempts and keep hold of the ball a bit more. Each player in contention for me has their warts. Elis is lumped right up with Quioto, Erick Torres, and Wallace for combined xG+xA this season. This position will evolve but Elis earned the promotion for now.

In the Hunt: Kevin Molino (MIN), Jack Harrison (NYC), Sebastian Blanco (POR), Ethan Finlay (CLB)

ST: Josef Martínez (ATL)

There’s still plenty to question here with both Martínez and Atlanta United. Week 1 was a franchise opener, Week 2 was in heavy snow against Minnesota (a caveat all its own), and Week 3 was an up-and-down Chicago after a very early red card to a starting center back.

Having said that, Martínez has been oh so good. There might not be another player that punishes spacing mistakes by defenders so ruthlessly through three weeks. The 23-year-old Venezuelan showed his superb timing on runs to split the two center backs extensively with his hat trick in Week 2 and against Chicago this week.

Watch below. The Chicago Fire center back tandem of Jonathan Campbell and Joao Meira give Martínez a good amount of space, but the key is that Martínez pushes the line and then starts his run, slows it to stay onside, and breaks the line at just the right time. Any run this close might have shades of offside, but the best runs will.

Martínez continues to show superb timing on his runs, lights out acceleration when he hits the break, and some ruthless finishing. Harrison Crow of ASA discussed Atlanta’s pedestrian Expected Goals (xG) output after their clash with Minnesota. In case you were wondering, Martínez still has a very nice 2.33 xG total.

In the Hunt: David Villa (NYC), Erick Torres (HOU), Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB), Fanendo Adi (POR), Cyle Larin (ORL)


  1. Yes, I use chomp and not champ. It may be technically incorrect but it is colloquially correct. 

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.