MLS is back – is Soccer a Good Investment?

Earlier this summer, we covered the comeback of the big soccer leagues in Europe and talked about advanced analytics in soccer.

This time around, we are switching our focus to the beautiful game in the US. Major League Soccer kicked off again when the “MLS is Back Tournament” started on July 8th.

The one-off event is being played without fans in attendance at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida.

In this article, we will give you an overview on how the rest of the MLS season will be played and go deeper into advanced stats in soccer.

MLS season format and preview

The 2020 MLS regular season started on February 29. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the league to go on a hiatus less than two weeks into the new season, most teams had time to play only three or four games this year.

The “MLS is Back Tournament” marks the return of the season in a unique format where teams have been split into six groups. Each team played three group-stage games. The top sixteen teams advanced to a knockout stage, and the final of the tournament was played on August 11th, with the Portland Timbers defeating the Orlando City Soccer Club.

The 2020 MLS regular season will resume after the tournament has been completed, so the tournament is not a replacement for the season and will not determine the 2020 MLS champion.

But there’s plenty to play for in Florida. The winner of the tournament will qualify for the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, a reward normally reserved for the MLS regular season points leader. Additionally, teams earn points from group stage games of the tournament, which will count towards their 2020 regular season points.

Fans also have plenty to be excited about this year. The league has expanded with two new teams in Miami and Nashville. There is a battle in LA between two Mexican superstars – Javier ”Chicharito” Hernández of the Galaxy and Carlos Vela of LAFC. Both players were prolific scorers in Europe. And the defending champs, Seattle Sounders, look like a very solid team again this season. Can they successfully defend their MLS Cup title?

Advanced stats in soccer

In our previous introductory article on advanced stats in soccer, we wrote the following on Expected goals – the most commonly used advanced stat in the game:

”Expected goals is used to determine whether or not a player or a team is scoring based on factors that are sustainable and thus giving a reason for us to expect more of similar offensive performances in the future.

Instead of relying just on traditional counting stats, such as goals per game and shots per game, expected goals adds a lot of depth by taking into account where and how shots are taken from.

Shots that are taken closest to the goal are obviously more valuable than shots taken from a distance, as scoring is much likelier from a close range. Models for xG vary between different sources, but the simpler models often use a zone-based system (for example, the 6-yard box, the penalty area, and outside the box), while the more advanced models use an exact number of yards away from the goal for each shot taken.

On top of this, factors that affect advanced xG models include the angle in relation to the goal where the shot was taken from, and whether the shot was a kick or a header, or if it came off of a cross or a through ball.”

For a more thorough look at xG, read the full article here.

Expected goals usually refers to the average amount of goals a player or a team is expected to score, but it is also useful to calculate expected goals against (xGa) on a team level. This is a good indicator on how a team is performing on the defensive end.

Besides expected goals, investors can also take advantage of expected assists (xA) when handicapping games or building sports trading systems.

Expected assists measures how likely it is for a pass to become an assist (leading to a goal). Factors such as the type and length of the pass are included in the calculation. Expected assists can be calculated for single players and teams – the number will give a good indication on how many assists per game should be expected.

Finally, one can calculate the expected points (xPts) for teams – this is the number of points a team would have earned in correlation to the xG data. It gives you a picture of whether or not a team is where they should realistically be in the standings.

Conclusion

The sports betting market for MLS games is definitely not as lively as it is for the most popular sports in the US, or for European soccer.

But this could be seen as an advantage. With not that much data readily available and with more uninformed money in the market, investors who are willing to dig deep could find significant edges.

We are certainly always up for that here at the ScoreMetrics Lab.

To prepare for the return of sports and to learn everything you need to know about smart investing in the sports betting market, check out our head trader John Todora’s new book – “Zero Correlation Investing – The Score Metrics Secret”. It’s currently on sale for a limited time, so go get yours now!

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