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Do The Fire Really Have A Top 5 Attack?

The stats and eye test don’t line up for the Fire’s attack at the moment

MLS: New England Revolution at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

By almost all measurements, the Chicago Fire are a top 5 offense in MLS–Tied for 4th in goals, 5th in assists, 4th in total shots, 3rd in shots on goal, and 2nd in expected goals. At the same time, one of the criticisms has been that the Fire haven’t scored enough thus far this season. So which is it?

When it comes to finishing plays, some of the guys that are expected to have high conversion rates are not living up to those expectations.

Nicolás Gaitán’s arrival brought much needed creativity to the club, and it is clear that his arrival has sparked the offense and done a lot to create opportunities. It is also true that players like Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai are not making the most of all of the chances they’ve had this year.

Nikolic has always been a streaky player, so ups and downs for him are expected. However, as of May 18th Niko had been on the end of the most “big chances” in the league with 18 but also had missed the most in the league with 13. (mini-rant: MLS does a huge disservice to fans by not releasing active advanced analytics like xG, forcing them to seek out articles from 3 weeks prior for information. We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.) He also has the third-largest negative difference in expected goals according to the American Soccer Analysis model, with a -2.7 difference.

Nikolic is supposed to be the type of guy that finishes those types of big chances, but the reality is he has done a really poor job of it this season. There is a possibility for a regression to the mean though. Due to his streakiness, I would not be shocked to see him have a 6 or 7 goal month coming up.

Aleksandar Katai is the other player that has not been good enough with his finishing this season. As far as shots go, he is only behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela. When it comes to converting those shots he isn’t among such esteemed company. He still is quite high on the list of shots on goal, but still only has three goals to show for it. One thing that probably factors into this is Katai’s penchant for the spectacular. He loves to cut inside and put in a curler or squeeze one into one of the corners. Both of these require a lot of accuracy to pull off, so there are a lot of Katai shots that are near-misses.

We’ve also seen Katai be a bit more selfish this season. Selfish can be good if something comes of it, but with only three goals this season it doesn’t seem like selfishness in the final third has worked out for him. Despite this, Katai has been awesome in other areas of the field. He consistently puts opposition fullbacks on their heels and glides past them with ease. Aside from Gaitán he has been the Fire’s best player this year, so I am less worried about his finishing if he continues giving fullbacks nightmares.

The stats back up the Fire’s claim to a top notch attack, so at some point the stats are going to get worse or the finishing is going to get better. Stats in general, especially those like xG, are generally considered better for long term evaluation of players because over time there are simply more data points to evaluate. If we see the Fire stay near the top of the chance creation tables over the course of the season, then it’s likely that the finishing will catch up.