The Chicago Fire’s season ended on Saturday night at the hands of the New England Revolution. Mathematically speaking, a playoff spot is still within reach. But as Bridget wrote post-game, we can begin to focus on the off-season for all intents and purposes.
The Men in Red’s playoff chances sit at 14% after Saturday night according to American Soccer Analysis. Given what we know about this team, we feel secure in the knowledge that no miracle comeback is forthcoming.
Sure, it’s easy to make a broad strokes statement that the Fire have under performed given the star power and experience they can boast on the team sheet. They have some of the best pure attacking talent in the league, and they sit below the playoff line with no hope of playing meaningful soccer after Labor Day. We’ve written on here quite a bit, and others within MLS media have not been shy about it; the Fire just haven’t put it together. But how bad has it been?
American Soccer Analysis not only has a playoff prediction model but hosts a number of advanced analytics tables that are quite jarring if you are a Fire fan. Let’s take a look at two interesting data points for the Men in Red.
If you sort the Eastern Conference table by Expected Points (xP), a way of ascertaining how many points a team should have collected based on a number of factors including Expected Goals (xG), look who tops the table with 46.3 points: your Chicago Fire!
That’s a 13-point difference. That’s enormous, and the largest in the league by a wide margin. Getting anywhere close to that puts them squarely in playoff contention, and if they over performed their xP (which some teams certainly have) they would be in the Supporters Shield race! That’s how good this team could be.
If it feels like the Fire have slipped up at the end of games after putting themselves in position to walk away with points, it’s not just your eyes, this tells you that they are expected to be closing those games. Results against Columbus, Cincinnati, and even this weekend against the Revolution are the most recent examples of this team walking away with such little points.
The second number that sticks out to me is the Expected Goals Against (xGA) for this team. It calculates are the number of goals that can be expected to be scored based on where and how a shot was taken against the team. The Fire have given up 40 goals on 33.4 expected goals against, almost 7 more goals than expected. Only four other teams have a worse record when it comes to xGA vs GA. This should be no surprise-the constant shuffling on the backline, the inconsistent goalkeeping, and a lack of true chemistry as a collective group when it comes to defending has been this teams Achilles heel.
Advanced analytics like xG and xPoints are certainly not the end all be all, but when you weave them into the story of a team’s season, you begin to draw even stronger conclusions on how they have performed. For the Fire specifically, you might be able to chalk some of the results up to a collection of bad breaks, tough luck and unfortunate bounces, but the fact of the matter is that this trend has held throughout the entire season. This isn’t just luck.
As xP and the talent tells us, this team should be slugging on the top of the Eastern conference. Any way you slice it, through the numbers or the eye test, this team has woefully under performed what they could have been this season— and that might be the thing that troubles me the most.