Statistics are funny things. The old saying is "stats don't lie," but in soccer statistics lie just as much as they tell the truth. Why is this? Because in a fluid team game individual statistics are hard to quantify. For example, a 72.5 save percentage sounds great, and it is, but it paints only a small part of the picture. What type of shots were saved? Did the keeper only saved long lobs? Did he routinely stop point blank break aways? The answers aren't captured in the statistic. Because of this, two keepers can have the same save percentage but vary vastly in quality. Stats can lie. Advanced metrics is still new to soccer and experts are still pinning down how to make them reliable and usable.
Soccer fans need to combine statistics with the "eye test" to truly determine what to expect out of a player and a team. Here are six things that can go right for Crew SC this year, and why the statistics in the last article don't tell the whole story.
6. Ethan Finlay continues to convert his chances
Last week's article discussed how Finlay out performed his expected goals by almost double. This week we look into reasons why. The nature of Finlay's chances are one-on-one with the goalkeeper due to his blinding speed and well timed diagonal runs behind a defense. Finlay rarely takes contested shots or shots outside the 18-yard box. This means the type of chances he gets are usually high percentage. The good news for Crew SC fans is with better play from forwards, a defense will be stretched even thinner, which should give him plenty of chances to make his diagonal runs behind again. Young players typically get better, so it's reasonable to assume Finlay will actually improve on his 2014 form. He may not reach the same goal total, but the total of his chances created, goals and assist numbers should improve.
5. Steve Clark continues to be excellent
A reasonable argument can be made that Steve Clark was the second best MLS goalkeeper last year. His save percentage was identical to the U.S. Men's National Team memeber Nick Rimando while totaling 30 more saves. The only save percentage that was better among keepers who have played 24 or more games is Bill Hamid with 75. Clark accomplished all this while playing 10 more games than Rimando and four more than Hamid. When combining ability and availability, Clark can boast a "best in MLS" tag.
Goalkeepers tend to get better as they get older. They are the fine wines of the soccer world. This is because keepers do not require strong cardio, so age doesn't affect them negatively at the same rate as an outfield player. As they age, they do gain experience so their positioning and distribution continue to improve. Clark was incredible last year, and there are no tangible reasons to expect anything other than improvement.
4. Emmanuel Pogatetz and Hernan Grana solidify a shaky defense
This defense gave up the third most chances in the MLS last season. This is not good enough for a team hoping to contend for the MLS Cup. There is reason for optimism in 2015 however. The defensive unit should have increased stability on the right side. The right fullback position was in flux for much of last season and Giancarlo Gonzalez was sold after the World Cup. Pogatetz and Grana are experienced players who should bring continuity and skill in front of Clark. Age is seen as a detriment to many positions soccer but for center backs, speed and agility is not as important as toughness and positioning. The battle tested paring of Pogatetz and Michael Parkhurst should have the right combination of athleticism and experience to squelch attacks.
3. Kei Kamara finds form and mentors forwards
It is well documented on Massive Report that if Kamara can score 10-15 goals, Crew SC are going to have a fantastic showing in 2015. Kamara can and will bring more than goals to this team. He has shown an ability to do more than that however as he can move the ball around the attacking third, creating chances for other players. Aaron Schoenfeld has also shown improvement in the preseason, something that can be credited to learning from Kamara. If Kamara can mentor Schoenfeld, then he can have a strong influence on and off the field.
2. Attendance increases
Last year was a record-setting year in terms of attendance and sellouts at Crew (now MAPFRE) Stadium. These attendance numbers lead to increased fan interest, increased ticket revenue, stadium naming rights, which all lead to dollars, which leads to better players and facilities. Not to mention the more fans who show up, the more it will convince MLS and ownership that Columbus is a fantastic place for a MLS team. Multiple players also stated that the large and energetic crowds made a difference on the field. If Crew SC fans build on last year's attendance and continue to come out and cheer at games, it can lead to better results for the Black and Gold.
1. Crew SC play a full regular season in 2015
It's certainly the elephant in the room when discussing the upcoming season. We can speculate, project, look at statistics, and watch old film all we want to try and predict how the season will go, but if there is no 2015 season then none of it matters. To be frank, none of it may matter anyway but it is the best way I can think of to spend the winter months. The speculation of a strike has turned from idle conversation to an inevitable conclusion. So whether Crew SC end up first or last, I think we can all agree that as long as there is a 2015 season things will have gone right for Crew SC.