Hello, City fans! Evan Weston here, your Orlando City play-by-play broadcaster on My65 and YouTubeTV. I am so excited to welcome you to the inaugural edition of The Weston Weekly, running every Tuesday on orlandocitysc.com. I’ll be using this space to try to wrap our heads around the goings-on with Orlando City, MLS, and soccer all around the world. If you have questions you want answered or opinions to offer, I want to read them and share them in here. Hit me up on Twitter @EvanLWeston.
Onto the column!
The xG fairy is a cruel mistress
Orlando City fell this weekend into what’s become a familiar misfortune this season—feeling like you’ve had the better of the game without earning a single point.
I’ll be referring pretty frequently here to a stat called expected goals, shortened as xG. Put simply, xG measures the likelihood that any given shot will be a goal. A penalty kick, for instance, has a 79% chance of going in, and thus is valued at .79 xG.
Orlando City’s 1.65 xG on Sunday was substantially better than Atlanta United’s 1.09, and yet it was a low-percentage chance from Pity Martinez that found the back of the net to get the Five Stripes a fairly fortunate win. It was the third time this season Orlando City lost a game despite having the higher xG total.
Eliot McKinley of American Soccer Analysis put together this chart showing how MLS teams’ actual point totals match up with what their xG differential says they should have, and the results are maddening—and yet encouraging:
It's a bit frightening that LAFC are so good this season. And Colorado can't seem to catch a break. pic.twitter.com/3Pf37uwwly— Eliot McKinley (@etmckinley) May 13, 2019
Orlando City, by xG, have been about on par with top-of-the-East Philadelphia, surging NYCFC, and comfortable playoff team LA Galaxy. But the Lions poor luck, combined with some below-par finishing, has left them far lower in the table than those sides. Interestingly, Orlando are grouped with Sporting Kansas City, whose misfortunes have come not in attack but in defense.
Either way, those fearing a summer swoon in 2019 have some reason to hope. The data suggests that once the finishing starts to match the chance quality, something that we can reasonably expect to happen, Orlando’s results will steady.
A note on the Benz
Since Sunday’s game was televised nationally on FOX, I joined Robbie Aristodemo and Bruce Silverman for our club radio broadcast up in Atlanta. I had never seen the inside of Arthur Blank’s magnum opus, and I have to be honest, it was pretty awe-inspiring. The sheer enormity of the place was overwhelming, with its towering rafters and magnificent 360 jumbotron.
The Atlanta fans were red-hot at the start of the game (though as sideline reporter Scott Harris noted in my ear during the broadcast, their tifo gave off some pretty strong Kongfrontation vibes), but as the afternoon wore on and Orlando put Atlanta under constant pressure, there was a palpable nervousness in the air. Unlike Orlando City Stadium, where the drums and the Wall are relentless from kickoff to full time, the Benz seemed to seize up when their Five Stripes were being peppered in the second half.
It was an interesting contrast, the all-consuming pageantry of Atlanta against the organic and intimate passion of Orlando. I’m not here for the “is it or isn’t it a rivalry” discourse, but it is going to be a party when the Lions do knock off their northern neighbors.
The East Awakens
Here’s the golden rule for non-Orlando rooting interests: if it’s East vs. East, root for a draw. If it’s East vs. West, root for the West. If it’s West vs. West, I don’t know, root for some bangers.
It was not a good week for the golden rule. East teams went 6-1-0 against West sides this past week, with the only West win coming from Shield runaways LAFC in Columbus. The Galaxy managed to drop two games to East teams in the same week, falling 3-1 at the Crew and then 2-0 at home to NYCFC.
This has resulted in a slide down the standings for Orlando City in a very short amount of time. Orlando have dropped from fifth to tenth in the East in the last two weeks despite only playing two matches. You have Chicago taking six points in a week, Atlanta on four wins in a row, both New York teams winning difficult West away games. It’s chaos.
Orlando get their chance on Wednesday night in Seattle, though winning there in the mid-week is extraordinarily difficult. Seattle have lost just one mid-week home match since the start of the 2016 season.
The British are coming
Across the pond, it’s all about England in soccer. English squads have dominated Europe’s top competitions this year to such a degree that both the Champions League (Liverpool vs. Tottenham) and Europa League (Chelsea vs. Arsenal) finals are being contested exclusively by English teams. It is the first time ever that both games will feature four teams from the same country. This doesn’t even include Manchester City, who were bounced from the Champions League—by another English team—but successfully retained their Premier League title on a historic 98 points and are on the cusp of a domestic treble.
There are two main factors in this. Firstly, it’s not difficult to make the case that the three best managers in the world are in England right now. Pep Guardiola has turned City into a dynasty, Jurgen Klopp has lifted Liverpool from mediocrity into back-to-back Champions League finals and a scintillating 97-point EPL campaign, and Mauricio Pochettino has taken Spurs to their first-ever European final with a comparatively tiny wage bill. While the other European giants routinely turn over their managers, the top English teams have allowed their head men to implement a club-wide culture and philosophy.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the Premier League is utterly flush with cash thanks to an extraordinarily lucrative television deal. Huddersfield Town, who had one of the worst seasons in English history, will rake in $121.3 million in television revenue this year, Likely German champions and longtime European giants Bayern Munich, meanwhile, are set to bring in just $72.5 million from the Bundesliga. Liverpool, the top TV revenue club in the world this season, will take in $193.8 million, nearly triple Munich’s haul.
Remember whenever the discussion about MLS’s contract structure comes up—money talks. Unless the other leagues catch up both on and off the field, I would expect English teams to continue to lord over European soccer for years to come.
Questions, comments, concerns? Evan is on twitter at @EvanLWeston.