Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Goals, Goals, and More MLS Goals

Article by Leanne Elston


Quantifying the entertainment value of a soccer league is, obviously, difficult. You might want to look at attendance, because people tend to show up to events they find entertaining. You might want to look at disciplinary statistics, because games with a lot of cards can be pretty entertaining in a trainwreck sort of way. Of course, you definitely want to look at goals. Everybody understands goals. My mother, who once asked me what the circle in the middle of the field was for, understands goals.

Now, there is such a thing as an entertaining 0-0 draw. There’s even such a thing as a somewhat boring 5-0 victory, if the sides are poorly matched. But in general, looking at average number of goals scored per season is a decent indicator of how entertaining a league might be. And for a league like MLS, which is constantly looking to grow and attract new fans to the game, entertainment value is important. People aren’t going to get sucked into our beloved sport if they find it boring, and goals generally aren’t boring.

So how does MLS compare to the top leagues of Europe? Just how many goals are scored in a season? For these purposes, we’re going to use the Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, English Premier League, Italian Serie A, and French Ligue 1. I looked up the average number of goals scored per game per season for all of these leagues, plus MLS, and then averaged the numbers together to get a decent indication of the current bigger picture. (Disclaimer: Math isn’t exactly my thing, and neither is statistics, but I think I managed to handle these very small calculations. I used worldfootball.net to gather the numbers.)

Here’s how the leagues stack up:

1. Bundesliga -- 2.87

2. Premier League -- 2.79

3. La Liga -- 2.74

4. Serie A -- 2.56

5. MLS -- 2.53

6. Ligue 1 -- 2.42


The Bundesliga easily earns top spot, while Ligue 1 comes in at the bottom of the pack. I wasn’t surprised to find that the Premier League and La Liga were ranked second and third respectively, but I was actually a little surprised that Serie A came ahead of MLS, though they are relatively close.


Next I decided to look at the average for the 2012 MLS season so far, since the season is far enough along that the number can be somewhat representative. (I didn’t do the same for the European leagues, since they’ve only just started.) 244 matches have been played to date in the 2012 season, with 654 goals scored, yielding an average of 2.68 goals per game. Assuming that nothing radically changes in the next two or so months, that’s a much higher average than the previous three seasons. If we incorporate the 2012 average for MLS, then things shift slightly:

1. Bundesliga -- 2.87

2. Premier League -- 2.79

3. La Liga -- 2.74

4. MLS -- 2.57

5. Serie A -- 2.56

6. Ligue 1 -- 2.42

MLS and Serie A are still very close, and the difference between their averages now isn’t especially significant, but MLS does move up one spot. What’s more interesting to think about is that if MLS maintains an average like the one for 2012 so far, then the league will consistently and significantly rank above both Serie A and Ligue 1. There’s reason to believe that MLS will stay on track to do that, too. The 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons were in fact some of MLS’ lowest-scoring; every season between 2003 and 2008 averaged at least 2.61 goals per game.

The numbers aren’t bad. Perhaps they don’t mean a whole lot, but I say: go ahead, be an MLS snob. This past weekend had an average of 3.56 goals per game. The weekend before? 2.89. And the weekend before that? 3.13.

Yeah, let your MLS snob flag fly.

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