Defense wins matches. Stats from one season don’t paint the whole picture. Different teams function differently. But, with that said…
As fans, we have a lot of wants. Those wants include a variety of things (great beer, loud fans, solid defense, no flags in your face during the run of play, and so on), but what we all really want is MOAR goals! Goals are the center of most discussions about player performance, it’s an easy common ground for folks to talk about their favorite or least favorite players. It’s tricky though because if PTFC wins a majority of their matches, makes the playoffs, or wins the cup, you don’t care where all those goals came from. But when your team doesn’t make the playoffs and doesn’t have a win on the road all season, you start to think about goals, and where they come from, a little more (Note: Obviously defense plays a huge part in winning matches, but for this article, we’re just looking at goals and where they come from). We scored 48 goals in 2016 (41 excluding PKs), but we only managed 41 total in our MLS Cup winning 2015. It’s not a revelation to point out goals and giving up goals are related to success, it is however, part of this article to point out the cognitive dissonance of an argument that says something like, “we need to get more goal production out of Darlington Nagbe” when 2016’s 48 goals ranked 3rd in the Western Conference and third all-time for a Timber’s squad. In a vacuum, scoring the exact same amount of goals in 2017 as we did in 2016 could be, and probably would be, considered a success.
So, we know we want goals. But, where do we want those goals to come from? Do we need to have the Golden Boot in Adi’s trophy case? Do we want each Timber to score 5 goals each? Does it matter at all? A more evenly distributed goal distribution is certainly sexier but is it more productive?
The following tables show what % of team goals the top goal scorer, the top 2 goal scorers, and the top 3 goal scorers for each team account for each team. (PKs have been removed from the argument since it skewed some players so much and didn’t truly reflect an individual’s output considering anyone on the team could have taken it.)
% of team goals scored by leading goal scorer on each team
Adi led PTFC with 14 goals during the run of play, which accounted for 34% of our goals, which is 4th highest for MLS overall. Not bad, right? Especially when you look at the other three teams head of PTFC (TFC, NYRB, SKC), who all made the playoffs. However, immediately below PTFC in the WC is SJ, who had Wondo as their team leader in goals. DCU in the East kind of mucks things up for any sort of quasi-correlation, but you can see that if your team doesn’t have a prominent leading goal scorer (above 18% of your team’s goals), odds are that your team wasn’t great. On the other hand, of the 9 teams that had their leading scorer net 29+% of their team’s goals, then 67% made the playoffs.
% of team goals scored by top 2 leading goal scorers on each team
Adi and Valeri led the way for PTFC with 24 of their 41 goals, putting PTFC tied for 2nd at 59% of team goals scored. The only team higher was TFC (Giovinco  and Altidore ). In 2016, the teams that had their top 2 scorers account for 50+% of their team goals, 5 out of 6 of them made the playoffs.
% of team goals scored by top 3 leading goal scorers on each team
The last table shows us % of goals scored by top 3 goal scorers on each team. PTFC’s top three scorers scored 71% of the Timbers goals, which is 2nd highest in the entire league. Overall, is where you see a slight drop off (at least in the Western Conference) in % of goals by top 3 goal scorers and qualifying for the playoffs. 5 of the 6 Western Conference playoff teams had their top 3 goal scorers account for 51-55% of their goals, which implies that they either had a 4th player score quite a few goals or multiple players contributing. Oddly enough, the Easter Conference playoff teams were more concentrated around 60-65% (but still well below PTFC’s). Perhaps the most important stat from this table isn’t even visible. PTFC’s 3rd leading scorer was McInerney
So, what do you want?
- Golden boot Adi with 33 goals?
- Even distribution with 10 players scoring 5 goals each?
- Fair balance between striker and supporting cast?
Confession: When I put together some of these stats for Roscoe, I’m often trying to separate out the noise for him. I know he’s looking for strong correlations that can confirm or deny his biases. Yes, I understand that I’m a weirdo for doing this for him but that is how I get my kicks on a Friday night. In this case, the noise is the answer. Knowing a team’s goal distribution doesn’t tell you much about that team’s performance. Further, using goal based metrics in arguments about players without accounting for the greater context of that player’s role in goal distribution is questionable, but fun.