Bulls Run: Red Bulls Are Progressing to the Mean



Credit: Stats obtained from American Soccer Analysis & Major League Soccer

You didn’t think the Red Bulls were going to struggle all year long, did you?

After suffering through a four-game losing streak in April, the defending Supporters’ Shield winners have gotten themselves back into the thick of things with a three-match unbeaten run. Two home wins followed by a credible 1-1 draw in Orlando last Friday has given New York a much-needed boost in the standings.

“It’s good to be on a nice unbeaten run because you know the beginning of the season wasn’t all that great,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said post-match after the draw vs. Orlando. “So this is nice.”

Even if you factor in the old “eye test,” the Red Bulls’ drought in front of goal was something that wasn’t going to last. Currently, they’re second in the league with 152 total shots and third in the league with 53 total shots on goal. Wright-Phillips, a former MLS Golden Boot winner, went the first seven matches of the season without a goal. For a gifted striker like BWP, that seems inexplicable.

But, there was advanced statistical information that backed up the theory that the Red Bulls were hitting a rough patch and were eventually going to break out of their goal slump.

“Expected goals” is an advanced metric that has been part of advanced hockey statistical analysis for years — you should definitely check out Chris Boyle’s analysis on MSGNetworks.com, by the way — and now is making its way into soccer. Here’s MLSSoccer.com’s definition of expected goals:

Expected is an advanced soccer metric that measures not how many goals a team has scored, but how many goals an average team would have scored with the amount and quality of shots created.

Here’s a more simple explanation:

The website American Soccer Analysis is doing great work tabulating expected goal ratio for all the teams in MLS. Here are the Red Bulls’ totals through nine matches this season:


Let’s try to explain what all this means. Through nine matches this season, the Red Bulls’ expected goals for ratio is 17.18. Their expected goals allowed is 11.97. The expected goal differential is actually in the positive territory at 5.21, but their actual goals for and against shows how badly they were under-performing in that area. Twelve goals for, 16 goals against and a minus-four goal differential. That means that the Red Bulls’ expected goal differential is 9.21 goals worse than their actual goal differential.

There’s more information that can help us explain the Red Bulls’ early struggles. American Soccer Analysis also tabulates a metric called PDO which is the sum of a team’s finishing rate and save percentage scaled to 1000. Long story short, PDO can tell us if a team is over-performing or under-performing. If your PDO is under 1000, that means you’re snake bit and you’re experiencing some bad luck. If your PDO is well above 1000, it means you’re over-performing and are riding a bit of good fortune.


According to American Soccer Analysis’ tabulations, the Red Bulls’ PDO is 871, the third-lowest total in the league. It means that the Red Bulls have been somewhat unlucky with both their goals scored and goals allowed this season. From the numbers above, that means there should be a correction of sorts — meaning that their numbers should be heading in the other direction sooner rather than later.

The evidence is encouraging that the Red Bulls are in the midst of a rebound, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will continue. Advanced analytics shows us evidence of what should happen, but it doesn’t mean that it will happen. Nevertheless, a quick delve into the numbers should give Red Bulls fans reassurance that a turnaround is well underway.