A reporter contacted me this week asking why soccer writers often rank players from 0-10 after each match. I gave him the reasons why I do it: to fill space, because I love being called an idiot, and to passive-aggressively vent my frustration over not having enough talent to be a professional soccer player.
But I think it became a tradition for one simple reason: there are no meaningful stats in soccer. There’s no box score to tell you how each player did. Stats about goals and assists are misleading, and defenders have virtually no stats at all. The fancy stats — distance covered, percentage of passes completed, etc — are only available for high-profile matches. So we rate the players as best we can. There’s a ton of subjectivity in the ratings — except for mine, which are empirically unassailable — but they’re better than nothing.
There are only two types of stats in soccer: misleading and useless. Here’s a misleading stat: Charlie Davies scored eight goals in his first eleven league matches. That stat would lead you to believe that he was in some amazing run of form. In reality, he was fine, but not great. Four of his goals were from the penalty spot, and two of the others were tap-ins. There was never really any sign that he was all the way back. And, sure enough: he hasn’t scored in his last six league matches. That stat could be misleading — sometimes you play well but just don’t score — but it’s not: Davies hasn’t been good recently.
Here’s a useless stat: in seven matches for United, Dwayne De Rosario has six goals and three assists. This stat is useless because unless you’re blind, you know that De Rosario has been unbelievable since coming over. You don’t need stats to tell you that. What you do need is a snarky blogger giving him eights while making fun of his jheri curl. That’s just the system we’ve worked out.
Here’s tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, McDonald, Jakovic, Kitchen | Pontius, Simms, Najar, King | De Rosario, Davies. Hamid is back from his red card. Thanks for the great game last week, Joe Willis; there’s some money on the dresser, why don’t you go catch yourself a cab? Scoring machine Stephen King (one goal in his last one games) steps in for Quaranta.
2’ - Players tend to score against their former team...so Daniel Woolard is going to score tonight, right? Stranger things have happened. Presumably. I can’t think of any at the moment.
8’ - Save Hamid! Oduro gets through McDonald, but Hamid positions himself well and makes the save.
12’ - Pretty open game so far. Chicago are pressing very high, and D.C. aren’t doing a great job of breaking it. We need to get the ball to our creative players — De Ro, Pontius, and Najar — to make Chicago pay for this pressure.
14’ - Oduro off the post! Simms fouled his man too late (at least he tried), leading to a breakaway on an angle for Oduro. Hamid 2, Oduro 0.
17’ - Davies wants a goal on a silver platter — he’s playing way too high. He’s not in the game.
19’ - Goff just got a mention from the ESPN crew — he was called a “wonderful writer.” They’re talking about Najar’s U.S.-Honduras dilemma (and neglecting to mention that Najar isn’t a U.S. citizen and probably won’t be for several years). I’m sure if they start ragging on players’ hair or making gratuitous Stephen King jokes, then I’ll get a shout-out.
24’ - Davies with what I’m pretty sure is his first touch of the game. He goes at the defender (Anibaba?) but doesn’t trouble him.
29’ - Save Hamid! Pappa blasts a free kick from 30 yards and forces a good save. Man — before he took it, I thought “he’s not going to shoot from there, is he?”, but Pappa really did well with that one.
33’ - One of the great philosophers of our time once said: you can call a napkin a paper towel, but it’s still a napkin (you just blew my mind, Rick Santorum). In the same way, you can call Stephen King a creative midfielder, but he’s simply not.
37’ - Rob Stone: “Since he came to United, De Rosario has scored the most goals in the league.” John Harkes: “Who would have guessed it?” I don’t know, John...pretty much anyone who’s followed MLS over the last several years would have deemed that pretty likely. That’s like saying “Hey, Silvio Berlusconi is in a sex scandal...who would have guessed it?”
37’ - Foul and a yellow on Simms. Yes, good — foul! Well done, Clyde! Clyde’s like Obama: you really want him to be a bit nastier than he naturally is.
41’ - Johnson with a great save, though it turns out De Ro was offside anyway. One encouraging thing: Davies showed a pulse on that sequence.
45’ - Uh oh...Hamid pulled a hamstring on the last kick of the half. The backup ‘keeper tonight isn’t last week’s hero, Joe Willis (he’s out with back spasms). It’s the...well not the goat, but the guy from two weeks ago, Steve Cronin.
Halftime. We’re getting beat pretty soundly, and I see two main reasons for it: 1) Stephen King is not a creative midfielder (he’s a napkin!), and 2) Charlie Davies is a non-factor.
46’ - Davies goes down in the box, but there’s no way he’s getting that call. Honestly: I think maybe someone else gets that call. But because of Davies’ reputation, he’s not going to get a PK on any foul not requiring a police report.
49’ - The report on Hamid: right hamstring strain. Well, duh. They didn’t pay the trainer to make that assessment, did they? You could have the ball boy diagnose that one.
55’ - Come on, Ben: Wolff us. You’re in denial.
56’ - Poor Daniel Woolard: he’s being eaten alive by Nyarko and Oduro, but there’s not really anything he can do. He’s just not fast enough.
58’ - GOAL CHICAGO! 1-0. Jakovic (bad challenge), Woolard (poor clearance), and Cronan (weak hand) combine to give Chicago a goal. On the balance, Chicago probably deserves the lead, but I’d rather have them earn a goal instead of us giving one to them.
60’ - Here we go: Wolff in, Davies out. Had to happen. Wolff also used to play for Chicago, so maybe he and Woolard can both score to grab all three points.
70’ - Quaranta in for King. Bringing in Quaranta is the right thing to do. And that really bums me out.
72’ - GOAL UNITED! Wolff! 1-1! Makin’ me look smart (yes: I’m taking credit for this goal as I sit on my couch covered in Oreo crumbs)! De Rosario gets free in the corner (déjà vu), and Wolff and Quaranta combine nicely before Wolff Geoff Hursts it in off the crossbar. Was Wolff off? Very close...I’d say yes. But the linesman can’t pause the play like I can, and it was very close.
73’ - A nice coda to that goal: probably the most audible f-word I’ve ever heard on a sports broadcast, yelled by a Chicago player at the top of his lungs. It was lovely — loud, long, and clear as a bell. I’m pretty sure my neighbors heard it.
86’ - With a tie, Chicago would set a new league record for most ties in a season (15). Chicago Fire soccer...Feel the Ambiguity ™!
90’ + 1. Chicago play on while Najar is down on the field. Bad sportsmanship? No, I don’t think so. Najar wasn’t really involved in the play, it didn’t seem serious (it wasn’t), and I don’t think you’re obliged to end your attack whenever a player goes down.
Full time. 1-1. Honestly, I’m disappointed: we didn’t play well tonight. After several weeks of feeling that our play generally deserved better results, I feel the opposite tonight: we were lucky to get the point.
Hamid: 7. If his injury is serious, then the Joe Willis era has begun.
Woolard: 3.5. Well, so much for the theory that you play well against your former team. After his best game of the season last week, he had maybe his worst game of the season this week. I guess if he can’t get a five every week, at least he can average a five.
McDonald: 5. He was practically begging for a yellow card a few times, but somehow didn’t get one.
Jakovic: 4. Seemed to always be on the wrong side of his man.
Kitchen: 6. He wins a lot of one-on-one battles. Unfortunately, this game was on ESPN, not CSN, so we didn’t have that goofy “duels won” stat.
Pontius: 6. He slumped a bit in July, and I worried that he was out of gas. He seems to be back.
Simms: 6. I’m giving him an extra half point just for getting a yellow card. I WANT him to get more yellow cards. Be mean, Clyde.
Najar: 7. Most good things on offense came from him tonight.
King: 5. We’ll all fondly remember the excitement and tension that was generated during King’s unbelievable scoring streak (now I know how Yankee fans felt during DiMaggio’s streak), but it ended tonight. Still, he was solid.
De Rosario: 6. Credit Chicago: they had someone in De Ro’s back pocket all night.
Davies: 3. Enough: bench him. He’s the worst starter on the team. Wolff is better. Brettschneider is better. Ngwenya...seems like a nice guy.
Cronin: 4. Maybe he and Ngwenya can be roomies when they’re both playing for the Charleston Battery next year.
Wolff: 6.5. I know that Wolff is old and will only get worse, and Davies is young and recovering from an injury, but Wolff is better by such a wide margin right now that he has to be getting more minutes.
Quaranta: 6.5. We tried Stephen King, we tried Quaranta. The results were pretty clear: Quaranta. Of course, last week Quaranta started and King played better. Maybe start with 10 and then sub them BOTH in at the 60th minute.