Came across a great article by Jared Young on americansocceranalysis.com on the topic of goal kicks. One of the data points that Stopper captures is whether keepers turn over the ball on their goal kicks which leads to the question Jared asks: why is the long ball off the goalkick a staple of soccer at every level?

To quote him: “It’s long bothered me that goalkeepers always launch the ball into what seemed to be at best a coin flip proposition. A team has the ball (the most valuable thing on the field) and then they decide to just sling it up in the air to chance. Why does that make sense? The conventional wisdom is that 1) it’s better to get the ball as far up the field as possible and 2) even if the first attempt doesn’t work the next possession will still be closer to the goal. These two elements of said conventional wisdom turn out to be true, but it’s the coin flip that becomes the glaring issue.”

Let’s look at Jared’s analysis of that first statement today. The chart below is a result shows every possession in the 2016 MLS season as measured by having at least one pass or shot attempted, with the number showing the percentage of total goals scored starting from that position. For comparison, he broke the field down into 50 roughly equal zones – 5 vertical and 10 horizontal.

The probability of scoring on any possession in the 2016 season was 1.2%. It’s pretty clear that the closer you get to the opposing goal, the greater the probability of scoring. So on the face of it, conventional wisdom number one about goalkicks is true – assuming you can win possession and keep it.

We’ll walk you through Jared’s analysis of part two later this week – and find out if long kicks actually generate more goalscoring chances!