And we’re back with our Part 2 review of Jared Young’s excellent analysis of goal kicks on americansocceranalysis.com

In Part 1, we looked at how it seems like based on scoring chances in the offensive end relative to other areas of the pitch, long balls make sense. In Part 2, we look at his analysis of pass completion of long vs short balls; and even more interestingly, how long vs short balls affect scoring chances on the second and third possession after winning the ball. Possession on goal kicks is a key metric for Stopper so we’ve had a lot of discussion over this!

For starters, Jared Young divided the field into two general zones – 1 being long balls, 2 being short. Over the course of the 2016 MLS season there were 3,200 long and 1,600 short goal kicks. The probability of completing a Zone 1 long ball is only 33.5%, significantly less than a Zone 2 short ball which comes in over 95%.

On a successful long ball, the offence scored on that possession 1.4% of the time, which is an above average rate. Conversely, if the defense gets possession, which it will 66.5% of the time, they have less than a 1% chance of scoring. So far, things still seem in favour of the long ball … but if you multiply the scoring odds by the probability of getting possession, the numbers actually come out in favor of the opponent 0.6% to 0.5%. Statistically, that’s not really significant except that the whole point of the long ball was to create greater overall value (e.g. scoring chances) for the team.

To quote Jared, “here is where things get a little crazy.”

Let’s say the long ball to the player is successful and the offence is able to pass the ball for a second possession. Despite being in a part of the field with a statistically better than average chance of scoring, the probability of scoring a goal on a second possession drops to just 0.7%. Conversely the second possession by the defending team is stronger than average at 1.5%.

On the third possession, despite the average position the opponent still has an elevated 1.6% chance of scoring while the original goal kick team gets back to the average of 1.2%.

Jared’s conclusion? When an MLS goalie begins a possession with a long ball, his own team subsequently has a 1.2% chance of scoring on the next two possessions – while the opponent chances jump to 2.1%, which is statistically equivalent to having possession at the top of the attacking third, a not insignificant advantage.

Long balls are a staple of goalkeeper play and hey, they look pretty cool. But based on the above analysis, are they the best option for a keeper? In our next segment, we’ll look at Jared’s analysis of short balls and how they stack up relative to the long goal kick.