MLS vs. Europe: Statistically, how does MLS stack up?

Drew Hallowell

Using Opta data, we can compare MLS to the five major European leagues to find any major differences or similarities in terms of playing style.

Many MLS fans are used to defending the league against certain people (I know you have met them) who insist that MLS exists as a sort of semi-pro/amateur league whose quality of play is vastly inferior to the major European leagues. Of course, it is self-evident that MLS is not on the same level as the Bundesliga, or even Ligue 1. In this analysis we look at what types of stylistic differences there exist between MLS and the major European leagues. Some stereotypes of European leagues can be put to the test as well. For example, the average EPL team actually completes more short passes than the average La Liga team; "tiki-taka" is primarily a Barcelona style, not necessarily a Spanish style.

Andrew Wiebe did put together a comparison a couple of months ago, but we are going to try and go a little deeper into the stylistic differences between MLS and top European leagues. Stats are per game and per team averages.

Passing Style

League Pass Success% Cross pg Through Ball pg Long Balls pg Short Passes pg Total Passes pg
MLS 75.8 18.8 2.3 61.2 324.6 406.8
Bundesliga 78.0 20.3 1.9 68.8 365.1 456.1
EPL 79.6 22.8 2.1 60.9 377.9 463.7
La Liga 76.7 21.2 2.9 63.3 358.1 445.5
Ligue 1 78.1 21.3 2.0 60.7 351.7 435.6
Serie A 81.3 22.3 3.8 60.1 362.6 448.7

In an average EPL match you will see over 100 more passes than in an average MLS game. This is actually fairly significant. Also note the highest pass completion rate in Europe can be found in the Italian league.

Passing Style (%)

League Cross pg Through Ball pg Long Balls pg. Short Passes pg
MLS 4.6% 0.6% 15.0% 79.8%
Bundesliga 4.4% 0.4% 15.1% 80.0%
EPL 4.9% 0.5% 13.1% 81.5%
La Liga 4.8% 0.7% 14.2% 80.4%
Ligue 1 4.9% 0.5% 13.9% 80.7%
Serie A 5.0% 0.8% 13.4% 80.8%

General Shooting

League Shots pg. Shots OT pg. Shots OT %
MLS 12.4 4.3 34.3%
Bundesliga 12.8 4.7 36.6%
EPL 13.9 4.6 33.2%
La Liga 13.1 4.6 35.5%
Ligue 1 12.0 4.2 35.4%
Serie A 13.2 4.4 33.4%

Shot Location

League In 6 Yards Box In 18 Yards Box Outside of Box
MLS 5.9% 50.9% 43.3%
Bundesliga 6.4% 51.4% 42.1%
EPL 7.1% 49.2% 43.9%
La Liga 6.4% 49.0% 44.6%
Ligue 1 5.4% 49.6% 45.1%
Serie A 5.5% 44.4% 50.2%

Goal Type (%)

League Open Play Counter Attack Set Piece Penalty Own Goal
MLS 63.8% 1.9% 24.9% 5.5% 3.9%
Bundesliga 57.6% 11.5% 21.2% 7.0% 2.8%
EPL 62.0% 5.8% 21.4% 6.4% 4.4%
La Liga 55.7% 8.3% 25.1% 8.4% 2.4%
Ligue 1 58.8% 7.2% 23.8% 6.6% 3.5%
Serie A 55.5% 9.6% 23.0% 9.8% 2.1%


Team Dribbles pg Interceptions pg Fouls pg Offsides pg
MLS 6.9 25.3 12.5 2.4
Bundesliga 11.9 18.9 15.8 2.7
EPL 6.8 15.6 11.3 2.3
La Liga 7.0 16.5 14.2 2.6
Ligue 1 6.1 17.7 14.2 2.8
Serie A 9.4 15.3 15.3 2.5

The high number of "dribbles" and "counter attack" goals in the Bundesliga are most likely the result of a slightly different approach taken by Opta's German analysts and are not necessarily indicative of anything significant. However, the much higher # of fouls per game in the Bundesliga is fairly significant and denotes a very different refereeing approach compared to MLS or the EPL. It should also be noted that, since these are league averages, they can not tell you about the sometimes vast differences between individual teams.

What are your thoughts? Anything jump out? As for the Sounders, we will be assessing their place among the 117 teams that comprise these six leagues and figuring out what their relative strengths and weaknesses are in a subsequent post.

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