tl;dr: No, that’s not the problem
Sad greetings, Sounders at heart; we lost this weekend to a respectable foe. As with every frustrating loss, many of us are puzzling about why. One interesting hypothesis was discussed in the comments section of an article a few weeks ago. Even though the Sounders take a lot of shots, they still look reluctant to shoot in the eyes of some. Stated as a research question: When they’re in a good position to do so, do the Sounders shoot less often than other teams?
Welcome to another installment of Sounder Data, the fan-post series where I use data, statistics and visualizations to tackle the trickier questions about soccer, MLS and that sometimes-vexing team, the Seattle Sounders. This one has a different format. The data required to answer the above question, although they exist, are immense. And as much as I like writing a fancy web-scraper, the soccer metrics authorities over at americansocceranalysis.com already have all the data one could want. Fortunately, my recent exploits in this fan post series have led to a symbiotic friendship between me and those fine folks. I get to analyze their data; they get first dibs on the write-up.
I urge you all to read my first post for ASA, which specifically explores the above question, found here: http://www.americansocceranalysis.com/home/2017/5/9/shots-not-taken-exploring-the-propensity-of-teams-to-shoot-from-good-positions
But fear not fellow Seattlites, I’ll never leave you. All the juicy details of the analysis are in the above link, but the specific answer to your question is here. Are the Sounders timid to shoot when they have the ball in a good position? Not really. The below graphs highlight how the Sounders stack up to other teams in MLS, in terms of where on the field they have been observed to pass, dribble and shoot.
What I’m showing here are probabilities based on all 2017 offensive actions so far. On the x-axis is field position, basically how close the player is to being right in front of the goal (0=nobody should ever shoot from here, 1=right in front of the goal). The point is that the offensive action a player takes is, obviously, heavily connected to where on the field he is. The third panel shows that if you’re in a great position to shoot (off to the right end of the graph), the probability of shooing is super high no matter which team you’re on. But in the more moderate positions (in the middle of the x-axis), there’s some variance. In fact, the curve for the Sounders rises up sooner than most other teams. This indicates that we’re actually less reluctant to shoot than a typical team. The other panels are pretty interesting too; they show our propensity to pass and dribble at different field locations. We pass a lot (but then again, so does everyone else) and dribble very little (lots of variance between teams in dribbling).
Here's the same graph comparing to the East Conference:
You can find summary table of these results in that ASA article I linked.
Long story short – the Sounders are actually third in the league for shooting propensity, behind Chicago and Orlando. To add to that, we’re now leading the league in shots taken with 138 (and middle of the pack in shots on goal). So I’d say that our struggles of late aren’t really about lack of intent to shoot, it’s be more that we’re failing to finish.
Just one more brick in the road to understanding the Sounders' successes and failures.