A-Karoling We Go!
Świderski is putting the league on notice. 4 goals in 4 games. Back-to-back braces. When you go to MLS, you are met with this lovely sight on their league leaders page:
I kept the assists leaders in there because look at that second line...hello Ben!
But back to Świderski. He's on a tear.
A main talking point coming into this game was the form of Brandon Vázquez, and for good reason. He has been really good for Cincy so far this year. As a reminder, Vázquez came into the game tied for the league lead in xG at 2.7 and in actual goals scored with 4. He's increased that xG to 3.2 after the game this weekend. Meanwhile, Świderski's xG sits at 1.3 (more on that later).
Vázquez actually had the best opportunity of the game with this miss in the 31st minute (xG of 0.41).
For reference, Świderski's goal in the 6th minute (below) had an xG of 0.33 and his free kick only had an xG of 0.04 (not a surprise).
And that, I think, brings us to an interesting discussion. Most fans, pundits, and even players overestimate how easy it is to score a goal. We agree that Świderski's free kick is a screamer and, therefore, an unlikely goal. But his first one? Most people will probably see that goal, see Świderski less than 6 yards out, and think he has to score! Many Cincinnati fans probably said that with Vázquez's chance.
The thing is: Świderski is actually having to finish this with a defender and goalkeeper in his way. Not only that, the angle is a bit tight. He's not shooting into an empty net from a central location. Yet, most fans would probably be upset if he doesn't finish this, when, in reality, 2 out of 3 times he won't (statistically speaking).
This is where I find Świderski's run to be interesting. Here are the xG's of all of his goals, plus the two good chances he had against Atlanta:
39th minute vs. ATL: 0.17
42nd minute vs. ATL: 0.29
5th minute vs. NE: 0.05
57th minute vs. NE: 0.11
6th minute vs. CIN: 0.33
54th minute vs. CIN: 0.04
Ok, so 3 of his 4 goals have come from his 3 worst xGs. Is it luck? I don't think so. At least, not entirely.
If you'll allow a brief tangent.
Below are some stats from Świderski's international teammate and, in my opinion, the best pure striker in the world, Robert Lewandowski. These are Lewandowski's stats from just the Bundesliga over the past 5 years (note: npxG is non-penalty xG, meaning, penalties are removed. Since PKs have such a high default xG, 0.76, it is useful to sometimes remove them.):
A few things to unpack here.
First, he's really good (duh). If he ever decides he wants a change from Europe, Świderski and Jóźwiak need to get on the phone to him.
Second, in general, Lewandowski outperforms his xG. in 2017-18, there is a slight deficit (-0.6 G-xG) and, in 2018-19, there is a more substantial one (-6.4 G-xG), but for the past 3 years he has been very much outperforming it.
There are a number of factors for why this may be, but I think one of the most underrated aspects of forward play is simply getting into dangerous positions and taking shots. Look at his Total Shots. He shoots a TON, which got me thinking: where do his total shots rank in terms of the Bundesliga? Well, he's first. Every year. And by a good margin.
Below are his yearly totals compared with the second highest shot taker in the Bundesliga. Lewandowski outpaces everyone and it's not particularly close.
2017-18: 121 vs 92 (differential of +29)
2018-19: 138 vs 102 (differential of + 36)
2019-202: 134 vs 117 (differential of +17)
2020-21: 130 vs 107 (differential of +23)
2021-22: 131 vs 86 (differential of +45)
Yes, part of this is the dominance that is Bayern Munich. However, I don't think we can just chalk it up to Bayern being Bayern. Lewandowski is not just any other striker and his ability is definitely a contributing factor to both his totals and Bayern's overall success.
If we look at his Shot on Target percentage (SoT%), he sits at a low of 35.5% (2018-19) and a high of 50.4% (2021-22). Everyone clamors for a "clinical" striker, but even the best strikers in the world aren't finishing every good chance they get and are only putting about 35-50% of their shots on target. It's probably about time we start thinking about goal scoring in the same way we do hitting in baseball: even the best players fail about 2/3rds of the time. This is why the number of shots a player takes is so important.
This connection between total shots and goals is a trend found in all of the big European leagues and in MLS.
Last year in the Premier League, Harry Kane led the league in both goals, 23, and shots, 134. He had a SoT% of 35.1%.
In La Liga, Lionel Messi was the leader in goals and shots with 30 and 190 (!), respectively. He had a 44.7% SoT%.
In Ligue 1, Mbappe led the league in goals with 27 and was 3rd in total shots with 98. His SoT% was 48.0%. The league leader in shots, Memphis Depay, was tied for second in the league with 20 goals.
In Serie A, Ronaldo led the league with 29 goals and 162 shots. His SoT% was 37.0%.
In MLS, last year, the league leaders in goals were Valentin Castellanos and Ola Kamara, each with 19. Castellanos led the league in shots at 129 and had a 41.1% SoT%. Kamara seems to be an outlier here, as he had those 19 goals on only 54 total shots. However, 9 of his goals are from PKs. If we remove those, all of a sudden he's at 10 goals for the year and his return on 54 shots makes a lot more sense.
I will dive into MLS a bit more than the other leagues, since this is a blog about a team in MLS.
The second highest shot taker was Adam Buksa with 112 shots. He had 16 goals on the season, which was tied for 3rd in the league. Makes sense.
Raúl Ruidíaz and Javier Hernández were tied for second in goals with 17. Ruidíaz had a lot of shots, 85, which was 6th in the league. Makes sense.
Hernández, though, only had 57 total shots and he only had 1 PK, so it wasn't a Kamara situation. He was just really efficient with his finishing, I guess, which probably isn't a surprise for Chicharito.
You also have players like Emanuel Reynoso and Patrick Klimala. Both Reynoso and Klimala are near the top of the shots leaderboard with 93 and 92 shots, respectively. Both players scored relatively few goals (5 for Reynoso and 8 for Klimala).
You will find this same type of disparity in other leagues as well (i.e., where you have a high volume shot taker with low goal-scoring output). It is important to remember that number of shots does not automatically equal a high number of goals. Finishing ability is still a skill unto itself. However, there is no denying the overall link between total shots and goal scoring.
Further, even those who are high volume takers and low goal scorers (i.e., single digit scorers) still tend to have a SoT% of about 35% or higher. It's uncommon to find someone near the top of the leaderboards in shots with a SoT% below 30%, though it does happen. Some of the worst offenders I saw from the 2020-21 seasons were Nabil Fekir in La Liga; Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Berardi in Serie A; Florian Sotoca and Florian Thauvin in Ligue 1; Dani Olmo and Tirsu Doan in the Bundesliga; and Rúben Neves in the Premier League. All of them had a SoT% in the 20s.
I do have to mention the worst example of this that I found and it was in MLS. He's no longer in the league, but last year Fábio, who was on loan at NYRB, was atrocious: 7 goals on 85 shots with a 18.8% SoT%. He did technically underperform his xG by about a goal and a half, but why in the world did they let that man shoot so much? In fact, when you sort by SoT%, he's surrounded by a bunch of defenders and midfielders (and a few forwards who barely played). Not exactly what you want from a forward who started 25 games and played in 30 total ones. But I digress...
To return to the European-based players, I don't really want to get into the chicken-and-egg conundrum of: do these players have the most shots and goals because they play for the best teams? Or, are these the best teams because they have the best players? I would say--and I think most would agree--that if you put Messi, Mbappe, etc. on any team in the world, those players will score goals. Plus, that's not really the point here. The real point is, in general, if you have a good forward, he* will be taking a lot of shots, which will lead to a lot of goals. Furthermore, the best forwards are getting about a third to a half of their shots on target.
*Note: I purposefully used "he" here because I didn't get a chance to look into the stats for womens' teams. My gut tells me that we would see the same correlation between shots and goals, and maybe even at a more pronounced level due to some of the talent disparity between clubs, but I can't say for certain.
Now, back to Świderski. Obviously he's tied with the league lead with 4 goals, but where is he with his total shots? Well look at that, he's 3rd in the league and 4 behind the league leader Vázquez. Note, though, that Vázquez has played in 5 games compared with Świderski's 4 (and Świderski hasn't gone the full 90 in all of his games, but Vázquez has). Świderski is also leading the league in shots on target at 10 and has a ridiculous 71.4% SoT%. Warning: there will be regression in SoT%; 71.4% is simply an unsustainable number.
Unfortunately, StatsBomb (and by extension FBref, since that is where they pull their information) does not seem to keep advanced metrics for the Greek Super League (or at least they're not publicly available). As such, we just have goal totals for Świderski over the past few years. I would have loved to have seen what his SoT% and xG were for the past few years, but alas.
Right now, Świderski is outperforming his xG, but that's not necessarily unsustainable. There are plenty of players that do. The eye-test definitely shows a player who has been able to consistently get into dangerous areas and one who is taking good shots. The players who outperform their xG tend to get into dangerous areas and take a lot of good shots, so that alleviates some of the concern.
Again, there will absolutely be regression in his SoT% and he's not going to continue scoring 2 goals a game (unfortunately), but I don't know if we've seen anything in the underlying metrics that imply he won't continue to score regularly.
I will say that I think we still have to apply small sample size warnings to this whole situation. In a few more games I'm hoping we'll have a more definitive view of how prolific a goalscorer he may be. It does worry me a little that his scoring has come on such low percentage shots, as that's not really sustainable over the long term, but, hey, he is scoring!
Cincinnati played better than I expected. I thought Charlotte would be able to dominate possession. Almost 59% possession is nothing to scoff at, but I expected more. Additionally, Charlotte was outshot by Cincinnati, at home, and our team pass percentage of 79% leaves a lot to be desired. I think this team missed Alan Franco in the midfield.
Further, my biggest concern with this team continues to be their ability to create goal-scoring opportunities. Good teams get at least 15 shots off per game and closer to 20. We only had 10 against Cincinnati. I recognize it's a fine line between shooting just for shooting's sake and actually creating good shots, but I'm not sure we're really doing either right now.
Our team xG for the game was only 1.0; Cincinnati's was 1.6. Look, xG is not the end all be all, but it does reinforce Charlotte's inability to create consistent, good chances. Remember, Świderski's first goal had a xG of 0.33, so that one shot accounts for a full third of our team total. We also have yet to have a higher xG than our opponent for a game. In fact, our highest on the year is 1.3 against NE. That's...not great.
The results over the past 2 weeks have been fantastic and I'm not trying to be too much of a downer, but there are some troubling signs. While happy with the results, I'm not convinced Charlotte are playing at a level that will consistently produce those results.
Overall, I think Charlotte has had some good luck (finally!) over the past couple of weeks, combined with outstanding goalkeeping from Kahlina, a red-hot start from Świderski, and impressive play from a young player (Bender). Kahlina and Świderski have looked like top players at their respective positions so far and I have hope they will continue to be. Bender has been impressive and hopefully won't have too many "young-player-moments," although there assuredly will be some. Three players can't carry us through a season, though. We need to get our wingers healthy and we need some other players to start showing their worth. Świderski is good, no doubt, but he will eventually need some help.