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Marquette Women's Soccer, Advanced Metrics, And You

In which I blatantly steal an idea from hockey stats to try to figure something out about the Golden Eagles' performance in 2014.

Back in my more unenlightened days, I used to have an explanation for why I didn't particularly care for soccer.  Namely, the game would be greatly improved if they shrank the playing surface, flooded the pitch, froze the water, strapped knives to the players' cleats, shrank the nets and the ball, and gave all the players sticks.

In short, I preferred hockey to soccer.

While I've grown to appreciate the beautiful game, you have to admit that there's a lot of similarity in how both sports are played, both on an simple level of "object in net = one point," but also on a more nuanced level of how the constant movement of the players and the ball/puck causes a bit of imprecision on passing and shooting.

The similarities of the games led me to wonder if I could start to try to figure out what's causing Marquette's women's soccer team to struggle in the early going of the 2014 season by applying an advanced metric that's popular in hockey analysis.

For those of you who don't follow hockey, there's a statistic called "Corsi," after former professional goaltender Jim Corsi.  The short version is thus: a team's ability to possess the puck can be measured by looking at the percentage of shots that they take relative to their opponents.  Obviously, to shoot the puck, you have to possess the puck.  In addition, when you have the puck, the other team does not and can not score.

In hockey, this is largely used on a player by player basis by looking at the shots for and against while they're on the ice, but it works on a team wide level as well.  So let's apply this to the women's soccer team.  Here's the shots for, shots against, and Corsi percentage for each of the last six seasons, all of which ended in an NCAA tournament appearance for Markus Roeders' team.

Year Shots For Shots Against Corsi %
2008 327 222 61.8
2009 401 195 67.3
2010 438 184 70.4
2011 384 148 72.2
2012 424 173 71.0
2013 440 168 72.4

Everything make sense?  The statistics bear out what you could have determined by watching the team: Marquette's system is designed to force turnovers before the opponent gets to the final third, thus eliminating the ability for the opponent to get shots off.  Now, let's look at Marquette's numbers for this season, where they are 2-5-1 after eight games.

Year Shots For Shots Against Corsi %
2014 103 93 52.6

As we've discussed in the past, Marquette is dealing with multiple players at multiple positions who are either new to the team this year or new to a role where they're expected to absorb large quantities of minutes.  There's three components to how a team plays: coaching, talent, and execution.  With five straight Big East titles, six straight NCAA tournament appearances, and 18 consecutive seasons without a losing record, I struggle to believe that the issue is coaching.  The long history of success leads me to believe that Roeders isn't having difficulty finding talented players who want to play for him.  That leaves just one thing left: Execution.

I'm not saying Marquette's players are playing badly, or even that they're not playing the way they're being coached to play.  I am, however, saying that sometimes, soccer is a matter of intuitively knowing where your teammates are and are going to be.  That intuition leads to crisper passes, longer runs of possession, and more shots on goal, and right now, keeping a foot on the ball and keeping it away from their opponents is something that the Golden Eagles are struggling with.

Can they figure this out with one final weekend before Big East play starts?  Maybe.

Will they?  We're just going to have to head to the Valley and find out.