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Expected goals and what the stats say about Joao Plata's goalscoring efforts

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

We've been writing a lot about Joao Plata this week. Really, it's probably hard to blame us, but if, for some reason or another, you don't love the little guy, turn around now. We're still waxing poetic about his abilities.

We're not talking dancing ability, either - we're instead going to focus on Joao Plata's shooting ability and how it impacts our play.

If you follow MLS ‘advanced analytics' - a fluffy term to be sure, but something we should at least look toward - Joao Plata is not just Real Salt Lake's most efficient shooter, but the most efficient in all of MLS.

American Soccer Analysis, who have a great table of data to play with, list Plata's expected goals (xG) at 5.50, and we know his actual goal count is 13. That's 7.5 goals above the expected rate.

Expected goals isn't based on a player's past, but on the locations from which they take shots. In this case, on average, Joao Plata would score 5.5 goals (in a fantasy half-goal-scoring universe) based on the probability that the shot, from that section of the pitch, would result in a goal.

It's a rough world, these analytics, and it doesn't exactly mean everything. But it's illustrative, because there are plenty of other top goalscorers on that list. Bradley Wright-Phillips steps in at number 2, Lee Nguyen at number 3, Gyasi Zardes at number 4, and so on. Without going in-depth - that's the (metaphorical) job of American Soccer Analysis, and they do it very well - I'd highly recommend following that link - we see that top goalscorers often exceed their expected goals.

The easiest hypothesis to take is that good goalscorers either take better shots from lower-probability positions, or perhaps that they understand goalkeepers' tendencies more, or perhaps even that they simply hold back from shooting when the opportunity isn't fairly clear-cut. Of course, that hypothesis might only apply to these players, because others - like Federico Higuain, Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey, and Cubo Torres are expected to score only two fewer goals than they have, and heaven knows each of those players is a good goalscorer. (Perhaps we could look at penalty-scoring data to see something more in-depth, though.)

The expected goal-to-actual-goal ratio doesn't tell us everything about these goalscorers, but it does tell us something about Joao Plata. It's not just that he's really good - but he is. It's that when he's put in a dangerous position, he's clinical with his finishing. On Monday, we talked about his shooting accuracy and how fantastic it is - and we see the same thing in MLS overall. Plata's shooting accuracy (62.5 percent) is the second-highest of players with more than five goals, just behind Andres Romero in Montreal.

Plata's expected goals might be low, but instead of taking that as a slight against the kid, perhaps it's more accurately just a statement about how he's one of the best in the league.