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How many goals will Yura score in 2016?: Predicting Yura Movsisyan Goal Production

"Give me one chance and I will score," as Yura simply put it in his introductory speech.

Matt Montgomery

During the recent media blitz, Yura Movsisyan has said time and time again that he was brought in to score goals. Playing the center forward role in RSL’s 4-3-3, he will be expected to do just that.

"I know I can score goals," Movsisyan said during his media presentation last week. "I don’t promise to be defending in the back but I will start defending from the front for the team. I will score my goals and that’s the one thing I realized that my confidence is what has gotten me to where I am today and one thing I do a lot better now is all I need is one chance to score a goal – which I didn’t do before. Before I needed five, six, seven chances to score a goal."

Without doubt Yura has come back a more clinical finisher. In 2012 with FC Krasnodar and then again in 2014 with Spartak Moscow, he was his club’s leading scorer. He was named club MVP and one of the best foreign players in 2012 in addition to top goalscorer (2013) during his time in Russia.

When asked how many goals he would score this year during his introduction, Yura chuckled and responded, "I’ve never put a number on my career. I’ve never said I am going to score a certain amount of goals but I’ve also never scored more than 20 goals." After a brief pause he then said, "I’m going to do things I’ve never done before [at RSL]," with a grin that encompassed his entire face.

Fast-forward to last Saturday, the 2016 media day, Juan Manuel Martinez jestingly probed Joao Plata using his best reporter act, "How many goals are you going to score this year, Plata?" Plata with a huge grin plastered on his face replied, "Ten. Ten for you."

This got me thinking, is there a way to predict how many goals a player of Yura’s quality will score during his first year back with RSL? Is it possible to deduce from his past performances? Well, I decided to give it a try.

Who are some of the most prolific, clinical goal-scorers to enter the confines of Major League Soccer in the past several years?

Sebastian Giovinco, Ricardo Kaka, Robbie Keane, David Villa, and Bradley Wright-Phillips all come to mind. Each of these players have demonstrated that if you get them the ball in or anywhere near the 18-yard box that they will punish the opposition. As Yura, too, fills this mode, I believe that his stats will be comparable to aforementioned players’.

How does Movsisyan’s prior goals per year stack up against the competition?

For this extrapolation, we will be looking at the given players’ stats five years before entering MLS and their first FULL year in the league.

As you can see, Yura’s (red) annual output of tallies mimic many of his counterparts – the exception being Kaka who is in fact a No. 10 and not a No. 9 but still has that clinical finishing quality.

Like many a striker before him, Yura peaked and then came down in the years preceding the MLS move. What the above graph does not show you, however, is that in all these cases the minutes played in the season(s) directly before MLS are extremely limited. The ‘dipping’ trend in itself can therefore be attributed to the fact that all of these players saw less time on the pitch and, as a result, their production faltered.

On average these kind of players scored 8.36 goals per year before coming to MLS – 9.25 if you again exclude Kaka – but Movsisyan maintained an annual tally of 9.6 goals. With that alone in mind it appears Yura Movsisyan is one of the most productive striker to (re)enter the league.

Ok, what about the annual goals per match average?

Yura (red) again maintained an elite goals per match average. Beating out his competition two consecutive years.

On average, similar players to Yura maintained a 0.33 goals per match average – 0.40 average if you only compare center forwards.

Giovinco Kaka Keane Villa Wright-Phillips
0.212 0.236 0.35 0.444 0.411

In his five years preceding his move back to MLS, Movsisyan had a 0.397 goals per match average. In other words, these numbers place him among the elite signings of this league.

Control, what about similar players that started in MLS and then left, only to come back again?

So notable names in this category would be Kei Kamara and Jozy Altidore. Both of these players, like Movsisyan, made the journey across the pond to Europe. While in Europe, Kamara took the pitch 36 times and scored five goals – a mere 0.14 goals per match average – and Altidore tallied 58 goals in 195 matches – a slightly better 0.18 average.

With that in mind, Yura’s average of 0.397 is in a much, much higher quality bracket than either Kamara or Altidore.

How did the competition fare in their first or return season in MLS?

Appearances Goals G/A Average
Giovinco 33 22 0.666667
Kaka 28 9 0.321429
Keane 28 16 0.571429
Villa 30 18 0.6
Wrights-Phillips 32 27 0.84375
Kamara 32 22 0.6875
Altidore 25 13 0.52

As depicted in the above graphics, it is clear to see that even though many players have an adjustment period, elite and clinical finishers still manage to produce. In their first or return year in MLS, these types of players average 0.60 goals per match.

When Kaka is eliminated from the equation once again, center forwards tend towards the slightly higher 0.65 goals per match average.

So, how many goals will Yura score on his return to MLS?

There are a couple of ways to answer this question.

First, if you only take into account the average goals scored per match of incoming (never previously in MLS) players you would surmise about a 0.600 average.  Next, if you account for the return year of domestic players that went abroad, Yura would average somewhere about a 0.603 average. Finally, if you limit your data to only center forwards, the average raises to about 0.65.

In other words, it is easy to argue that Yura Movsisyan returns to Real Salt Lake as one of the elite players to sign with the league.  His aforementioned statistics alone are enough to argue that fact.

So, with no further ado, we predict Yura Movsisyan will score 22 goal in 2016.

(34 league matches x 0.65 goals per match average = 22.1 goals)

Players that also scored 22 goals in their first/return year, which also happened to be last year, include Golden Boot winner Giovinco and runner-up Kamara.  And with a higher goals per match average in Europe (0.397) than both of these players (0.21 and 0.13, respectfully), Yura has a real chance of surpassing them.

Bradley Wright-Phillips is the outlier that both Movsisyan and fans, alike, would like the newly inked striker to emulate, however.  In his first year in MLS, Wright-Phillips managed to find the back of the net 27 times (0.84 goals per match average).  And this dream might not be far off.  With only a 0.014 differential between the players in comparing statistics from five years prior to joining MLS, Yura could easily get somewhere around 25 goals at the end of the 2016 season.

Despite this prediction being as scientific as I could make in a single afternoon of crunching numbers, there are still major holes in this equation that are not accounted for.  For instance, this estimate assumes that Movsisyan will play in all of RSL's 34 regular season matches.  This in itself could be an overestimate as the Claret-and-Cobalt's schedule is jam packed with CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup matches.  What I am saying is Yura might need a rest throughout the season.  Furthermore, statistics cannot accurately predict human behavior.  So many moving cogs go into a single season that it is all but impossible to account for them all.  Yura could, God forbid, get injured or maybe the chemistry is just off.  With so many unpredictable things it is actually quite hard to forecast a striker's season.

Still, as just a fun exercise in futility, I, Weston Jenson will stand by the prediction that Yura Movsisyan will find the back of the net 20-25 times this year with a strong inclination towards the 22 set mark.

Tell us what you think.  Does our math add up?  Do you know of a better way to predict goal production? How many goals do you think Yura will tally in 2016?