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Analysis: A Galaxy Goalkeeping return?

We take a look at the available shot-stoppers within MLS to see if the LA Galaxy might have to go back to someone they know well.

Goalkeepers are a breed of their own. Just kidding, but statistically speaking, not kidding. Today we’re looking at available goalkeepers the LA Galaxy should consider.

Statistically analyzing a goalkeeper can be very simple, and at the same time very intricate. We can’t look at the traditional individual statistics in isolation. For example, the number of saves or save percentage only tells us about the quantity of shots faced and nothing about their quality so basing a judgment about a GK’s shot-stopping ability solely on the quantity of saves and nothing about their quality would be inadequate. Before we dive into why Player A is better than Player B from a statistical perspective, it’s important we explain a key statistic for analyzing GK’s.

In the same way we can judge an attacker using expected goals (xG), we can also use it to judge a goalkeeper using expected goals against (xGA). xG is the probability that a chance (either a shot or header) will be a goal before it is even taken and thus does not take into account if the chance is on target or not. xGA, however, tells us information about the chance after it is taken, taking into account only shots that are actually on target.

For example, if a player is awarded a penalty kick, before the shot is even taken, there is about a 76% probability (0.76 xG) that it will be a goal. However, if the player skies the penalty or shoots it wide, then the shot after it was taken has a 0% probability that it will be a goal (0.00 xGA). Other examples are redirections or deflections. Therefore, xG for the attacking team is not necessarily equal to the xGA of the defending team.

At the top of our list of available goalkeepers is Orlando City SC’s Brian Rowe (who played for the Galaxy from 2012-17). Per 90, Rowe saves about 0.42 goals than would be expected (GA-xGA90). For reference, Rowe is eleventh in all of MLS for GA-xGA90 and the best of available goalkeepers. Goals against over expected goals (GA/xGA) is a much better statistic for analyzing a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping ability than save percentage because, as we discussed above, it actually gives you information about the quality of shots faced.

A smaller GA/xGA indicates better shot-stopping ability. Rowe has a 0.73 GA/xGA, which is fourth-best in all of MLS and the best of available goalkeepers. In addition, we can tell that the quality of the average shot faced (0.33 xGA/SoT) is about the same as any other goalkeeper on this list. Thus, we can rule out that his numbers are boosted due to easier shots faced.

Table. Goalkeepers Available via Free Agency.1

While Rowe’s lack of playing time with Orlando may seem a concern, he is a known commodity, especially to the Galaxy. But he played behind Pedro Gallese, who finished fourth in the 2020 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year voting, so his lack of minutes is understandable. Rowe brings added value by not occupying an international slot and by having made just $98,000 in 2019. This suggests that his 2020 salary was not too much more, and would come at a relatively low cost.

But the Galaxy could always look outside the league to bring in a goalkeeper. They’ve had success with that formula before — Donovan Ricketts, and Jaime Penedo to name relatively recent goalkeepers.

For comparison reasons, we included both David Bingham (who is out of contract with the Galaxy) and Jonathan Klinsmann (who had his option declined but has been negotiating with the club).

As you can see, Rowe saves more goals than would be expected (GA-xGA90) and has a better shot-stopping ability (GA/xGA) than the two. In the end, the Galaxy may work out a more cost-friendly deal with either Bingham or Klinsmann, but Rowe appears to be the best value of all available goalkeepers this offseason, including Bingham and Klinsmann.

1 Player Market Values are based on data prior to 12/18/20. There was an update on 12/18/20 that is not reflected in this table.

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