2016 MLS Top Creator: Quality over quantity

While the choice for top striker may have been clear, the choice for top creator is much less so. Looking strictly at mosts assists in the League, we have one player: Sacha Kljestan, but that is only part of the story.


Kljestan is locked and loaded for the New York Red Bull’s post-season campaign. Without a doubt, he’s been instrumental for his team during his 2,624 minutes of play and a key partner to Golden Boot Winner, Bradley Wright-Phillips, with whom Kljestan combined for six goals this season. Klejstan had six goals of his own, one of those a converted penalty, and became the second player in MLS to tally 20 or more assists in a season. Maybe.


In MLS, assists and second assists are tallied simply in  a binary approach. This approach saves a column on a table, but the intent of the pass also goes undistinguished. Opta qualifies some assists as intentional and others as unintentional, the example linked to above falls in the latter category, but was reported as an assist just the same.


While Kljestan may have been the beneficiary of some questionable data collection, there is no denying his importance to the RBNY offense and his creation prowess. He assisted 105 shots and led the league in assists! All that said, some of the more advanced statistics highlight someone else: Mauro Díaz. Diaz led the league with 0.40 cQxG assisted per 90 among players with at least 900 minutes played. Kljestan was not far behind in third with 0.34 cQxGa/90; Sebastian Giovinco and Federico Higuaín tied for second with 0.35.


Beyond just expected goal values Diaz had a great season for FC Dallas, he played more minutes in the 2016 season (2,149) than he has in each of the previous three seasons. He netted five goals, three coming from the penalty spot, and contributed 13 assists to his team. An injury in FC Dallas’ second to last game of the regular season will keep the Argentine out for eight months, and unfortunately for FC Dallas, their quest for MLS Cup glory.


When it comes to creativity in MLS it is clear that Díaz and Kljestan are the cream of the crop, picking between the two is not easy. Consider the raw creation maps for each player in 2016:





Kljestan has more dots (shot assists) than Díaz, but many of them are quite small. With the size of the dot representative of the quality of the chance, this tells us that Díaz created higher quality chances than Kljestan. By the numbers, per shot assist, Díaz’s cQxG was 0.12 compared to 0.09 for Kljestan. While a difference of .03 cQxG may not seem like much, if you look at it percentage wise, the average chance Díaz created was  33% better than that created by Kljestan. Yes, Kljestan’s overall numbers in shots and goals assisted are higher, but as we pointed out earlier those numbers can be subjective and there is the age old debate of quantity vs quality. All of this leads us to Mauro Díaz being our pick for MLS 2016 Top Creator.