Maths Apology: Why Dropping Arevalo Rios Was a Good Idea

Miss me? (photo: ultra palermo.com)

Miss me? (photo: ultra palermo.com)

OTF’s Brian Battle looks at Chicago’s decision not to pick up Arevalo Rios’s contract, and tries to make sense of the math…

When Chicago Fire said goodbye to far-and-away their most seasoned and talented player late last year some fans cried foul, while others simply shrugged. A regular starter for Uruguay’s national team, defensive midfielder Edigio Arevalo Rios, aka “La Cacha,” had proven skill, but was expensive and had only been a Man in Red for half a season when he was let go.

When then newly-anointed Director of Soccer and Head Coach Frank Yallop decided to decline Chicago’s option on Rios late last year, many Fire fans got a bit nervous about the roster and began to wonder: Who was worth keeping and who was worth jettisoning? We will never know for sure, but here’s my attempt (based on 2013 numbers) to see who plays well together in Chicago.

I decided to look into Squawka’s per-game ranking and input rankings for each Fire player who logged significant minutes last season. Then, I “correlated” each player’s performance against each other, and then against the team’s success.

Quick math note: A max correlation of “1” in this measurement means that PLAYER A’s performance score on Squawka exactly matched PLAYER B’s performance, game-to-game throughout the season. A “0” means PLAYER A had absolutely no connection to Player B’s performance. A correlation of “-1” means PLAYER A’s score was the exactly the inverse of PLAYER B, i.e., when PLAYER A did well, PLAYER B did equally unwell.

Which Fire player’s success do you think correlated most-highly with other players’ success and the team’s success last season? Hint: It wasn’t Arevalo Rios. Actually, it was the OTHER defensive mid, Big Red himself, Mr. Jeff Larentowicz. 

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Fancy Maths Spreadsheet, copyright OTF 2014

Larentowicz’s Squawka performance correlated positively in all but two of his teammates’ scores (Gonzalo Segares & Austin Berry). Larentowicz had the highest average correlation at +.26, and his performance also correlated 2nd-highest in-game outcomes at +.38.

2013 Top 5 Highest Positive Squawka Correlations

Jeff Larentowicz (+.26)
Patrick Nyarko (+.19)
Alex (+.11) tie
Bakary Soumare (+.11) tie
Mike Magee (+.05)

Granted, this fuzzy math is not absolutely conclusive, but it still can be used to determine how well players play together.

Another 2013 stat I’ll break down is Team Outcome. This stat is scored by assigning a “1” to a win, a “0” to a draw, and a “-1” to a team loss. Looking at last season’s performance through this lens, the ranking below correlates how well a player did in comparison to match outcomes. 

2013 Top 5 Highest Game Outcome Correlations

Jalil Anibaba (+.41)
Jeff Larentowicz (+.38)
Mike Magee (+.36)
Juan Luis Anangonó (+.34)
Bakary Soumare (+.18)

As you can see, Jeff Larentowicz was second in this correlation. Jalil Anibaba — a defender who had his ups and downs last season — showed that when he performed well, the Fire won. When Anibaba performed poorly, the Fire did not perform well. The math shows that Anibaba, a center back who played out of position at right back all season long in 2013, was the culprit of a much-maligned (and often exhausted) back line that doomed Chicago to miss the MLS playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

Curiously, despite his talent and experience, the former Designated Player Arevalo Rios does not appear on either of the Top 5 rankings above. Rios himself is a tremendous player, but his skill, for whatever reason (team chemistry, communication, fluidity), did not connect to team outcomes last season in Chicago. In fact, Arevalo Rios had the worst correlations on the team (the only player with negative correlation), meaning his strong performances had a negative effect on team success.

2013 Top 5 Lowest Game Outcome Correlations

Arevalo Rios (-.56)
Dilly Duka (+.04)
Austin Berry (+.08) tie
Logan Pause (+.08) tie
Chris Rolfe (+.08) tie

Rios’s low team influence and negative outcome correlations, compounded by his proportionally huge paycheck, tell us that letting him go was not a terrible decision. All in all, you can mark the short 2013 acquisition of Arevalo Rios as yet another disappointment in the former Chicago Fire technical staff’s mid-season DP rescue grab bag.

And please, by all means, check my math.

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OTF Contributor Brian Howe Battle is a Chicago local, practicing cynic, and soccer nOOb. You can find his other soccer musings at the Owen Goal blog. Follow Brian @OwenGoal.

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