Monday, April 20, 2009

Red Card Impact in MLS

There's been a bit of talk the past week about the number of red cards handed out last Saturday, 7 in 7 games. I don't think it's a big deal, since they were all justified. And lest we forget, there were just as many red cards handed out in a single day as recently as June 7th of last year (and there were only 4 games that day). I think it's good to see refs cracking down on dangerous fouls.

Last year there were 59 red cards in 210 games or .281 per game. It was basically the same rate in 2007 as well (.277). The overall rate has ranged from .200 to .318, with an all time average of .262 from 1996-2008. This year it's 11/29 = .379 per game. I bet we'll end up around .3 once again.

By comparison, the EPL this year has had 56 red cards which comes out to an average of .176 per game. Last year it was .161 per game. The multiple match bans could have something to do with those low numbers.

Thinking further on the subject, I wanted to look into the affect on goalscoring in MLS that red cards have had. For starters, I've looked at the 2008 regular season. Here's the results of my analysis.

There were 59 red cards on the season (MLSnet lists 60, but they include Frank Yallop being sent off in SJ's total). Two of those were given to players who were on the bench (C.J. Brown, Tom McManus). A further 11 resulted in a 10 on 10 situation, either as a result of two players on opposite teams being ejected at the same time, or because of multiple players being sent off in a game. So that left 42 red cards which resulted in a team being a man up (one of them 10-9, the rest 11-10), and 4 red cards resulting in a two man advantage.

I then looked at each one to see how many goals were scored and allowed by both teams in the game. The results look like this:

Minutes GF GA
1 Up 980 20 9
2 Up 61 3 1

GF = goals for, GA = goals allowed.

There would be something wrong if teams weren't capitalizing on the advantage. How does that compare to an even strength situation? First, let's look at the total number of goals scored by both teams.

Minutes Goals
even 17859 558 One goal every 32.01 minutes
1 Up 980 29 One goal every 33.79 minutes
2 Up 61 4 One goal every 15.25 minutes

The goal totals do include the few times where a red led directly to a penalty kick.

Obviously there's an issue with the sample size, so let's revisit this when I've looked into all the seasons. On a side note, this sounds like the kind of thing that would've been covered on the old MLSnet "Analyze This" columns. I looked briefly but I didn't see one on red cards.

Anyway, there were 2.81 goals per game last year. That means that the average team scored and allowed about 1.41 goals per game. If you took the GF and GA for those 980 and 61 minutes, how would they translate on a per game basis?

1 Up 1.84 0.83
2 Up 4.43 1.48

What's interesting though, is that it seems like very few of the red cards actually turned around a match. There were only five instances in 2008 of a team going a man down and getting a worse result from the match. Only twice did a team got red carded with a lead and went on to lose the game (NE vs CHI and RSL vs DAL). Two more times games that were level ended up as losses, and once a team lost a lead and ended up with a draw.

On the other hand, on four occasions teams who went down a man got an improved result. Interesting stuff, and I look forward to finding out the results from previous years:

Here's the list of those nine games:

2008 Game Changing Ejections

Red Card Min Men Score Final Score
3-Aug TOR vs DAL Guevara 79 10v11 0-0 0-2
9-Aug NE vs CHI Joseph 74 10v11 1-0 1-2
23-Aug DAL at KC Ricchetti 62 10v11 1-0 1-1
18-Oct DAL at RSL Saragosa 30 10v11 1-0 1-3
25-Oct NE vs KC Badilla 26 10v11 0-0 1-3

19-Apr NE at NY Castro 46 10v11 0-1 1-1
17-May NY vs KC van den Bergh 77 10v11 0-1 1-1
7-Jun DC at CHI Namoff 88 9v10 1-1 2-1
25-Oct CHV vs HOU Kennedy 50 10v11 0-0 1-1

I know 3 reds on here led directly to penalties (Guevara, Badilla, Kennedy).

EDIT 4/20:

Here's some more data from 2002-08:

1 Up 5684 124 66
2 Up 130 4 2


Comments on "Red Card Impact in MLS"


Anonymous Talion said ... (6:37 AM, April 17, 2009) : 

Great analysis. Interesting that a single red doesn't increase the chances a goal will happen, just increases the chances it will be scored by the team who's ahead.

That said, in the last game on the final chart, the score goes from 0-0 to 1-1...that's not an improvement in the outcome like the other three.


Anonymous silent e said ... (8:44 AM, April 17, 2009) : 

I really look forward to your continued analysis on this issue. From a fan point of view I'm not too surprised at the general lack of effect, as I've been disappointed or relieved in these situations many times. Once you get a larger sample, it might be interesting to note some issues about timing in a game, i.e. does how early in the game a team gets a player ejected affect the chances of them going down a goal? After all, it's one thing for a team to bunker down for 5 to 15 minutes to preserve a result, and quite another to chase a game for 60 minutes or more.


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