Monday, September 28, 2009

Jeff Cunningham's Quest for the MLS Golden Boot

Jeff Cunningham scored two more goals for Dallas to tie Colorado's Conor Casey for the league lead with 15. Actually, he now leads in the race for the golden boot due to the first tiebreaker, assists. He has 7 to Casey's 1, so he'll win any tie between the two men. Not only that, he has an extra game remaining and FCD has been assaulting the nets recently. He has to be the favorite to take home the award.

It's amazing how he's come on so strong in the second half of the season. I know he wasn't starting full time, and he was even playing on the wing for a little while. But still, I don't think anyone expected this type of production. That brings us to the next point: Would Cunningham be the worst Golden Boot winner ever? It's hard not to immediately jump to that conclusion. Now, several players have won the award for middling teams (like Jeff Cunningham, 2006). However, I don't recall seeing any of them finish with such a flurry of goals for a team so clearly out of contention.

At the halfway point of the season, Dallas was 3-7-5 (14 points) and their season was already over. Cunningham had scored only once. He'd fire in a brace in the 16th game, the 2-1 home victory over New York, and since then he's been on fire. Obviously he plays better without Kenny Cooper (the team was only 3-8-8 when both started over this year and last).

So how exactly does Cunningham's stellar second half compare to previous boot winners?

1st 2nd total
1st 2nd
1996 TB Lassiter, Roy 11 16 27
41% 59%
1997 DC Moreno, Jaime 10 6 16
63% 38%
1998 CLB John, Stern 9 17 26
35% 65%
1999 DAL Kreis, Jason 11 7 18
61% 39%
2000 TB Diallo, Mamadou 13 13 26
50% 50%
2001 MIA Pineda Chacon, Alex 8 11 19
42% 58%
2002 LA Ruiz, Carlos 10 14 24
42% 58%
2003 LA Ruiz, Carlos 8 7 15
53% 47%
2004 SJ Ching, Brian 7 5 12
58% 42%
2005 NE Twellman, Taylor 6 11 17
35% 65%
2006 RSL Cunningham, Jeff 7 9 16
44% 56%
2007 DC Emilio, Luciano 10 10 20
50% 50%
2008 LA Donovan, Landon 11 9 20
55% 45%

2009 COL Casey, Conor 8 7 15
53% 47%
2009 DAL Cunningham, Jeff 1 14 15
7% 93%

Jeff's current season certainly stands out. I'm a bit surprised at how even most of the previous seasons have been, actually. I also looked at all the 15 goal scorers in league history, and there really isn't a comparable situation to this one. A lot of that is because not every team is going to remain in playoff contention (thank god) as the league expands, whereas previous players didn't have the opportunities to score tons of less meaningful goals.

So we can say that:

1) It's not normal for a golden boot winner to have one amazing half where they score the vast majority of their goals.

2) No player has scored this many goals for a team out of playoff contention.

Let's talk more about the comparison between Casey and Cunningham. It doesn't take any research to know that Casey's goals have been more important than Cunningham's. Of course, I did it anyway. So let's see how many times each player has tied the game or given their team the lead when scoring:

Casey Cunningham
tie 5 0
lead 7 8
neither 3 7

Not only have Casey's goals been more important in the context of the entire season, but also in the games themselves. And the number of games scored in is similar: Casey 10, Cunningham 9 (so it's not like there was a disparity in that category). I'd also argue that Casey's goals have been a bit higher quality as well, although that can be subjective.

Now, I don't mind if either player wins (even if Casey deserves it more). I don't hate Cunningham, I'm actually enjoying his scoring run. I just find it interesting, especially as he's seemingly become proficient at scoring lots of goals for mediocre teams.

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Comments on "Jeff Cunningham's Quest for the MLS Golden Boot"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:03 PM, September 28, 2009) : 

this is the dumbest piece of info I have seen. you only list the stats that make your favorite look good. Game winning goals anyone? Cunningham is the obvious winner there. I would say those are important goals. You're such a homer for Casey.


Anonymous Notscared said ... (1:06 PM, September 28, 2009) : 

I think you are way off base with this one. First of all you forgot to note game winnning goals in your list of "important goals", but I am sure you did that because it disproves your point when you show that Cunny has 5 game winners (league leader) to Casey's meger 2 game winners.

Worst Golden Boot Winner ever? Not a chance. Cunningham has been nothing short of spectacular this season. Have you even seen any replays of some of his goals? Check out his two from Saturday for starters..

Exactly WTH does this mean, "whereas previous players didn't have the opportunities to score tons of less meaningful goals."

While FC Dallas probably is not going to make the playoffs, they technically still have a chance. They have not simply reverted to strategy of "get Cunningham goals". They are playing to win and Cunningham is leading the way.

Your article is really a sad waste of bandwidth.


Blogger Charley said ... (1:13 PM, September 28, 2009) : 

I have to agree with anon.

I think it's pretty ridiculous to say that the 2nd all-time scorer in the MLS could be the "worst" Golden Boot winner ever. Also, look who does more for the team between Casey and Cunningham. Cunningham has 15 goals and 7 assists to Casey's 15 and 1. So Cunningham's direct consequence to matches results in more goals than Casey's. He is therefore a more important member of the team.

Also, I am definitely arguing against your claim that Casey's goals are higher quality. Look at the number of GOTW's Cunningham has been nominated for, compared to Casey. Now, that is a subjective list, but I think it's more credible than anything you have set up.

Now, Cunningham is a streaky player, and I'm not saying he is better than Casey, but they are certainly much closer in comparison than you make it out to be.


Blogger jack said ... (1:17 PM, September 28, 2009) : 

also, what about penalties?

To me, penalties really aren't an indication of great skill as a striker. They are situations gifted to the striker by the referee based often on a foul that had nothing to do with the striker himself. 3 of Casey's goals are from penalty shots. 1 of Cunningham's goals is from a penalty shot. So Casey has received 2 more of those gifts.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:37 PM, September 28, 2009) : 

Are you really attempting to argue that someone who can score 15 goals in a season is bad?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:46 PM, September 28, 2009) : 

If fact, let's take the argument a step further on penalties. Jaime Moreno's goals are mostly penalties. What does that say to you about him? To me it says nothing - because your line of logic wasn't that great this time around.


Blogger scaryice said ... (4:47 PM, September 28, 2009) : 

RE: Game Winning Goals

I'm not a big fan of "game winning goals" as a stat. I think it's better to look at goals that have given your team a lead, since it doesn't take defense into account. Because that's what separates a "game winning goal" from any goal that gives your team the lead: how your defense performs.

Just because the Rapids' defense has failed more times after Casey has scored, that doesn't make them any less important when they were scored.

Of course, there can be problems with that way of looking at it too but that's another post.

RE: "Casey homer"

As I said above, I don't have a preference for who ends up winning it. I'm certainly not a Casey homer, since I support Chicago (and no, I don't hate all things Dallas).

RE: "Worst"

I don't think Cunningham is a bad player. He's a good player having a good season (well, half season). What I meant is worst in the sense of how important the goals were. Once again, let me say that no previous Golden Boot winner has scored so many meaningless goals.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:22 PM, October 01, 2009) : 

Are you qualifying "meaningless goals" as goals that won't make a difference for playoff contention?

With the fervor that Dallas has shown in this second half (so basically assume that the first half was a fluke), it is very possible that they will make the playoffs, albeit they would have to win the next three. So no, they are not out of playoff contention just yet.


Blogger ERic said ... (1:53 PM, October 08, 2009) : 

This run of Cunningham's is amazing. I just did a google search and wasn't able to find what the current goal scoring streak record is... just references to Wolde Harris' and Diaz-Arce's 7 game streaks in 2000 and 1997, respectively. Can't find it on the MLS site either.


Blogger scaryice said ... (2:45 AM, October 09, 2009) : 

I believe 7 games still the regular season record. Carlos Ruiz is also tied for the record with Diaz Arce and Harris; he had a 7 game streak in 2006.

The overall record (all competitions) goes to Roy Lassiter, who scored in 11 straight (MLS/Open Cup/Playoffs) in 1996.


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