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MLS Playoffs: A closer look at which forwards fared the best (and worst) vs. playoff teams in 2012

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When the 2012 MLS Playoffs kickoff tonight, it will start the month-long showcase of Major League Soccer’s top talent, and the league’s best goal scorers will be on display, trying to show that they are truly the difference-makers when a trophy is on the line.

It is no surprise that the league’s top ten scorers are all in the playoffs, but simply looking at the regular season totals of the league’s top scorers isn’t likely to offer a good measure of just how these players are going to stack up against the best teams, and best defenses in the league.

You have to dig a little deeper.

The reality about some of the league’s top goal-scorers is that they feasted on weak competition, padding their stats in blowout wins against the worst teams in MLS. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but when you dig a little deeper you will find that there are some players who truly stepped their game up against better opponents, and some even produced better statistics against playoff teams than non-playoff teams.

So which players taking part in the 2012 MLS Playoffs had the most success against other playoff teams? Here is a closer look at those players who were just as good aainst the top teams as the weak teams, and a look at those players who simply didn’t produce against the better teams in 2012:


Chris Wondolowski. You already know that he ran away with the Golden Boot by scoring nine more goals than the next-highest goal scorer. What you may not have known is that Wondolowski’s statistics were actually better against playoff teams than non-playoff teams.

In 14 games against playoff teams, Wondolowski produced 15 goals and three assists. In 18 games against non-playoff teams, he managed 12 goals and 4 assists.

In other words, Wondolowski punished all defenses in the league, and actually did even better against the league’s top teams.


Robbie Keane. While he certainly feasted on weak teams, generating nine goals and seven assists against non-playoff teams, only Wondolowski scored more goals vs. playoff teams than Keane. He finished with seven goals and two assists vs. playoff teams in just 13 games, a rate of better than a goal every two games.

Steven Lenhart. Along with Wondolowski, Lenhart scored more against playoff teams than non-playoff teams. He tallied an impressive six goals (and an assist) in 12 games vs. post-season participants, while managing just four goals and an assist in 14 games against the league’s weaker teams.

Kei Kamara. Whether you consider him a forward or more a wide player, the fact remains he was one of the league’s best against top teams. He managed six goals and four assists in 16 games vs. playoff teams, better stats than his five goals and four assists vs. non-playoff teams.

Landon Donovan. Though he did produce better stats against weaker teams (with the help of a four-assist game vs. Chivas USA), Donovan’s stats are pretty equal against both levels of competition. He generated four goals and five assists in 13 games vs. playoff teams. He managed five goals and nine assist against non-playoff teams.

Fredy Montero. Tied for the third-most goals against playoff teams, Montero compiled six goals and one assist in 17 matches vs. playoff teams, and while he did damage against weaker teams (7 goals, 7 assists), his stats could have been even better had he been Seattle’s regular penalty taker.

Alan Gordon. If we were talking goals per 90 minutes, Gordon would be near the top of the Cream of the Crop category, but we’re not so we’ll put him here. He managed five goals and three assists in just 11 matches. Pretty impressive numbers, though he did notch eight goals and four assists in 12 games vs. weaker teams.


Chris Pontius. The D.C. United star amassed five goals and two assists in 15 games against playoff teams. Might not seem like a ton, but he scored all five against the New York Red Bulls, which certainly bodes well for the upcoming playoff series.

C.J. Sapong. One of two players on this lost who didn’t crack 10 goals (along with Donovan), Sapong did manage four goals and an assist in 16 games against playoff teams. That’s just one more goal than he produced against non-playoff teams.


Eddie Johnson. There is no denying Johnson had an outstanding season, but 10 of his 14 goals this season were against non-playoff teams. He managed four goals in 13 games against teams in the playoffs.

Alvaro Saborio. Saborio’s 17-goal tally this season looks impressive, but only three of those goals (and two assists) came against post-season participants. The other 14 goals came against weaker teams.

Will Bruin. The second-year Houston forward enjoyed a strong sophomore campaign with 12 goals, but he managed just three goals (and an assist) in 17 games against playoff teams.

Thierry Henry. No forward in the league scored as many stunningly beautiful goals as Henry, and he also enjoyed some of the most incredible games of the season, but most of those came against weak opponents. He managed just two goals and two assists in 12 games against playoff teams (compared to 13 goals and 10 assists in 13 games against non-playoff teams).

Kenny Cooper. No big-scoring forward had a worse rate of production against playoff teams than Cooper, who managed a meager two goals (and one assist) in 17 games vs. post-season participants. A far, far cry from the 16 goals and two assists he produced. vs. non-playoff teams.


Does all this mean that players like Henry, Cooper and Saborio won’t produce in the playoffs, or that Wondolowski and Keane definitely will? Not necessarily, but it does shed some light on the seasons these players just had, and offers a much better impression of just how impressive their seasons truly were.

While it is no crime to feast on weak opponents and rack up stats, it is hard to argue against the idea that those players who were just as effective against strong teams as weak teams, if not stronger, stand a very good chance of continuing to find success come playoff time.


  1. huh?

    Apart from the truth that playoffs are for qualifiers, not for champions, there are many reasons why this factoid is meaningless.

    It seems almost too obvious that good teams score more goals, top teams don’t always have the best players, or have their best team available. San Jose strikers deserve less credit than their coach for putting them together, while Cooper is a stark and painful embarrassment alongside Henry who both struggle when Marquez is AWOL.

    Better would be decisive goals (ie equalisers and game-winners) against teams in playoff positions, but most importantly, in open play.

    Wondo-ful Wondo will still be top of the pile and Cooper bottom, probably by bigger margins, but there’ll be more than a few differences in between (as would be true with a proper balanced schedule without the CCL qualification series).

  2. I’m not sure why it would have mattered if Montero took penalties, the Sounders only were rewarded two penalties in all MLS competitions.

  3. The quality of the analytics in your pieces has grown tremendously in the past two years or so. Thanks for all the quality reads.

  4. Doesn’t surprise me about NY fowards, Does suprise me about Montero. I bet he feasted on LA while they were weak, and he always does well in Cascadia. Did you count Vancouver as a playoff team ?

    ps. was that a slap in the face of Sounder’s fans, saying if Montero took penalties. My 99 year old aunt would be towards the top of the Sounder’s PK list.


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