THE SOCCER REPORT

Soccer Recap: Houston Dynamo send off U.S. legend Beasley with win; four unbeaten in Europe's top leagues

Houston Dynamo supporters bid farewell to DaMarcus Beasley with a tifo comemorating his career. Courtesy: Houston Dynamo

The 2019 Major League Soccer season has come to an end and will commence after the upcoming FIFA International break. In Europe, four teams in the top five leagues have reached the break with an unbeaten record in league play. Here are the top stories from the week:

Major League Soccer

All 14 playoff spots are accounted for in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs (see standings below). With every match played simultaneously on Sunday, there was also plenty of drama in the golden boot race - won by LAFC's Carlos Vela with an MLS record 34 goals.

The Houston Dynamo sent off U.S. Men's National Team Legend DaMarcus Beasley with a 4-2 win over Zlatan Ibrahimovic's LA Galaxy. Beasley is the only player to have featured in four FIFA World Cup tournaments for the USA and also enjoyed time at historic European clubs like PSV, Rangers and Manchester City.

Final Standings

East: 1. y - NYCFC (64), 2. x - Atlanta (58), 3. x - Philadelphia (55), 4. x - Toronto (50), 5. x - D.C. United (50), 6. x - NY Red Bulls (48), 7. x - New England (45), 8. Chicago (42), 9. Montreal (41), 10. Columbus (38), 11. Orlando (37), 12. Cincinnati (24)

West: 1. s - LAFC (72), 2. x - Seattle (56), 3. x - Real Salt Lake (53), 4. x - Minnesota (53), 5. x - LA Galaxy (51), 6. x - Portland (49), 7. x - Dallas (48), 8. San Jose (44), 9. Colorado (42), 10. Houston (40), 11. Kansas City (38), 12. Vancouver (34)

Golden Boot: 34 - Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Most Assists: 20 - Maxi Morales (NYCFC)

National Women's Soccer League

Only one match took place in league play due to the FIFA International window in the women's game - the Washington Spirit won 3-0 over last place Orlando. The Houston Dash, meanwhile, took their "off" week to travel down to Monterrey, Mexico to take on Liga MX Femenil side Tigres. Kealia Ohai scored in the opening minutes but, after many Dash changes at halftime, the Mexican champions would end up winning 2-1 after two second half goals.

Standings: 1. s - North Carolina Courage (46), 2. x - Chicago Red Stars (44), 3. x - Portland Thorns (39), 4. x - Reign FC (37), 5. Washington Spirit (33), 6. Utah Royals (31), 67. Houston Dash (26), 8. Sky Blue FC (20), 9. Orlando Pride (15)

Scoring leader: 18 - Sam Kerr (Chicago)

Assists leader: 8 - Yuki Nagasato (Chicago)

English Premier League

Matchday 8 Results

  • Brighton 3-0 Tottenham
  • Norwich 1-5 Aston Villa
  • Watford 0-0 Sheffield Utd
  • Burnley 1-0 Everton
  • Liverpool 2-1 Leicester City
  • West Ham 1-2 Crystal Palace
  • Southampton 1-4 Chelsea
  • Manchester City 0-2 Wolves
  • Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth
  • Newcastle 1-0 Manchester United

Top six: Liverpool (24), Man City (16), Arsenal (15), Leicester City (14),Chelsea (14), Crystal Palace (14)

Scoring leader: 8 - Sergio Aguero (Man City) / Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)

Assists leader: 8 - Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

Spanish La Liga

Top six: Real Madrid (18), FC Barcelona (16), Atletico Madrid (15), Granada (14), Real Sociedad (13), Sevilla (13)

Scoring leader: 6 - Gerard Moreno (Villareal) / Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) / Lorenzo Garica (Real Betis)

Assists leader: 3 - Several players tied

German Bundesliga

Top six: Monchengladbach (16), Wolfburg (15), Bayern Munich (14), Freiburg (14), RB Leipzig (14), Schalke 04 (14)

Scoring leader: 11 - Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Assists leader: 5 - Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)

Italian Serie A

Top six: Juventus (19), Inter Milan (18), Atalanta (16), Napoli (13), Roma (12), Lazio (11)

Scoring leader: 7 - Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

Assists leader: 5 - Luis Alberto (Lazio)

French Ligue 1

Top six: PSG (21), Nantes (19), Angers (16), Bordeaux (15), Lille (15), Reims (14)

Scoring leader: 7 - Victor Osimhen (Lille)

Assists leader: 5 - Islam Slimani (Monaco) / Yoann Court (Brest)

Netherlands Eredivisie

Top four: Ajax (23), PSV (23), AZ Alkmaar (20), Vitesse (20)

Scoring leader: 10 - Donyell Malen (PSV Eindhoven)

Assists leader: 8 - Dusan Tadic (Ajax)

Mexican Liga MX

Top Eight: 1. Necaxa (24), 2. Santos Laguna (23), 3. Queretaro (21), 4. Club America (21), 5. Leon (20), 6. Tigres UANL (20), 7. Pachuca (18), 8. Pumas (18)

Scoring leader: 8 - Julio Furch (Santos) / Mauro Quiroga (Necaxa)

Assists leader: 8 - Miller Bolanos (Tijuana)

Liga MX clubs Tigres UANL and Santos will face off in a club friendly in Houston during the October FIFA International window. Tickets on sale at BBVAStadium.com

Argentina Superliga

Top four: Boca (18), San Lorenzo (16), Talleres Cordoba (16), Arsenal Sarandi (15)

Scoring leader: 4 - Bruno Pitton (San Lorenzo) / Nicolas Dominguez (Velez)

Assists leader: 3 - Mathias Abero Villan (Patronato)

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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