Kocic v Frei, Stats v Opinion

Will Frei be in goal against FC Dallas or giving his thumbs up from the bench?

So that big game against FC Dallas is starting to loom large (pun intended) for Toronto FC.  It is no exaggeration to say that TFC's entire season will come down to this one match.  If the Reds go down to Dallas and lose then this season is just another year where the club failed to make a serious impact in anything other than the Voyageurs Cup.  As much as we love being the best team in Canada many Toronto FC fans are just dying for the chance to celebrate something more.  They will get just that chance when TFC takes on Dallas with a place in the CONCACAF Champions League knock out stages up for grabs for the winner.  In case you are interested in joining in with other fans to watch the game the official Toronto FC viewing party looks like it is going to take place at Real Sports but it is filling up fast so save your seat now and you could have your photo taken with Toronto FC's unprecedented double of trophies!  The other option will be looking for where the supporters groups are planning on watching and joining one of them.

With that game coming up so fast most fans would have a very easy time picking a lineup that they would like to see with the only real question mark being the status of Eckersley's hamstring.  The other area where fans are sure to differ in opinion is who should start in net.  Based on the fact that Winter has started Milos Kocic in the rest of the CCL matches it is probably a safe bet that we will be seeing him again on Tuesday but is that the right move?  Who do the stats suggest would make the better option in goal against FC Dallas? 

First off it is a good idea to look at how the two keepers have done in their appearances against FC Dallas so far this season.  The first meeting between the clubs took place down at Pizza Hut park way back on May 11th.  Toronto FC lost that game 1-0 with Stefan Frei in net but the Swiss keeper had a very good match turning aside a number of good Dallas chances and the one goal he did concede came from a controversial penalty.  In my eyes he was the man of the match in what was actually a fairly dull game with Dallas happy to play on the counter and sit 10 men behind the ball much of the game. 

The next MLS meeting took place at BMO on July 20th and was notable for the fact that it marked the debuts of Torsten Frings, Danny Koevermans, Eddy Viator, and Ryan Johnson for Toronto FC.  On that night it was again Stefan Frei in net and he was in for a busy night.  FC Dallas made the Toronto FC backline look very poor on the night and managed to fire off 20 attempts on goal.  Frei responded well to all the business and the only ball that got past him was a very good strike from Brek Shea in a 1-0 defeat. 

The third and final time that the teams have met so far this season saw Milos Kocic get the nod in goal as it was a CCL match.  This game will be remembered more for the fact that it was the second time this year that TFC have had to deal with a lightning related postponement than for the actual game itself but Kocic did concede once in the first half of the rained out game.  The goal was actually a thing of beauty and really left Kocic without a chance as Jackson Goncalves provided the finish for FC Dallas.  In the replay the following morning it was again Kocic in goal but he didn't really have all that much to do.  Toronto controlled much of that game with Dallas happy to sit back and absorb the pressure hoping to get some chances on the counter.  The goal in that particular 1-0 defeat came from one of TFC's regular undoings in the form of a corner that was headed in by Jack Stewart late in the first half.

In all three matches (and a half) it is fair to say that neither keeper was really at fault for the defeats.  In fact they held Dallas to one goal in each match despite often being left exposed behind a suspect defense.  The one game that Kocic did play against Dallas this year he had the added protection that came from Torsten Frings playing in the backline which helped reduce the chances but he was still solid.  Having looked back at the three previous meetings it has done very little to sort out which keeper is the better option for this game so the only fair way to decide who is Toronto's best option is to dig deeper in to the stats.

 The first thing that needs to be made clear about this adventure is that stats for keepers can be a bit of a novelty.  It is all but impossible to get a really good sense of a keepers performances just by looking at the stats so take this analysis with a grain of salt or two but it is good to remember that even though Stefan Frei is a sort of hero to many Toronto FC fans he may not actually be the best option.  So what do the stats say?

Stefan Frei has been the number one choice for Toronto FC this season in MLS action and despite missing some time due to injury he has played far more minutes this year than Kocic has.  Kocic has made 6 appearances in the league for a total of 474 minutes while Frei has appeared in 27 matches for a total of 2406 minutes.  This makes comparing their league numbers a bit tricky.  It is even more tricky to do considering how often the back four/five has changed this season with all the roster movement.  The first look at the MLS stats shows that Kocic has been the better keeper by a clear margin.  Kocic has only allowed 1.33 goals per match while Frei's is a much worse 1.83 meaning that on average Frei allows half a goal more per match he plays in.  That 1.83 is actually the worst mark for any starting keeper in the MLS  as it is even worse then Matt Reis of the New England Revolution at 1.55 and Jay Nolly of the Vancouver Whitecaps at 1.64.  Kocic is not much better on that list but he is getting closer to the numbers that the majority of MLS starters are putting up. 

Since Frei played most of his games in the pre-Frings era and as such was often exposed to all kinds of shots we really have to look beyond the goals per game stat and give some consideration to each keepers save percentage.  This stat again favours Kocic who has a percentage of 74 in league action while Frei is down at 68.  The thing is though that neither of those percentages is a bad number at all when you consider that the best number by a starter belongs to Donovan Ricketts of the LA Galaxy and that is 80%.  He is followed closely by Kasey Keller of the Seattle Sounders who is on 76%.  According to this stat both Frei and Kocic are right where you would want them to be in terms of being around the league average. 

The last stat from the MLS that is worth looking at briefly is each goal keepers winning percentage.  In 27 starts this season Frei has only been in goal for 3 Toronto FC wins and 11 draws while suffering 12 defeats.  That gives him a winning percentage of only 11.  Kocic on the other hand has a 50% thanks to picking up 3 wins, 2 draws, and just the one defeat in his 6 appearances.  This is probably the one stat that needs to be taken with the most grains of salt.  It has to be noted that Kocic has played almost all of his MLS games behind the new and improved version of Toronto FC while Frei was stuck in behind the very poor team that Toronto fielded for the first few months of the season.  It is safe to say that for the most part Frei's winning percentage has more to do with the quality of the team in front of him then his abilities as a keeper.

Sadly there really are no CCL stats that we can dig in to and see how Kocic has been doing in that competition.  What we do know is that he has started all 7 of Toronto's games.  He has picked up 4 wins, 1 draw, and 2 defeats in that time which would be a winning percentage of 57% which is even better then his mark in the league.  His 9 goals conceded in the 7 games is good for a 1.28 goals against per game which is also an improvement on his mark in the MLS even with that 4-0 embarrassing from down in Mexico counting against him.  So at least on paper Kocic has been even better in the CCL than he has been in the league.  The grain of salt in this case is that 4 of the 7 matches he has played in were against Real Esteli and Tauro who in all fairness would struggle against pretty much any MLS side.

On the whole the numbers have a clear favourite here.  It is hard to argue that at least on paper Milos Kocic has been the better keeper for Toronto this year and that he would be the right choice to start in goal against Dallas next week.  Yet somehow I think if you asked most TFC fans who they think should get the start almost all of them would go with Stefan Frei.  I do not blame them for that choice though as Frei has been a very good player for this club for a long time now and has proven that he can be reliable at the back.  Kocic on the other hand is still fairly new and does not offer that same sort of comfort level even though he was able to step in very well when Frei went down with his injury this season. 

I guess this debate comes down to where you fall on stats v. opinion.  The stats are on the side of Kocic but the public opinion is on the side of Frei.  So if you were Winter who would you go with for what will certainly be the defining moment of his first season in charge at Toronto FC?

*all stats are from MLS.com and Torontofc.com

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