The Night Jeff Richey Didn’t Make 45 Saves
The first thing I thought when I saw that Chicago Soul goalkeeper Jeff Richey had recorded a shutout over the Syracuse Silver Knights in a Major Indoor Soccer League game on January 4 was, “Good for Jeff.” Richey is a good guy who has been toiling for various Midwestern indoor teams for a decade now, so recording a shutout – a fairly rare occurrence in the high-scoring world of indoor soccer – was a tremendous accomplishment for him.
When I read Richey had been credited with a league-record 45 saves, my second thought was, “That sounds like a lot. Too many.”
Turns out it was.
First, a little perspective: the average number of shots on goal per game in professional indoor soccer has been fairly consistent over time. Since the original MISL began tracking shots on goal (a shot that would have been a goal were it not for the intervention of the goalkeeper, as opposed to simply shots – a distinction which will come in handy later), most games of the top pro indoor leagues have averaged between 52 and 67 shots on goal per game. We’re actually in a fairly fallow period these days, as the skill players have more opportunities to play outdoors than they did in the mid-1980s through mid-1990s and rugged defenders are far more likely to be the norm than scoring wizards. (Today’s environment is also a key point that will come in handy later.)
Yet in looking at the combined shots on goal per game this year in the MISL, I found something interesting: games in two particular MISL venues feature nearly 33 percent more shots on goal than the other five. Here are the numbers of combined shots on goal per game in each of the MISL’s seven venues, through games of Friday, January 25, 2013:
|Rest of League||44||1650||37.5|
Now look at the games this year in the MISL that have featured the most total shots on goal by both teams:
|69||01/18/2013||Milwaukee (40) at Chicago (29)|
|62||01/04/2013||Syracuse (45) at Chicago (17)|
|60||01/21/2013||Wichita (35) at Chicago (25)|
|56||01/11/2013||Baltimore (32) at Chicago (24)|
|54||11/03/2012||Rochester (22) at Syracuse (32)|
|53||12/02/2012||Rochester (23) at Syracuse (30)|
|52||11/30/2012||Missouri (30) at Syracuse (22)|
|51||11/24/2012||Chicago (20) at Syracuse (31)|
|51||12/27/2012||Milwaukee (18) at Rochester (33)|
|51||12/29/2012||Chicago (28) at Wichita (23)|
The top four were all games in Chicago. The next four were all games in Syracuse.
Now let’s look at the list of most saves by a goalkeeper in a game (so far) this season. See if you notice a trend:
Six of the top twelve games took place in Chicago, while five more took place in Syracuse. Coincidence?
Just how rare is a 40-save game by an indoor goalkeeper? I’ve only been able to find a baker’s dozen* such games in 30+ years of professional indoor soccer. Here they are:
|48||Joe Papaleo||Dallas||at Monterrey||07/11/93||CISL|
|46||Roy Messing||S.Francisco||vs. Wichita||03/04/81||MISLI|
|45||Jeff Richey||Chicago||vs. Syracuse||01/04/13||MISLIII|
|44||Frank Bucci||Denver||vs. St. Louis||11/22/80||MISLI|
|Mike Hewitt||Hartford||at New York||02/22/80||MISLI|
|43||Slobo Illijevski||St. Louis||vs. Buffalo||02/27/81||MISL I|
|42||Slobo Illijevski||St. Louis||vs. Chicago||01/23/81||MISLI|
|Ardo Perri||Philadelphia||at Denver||01/16/81||MISLI|
|41||Slobo Illijevski||St. Louis||vs. Wichita||01/18/81||MISLI|
|40||Jamie Swanner||Canton||at Dayton||01/26/92||NPSL|
|Greg Volgas||Milwaukee||vs. Louisville||02/01/85||AISA|
|Cliff Brown||Cleveland||at Denver||02/26/81||MISLI|
|Scott Manning||Buffalo||at Denver*||01/26/81||MISLI|
That’s not exactly a Hall of Fame roster (except for Illijevski), and that’s not completely unexpected. Goalies on bad teams tend to face a lot of shots (only Papaleo, Illijevski, Swanner and Brown from that list played on a team that finished above .500 for the season), while good defensive teams tend to keep shots from ever getting to their ‘keepers.
(Digression for a second: what a five-week run the late, great Slobo Illijevski had from late January to late February 1981, with three games of 40+ saves. I wondered if any of those games had been on the USA Network’s MISL Game of the Week coverage, thinking they might have kick-started Slobo’s legend, but, no, none of them were. The Steamers were on USA five times that season, while it seemed to me Slobo and the Steamers were always on TV when I was a kid. Illijevski also had a 40-save game in the playoffs against Wichita that spring.)
Another thing you may notice is that most of those performances came prior to the 1982-83 season, when the MISL began keeping the Shots On Goal statistic (after only keeping Shots for its first four years). My original hunch was that they were merely subtracting goals from shots to come up with saves, but in the pre-computer-scoring-program days, things were actually kept by hand.
There seems to be no doubt, though, that saves were easier to come by in the original MISL prior to the 1982-83 season. The league’s annual leader in Saves Per 60 Minutes went from around 24 per game in the first four years to around 17 per game in the first four years after the shift, as you can see below.
|1978-79||Shep Messing||New York||24.4|
|1980-81||Roy Messing||San Francisco||25.6|
|1985-86||Alan Mayer||Kansas City||15.1|
And in a quick study of 15 goalkeepers who played in at least one season from 1978-79 to 1981-82 and at least one from 1982-83 to 1985-86 showed every single one saw a decrease in his Saves Per 60 Minutes, most by about 20-30%.
|Keith Van Eron||17.8||14.0||-3.8|
|A = Saves Per 60 Minutes, 1978-1982|
|B = Saves Per 60 Minutes, 1982-1986|
Obviously, there was a sea change in how saves were determined starting with the 1982-83 season. (The league media guides of the time period don’t list definitions for statistical terms, but Kansas City’s 1982-82 guide defines a “shot” as “Every attempt to score a goal, provided the ball is destined within the penalty lines extended up including the boards and glass. Kicks that land outside the playing area are not considered shots.”) More recently, a “save” has been defined as “A play by the goalkeeper or defensive player that prevents an opposing team’s shot from entering the goal.” As in hockey, it’s not supposed to be a “shot” if it wouldn’t have gone in without defensive intervention. Unlike hockey, a goalie’s teammate can keep the ball out and be credited with a “block.”
We don’t have any way of going back and looking at video of those games from 1980-81 to see if Roy Messing really stopped 46 shots that night (my theory is that there’s enough evidence to support the theory that it was padded a bit, though Messing did lead the league in Saves Per 60 Minutes that year, barely beating out Illijevski). Joe Papaleo’s‘s 48-save outing in Monterrey is slightly more believable, given (as CISL aficionados recall) La Raza played in, basically, a college gymnasium on a field listed at 162 feet long (38 feet shorter than regulation). Shots were flying all over Monterrey Tech for years, and it’s amazing there weren’t more 40-save performances. (Actually, there might have been. Oddly enough, no CISL Media Guide after 1995 lists a record for goalkeeper saves in a game. I had to find Papaleo’s performance in a Sidekicks guide.)
So, Richey’s performance was certainly one for the ages. There’s just one problem: he didn’t make anywhere near 45 saves that night.
I went back and looked at the on-demand online video of the January 4 game against Syracuse. Counting only actual shots that Richey stopped, I came up with 14 solid ones and 8 more he could have been credited with if a scorer was being generous. But that’s no more than 22, less than half the supposed record total. (Counting anything that could have been considered a shot, I had Syracuse with no more than 39 shots in a game in which they were credited with 45.)
I’m told the stats software (Pointstreak) used by the MISL these days automatically credits a goalkeeper a save on a shot that isn’t a goal, given it’s not supposed to be a shot unless it’s saved (or blocked by a defender). My theory is that Chicago’s stats crew is counting everything that looks like a shot as a shot on goal, and the software is coming up with abnormally high totals for shots and saves because of it. It appears as though Syracuse’s stats people may be doing the same thing, given their games have elevated totals for shots and saves as well.
Want more evidence? Here’s a look at the saves per game by starting goalkeepers in the MISL this season, showing the difference between their home and road performances. In a league where the variance between home and road saves per game is less than one per game, Jeff Richey grabs more than twice as many saves per game at home than on the road. In fact, the rest of the league’s starting goalies, on average, grab about one more save per game on the road than at home, yet Richey is getting almost 13 more at home than on the road.
By the way, the record Richey supposedly broke (for the current MISL) on January 4? It was previously held by Jamie Lieberman of the late, lamented Norfolk SharX, who made 38 stops in a game on January 15, 2012.
*The 1997 Media Guide for the CISL’s Washington Warthogs lists an opponent’s record for most saves in a game as 42 by Dan Madsen of San Jose in a game on August 4, 1994, but the league guide for 1995 lists San Jose’s record for saves in a game at 27 by Mark Lehnert. Until I can confirm Madsen’s performance, the list above stands.
#For purposes of this discussion, I’m only counting the three versions of the MISL (the second of which includes the AISA/NPSL) and the CISL. I don’t have reliable numbers for the PSA/WISL or the XSL and refuse to try to track down numbers for the AISL or PASL.