Several months before doomsday, before Leeds United was dumped out of the Premier League, before Everton's win on the EPL's final day sent this historic English club tumbling to relegation, Leeds was celebrated stateside for its Americanness.
It had an American head coach, and by the end of January three U.S. men’s national team midfielders. Their brightest moments felt like momentous ones for the sport in the United States. They represented the growth of men’s soccer and the headway Americans have made in the global game. Their mere presence as protagonists in the world’s preeminent league felt like progress.
But then their season started to spiral. Jesse Marsch, the Wisconsinite coach, got sacked with his team straddling the border of the relegation zone. Three managers and countless groans later, Leeds suffered the most feared of EPL fates. It needed a win and help on Sunday to avoid relegation; it got neither, losing to Tottenham while Everton beat Bournemouth and stayed up.
And so arose the question of the Americans’ culpability in Leeds' downfall.
But neither Marsch nor Tyler Adams, nor Brenden Aaronson nor Weston McKennie, is anywhere near the top of the list of responsible individuals. On the contrary, perhaps this cursed season could have been salvaged if Leeds had stood by Marsch — or, more importantly, if Adams had stayed healthy.
Leeds was better with Jesse Marsch
Marsch was canned in February after 20 games and just four wins, with Leeds in 17th and angst accumulating, understandably. But eye tests and analytics alike suggested they'd been victimized by soccer's randomness. Most Expected Goals (xG) models, which measure chance creation and its defensive equivalent, suggested that Leeds was playing like a mid-table team; only rotten luck or poor finishing — neither of which a manager can control — were restricting them. had them in 11th place.
Leeds looked somewhere between stale and dreadful in Marsch's final four EPL games, which prompted the sacking, but even that perception was heavily influenced by uncontrollables. Leeds created more xG than its opponent in each of those four games, . In between, it won twice in the FA Cup. This was not a sinking ship — until the club's owners and executives panicked and turned it into one.
Under Marsch, Leeds’ non-penalty expected goal differential was -5.15, or -0.26 per game, good for 11th in the league. Under his three successors, Michael Skubala, Javi Gracia and Sam Allardyce, the per-game xGD slumped all the way to -0.93, the worst mark in the league.
The other inflection point arrived in March. In the team’s first six games post-Marsch, including two against Manchester United, they were bad but competitive, with an xGD per game of -0.6. Then Tyler Adams hurt his hamstring, and everything changed.
Tyler Adams’ injury changed everything
Adams, the USMNT midfielder signed from RB Leipzig last summer, took the Premier League by storm in the fall. He buzzed around Elland Road and other grounds, shielding the Leeds defense and tilting the field forward. He was far from perfect, especially on the ball, but without it, he was superb.
And with Adams on the field, Leeds was relatively strong. In his 24 starts, they took 23 points, and the underlying numbers were even better. Their xGD was -4.7, or -0.19 per game. That was an 11th-place pace.
Without Adams, in 13 games prior to Sunday’s, their xGD was -16.3, or -1.25 per game, by far the worst in the league. (Over the full season, through 37 games, the EPL-worst mark was Nottingham Forest at -0.7.)
Adams never returned from the hamstring injury, and Leeds slumped into the relegation zone, and never recovered.