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Through the middle: Looking at what the U.S. midfield produced against Jamaica

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I spent most of Sunday morning starting at chalkboards at MLSSoccer.com, obsessed with one idea: “That pass Maurice Edu played (to Herculez Gomez) in the first minute. Why didn’t they try that more often?”

That’s easier said than done, though the concept is pretty straight forward. The team saw something that worked right off the bat: Herc running; midfield hitting him; profit. Why didn’t we see more of that?

That gets into a bigger, more subjective debate than I want to tackle here. For now, all I want to do is present some numbers to try and answer an implied question: Did we really see a lack of Edu-esque passes on Friday?

Starting with the premises that the first minute pass from Edu was a good thing, players try to perform that task, and teams would want to see more of that, I looked through the last four U.S. men’s games (three World Cup qualifiers and game in Mexico). I wanted to see how often Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is playing those types of passes, whether those numbers look high or low, and which players are playing the most passes of that type.

What are we looking for?

First, I need to define what type of passes I’m talking about. Check out how Edu’s Friday ball looks on the Opta-fueled chalkboard:

source:
Fascinating. If there’s a more boring way to represent that pass, I can’t imagine it.

Regardless, there are four characteristics of this ball that I think are important:

  • It’s a forward pass,
  • outside of the final third,
  • into the opposition’s final third,
  • and within the width of the penalty area.

That’s the criteria I’m using. How many times has the U.S. (and, to get context on each match, their opponents) completed passes that meet that criteria.

Disclaimer time: These Opta numbers can’t be taken that as gospel, especially if you’re not willing to re-watch a game and confirm them. In addition, the numbers without context are pretty useless.  A lot of these passes I’ll be citing may have no significance, and there are surely some that were important which don’t fit the criteria I’ve established.

So why even do this? Because if we get enough observations together, it does alleviate concerns that one or two deceptive passes can skew the whole endeavor. Plus, the Opta data and chalkboards gives us a way to establish some objective criteria (in this case, direction and location) that mitigates other subjective factors.

Opta has a number of different ways they characterize passes: Chip, dropped from hand, flick on, goal kick, headed ball, launch, and pass. Almost all of those can also be from a free kick. I’m focused on events from open play that are passes or short chips (trying to tease out crosses).

I’m also only looking at completed passes, even though tracking attempted passes might better capture a team’s intent. There are a number of other factors that come into play when collecting a negative result (all surrounding whether it was appropriate to play the pass at all). I decided to exclude them.

Jamaica vs. the United States

On Friday, the U.S completed nine passes that met this criteria. Jamaica had 10. Jermaine Jones’s four passes was tied with Jamaica’s Jason Morrison for game high. Maurice Edu (two) was the only other U.S. player with more than one:

source:

The numbers confirm that idea that Jamaica and the United States were on somewhat even footing. Jamaica never scored from open play, while the U.S. went 89 minutes without beating Dwayne Miler. But among the many things the number don’t do is provide context. Are 10 and nine (or, on the individual level, four) large or small numbers? What should we have been expecting from the U.S.?

Recent matches (Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica)

Looking back at the matches the U.S. has played since World Cup qualifying began adds a little more to the picture:

source:

It’s impossible to draw conclusions from this table, but it looks like defending was as much a problem as attacking. Jamaica didn’t score an open play goal, but both Beckerman and Edu’s fouls came after Jamaica had established possession in the U.S.’s end.

Regardless, the U.S.’s entries into the final third seem in line with what you’d expect, based on these four games. Mexico’s a superior side, while Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala offered far less resistance. Jamaica proved slightly tougher than Guatemala, though perhaps we wouldn’t have expected the final third passes to jump from three (at Guatemala) to 10 (again, insert relevance caveat here).

Individual numbers

source:

This is like looking at stats in the first week of the baseball season: Fun, but not very informative. There are some things here that jive with our instincts, like the downgrade from Bradley to Beckerman It’s also interesting to note where Edu and Jones sit on this list, particularly given 90 of Edu’s minutes are in defense. While this sample is small, they have better rates than their potential replacements, Torres and Beckerman.

Back to the initial point, which was about the Jamaica game. Why didn’t we see more passes like the one that put Gomez through? Looking across at the U.S.’s previous games, it’s not clear we should have expected more.

Though perhaps the point. Whatever the numbers were on Friday, they weren’t good enough. They led to the U.S.’s first loss in Jamaica. Perhaps looking at these and saying “they’re when we would have expected” may be too close to saying “the U.S. should have expected to lose in Jamaica.” For many people (including, probably, U.S. Soccer), that’s not acceptable.

Premier League roundup: Wins for Chelsea, Liverpool; Draws for six others

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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The European tournament week left us with just five Premier League clubs in action on Saturday, but we still saw some sensational goals and stunning saves.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

For the most part, we saw expected results aside from West Ham’s failure to capitalize against visiting Middlesbrough.

Here, recapped, is our Saturday in England’s top flight.

Swansea City 1-2 LiverpoolRECAP

James Milner converted his fourth penalty kick of the season to complete Liverpool’s road comeback over Swansea City, casting further doubt on Francesco Guidolin‘s time as Swans boss. Roberto Firmino equalized off a Philippe Coutinho free kick after Leroy Fer gave the hosts an early lead.

West Ham United 1-1 MiddlesbroughRECAP

West Ham will be happy to have “stopped the rot” and not lost a fifth-straight game, but it took some “pure magic” from Dimitri Payet to avoid another loss at the Olympic Stadium. Cristhian Stuani netted early to give Boro a road lead, but Payet dribbled through the 18 before cutting the ball across his body and past Victor Valdes.

Hull City 0-2 Chelsea — RECAP

The Blues ended their three-match winless skid in style, working very good possession and build-up before breaking through after the hour mark with Willian and then Diego Costa. Chelsea now starts a brutal five match run which includes Premier League matches against Leicester, Manchester United, Southampton, and Everton.

Sunderland 1-1 West Bromwich AlbionRECAP

Nacer Chadli has proven a good buy for the Baggies so far, as the ex-Spurs man scored again, but Patrick Van Aanholt continued his knack for big goals by pulling back a point for the woeful host Black Cats.

Watford 2-2 BournemouthRECAP

The Cherries had a pair of leads thanks to Callum Wilson and Josh King, and Jack Wilshere hit the post twice in a game the visitors could have and maybe should have claimed. But Troy Deeney and exciting sub Isaac Success nabbed goals for the Hornets as the two sides split the points.

VIDEO: Former players, journalists reflect on Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is celebrating his 20th year in charge of the storied Premier League club, and the accomplishment bears discussing.

In an age of managerial turnover, the Frenchman has maintained a consistent hold of the Gunners, and is widely viewed as a wonderful company man.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

In the above video, several former Gunners join media members to discuss the genius that is Wenger.

Enjoy!

Conte revels in Chelsea intensity in controlling win at Hull City

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The intensity from Chelsea’s players in their 2-0 victory at Hull City was a sight for Antonio Conte‘s sore eyes.

Actually, that might be understating it.

“I like it when the team plays in this way,” Conte said after the win. “I like it so much.”

[ MORE: Hull City 0-2 Chelsea ]

The Blues controlled the match at the KC Stadium long before Willian and Diego Costa hit bullets past a helpless David Marshall to seal Chelsea’s 11th, 12th, and 13th points of the young Premier League season.

Conte loved the industry from his club in breaking a three-match losing streak.

From the BBC:

“We are working very hard and I am sure we can improve a lot if we continue to work in this way. I am pleased for all the players because in these situations because we have a clean sheet. In previous games we conceded too many goals. To finish with a clean sheet is very important. We also scored two and the performance is good. We must follow this with work, work, work!”

“We can improve and we must improve a lot and continue to work. After these two defeats it’s not easy to work because two defeats for Chelsea are heavy defeats. But this was a good answer.”

Yeah… he’s pretty intense. Is anyone going to take his “work, work, work” soundbite and work it into a Rihanna remix?

The Blues will need to work, as the schedule starts a brutal run after the international break: home to Leicester City and Manchester United, away to West Ham in the EFL Cup, and then on the road to Saints and home for Everton.

Adrian, Bilic praise Messi-like equalizer from “pure magic” Payet

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Middlesbrough at The London Stadium  in London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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To hear West Ham goalkeeper Adrian describe it, the Irons should start streaming their training sessions so we can see more magic from Dimitri Payet.

West Ham’s talisman rescued a point for his struggling club when he essentially worked six Middlesbrough players and delivered a terrific finish in a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium in London.

[ WATCH: Payet’s wondergoal ]

Adrian says they see that a lot.

“Payet is like that in training,” the goalkeeper said. “He scored like a Lionel Messi goal at Barcelona. It is a massive goal to us.”

[ MORE: West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough ]

The goal truly was massive, as the Irons avoided losing five in-a-row. They are still in the relegation zone, but baby steps.

Here’s WHUFC head coach Slaven Bilic:

“It was an unbelievable goal, it was a pure magic. It was only a shame it wasn’t a winning goal. We needed that moment of class from our best player to lift the whole team up.”