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:

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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:

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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:

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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

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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.

Serie A: Inconsistent Milan lose at Sampdoria; Inter, Lazio win

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan’s problems with consistency continued as a poor performance saw it lose 2-0 at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday.

Milan didn’t even have a shot on target as late goals from Duvan Zapata and substitute Ricky Alvarez condemned the Rossoneri to its second defeat of the season.

“Samp was superior to us and deserved the victory,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “We didn’t perform. We were insufficient on a mental level and in our determination as well as technically.

“It’s a defeat which hurts us and we will have to understand why it happened. We’ll need to analyze everything without hiding ourselves.”

Milan slipped to sixth, six points behind leaders Napoli and Juventus. Inter Milan is two points below the top two after a narrow 1-0 victory over Genoa, with Lazio three points further back after beating Hellas Verona 3-0.

There was a huge scare for Milan in the second minute as the referee awarded a penalty to Sampdoria for handball but changed his mind after video review, as Franck Kessie’s arm was against his back when it was hit by Ivan Strinic’s cross.

Sampdoria had a number of chances before eventually breaking the deadlock in the 72nd. Milan defender Cristian Zapata inadvertently nodded an attempted clearance straight at his cousin, Duvan Zapata, who fired it in from six yards (meters).

Alvarez sealed the result in stoppage time, seconds after coming off the bench.


Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic pulled off a number of saves before a late goal helped the Nerazzurri secure a 1-0 win over Genoa, which ended the match with nine men.

Inter had lost its perfect record midweek in a surprise 1-1 draw against Bologna so needed a win to keep up the pressure on Napoli and Juventus.

It was Genoa which had the better of the chances, although Inter did hit the post through Marcelo Brozovic on the stroke of halftime.

However, Inter scored what was to prove the winner three minutes from time when Danilo D’Ambrosio headed in a corner.

“There’s still a bit of difference with Juventus and Napoli, we have to narrow the gap by reconsolidating the certainties which should belong to a great club like Inter,” coach Luciano Spalletti said.

“This team hasn’t reached its limits yet … we have to reach those limits and then surpass them.”

Genoa players Stephane Omeonga and Adel Taarabt were shown straight red cards within minutes of each other in stoppage time. Omeonga was ejected for bringing down Eder and denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, and Taarabt for a two-footed tackle on Yann Karamoh.


Ciro Immobile maintained his impressive scoring streak as he netted another two goals to help Lazio win 3-0 at Verona and bounce back from its hefty midweek defeat to Napoli.

Both Immobile’s goals came in the first half, opening the scoring from the penalty spot after Adam Marusic was tripped by Samuel Souprayen,

Immobile’s second was a stunning solo goal as he weaved his way past two Verona defenders before firing into the far bottom corner for his 11th goal in all competitions for Lazio this season. The Italy forward has only failed to score in one match, in a 0-0 draw against Spal.

Immobile also set up Lazio’s third for Marusic.

Crotone scored its first goals of the season in a 2-0 win against Benevento, which is still seeking its first points in Serie A.

Rolando Mandragora netted a stunning strike for his first career goal and Marcus Rohden doubled Crotone’s lead. Nicolas Viola hit the post with a late penalty for Benevento.

Elsewhere, substitute Orji Okwonkwo scored a late winner, two minutes after coming off the bench, to fire Bologna to a 1-0 win at 10-man Sassuolo.

Chievo Verona won 2-0 at Cagliari.

MLS Snapshot: SKC top LA 2-1, make it 3 home wins in a week

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The game in 100 words (or less): Sporting Kansas City avoided the dreaded U.S. Open Cup hangover on Sunday, four short days after lifting the Cup here at Children’s Mercy Park, by beating the LA Galaxy, 2-1, to remain just a point back of the first-place Vancouver Whitecaps in the race for home-field advantage in the Western Conference. Daniel Salloi, scorer of the USOC-winning goal on Wednesday, and Diego Rubio put the exclamation point on a dominant first-performance by putting Sporting KC 2-0 ahead after 35 minutes. LA got a goal back through Romain Alessandrini’s curling free kick just before the hour mark, but that’s as close as Sigi Schmid’s side would get on the afternoon. The victory sets up a top-of-the-table clash between Sporting and Vancouver next Saturday. Also, Gyasi Zardes played 90 minutes at right back. It went about how you’d expect it to go.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three Four moments that mattered

1′ — Dos Santos should have seen red after 26 seconds — If video review wasn’t implemented to review plays like this, we should just get rid of video review altogether.

18′ — Salloi gets to Rubio’s cross, toe-pokes it home — Maybe Peter Vermes knew what he was doing when he traded Dom Dwyer, thus opening a boatload of minutes for Salloi and Rubio.

35′ — Rubio taps it in after Sinovic puts it on a platter — Sporting made this one look really, really easy.

58′ — Alessandrini curls a beauty past Melia — Not a whole lot Tim Melia could do about that one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Diego Rubio

Goalscorers: Salloi (18′), Rubio (35′), Alessandrini (58′)

Americans Abroad wrap: Goals for Boyd, Gooch, Ariyibi

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Not every American player abroad found himself beneath a cleat this weekend, like DeAndre Yedlin.

[ PL PREVIEW: Arsenal vs. West Brom ]

The Magpies right back went 90 minutes for Newcastle and delivered good service in the 1-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion. How did other Americans fare abroad?

Germany

Bobby Wood led Hamburg in attempts on goal in Hamburg’s 3-0 loss at Bayer Leverkusen.

— American teenager Weston McKennie made his second-straight start for Schalke, but was again on the losing end in a 2-0 defeat at Hoffenheim.

— Fellow 19-year-old Christian Pulisic went 64 minutes for first-place Borussia Dortmund, leaving with BVB up 5-0 and en route to a 6-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.

— Not many Foals had good matches in that 6-1 defeat to BVB, and Fabian Johnson departed after 72 minutes with his side down four.

— Credit Timmy Chandler for a match-best four crosses in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss at RB Leipzig.

— In the second tier, Terrence Boyd came off the bench to fire his first goal of the season, a 90th minute header that was joined by Tobias Kempe’s 93rd minute marker to give Darmstadt a 3-3 draw versus Dynamo Dresden.

— Alfredo Morales went 90 minutes in the midfield as Ingolstadt lost 2-0 at Bochum.

— Julian Green got another 90 at left midfield/wing but Greuther Furth fell 3-1 at home to Nurnberg.

— On loan from Schalke, Haji Wright went 59 minutes at center forward as Sandhausen fell 1-0 at Erzegebirge Aue. Ken Gipson was on the bench for the ninth time but did not feature for the eighth.

— Jann George had an assist for Jahn Regensburg in a 2-1 win against visiting Eintracht Braunschweig.

England

— Yedlin went 90 for Newcastle, as detailed above.

— On the otherside of the Tyne-Wear rivalry, Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch had a moment to remember in a loss to Cardiff City. Gooch converted a penalty that briefly leveled the match.

— Eric Lichaj isn’t getting Championship run for Nottingham Forest, but went 90 minutes at right mid in a 5-1 League Cup loss to Chelsea at midweek.

— Tim Ream has played all 810 league minutes for Fulham, who drew 1-1 versus Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage

— On loan from Everton, Antonee Robinson is still yet to taste victory as a member of Bolton Wanderers. They fell 3-0 to Brentford, with Robinson putting in 75 minutes at left mid.

— On loan from Spurs, Cameron Carter-Vickers went the distance for Sheffield United in a 4-2 derby win over Sheffield Wednesday. The Blades have won both of the 19-year-old’s starts.

— In League One, Gboly Ariyibi scored for the third time in six days as MK Dons won 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon.

— Duane Holmes put another 90 in the books at right mid for Scunthorpe United in a 2-0 win over visiting Portsmouth.

Elsewhere

— Ethan Horvath picked up a win as Club Brugge went to RSC Charleroi and won 2-1. Brugge is 7W-1L in league play this season, and the 22-year-old has played every minute.

— On loan from Chelsea, Matt Miazga went 90 minutes at center back for Vitesse in a 2-1 win at Ajax.

Benitez peeved by block on Brighton’s clever set piece goal (video)

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Brighton midfielder Dale Stephens and Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez obviously feel quite different about the match-winning goal the Gulls nabbed off a set piece on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Hemed denies intent vs. Yedlin ]

Both agree on one thing, though, there’s blocking involved in the play’s success.

“We’ve tried it a few times,” Stephens said. “I’m glad it paid off. We change the blocker each time.”

Benitez saw his club’s three-match winning streak end largely on the merit of that goal, and thinks a foul should’ve been spotted by Andre Marriner.

Ciaran Clark is partially and purposely blocked from moving toward Stephens at the back post, and also misses the ball after Stephens nods back across goal.

It’s a clever play which led to an important goal, but Benitez feels it was insidious and illegal.

“I am not happy with the way we conceded. It was a block, an illegal block. You cannot argue too much but it is very difficult to understand some things. They pushed my players.

What do you think? There’s not much in the block. At the same time, it’s hard to call it anything but a block.