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

1 Comment

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.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Leave a comment

It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Bayern Munich fans pay tribute to Jupp Heynckes, again

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Leave a comment

MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich fans turned up in their thousands to bid farewell to Jupp Heynckes for a second time on Sunday.

The veteran coach is going back into retirement after leading Bayern to another league title. The side was five points adrift when he returned in October, but rebounded to wrap up the title with five rounds to spare.

[ MORE: Pellegrini to WHU inches closer ]

It might have been more for Heynckes, but Eintracht Frankfurt stunned the side to win the German Cup final on Saturday and Real Madrid emerged triumphant from the sides’ Champions League semifinal.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge paid tribute to the 73-year-old Heynckes for bringing “old values” such as “humanity and empathy” back to the side.

“The little downside for us is that we would have liked to give our Jupp, our coach, the nearly perfect finish, but it didn’t quite work out,” Rummenigge said of the shock defeat to Frankfurt.

Heynckes led Bayern to the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup titles in his previous stint in 2013, before he retired for the first time.

Bayern’s players were clearly still disappointed over Saturday’s cup defeat as they celebrated the league win on the Munich town hall balcony.

“It feels really bad, how the season ended,” said Thomas Mueller, who added that the team would try to “put a brave face on it.”

WORLD CUP: France wins, but what happened to Ronaldo?

PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Despite playing a central role in the establishment of the World Cup, France had always fallen short at the tournament. That changed on one glorious night in Paris in 1998.

[ MORE: PST chats with Vincent Kompany after Man City’s title ]

After a strong start to the tournament it was hosting for the second time, France struggled in the knockout stages. It only managed to make the final after defender Lilian Thuram scored the only two goals of his 142-match international career to give France a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Croatia.

The prevailing view was that beating defending champion Brazil would prove to be beyond Les Bleus. After all, Brazil had Ronaldo, the undoubted player of the tournament.

But France strolled to its maiden title , two first-half headers from the great Zinedine Zidane easing the nerves in the Stade de France. A third goal from Emmanuel Petit in injury time was the cue for wild celebrations across the country, with the team hailed for its multi-ethnic heritage.

In scenes reminiscent of Paris’ liberation from Nazi occupation in 1944, more than 1 million people stormed the Champs-Elysees to celebrate.

For Brazil, the final remains a mystery.

The team just never got going, its underperformance blamed on the health of Ronaldo. To the shock of just about everyone, coach Mario Zagallo left his main striker out of his starting line-up, apparently for health reasons. Years later, Ronaldo said he had a seizure earlier in the day.

However, just before the match, another team sheet was submitted, this time with Ronaldo’s name on it. Whatever happened, Ronaldo was a very different player that night and Brazil was a very different team.

Ronaldo would get another chance four years later to put the ghosts of Paris behind him.

He did just that.

For more, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmjFa9LB7Pg

AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Transfer rumor roundup: Vardy to Atleti? Fekir close to Liverpool move

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the Premier League transfer window set to close early this summer, we’ve already begun moving season for players.

Below, Pro Soccer Talk looks at several of the day’s biggest transfer rumors, including another attacking move for UEFA Champions League finalists Liverpool.

[ MORE: Vincent Kompany talks third PL title, Belgium and more ]

Leicester City has had to fend off significant interest in its players for some time, and the Foxes could be in line to lose several quality pieces this transfer window.

The attention is focused on striker Jamie Vardy at the moment though, as the Leicester front man is being targeted by Spanish side Atletico Madrid.

Atleti manager Diego Simeone is inevitably preparing for Antoine Griezmann’s post-World Cup move to Barcelona, which would leave the Spanish runners’ up in desperate need to find another option up front alongside Diego Costa.

Vardy could be a logical solution for Simeone, after scoring 57 PL goals in the last three seasons at the King Power Stadium.


Jurgen Klopp has built something special at Anfield, and with his side nearing a Champions League final appearance next weekend against giants Real Madrid, it appears the German manager isn’t done adding to his brilliant front line just yet.

French TV station Canal+ is reporting that the Reds are “99 percent done” on a move that would bring Lyon attacker Nabil Fekir to Liverpool next season.

The 24-year-old Frenchman will likely command a significant sum, estimated at over $81 million, after the Ligue 1 star notched 23 goals in all competitions this season for the third-place club.


The Wayne Rooney saga at Everton has brought up great doubt that the veteran Englishman will be playing in the PL next season, and it appears the Toffees don’t want the former Manchester United striker back.

The 32-year-old has been strongly linked with a transfer to MLS side D.C. United over recent weeks, however, when Everton manager Sam Allardyce was sacked, that appeared to leave the door open for a Rooney return.

Now, that doesn’t seem to be the case though.

The Toffees are believed to be willing to part ways with Rooney, who totaled 10 goals in 31 appearances for the club in 2017/18.


Finally, Everton could be looking to add another attacking spark, particularly if Rooney exits Goodison Park this summer.

The Sun is reporting that the Toffees are eyeing up a move for Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, who has caught the attention of many PL sides over recent years.

Zaha is coming off of his best season as a professional, having scored nine goals in England’s top flight and guides the Eagles to an 11th-place finish.