Early Numbers on the Home Guard
As the Home Guard prepare to take on Mexico this week, we're going to look at some of the early-season stats for these U.S. men's national soccer team hopefuls.
This is the last U.S. national team game before head coach Jurgen Klinsmann names his preliminary 30-man World Cup roster. After this game, Klinsmann's evaluations of a player's form will come from games in Major League Soccer.
Soccer is a notoriously stat-starved sport. If you look at a "box score" for a soccer match, you see relatively rare events like goals and assists along with more mundane factoids like the match attendance, red and yellow cards, the number of corner kicks taken and substitutions.
Recently, several soccer news outlets have beefed up their stat reporting, but the raw data doesn't tell you much and the various attempts at graphical representation (heat maps, passing charts, etc) don't tell you much about the data that goes into those images.
MLSsoccer.com is one soccer news outlet that does a good job of coding and reporting raw numbers for basic but important indicators of a player's performance in offensive, defensive and possession phases of the game.
For the analytical enjoyment of B/R readers, the following statistics will be recorded and reported for the Home Guard.
- SC%: The percentage of shots that become goals. View this as a player's shooting percentage.
- S/90: The number of shots a player takes per 90 minutes played. This is an indicator of how active an attacking player is.
- Def/90: The number of defensive plays a player makes per 90 minutes played. Defensive plays include tackles won, shots blocked, crosses blocked, passes intercepted, clearances and recoveries. This is measure of defensive activity, not defensive efficacy.
Possession and distribution:
- Pass%: The percentage of player's passes that are successfully completed. This may not be a true indicator of a player's passing ability as some players attempt more difficult passes than others.
- Cross%: The percentage of a player's crosses that are "successful." Only a few positions on the field get involved in this activity, so it as much an indicator of how active a player is in the wide areas as it is in how effective that player is. (N/A means a player has not attempted a cross.)
- Tch/TO: The number of touches a player takes, on average, before turning the ball over. The higher the number, the fewer turnovers the player makes relative to his position on the field (which determines how many times he touches the ball).
More stats will be added as the counts increase with relatively rare events like goals and assists.
Players are divided into the three traditional tactical lines—defense, midfield and forward—keeping in mind that modern soccer formations combine some of these in novel ways so that it is somewhat of a judgment call whether or not a player is a defender, midfielder or defender.
Possession and distribution stats will be reported for all three positions, but offensive stats will not be reported for defenders nor will defensive stats be reported for forwards. Midfielders, of course, will have all three stat areas reported.
All raw data from MLSsoccer.com's Chalkboard.
One could argue that Graham Zusi plays a "wing forward" position. However, Zusi has a significant number of defensive stats, so he falls under the "midfield" label for now.
Here is the offensive and possession/distribution data for the "forwards":
For all the hand-wringing about Dempsey's "drop in form," he sure is a busy bugger. He only has one goal this season, but he is squeezing off a whopping 10 shots per game with a very high passing efficiency. You have to think it's only a matter of time before his passing creates more space to move and those shots start to find the back of the net.
Donovan's passing efficiency is the exact opposite of Dempsey's, but Donovan is one of those players who is always trying to find the killer pass (including 24 crosses). Perhaps there is something to Klinsmann's insistence on playing Dempsey in the middle and Donovan on the wing.
The capture of forward Julian Green is great for U.S. soccer, but it will likely cost either Johnson or Wondolowski a spot on the final roster. Johnson's numbers are not very good thus far, and it is not a function of poor service like Jozy Altidore is experiencing at Sunderland. Johnson has 219 total touches in three games, compared to Wondolowski's 165 in three games.
Wondolowski needed to be phenomenal this spring to make the 30-man cut—so far so good. Wondo has two goals in three games and is finding nearly three times the number of shots that Johnson is. Wondolowski is playing at his usually efficient level, and if he keeps this up, he will make Klinsmann's decision a tough one.
Five midfielders are included in the statistical table below: Houston Dynamo's Brad Davis, Sporting KC's Graham Zusi, Philadelphia Union's Maurice Edu, Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman and Toronto FC's Michael Bradley.
Seattle Sounders' Brad Evans has only played one full game because of injury, but he is due back soon and his stats will be included when his counts get higher.
Bradley is performing at the high level everyone expects, though his passing percentage is lower than normal for him. Part of this may be the number of plays he is attempting in the final third where the defense is more compact and the passes riskier.
In his first three games, he's played in 23 crosses, a large number when you consider that Beckerman and Edu only have one apiece. Bradley is definitely playing in a more advanced position than his traditional holding midfield role, a position that most USMNT fans are hoping to see him in with the Nats.
Edu and Beckerman are competing for a one, maybe two, reserve midfield roles. Edu can also play center back, but Beckerman has been a Klinsmann favorite. Both could make the final roster if Klinsmann thinks Edu can add depth to his central defense.
Zusi's one goal, two assists and 15 of 31 successful crosses suggests he is off to a hot start, but he has been poor in possession. That lack of possession will not keep him off the 23-man roster, but it could relegate him to a late-sub's role.
Davis seems to be the odd man out at the Americans' deepest position, but with Evans' injury you never know.
Five defenders are included in the statistics table below: San Jose Earthquake's Clarence Goodson, Sporting KC's Matt Besler, LA Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez, Seattle Sounders' DeAndre Yedlin and Columbus Crew's Michael Parkhurst.
Center back is the most critical position for the Home Guard, as there is very little depth among the Americans playing abroad. Only Geoff Cameron (Stoke City) has shown in this cycle that he can play center back at the international level, and Cameron may be needed elsewhere.
There is more depth with the fullbacks playing abroad (like Cameron), but Klinsmann seems far from settled on his depth chart. With the retirement announcement of veteran fullback Steve Cherundolo, the prospects for Parkhurst improved, while Yedlin is making a late bid for inclusion.
|Pass %||Cross %||Tch/TO||Def/90|
Goodson, Besler and Gonzalez are all performing well, though Besler has had some turnover problems in his first three games. USMNT fans assume that Besler and Gonzalez are the team's starters. But if Goodson and Gonzlez continue their good form while Besler continues to struggle in possession, then Goodson may not stay on the bench at this World Cup like he did in South Africa.