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Stat chat: Too many draws & the consistency question

One of the criticisms you hear about soccer from Americans who don’t know/understand/like the sport is that there are too many draws. I’ve always liked that draws are possible in soccer and find the need of some American sports fans to have a clear cut winner and loser frankly incomprehensible. For myself, I know I’ve probably had more draws than wins or losses in the game of life so why should the sport I love most be any different?

That said, when it comes to the Union’s recent play, there have been too many draws.

The Union have one win in the last six games, two wins in the last eleven games. Starting with the 1–1 draw with Colorado on June 4, the Union’s record up to Saturday’s draw with Houston is D–D–L–D–W–D–D–W–L–D–D. That’s seven draws in the last eleven games, three of which were at home. In two of those home draws (RSL, Houston) the Union gave up the lead. In the third (KC), the Union dominated possession and recorded 26 shots on goal but couldn’t find the back of the net. It’s been said elsewhere by such notables as Peter Nowak and Eli Pearlman-Storch that the Union is simply giving points away.

The propensity to give points away on the road has been no less evident. Two of the draws (Colorado, DC) were of the come-from-behind variety that makes people like me love the concept of a tie in the first place. The other two, however, were against inferior opponents, one of which (San Jose) is 0–2–3 in matches following their scoreless draw with Union, the other of which (Chicago) followed up their draw by getting thumped 4–2 by Vancouver.

The Union have only two losses in the last eleven games and the significance of this—compared to last year’s 8–15–7 record as well as this year’s race to the playoffs—should not be overlooked. Nevertheless, comparing the Union’s record over the first eleven games of this season with the last eleven games results in an alarming trend. The Union’s record over the first eleven games was 6–3–2. Four of those wins were shutouts and both draws were 1–1 ties. Over the last eleven games, the Union’s record is 2–2–7. One of those wins was a shutout. Of the draws, two were scoreless and four were 1–1 ties with the Union giving up the lead in three of the ties. Simply put, whereas in the first half of the season the Union were able to protect a 1–0 lead until the final whistle, in the second half of the season they have been unable to do so. If the Union had taken full points in only three of the seven draws they would now be in first place and five points clear of Columbus with a game in hand.

Match statistics: Union v Houston

John Hackworth said after the match about the Dynamo goal, “I don’t think they had a shot on goal before that shot. When you do that for as long as we did, you think that you absolutely deserve [to win].” He wasn’t correct—Houston had a shot in the 68th minute, 15 minutes before Cameron’s equalizing strike—but it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. It would also be understandable if Dominic Kinnear was thinking the same thing about the Union after the the first half, only he’d be correct.

The Union recorded one shot on goal out of two attempts in the first half, the first goal attempt and the first shot on goal of the half being Jack McInerney’s first goal of the season. Houston had no shots on goal in the first half but had three times as many attempts on goal than the Union. The Union were again outnumbered by Houston in the attempts on goal category in the second half and the Union again had more shots on goal out of the attempts they had. But where none of the Union’s three shots on target went in, one of Houston’s two shots on target did.

What is remarkable is that the Union had so little possession at home, Houston enjoying a nearly 20 percent advantage over Philadelphia’s 40.3 percent. It is also remarkable that, according to the official match statistics, the Union recorded more than 130 fewer passes than Houston. The possession discrepancy is the second biggest experienced by the Union in 2011, the 29.8 percent advantage recorded by Houston in the first game of the season and by New York in the fourth game of the season being the only percentage differences that were larger. In the first instance, the Union nicked an earlier goal and held on for dear life while the Dynamo made 532 passes looking for an opening to the Union’s 296 passes. In the second instance, the Union held on for dear life and nicked a late goal while New York made 577 passes to the Union’s 323. The 305 passes recorded by the Union at home against Houston was their fourth fewest total in 2011 overall and their second fewest at home.

(You will note that the passing totals and the passing accuracy percentages do not agree between the two charts. The data on the “Match stats: Union v Houston” chart is taken from the Stats tap for the game at MatchCenter on MLSsoccer.com. Because discrete first v second half statistics are not displayed there, the data for the “Union v Houston: first half v second half” chart is taken from the Chalkboard tab for the game at MatchCenter. The match statistics give the Union 48 fewer passes and the Dynamo 43 more than the chalkboard does. The match statistics also give the Union nearly three percent better passing accuracy, the Dynamo nearly five percent better passing accuracy. I do not know why the numbers do not agree between what are supposed to be official sources.)

The consistency question

Readers comments on PSP match reports, players ratings, rants and live chats frequently mention the question of consistency. Namely, how can the Union offense be expected to gel when the starting XI seems to change from game to game?

Actually, “seems to change” is the wrong phrase to use because the Union have repeated the same starting XI exactly once, and that was way back in the end of March and beginning of April in the second and third games of the season.

The Union have used seven different starting forward combinations this season. Four of the forward combinations have been used two or more times. The most frequently used combinations have been Ruiz/Le Toux (seven times), Ruiz/Mwanga (five times) and Le Toux/Mwanga (five times).

The Union showed a clear preference for starting the Ruiz/Le Toux at home, that combination having five home starts and two away starts. The Ruiz/Mwanga combination started more often on the road with three road starts and two home starts. The same is true of the Le Toux/Mwanga combination, with three road starts and two home starts. The Le Toux/Paounovic combination, the only other partnership to have started more than once, did so twice on the road. Of the remaining three combinations, two started at home and one on the road.

Of the five forwards started by the Union in 2011, Ruiz started eight times at home and five times on the road. Le Toux started as a forward seven times at home and eight times on the road. Mwanga started four times at home and six times on the road. Paunovic started up top twice on the road and once at home. McInerney’s two starts as a forward are split.

While the same starting XI has only been repeated once this season, a starting forward combination has been repeated in the next game twice. In mid-April, Ruiz/Le Toux started against New York and Seattle, both at home. At the end of April and the beginning of May, Ruiz/Mwanga started against San Jose at home and then away in Portland

The Union have shown the same willingness to try different combinations in the midfield. So far in 2011, 15 different midfield combinations have been used. Of the 15 combinations, only five have been used more than one time. Of those five only one midfield has been started more than twice: the Carroll/Nakazawa/Daniel/Mapp midfield lineup was started four times.

Two midfield combinations have been repeated in the next game. Carroll/Nakazawa/Garfan/Mapp was used on the road against Toronto and then Colorado at the end of May and beginning of June while Carroll/Nakazawa/Daniel/Mapp was used against San Jose and New England on the road and then at home against Colorado in July.

Turning to substitutions, the Union has used all three of its subs in every game except for the the 1–1 draw with Seattle, in which they made two substitutions, and the 6–2 win over Toronto, in which they made one substitution.

Of the forwards, Ruiz was subbed out six times, Mwanga and McInerney each were subbed out three times. Paunovic was subbed out twice as a forward and three times as a midfielder. Among midfielders, Mapp has been subbed out 12 times, Daniel seven times, Nakazawa six times and Torres four times with the remaining midfielders being subbed out three times or fewer. Le Toux is the only forward or midfielder who has not been subbed out. The top three players to be subbed in are Mwanga (ten times), Daniel (eight times) and Torres (eight times). Michael Farfan, McInerney and Nakazawa have each been subbed in five times.

While forward combinations may not have been able to be repeated from game to game in some instances because of injury (Mwanga) or international duty (Ruiz), this does not explain the general trend of repeatedly changing the starting forwards. Similarly, game day midfield lineups are consistent only in their inconsistency. How the forwards are to learn to work with one another when the pairings are ever changing is one thing. How the forwards are to find service from an ever changing midfield is another. Both are questions we have been asking ourselves throughout the season and, so far, the Union has not provided an answer.

With Ruiz now out of the picture, and rumors of new signings in the air, it will be interesting to see what forward partnerships gain favor with the coaching staff. This much is known: since the departure of Ruiz three games ago, the Union have started three different forward combinations and three different midfields.


  1. Awesome job finally getting into the stats of the consistency complaints.

    Those are some crazy numbers.

  2. Good work with the stats! Here’s a question stats can’t answer. Are we expecting too much out of a mediocre team? Have they done anything to convince us that they are more than a mediocre team?

  3. Silver hiar says:

    Agreed. Its time to call Nowak out on this. Keep the current offensive lineup andd give it time to gel. But no, Peter will throw a new striker into the mix. Then when it does not yield instant results, he will start moving things around again. If Mwanga is only a half timer and Jack Mac is the answer for the first half of the game, then so be it. Just give it a chance for gods sake

  4. good stuff boys!

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