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Statistical analysis of Union at Houston

By the end of the first half of the first game of the playoff series against Houston it was clear that the Philadelphia Union’s defense was not adequately familiar with the new formation deployed by Peter Nowak against the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park. In the second half, the Union reverted to the tried and tested four man backline that had been so instrumental in seeing the Union advance to the playoffs in the first place. The players responded by largely shutting down Houston defensively and by sending waves of attacks into the Houston final third to finish the game with 23 attempts on goal, eleven of which were on target.

In the second leg of the series in Houston, the Union retained the familiar four man backline. This time, the tinkering would take place in the midfield and up top.

Le Toux moved, youth up top

After carrying much of the burden of the Union’s offensive success in the team’s final push to the playoffs in the closing games of the regular season as a forward, Sebastien Le Toux found himself pushed back into the midfield, where he had not started since September 3 against Real Salt Lake. Although he had scored the Union’s lone goal in that 2–1 loss, the spark that ignited the Union’s return to form in the final two months of the season came from Le Toux playing as a striker, not as a midfielder.

Down a goal in the series against Houston, the Union once again turned away from what had been proven to be successful, this time trusting the team’s striking power in two young players whose combined age was less than that of the Union’s keeper and had both struggled to find their form and a starting spot for most of the season. Danny Mwanga had not scored since June 25 and Jack MacInerney had not scored since August 6, a combined goal drought of seven months. They had not featured together in any of the previous 35 games and had been on the pitch at the same time only 221 minutes in 2011. In the end, it seemed the Union were casting their lot with the dynamic potential of youth. Well, that and, as the headline of an article that appeared on the club website the day before the final game of the series stated, the hope that the stars would somehow align for them in the lone star state.

Le Toux did not have a successful touch on the ball from open play from the 59th minute of the game…he did not record a single shot on goal, on or off target…Le Toux had little success over the 34 games of the regular season as a midfielder, scoring only once from that position in open play, why should it have been any different in the playoffs?

Such hope would prove to be less than enough. The Union enjoyed greater possession than Houston, had the advantage in duels won, recorded more attempts on goal and attempted more passes. But they were also less accurate than Houston in both passing and in shots. For a starting lineup that had an offensive appearance, the attempts on goal, shots on target, shots off target and blocked shots numbers over the 90 minutes of the second leg were less than those recorded in the final 45 minutes of the first leg. In the second half of that game, the Union had recorded 18 attempts on goal, six shots on target, six shots off target and six blocked shots. In Houston, it was 13 attempts on goal, four shots on target, five shots off target and four shots blocked.

So much for appearances.

(As has repeatedly been the case throughout the season ever since more detailed statistics became available, the numbers available in the Stats tab and the Chalkboard tab for this game do not agree. For this game, the Stats tab gives the Union five shots off target and four shots blocked while the Chalkboard gives the Union four shots off target and five shots blocked. The numbers displayed in the chart above are from the Stats tab. The numbers the charts and discussion below are from the Chalkboard tab.)


If by moving Le Toux into the midfield the idea was to improve service to Mwanga and MacInerney, all that can be said is that this idea was an abject failure. Le Toux’s passing accuracy for the match was a dismal 50 percent with 18 successful passes and 18 unsuccessful passes. (He was also tackled twice to lose possession, meaning he turned the ball over 20 times.) Le Toux did not have a successful touch on the ball between the 23rd minute and the 34th minute of the match, 12 of his successful passes came in the first half and eight of those passes were directed in some way ahead of his position on the pitch. He recorded only six successful passes in the second half and only one of those passes was directed forward.

In fact, Le Toux did not have a successful touch on the ball from open play from the 59th minute of the game. After that, the only successful completions he recorded were from a throw in (61′), a free kick (68′) and from a backward headed pass (84′), and that last touch took place behind the midfield line. Le Toux did record three key passes in the game, the same number he recorded in the first game, two of which came from open play in the first half and the third from a corner kick in the second half. Playing as a forward in the first leg, Opta recorded 88 statistical instances of contact with the ball for Le Toux including two attempts on goal, one of which found the back of the net. Playing as a midfielder in the second leg, he had 78 statistical instances of contact with the ball. If the idea of moving Le Toux into the midfield was to give him the opportunity to find shooting opportunities by making angled runs from behind the strikers, that too was a failure for he did not record a single shot on goal, on or off target, in 90 minutes of play. Le Toux had little success over the 34 games of the regular season as a midfielder, scoring only once from that position in open play, why should it have been any different in the playoffs?

The Union’s passing in the first third of the field during the first half was, at 52 percent, only marginally better than their 50 percent passing accuracy in the final third. The poor first third numbers in the first half are largely due to Faryd Mondragon, who successfully completed only three of 11 attempted passes. Of ten punts, goal kicks or free kicks over the midway line in the first half, Mondragon successfully completed only two. His numbers improved greatly in the second half, completing 17 of 20 attempted passes, including two of four passing attempts over the midway line. In comparison, while Mondragon thus successfully completed a total of four passes over the midway line, Houston’s Tally Hall completed 11 such passes.

Houston had better passing accuracy in the middle and final third of the field than the Union in both the first and second half, enjoying a 20 percent passing accuracy advantage in the final third in the first half and a 28 percent advantage in the second half.


Some of the passing advantage enjoyed by Houston can be explained by the Union’s poor accuracy with crosses. In the first half, the Union had a success rate of 20 percent compared to Houston’s 38 percent, nearly a 20 percent advantage for Houston. Both teams’ success rate dropped in the second half, with the Union down to 19 percent and Houston to 33 percent, but Houston’s advantage remained substantial.

In total, the Union successfully completed four of 21 crosses attempted, a success rate of 19 percent. Danny Califf said after the game, “It played right into their hands. They have a couple of big center backs, and all of them, aside from Corey Ashe, are big, and along with their midfielders they eat that up.”

Too true.

Attempts on goal

As mentioned above, the Union actually recorded more offensive production in the second half of the first leg of the series against Houston than they did in both halves of the second game. And for the first time since the game at Chivas USA on October 2, Le Toux did not record a shot.

Two of the Union’s four shots on target came from defensive players, Brian Carroll and Carlos Valdes, and the bulk of the Union’s shots came in the second half. Only one of the second half substitutions, Justin Mapp, recorded a shot.

While the Union were more productive offensively in the second half at PPL than in the entire game in Houston, one similarity was again apparent: the majority of the Union’s attempts on goal came from distance.

In Houston, as is illustrated in the featured image for this article, nine of the Union’s 13 attempts on goal came from outside of the penalty area. Only one shot came from within the goal area, the only one over both games. Looking at their total shots in the second leg, 69 percent of the Union’s goal attempts came from outside of the penalty area; 33 percent of those were on target, 22 percent were off target and 45 percent were blocked. In other words, 67 percent of the shots from outside of the penalty area proved to be of no real threat to Houston. Of the 23 percent of shots taken from within the penalty area, 67 percent (two shots) were off target and 33 percent (one shot) were blocked. None were on target.

Looking at the series overall, 24 of the Union’s 36 attempts on goal, or 67 percent, came from outside of the penalty area. Of those, 46 percent (11 of 24) were on target, 17 percent (4 of 24) were off target and 37 percent (9 of 24) were blocked. Overall, 30 percent (11 of 36) of the Union’s attempts on goal came from within the penalty area. Of those, 27 percent (3 of 11) were on target, 55 percent (six of 11) were off target and 18 percent (2 of 11) were blocked. The single shot from inside the goal area equals three percent of the Union’s attempts on goal over both legs of the playoff series.

Focusing on shots on target, 73 percent (11 of 15 ) came from outside the penalty area and only 20 percent came from inside the 18. Among them was Le Toux’s goal at PPL Park.


As already described, Mapp was the only substitute to record a shot. How did the Mapp, Freddy Adu and Roger Torres fare otherwise with the 24 minutes of action they had to make an impact on the game?

Immediately apparent is that Adu had a terrible showing, completing only four passes of 16 attempted for an accuracy rate of 40 percent. Of nine attempted passes in the final third, only one was successful with six of his unsuccessful passes being crosses.

By the final whistle, the three subs had each recorded only one successful pass in the final third with Torres’ single successful pass in that area being backwards. Mapp had three successful passes in the middle third, two of which were backwards; the other was deep in the Union’s own half. Torres recorded seven successful passes in the middle third, three of which were passes into the final third. Of his five unsuccessful passes in the middle third, three were chips into the final third. Torres recovered the ball twice, Mapp once, but it can hardly be said that the three Union subs made a positive impact on the game.

Truth be told, the same can be said of much that was on display from the Union that night in Houston. The team now has four months to ensure the lessons learned and experience gained from the playoffs will have a positive impact on the 2012 season.

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