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When will the shots come?

Peter Nowak said of the Philadelphia Union’s offensive struggles after Saturday’s draw with Vancouver, “I think that it’s the whole package. It’s not just that they’re afraid to shoot. It’s just more the whole situation of why don’t I take the safe pass instead of be more opportunistic and take a chance on the shot on goal. That needs to be corrected.”

Looking across the league, the Union is 10th in shots attempted with 41. When it comes to shots on target, though, only Chivas USA (10) and Vancouver and Toronto (7 each) have fewer than the Union’s 11.

When we look at the percentage of shots on target from shots attempted, in comparison to the teams below them on the shots table, the Union has the third worst percentage at 26.8 percent, with Vancouver at 20.6 percent and Toronto (who have played only 3 games) at 17.5 percent. Unsurprisingly, of the 5 Eastern Conference teams in the shots list below the Union, only winless Toronto is below the Union in the standings. So, while the number of shots taken by the Union puts them in the middle of the pack, the number and percentage of shots on target puts them close to the bottom.

By the way, of the teams that have played 4 games, only Chivas has scored fewer goals than the Union’s 2, their lone goal coming in the away win over Real Salt Lake.

Slow starting offense

With only 2 goals from 4 games, the Union offense can only be described as slow starting. But the Union offense is also slow starting when we look at shots in the first half compared to shots in the second half.

Of the Union’s 9 attempts on goal against Vancouver, only 1 attempt was recorded in the first half, Lionard Pajoy’s shot off target. For the second game in a row, and the third overall, the Union recorded no shots on target in the first half. The only game in which the Union has recorded shots on target in the first half was the home opener against Colorado, in which they recorded 3. In that game and every other game played so far, the Union recorded 2 shots on target in the second half.

The lack of first half offensive production is also evident when we look at shots off target and blocked shots. The 6 shots off target recorded against C0lorado is the only game in which the Union recorded more shots off target in the first half than in the second, 4 of which were recorded in that game. In every other game, the Union recorded only 1 shot off target in the first half.

Twice, against Vancouver and Colorado, the Union had 0 blocked shots in the first half while against Chicago and Portland the Union recorded 1. Against Vancouver and Chicago they recorded 1 blocked shot in the second half. The 5 blocked shots in the second half against Colorado is the only half in which they recorded more than one blocked shot. In the second half against Portland, the number was 0.

Where the attempts are coming from

Only 5 of the Union’s 11 shots on target over the first 4 games have come from open play. In other words, 55 percent of the team’s shots on target have come from set pieces. It should come as no surprise then that Gabriel Gomez leads the team in shots on target with 4. Lionard Pajoy has 2, and both of those (including his lone goal) came in the home opener. Since his 67th minute goal against Colorado, the Colombian striker has played 203 minutes without registering a single shot on goal. Over that same period of time, he has 2 shots off target, one in each half against Vancouver.

Gomez and Pajoy combined have more shots on target than the 5 other players who have recorded a shot on goal, none of which has recorded more than 1.

Reflecting the fact that the majority of the Union’s shots on target have come from set pieces, 7 of the shots on target have come from outside of the penalty area, 4 from within the penalty area. None have come from within the goal area.

Turning to shots off target, 9 have come from outside of the penalty area and 9 from within. 2 shots have come from within the goal area.


We noted last week that of the Union’s 15 crosses, 3 successful crosses came from the left and 2 from the right. Of those, 3 came from open play with Gabriel Gomez’s 79th minute free kick posing the only real danger.

Against Vancouver, the Union recorded 4 successful crosses from 16 attempted. All of these came from the right in the second half. Keon Daniel recorded 2 from corners, and 2 came from open play with 1 each from Gomez and Sheanon Williams. While overall this appears to be a reduction of crossing accuracy compared to the Chicago game, 3 of the successful crosses—each of the efforts of Gomez and Williams and Daniel’s 76th minute corner—were key passes.

Speaking of corner kicks, the Union hovered near the bottom of the league for much of last season. After 4 games they have 15, the same number as LA and Seattle. Last year, they did not surpass that number until the game against LA on May 11, the 8th game of the season.


If you don’t put your shots on target, you don’t score goals.

It is difficult not to look at the lack of offensive production in the first half in the games played thus far and not conclude that starting roster selection (not too mention tactics and playing players out of position) is to blame. Sure, more production will result in the second half when a team is pressing for an equalizer, as the Union were against Colorado and Chicago, or when pushing for that opening tally after a scoreless first half, as was the case against Portland and Vancouver. But the problem is that it’s not as if the lineup is presently littered with players who, considering production from the opportunities they have been given, are unaccountably not being selected.

What may become an issue is the continued selection—and non-substitution—of Pajoy if he continues to be as ineffective as he has been. While the service he receives is also part of the problem, it remains apparent that Pajoy’s production is intermittent at best. If, as Peter Nowak suggests, the team is simply looking for the right formula to generate offensive success, Pajoy’s present form isn’t looking good for the mix.

Most troubling is that none of the other forwards have been able to do much with the time they have been given. This becomes more apparent when we look at the team’s stats for shots attempted. While Pajoy leads the roster with 11 shots, he has a grand total of 1 shot off target and 2 blocked shots since the Colorado game. Something is wrong in Denmark when, looking down the rest of the list, the 6 shots recorded by 3 defenders—Carlos Valdes, Chris Albright and Danny Califf—is greater than the total recorded by the other forwards—Danny Mwanga, Josue Martinez, Jack McInerney and Chandler Hoffman—who have seen minutes, especially when you remember that Albright and Califf have between them not played in three games. Indeed, after Pajoy, the next four players with the highest number of shots includes 2 midfielder/defenders (Gabriel Farfan with 6, Sheanon Williams with 3), a midfielder (Michael Farfan, also with 6) and a central defender (Carlos Valdes with 4). While offensive contributions from other positions are welcome and expected, the forwards have to start making more of an impact.

Nowak has stressed that the offense need to be more opportunistic, that with goals comes confidence. This lack of confidence is especially apparent in the distressingly few first half scoring opportunities in the games played so far. The question is, who can you confidently say looks like they are about to start scoring taking more shots, let alone start scoring more goals?

One last thought

Talk about your parity. It is remarkable how similar the match statistics of the Philadelphia Union and the Vancouver Whitecap’s were at the end of Saturday’s scoreless draw. Each team had 9 attempts on goal and 6 shots off target. The Union’s two shots on target were two more than the Whitecap’s 0, Vancouver’s 3 blocked shots was 2 more than the Union’s 1. The Union’s 11 open play crosses was 2 more than Vancouver’s 9 and Philadelphia’s 5 corner kicks and 3 offsides were 1 more than the Whitecaps’ 4 and 2, respectively. The passing accuracy of both teams was 74 percent with the Union attempting 442 passes to Vancouver’s 425. The Union had slightly more possession at 51.2 percent.

The only major differences came came in the area of duels won and fouls. Vancouver won the greater share of duels, 56 percent compared to Philadelphia’s 43 percent. Meanwhile, the Union committed the lion’s share of fouls at 21 with 3 yellow cards. The Whitecaps committed 13 fouls and received 1 yellow card.

All things considered, it would be hard to argue that the draw was an unfair result.




  1. We need shots? Maybe we should play Martinez and Jack in their actual positions. And here’s a crazy idea, start a central attacking midfielder. Does Nowak not notice Torres’ offensive impact every single time he enters the game? It’s plainly obvious to every person I talk to.

  2. I think after saturdays game If Keon keeps seeing time we can expect shots and service to forwards from him. I think Marfan also can give us more shots. I remember in the home opener he had a few opportunities and decided to pass instead of shooting. I think nowak had it right that instead of just ripping a shot when the chance arrives we’re looking for that last through ball or a chip when we could just take a shot and if its blocked look for the pass on the next opportunity. I really thought carroll was going to get one in on that cross that landed at his feet last week.

  3. Hopefully we never see another first half like in the last 2 games….; looks like it will be a long season. Your statistics reconfirm my dark thoughts.

  4. Dan Walsh says:

    One key point regarding Pajoy: Gabriel Farfan was looking for him left and right in the first half. He sent in some sweet passes, but Pajoy wasn’t quick enough to get to them. Creative passing of that kind is key, but if the forward can’t get to the cross or through ball because he’s too slow, that’s your problem. I thought Garfan had a great game that would’ve been more noticeable had someone quicker been in Pajoy’s spot.

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