Cross talk

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The Philadelphia Union have a scoring problem. Jack McInerney, once a Golden Boot candidate, hasn’t tallied since June 1 when he rescued a point with a stoppage time goal at home against Toronto. Conor Casey, who for a time was picking up the slack for McInerney, hasn’t scored since his brace in the 2-0 win over DC United on August 10. Since then, the Union are winless in five games with their only goal coming from a Danny Cruz strike in the 5-1 loss to New England on Aug. 25.

That the Union are desperate for goals is clear. You don’t have to be a stat nerd to see that an absence of quality play through the middle has seen the Union resort to dumping an increasing number of balls into the box from the wings. The problem, of course, is that this is obvious to you and me, the casual observers. So you can bet it’s just as obvious to the Union’s opponents.

A glance at the match stats appears to confirm that if the Union are willing to go wide, other teams will let them.* Playing conservatively on the road against New York, the Union put in only 7 open play crosses. Being trounced by New England, the Union managed 12. Back at home against a Montreal team content to absorb pressure, the Union swung in 21 open play crosses. On the road in the loss to San Jose, the number rose to 27. In the loss to Houston, it was 29. Combined, that is 77 open play crosses in the last 3 games alone, 17 of which found a Union player; a success rate of 22 percent.

Current results aside, lots of crosses are plainly no guarantee of success. Of the 11 games this season in which the Union have 20 or more open play crosses, their record is 3-5-3. Those aren’t stellar results, and they suggest that big numbers in the open play crosses column may come more often from a desperate effort to equalize rather than from the execution of a calmly conceived and balanced game plan.

Open Play Crosses

Previously successful

Casey’s second goal against DC was the last scored by the Union from an open play cross, bringing the total number of goals scored off of crosses to 11 on the season.† This is a marked improvement from last season at this time when they had scored a mere 7 goals from crosses. According to the official match statistics, the 2013 Union have delivered 408 open play crosses to score those 11 goals over 24 games, a ratio of one goal per 37.1 open play crosses, and an average of 17 crosses per game.

In the five games since the win over DC, the Union have sent in a further 96 open play crosses, an average of 19.2 per game over that stretch. Put another way, those five games account for 19 percent of the Union’s season total of open play crosses over 29 games.

Meanwhile, the goal-to-open play cross ratio has risen considerably to one goal per 45.8 open play crosses.

Where come the crosses?

Desperation aside, an obvious explanation for the increase in crosses resides in the arrival of Fabinho, who is providing a quantity and quality of service from the left that was previously absent from the Union’s arsenal. The Brazilian has booted in 57 open play crosses in his ten appearances with the club, 35 of which have come since the second Casey goal against DC, which was also the second that Fabinho assisted. (Fabinho’s first assist was another Casey goal in his debut on July 12 against Chivas USA.) In all, 12 of Fabinho’s 57 open play crosses have been successful, or a little less than 21 percent.

That still leaves 65 open play crosses since that Casey goal from an open play cross against DC.‡

OPC over last 5 gamesThose remaining open play crosses are sprinkled among eleven players, with Conor Casey, Danny Cruz, Sebastien Le Toux, and Sheanon Williams accounting for bulk of the total with 39. Of that 39, 9 have been successful with Williams recording 5 and Le Toux 4. Since the Casey goal against DC, winger Cruz has delivered 8 open play crosses, 1 more than center forward Casey. Of those, 6 came against Montreal, none of which found a Union player. And while he scored a lovely goal against New England, in that game and against San Jose, Cruz delivered no open play crosses. Playing center back against San Jose, Williams delivered 6, 2 of which were successful.

Before the current winless streak, the Union had been enjoying real success from open play crosses. Lately, it seems as if the cross is the Union’s prime idea for breaking out of their offensive rut.

Unfortunately, whether due to adjusting to the new service from Fabinho’s wing, opponents being better prepared for what appears to be an increasingly one-dimensional Union attack, bad finishing, or plain old bad luck, it’s an idea that, so far, doesn’t seem to be working.


*The number of open play crosses in the official match stats differs from the total in the Opta powered Chalkboards, which includes corners and free kicks in the totals for crosses. Discrepancies remain even after going through each player’s numbers for each game and subtracting corners and free kicks from the totals. For example, the match stats have the Union with 21 open play crosses against Montreal while the Chalkboard has them with 19. For the San Jose game it is 27 in the match stats and 26 in the Chalkboard. For Houston it is 29 in the match stats and 26 in the Chalkboard.

†The breakdown of the Union’s 37 goals in 2013: 16 from open play, 11 from crosses, 5 from corners, 2 from rebounds, 3 from free kick (indirect).

‡The Union delivered 4 more open play crosses in the game against DC after Fabinho’s assist: one each from Fabinho, Farfan, and McInerney, all of which were successful, and one unsuccessful from Daniel.


  1. Yeah it’s almost like it’s quality over quantity or something.

  2. The crosses aren’t just the ‘prime’ idea; they’re the *only* idea. Moreno noted in the broadcast that a number of players had the opportunity to either take on a defender, or even try a shot, but opted for the cross instead every time (he used Williams as a particular example, but others are doing it too).

    The numbers are a great indicator of how the club has run out of ideas. I don’t know if the ‘cross-only’ mentality was coached into the club or not, but it needs to be coached *out*.

  3. It’s all Hackworth and the tactical plan. I re-watched Saturday night’s game, gluton for punishment I know, and it’s obvious that this teams gameplan is a flank attack from the wingbacks. That’s it. Keon never takes players on, Caroll moves only east/west and south. To defend this team is a cake walk. Drop your CM, allow them the flanks, and be strong in the air. Letoux is not a midfielder for the love of god. We needed 3 points at home and started 5 defenders. AT HOME! How this website has not published an article calling for the job of this coach makes me question the team and the media. I’ve heard the Union can banish media members from access for any poor coverage, but that must be exposed. If this team backs into the playoffs for any reason, it’s still been an unacceptable season from the FO to the Coach. No exceptions. They extend Torres last year, he makes one appearance this season. They send Adu away for Kleberson, a player who once played for Man U, I don’t care if it was 50 years ago, he’s better than Danny Cruz. This club is too young to settle for being the Stoke City of America. Grow some balls and start the campaign. #WeDeserveBetter

    • I don’t know if I’m misunderstanding you but are you upset with this website for not starting a campaign to get Hackworth fired? I don’t think it would be appropriate for them to take that step and I don’t know what to tell you if you are suggesting this organization doesn’t get enough thoughtful criticism from this website.

      • i think he’s upset with the “media” only asking soft questions out of fear. if you excluded PSP he might be right.

      • “I don’t think it would be appropriate for them to take that step”

        1. Keon Daniel has taken 5 SOG in 1676 mins played, that’s 1 shot about every four games on target. He continues to get full 90 min games.

        2. Never gave Baky a chance, instead made Carroll invincible by giving him the armband and costing Okugo the chance to be a All-League box to box CDM. Now we chat about how our forwards can fill in at CB when needed. Straight amateur hour.

        3. Danny Cruz.
        4. No depth. Not that we know that’s the case, just have to trust Hack I guess.
        5. Torres sees less time on the field than Matt Kassel. The injustice of all injustices.

      • 6. He started 5 defenders and a CDM, in a must win game at home.

        Pleaseeeeeeeeeeee explain how this isn’t the case of a manager who is completely lost.

      • You are right in all of those points and that is probably a good reason to fire a coach. All of those points have been talked about and analyzed by this website. They discuss the ins and outs of everything that happens with this team and report that discussion and analysis to those that come here to read about it. I don’t think any readers feel that they pull any punches or are in any way deferential to the team organization. What I was trying to say is that, in my view, it is not the role of this website to advocate for the firing of the coach.

    • Well put Chris, but you mean Kleberson is better than Carrol……..

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    Crosses are Hackworth’s version of Nowak’s “Route 1” soccer. It’s the same one dimensional approach that doesn’t work because the Union have no midfield. Frustrating.

  5. Where do the BOOM throw-ins fall in the stats? If I recall, we have a small handful of goals from throw-ins – are they counted as crosses or open play?

  6. I honestly still can’t figure out if I want to blame Hack for these issues. Do we really think that we have the quality to play a beautiful attacking game? There are only a couple that I see (Casey, Carroll and Keon-actually) that can consistently hold the ball or make smart decisions in tight spaces. You could potentially add Fabinho, Kleberson and Torres to that lineup, but they allow for some defensive liability that is perhaps too much of a risk for a young coach in his first full year. If only Farfan had progressed this year, we might have the players to attempt a more ‘beautiful’ style, but it may be that Hack is actually doing the best you can with the current players we have. As much as we would like to see him “try new things,” matches that count for points are not the time for experimenting. Too bad we don’t have more access to practices to confirm what we’re reading between the lines – either those more skilled players just aren’t performing well in practice, or Hack has some explaining to do. Who knows?!

    • I am not about to jump down Hack’s throat because of your point regarding quality. Hack needs time to bring in quality to run a decent team. I think Hack has made wise personnel decisions as far as bringing in quality goes. His match day lineups are not so wise, but I would trust that those players whom do not see the field will not be on the team next year. I think this team and style is victim to the lack of quality we have at midfield. We have players being asked to play positions and styles that they are not comfortable with. I also believe they are lacking the essential skills for their new positions thus putting them in a deeper hole. For example, Keon does not have an attacking mind set IMO. He is a possession hold up CM to start an attack, yet is frequently requested to play an attacking role in front of BC. This leads to a huge hole in the middle of the field and thus a wide only attack.

      • “but I would trust that those players whom do not see the field will not be on the team next year.”

        not to be too snarky here but if that is true we are talking about half of our roster

    • Re: Kleb, Torres + defense. If you aren’t confident in Carrols ability to play as sole Dmid with someone like Torres in front of him, then why the hell is he on this team, least of all captain!? Carrol does one thing, play defense. He is a pure 90 minute player who probably doesnt even know how to spell forward pass.
      You put someone like him in to clean up behind a pure CAM. Not partner with someone like Daniel.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Best comment I’ve heard in a while.

      • This. How many times have we accused a cm of playing to close to caroll? That would not be a problem with Torres.

      • Right, but the problem is that Carroll lacks the speed to close down that much space that would be left open by Torres/Kleberson. Keon HAS to play deep when paired with Carroll.

  7. Anyone else hopeful that Yann Ekra can be a passable CM for this team? And by passable, I don’t even mean great, just better than Keon, perhaps approaching last year’s Marfan. Yeah, he’s coming from Harrisburg, but the guy’s got a decent pedigree.

    • I hope so much that we see him start in a week and a half. I know it isn’t always a great idea to immediately expect the new guy to come in and be a world beater but we are desperate and our other central midfielders will not be that answer because they won’t see the field

  8. Here’s some soccer 101. Usually for most of the time when you send a cross into the box it becomes a 50/50 ball. When is the best opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net?………WHEN YOU HAVE 100% OF THE BALL AND THE GOAL IS IN FRONT OF YOU! Obviously Hackworth’s one dimensional tactics are pathetic. The Union should be coached on how to move the ball gradually from the Defense through the Midfield to the Offense. (easier said than done) but this team has shown that they can play in this fashion. This objective to progress to the flanks and cross into the box has become an obsession instead of a… from time to time strategy in my opinion. If Hack doesn’t drastically change his tactics and line up…..(Hoppenot and Wheeler) then its time for him to say goodbye.

  9. Atomic Spartan says:

    Worry not. Hack is just playing an elaborate game of rope-a-dope. He’s setting up the whole league. At precisely the right instant, he will retire Keon and Danny and unleash Kleberson, Torres, Wheeler, and a surprise pure left back DP that he has been hiding in Crystal Cave. Oh, Oh, and suddenly, we will see things like organized buildup, combination play, attacks that do not slow down, fearless first-time strikes and players who actually know the difference between an instep drive and a toe poke. In other words, real football. And all the other teams will be so dumbfounded that they won’t know what to do. Yeah, that’s what he’s doing. It’s the only logical explanation for the way this team is being coached.

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