The news is official, our captain, Danny Califf, has been traded to Chivas for another player plus something else. Nowak's reluctance/inability to elaborate further other than to say the deal is in the hands of MLS right now makes it seem as though he doesn't care if we even get a box of cheerios for Califf - he just wanted him gone. Chivas further confirmed this with their surprise reaction to Nowak's statement.
Lets get down to what counts, how does this trade affect our performance on the pitch? Is Nowak's plan for improving the team working? We need to know where we stand before we can assess the loss of quality player in any given position.
We all visually see the issues the team has, confused players with regard to their roles on the pitch, Nowak's volleyball style position rotation and Nowak's temper tantrums/ego governing player choices and trade policy (Mwanga tread lightly). But how do we quantify this to analyze it and turn it into something other than just opinion and personal preference for a certain playing style?
The basic problem is we are letting in more goals than we score. Is that a problem with our offense, defense or both? Let's do a little statistical analysis and see if we can't figure this out. Then we will know if we have breathing room in the defense that losing Califf won't hurt so much.
Because I am not comparing full seasons, I have broken each of the stats down into "per game" averages. I did not do a direct comparison of the first 9 matches of this season to the first 9 matches of last season, but, believe me, the numbers would have been even worse if I had. All of these stats were compiled from information on official MLS team web sites.
Of the seven goals we have scored in the regular season, 4 came from the midfield; Gomez with one and Adu with one. Pajoy if the lone forward on the goal tally. Pajoy has 3 goals, 20 shots, 7 shots on target. All of our other forwards combined have 0 goals, 9 shots, 2 on target. True, Pajoy has the most minutes played with 794. The other 6 forwards who have played combine for total of 606 minutes. On average 101 minutes each. Is that why they aren't scoring? Not enough time on the pitch to make something happen? No relationship with the midfield and other forwards because of a lack of playing time will can definitely have a negative effect. This rotational squad is killing us.
Offensively, not only have our "per game" average of goals, shots and shots on goal (shots on target) dropped, but our accuracy has decreased as you can see in the goals per shots and goals per SOG numbers. We are not converting on the limited opportunities we get. Not only that, but our assists have dramatically declined which, combined with the other numbers, points to problems in the midfield and players not communicating/working together as a team. Of course, when you don't score, you can't have an assist.
One might think a decline in the off sides numbers is a good thing. Certainly if our goals per game had increased and off sides per game decreased that would be a fantastic indicator of an improvement in the quality and efficiency of our offense. But when both of those numbers decline, it is an indicator that we aren't attacking and getting behind the opposition's defense as frequently or aggressively as we did last season. Pajoy, with three goals, accounts for 13 of those off sides. All other forwards combined only have three off sides. NO PENETRATION! Note that Gomez, with 3 goals, accounts for only 1 off sides, but of course, he is a midfielder and not up front as much.
When you look at the defensive numbers in table 1, we discover more bad news. Our numbers increase in yellow cards, red cards and fouls. We already have one third of the amount of fouls that we had last season and we haven't played one third of the season yet. A dramatic increase in fouls points to panic on the pitch. We are scrambling. On a good note, we have not given up any penalty kicks.
The midfield accounts for 10 of those yellow cards, 2 of the reds and 72 fouls. Gomez has 19 but Marfan leads the pack with 21! However, Marfan does have 13 shots, 1 on target and some beautiful footwork getting down the sidelines and crossing balls in. Even up front Pajoy has managed to commit 10 fouls. Methinks we may be giving the ball away too often in the final third of the pitch. This theory certainly holds up when you combine it with the decrease in off sides we have committed.
Defensively in the midfield, Okugo, Torres and Carroll are taking the least amount of shots, which is a good indicator they are doing what they are supposed to. They are winning the ball and putting off to the wingers, attacking mids and forwards. Torres injury has really hurt us this season.
Anyone who has watched the matches closely can see disarray on the pitch. Players are rotated in and out of the starting eleven like commuters going through a turnstile in the subway station at rush hour. Defensive midfielders have been brought on when we were losing. Attacking midfielders were taken off when we were losing. Defenders have been swapped from one side of the pitch to another. It's nearly impossible to tell what's going on out there or who is supposed to be doing what at any given time.
In the midfield only Marfan and Gomez have played in all 9 fixtures and neither of them played a full 90 minutes in all games. Look at the midfield table below and you see a total lack of consistency in the center of the pitch. We have had 9 different midfielders play in 9 matches. Eight of those midfielders have also started in at least one game each. This has to be contributing to poor individual performance when you don't know who the other guys on the pitch are. This is insanity! Nowak has not clue how to use these guys and that is showing up in our results.
Our midfield situation in a snapshot:
Combining the next set defensive numbers with those from table one starts to paint a clear picture of what's happening with the back four. Sixes and sevens might be a better description of our defense, however. That is not to fault the players, but how they are being played.
The only defender to appear and start in all 9 matches is Valdes. He also played a full 90 minutes in each of those matches. The rest of the defensive rounds as this: Albright, 3 games, 2 starts, 152 minutes, avg 50.67 mpg; Califf, 4 games, 4 starts, 360 minutes, avg 90 mpg; Garfan, 4 games, 3 starts, 310 minutes, avg 77.5 mpg; Lopez, 4 games, 4 starts, 315 minutes, avg 78.75 mpg; Gaddis, 5 games, 5 starts, 442 minutes, avg 88.4 mpg; Williams, 8 games, 8 starts, 720 minutes, avg 90 mpg.
Any soccer fan knows that defense is the last place you make changes and regular substitutions. Williams and Valdes are the only consistency in the back and, at that, they have been moved into different positions on the backline this season. Califf is the only other defender to play a full 90 minutes in every game he has started and we just sold him!
How do expect to have a solid, unified defense when you play them rotationally and sub them out regularly? Defenders are almost never subbed unless they are performing poorly or injured. Four of our 7 defenders have less than 90 minutes per game average on the pitch.
Defenders account for 11 of our 88 shots this season. That's 12.5%. Valdes and Williams each have 4 shots or 9% of our team's total shots. TOO MUCH! This means our two defenders with the most games/minutes on the pitch are playing very far forward instead of holding the back line. Valdes even has one off sides called against him! Granted, outside defenders usually move forward more than center back. But as we can see, we don't have two, or even one, regular center back to anchor the defense. That is disaster waiting to happen.
Look at the fouls committed by defenders and the average number of fouls per game/minute played. Valdes, 11 fouls, .812 pg, .014 pm; Albright, 3 fouls, 1 pg, .020 pm; Califf, 3 fouls, .75 pg, .008 pm; Garfan, 8 fouls, 2 pg, .026 pm; Lopez, 3 fouls, .75 pg, .010 pm; Gaddis, 3 fouls, .6 pg, .007 pm; Williams, 9 fouls, 1.125 pg, .0125 pm. Valdes, who has played all 9 matches is 4th in the least amount of fouls committed. Garfan, who has only played four games, partially due to his extended suspension, is the team leader with 2 per match - clearly he is struggling with his position. Gaddis has the best numbers when it comes to fouls, but maybe that's because he isn't getting anywhere near his man or putting in challenges (watch the footage.)
Forty fouls committed by just our defense in 9 matches. That's 4.4 times per match our defense gives away set pieces. DEADLY! Add to that they have accumulated 4 yellows and one red already this season. Scramble on defense much, Union?
Nowak likes to use his outside defenders as wingers. Danny Califf has always been a solid anchor in the middle of our defense. This allowed Williams more opportunity to roam last year. But with Califf only appearing in 4 games (at least three of his absences were due to Nowak and not injuries as claimed) who is going to fill in? Who has the discipline, experience and skill level? Califf is second on least number of fouls committed per game/minute.
Here is our defensive lineup from 2010 and 2011. In 2010 Califf spent the third most amount of time on the pitch behind Fiscal and Harvey. In 2011 Califf was clearly number one in the back with more games/minutes played than any other defender. Looking at their playing time vs. who is still with the team, it seems that the defenders Nowak depends on the most are the ones he values least. Should Williams be concerned next season?
How do you jettison your top players without having a replacement lined up. Yes, we have 6 other defenders on the team, but none of the center backs have played any significant amount of time in that position with the team. Where is the transition? Nowak keeps cutting off the vital parts of the team and expects it to keep performing.
Let's move on to table two where there is actually some good news defensively. Particularly in the one position where we have a quality replacement for player we let go in the off season, goal keeper.
Looking at table two, the numbers show our per game average of goals against has increased. Combine this with our decrease in goals scored and our goal differential average has increased by 5.7 times! That is not good.
However, we do see some positive numbers in this table. The shots we have allowed against us have declined. That doesn't correlate with the panicky defense we see in the numbers in table one. But one could draw the conclusion that we do have some quality defenders and midfielders who know how to stop an attack, but they aren't being used properly and don't have familiarity with each other.
The number of saves, shots the keeper has to physically stop, have increased almost four fold while the shots against have decreased. This is a clear sign that the shots our opponents are getting on goal are much more accurate - presumably because they have beaten their defender and are left unchallenged. But most of the time our defenders are preventing the opposition from getting a shot off.
Another positive aspect of table two is that our clean sheet and saves percentage have improved. Note that for the 2011 season, rather than calculating the total percentage for saves and wins, I was lazy and posted each keeper's individual numbers. The first numbers are Mondragon's and the second numbers are MacMath's. Yup we made the right choice for starting keeper this season even though his individual save percentage has declined by one point. The joint numbers from 2011 make it a dead heat with 2012 for saves.
Unfortunately, as we know, our win percentage has dropped significantly.
How do we sum this up - well - I don't. You do. But it is clear that our defense, midfield and attack are all less potent with the changes Nowak has made. The fact that he just shipped out our defender/captain to Chivas with no signs of a replacement for him can only mean a further decline. Note, though Califf has only featured in 4 of the 9 matches this season. I also have to ask Mr. Nowak and Mr. Sakiewicz, "How do you sell your Captain at the start of the season? Isn't he the one you put your faith in to lead the team on the pitch? What kind of message does that send to the players?"
We are clearly performing well below last season's squad. This is directly due to decisions Nowak makes on and off the pitch. The numbers don't lie. How does the chairman allow this to continue to happen to his club unless he is completely oblivious and clueless?
I wonder if I should have run the numbers for 2010 too. Extra curious now to see how we are performing compared to the makeshift, expansion line up of our first season with Seitzy in goal. Perhaps a follow up will be forthcoming.
Moving forward, when the trade rumor of Califf and McInerney in exchange for Juan Pablo Angel started circulating, I started crunching the numbers. Guess what I came up with? We don't need to sign Angel. We just needed to keep LeToux.
Admittedly, I went along with the team at the time of LeToux's sacking, aside from how badly the situation was handled. At the time it appeared as if Nowak was watching out for the best interest of the club by making moves to cut costs while at the same strengthen the squad with new incoming talent. I was wrong.
The above statistics prove that Nowak has not strengthened the team. In fact he has weakened it if only by the tactics and player choices he uses. The players clearly have individual talent, but Nowak has proven he doesn't know how to play them as a team. The two times we saw Hackworth calling the shots, I think proves that he is not the answer either. This is a team devoid of leadership and now captainless.
Moving on, when the rumor of us acquiring Angel in a trade for Califf surfaced I was truly puzzled. We just offloaded a star striker in the off season. We know already know how that the majority of our forwards we have are underutilized and underperfomring. Let's look at the numbers of what we have lost in selling LeToux versus and what we might have gained in signing Angel, assuming they played.
I am not going to compare LeToux and Angel's numbers to Pajoy as that would be an unfair comparison this early in his MLS career. I could throw Mwanga into the mix, but when he doesn't get played regularly again, it's not a fair comparison.
This is a side by side comparison of Juan Pablo Angel and Sebastian LeToux over the past four seasons. The salary numbers came from documents on the player's union web site and reflect total compensation for the season as opposed to just base salary. Keep in mind that we found out LeToux was asking for $500k this season - still wel below what Angel is getting.
This season and the 2009 season are both skewed due to playing time and other factors. I think by the end of this season, LeToux's numbers will improve dramatically and you will see consistency in his performance as Angel's drops off. This is the norm with players in these age groups.
In 2010 and 2011, the seasons LeToux played for Philadelphia, you are looking at a statistical dead heat in terms of goals scored per game. LeToux just slightly edges out Angel. LeToux also has a slight edge on making the most of his chance based on the goals per shots and goals per SOG numbers.
LeToux is 8 years younger and plays more minutes per game and more games per season than Angel. This means he has more opportunity to score. In these same two seasons they are almost dead even on shots per game despite of Angel playing less. This may be an indication that Angel is slightly better player than LeToux or has better people around him so he can get the ball and take shots.
However, considering salary and fitness, LeToux is a far better asset as long as he is delivering the same number of goals per season. Every game and every minute that Angel is incapable of playing because of his age and fitness levels, his talent is wasted money sitting on the bench. Those are goals that aren't going to happen. Those are minutes his team mates have to make up for. Additionally, with LeToux you have a future as he is still young. Isn't that what Nowak keeps saying we are building for, a future?
It's hard to believe that we are still operating as a transitional team a quarter of the way into our third season with no solid anchors up front, midfield or in the back to give us stability from season to season. Is there a year to year plan for building the squad with achievement goals outlined? Is there a five year plan? Ten years? We don't know.
We do not know why Nowak is making the changes he is or what his plans are for the future of this club as he will never offer a shred of what's going on inside his head. Likewise, we do not truly know the financial situations of the trades and player contracts due to MLS privacy policies. We have no idea what the club's financial situation is. Nor do we know the club's long and short term goals as the front office is notoriously silent about any details. We don't know if any of the new players will start performing the way we need them to. We don't know if there is a plan to bring in new players with more experience and success in top flight football to help the youngsters.
We know that Allocation Money is highest paid player on the team. We know that it appears when you piss off Nowak your ass is out the door at the first opportunity. We know that our team is second to last in the league. We know that we lost to New York at home for the first time in our history, though the lads put up a valiant fight.
We know that we love our club.
I don't believe Nowak and Sakiewicz do.
Sugarman, the Buccini's and Pollin are all extremely smart businessmen. I can't understand their failure to see the decline of a great brand built by loyal fans that are becoming more disenfranchised every single day. I really wish the ownership group would step in and make the necessary changes to save the club we love.