In Part 1 of this series, The Union defense was put under the numbers microscope. Part 2 looks at the offense starting with the forwards. Without looking at the numbers, the word I’d personally use to describe the forwards’ season is "surprises". I was surprised by Casey's gritty comeback. His leadership on the pitch, his toughness in the box, and sustained health all earned him the honor of Comeback Player of the Year Finalist (he finished 2nd in the voting). McInerney surprised me by shooting out of the gate as the league's hottest scorer. That start raised the eyebrows of Jurgen Klinsmann and earned him an invite to the US Men's National Team Gold Cup camp. Jack further surprised us by falling off the face of the pitch after his return to the Union. It was a mindboggling change that ultimately symobolized the team's 2nd half downfall. Hoppenot even surprised me by how consistently he seemed to provide a needed spark off the bench. He often fell short of his ambition but you could feel the energy change in the stadium when he was in.
Despite these mostly pleasant surprises the Union offense underperformed as a team. They managed to squeeze off more shots than the league average (4.41 vs. 4.33) but their shooting percentage was well below league average (28% vs. 32%). The net result was a goals per game average of 1.24 versus a league average of 1.31.
But looking just at the Union forwards paints a picture with many more roses. Due to the differing midfield/forward formations around the league we can't simply look at statistics per game. It makes more sense to look at shots per minute and goals per minute. The Union forwards squeezed off 30% more shots on goal per minute on the pitch than the league average (.013 vs. .010). They also scored on 37.7% on their shots, good for 3rd in the league. Even when looking at shots off frame, the Union forwards were efficient. Of their total shots, 39% were on goal compared to the league average of 37%. The net result was the 3rd most goals per minute in the league, trailing only the forwards from Real Salt Lake and Vancouver.
The Castrol Index, the official performance index of the MLS, reflects that performance with high praise of the Union forwards. The weighted score of 596 (out of 1000) is best in the league. In fact they are 45 points higher than the 2nd place Chicago Fire. A numbers post wouldn't be complete without a graph and we need to continue our assessment of the Castrol Index. So here is the chart of Castrol Index and goals scored per minute by forwards across the MLS.
Here the predictive power of the Index is significantly weaker than we have seen previously. Nevertheless, there is a clear positive correlation of Index to goal scoring, as expected. The stat geek in me wants to understand the clear strong linear trend of the 7 teams below the regression line and also what is bunching those teams at the top. And note the Union don't fit into either category. If it's anything meaningful that might be the subject of another post.
Lastly, the cost of the Union forwards needs a look. Here is another positive result for the Union. They spent less than $600K for all of that production, the lowest level for forwards in the MLS. And just like with the defense, the Union forwards have the lowest cost per Castrol Index point.
To recap what the numbers say about the defense and the forwards for 2013, the picture looks reasonably good. The young Union defense was average when looking at goals against but are young, inexpensive for their production and perform well up the pitch. The forwards also were inexpensive for their production and were of the most efficient forwards in the league in terms of scoring goals. Next we look at the Union midfield, a consistently maligned group, and see if this area of the pitch was the cause of the Union's playoff demise.