The Philadelphia Union defense is allowing 1.53 goals per game,which is on a pace to be 19% worse than last season. That result is disappointing given the shift to a more defense oriented 4-3-3 formation and the expected maturity of a number of young players. With that context we can examine what the numbers tell us about the games played when Wheeler and Berry play and see who the numbers favor. Here are the three aspects of the defender's play to break down:
1. The defensive players overall statistics and how they rank
2. The passing ability of the defenders
1. How the defensive statistics stack up
|Statistics per 90 minutes|
|Player||Aerial Duels||Tackles||Onside Won||Intercepts||Clears||D Score|
The D Score is my score that multiplies the per 90 minute statistics by the index value in Part 1. There is about a 2 point bias scoring center backs versus full backs.
Austin Berry has played the least amount of minutes of the six defenders but statistically he is far ahead of the rest of the team. While Berry can pile up the stats, so can Wheeler. He actually scores higher in my unofficial D score than Okugo. Wheeler is lauded for his potential to dominate the air but Berry clearly does that and more. The glaring weakness in Berry's numbers are his low number of tackles.
On the strength of his aerial game, Fabinho scores the best of the full backs. Fabinho's D Score of 6.0 is particularly impressive given the center back bias.
Let's continue to round out the picture of the defenders. Here are the passing statistics.
2. The passing capabilities of the defense per game
|Statistics per Game|
|Key Passes||Passes||Completion %||WS Rating|
The WS rating on the right is the WhoScored rating, which is a rating of overall performance at the position. The WhoScored rating will look at the defensive stats above and combine them with passing and offensive stats to round out the full rating. Fabinho currently scores the best of all defenders with a 7.07 rating on the strength of his defensive stats, his 1.1 key passes per game and a solid 77.8% pass completion rate.
Sheanon Williams scores the lowest both in my D Score rating and the WhoScored rating.
Aaron Wheeler is the weakest passer of the group connecting on just 70.4% of his passes and I don't think that surprises anyone. His Whoscored rating ranks him fifth amongst the Union defenders.
One of the key statistics for a defender and one that is hard to determine is failed passes in the defending third. Two thirds of all goals in soccer result from a change of possession in the defensive third. Turning the ball over in that area is inexcusable. I looked at all of Berry and Wheeler's passes in the defensive third this season.
|Statistics per Game|
|Def 3rd Passes||Def 3rd Completion %|
Berry attempts most of his passes in the defensive third (15.2 out of 28) and struggles with a 72.5% completion percentage, lower than his overall average. Wheeler attempts most of his passes further up (only 12.7 passes in defending third of 25.6 per game) but is also a poor passer where it matters most for a defender. Although Wheeler's pass completion percentage is better the further back he goes, the opposite of Berry.
It's curious why Wheeler is positioned further up the field on what seems to be a more frequent basis than Berry (or at least passes from further up the field more often). It could be a function of the opponent or sample size, but if it's true Wheeler could be finding himself being caught out of position more than Berry as a result.
3. How do Okugo, Edu and Carroll look when paired with Berry or Wheeler?
|Berry Starting||Aerial Duels||Tackles||Inter||Clear||Offsides Won||WS Rating||D Score||KP||Passes as % of Team||Compl %|
|Wheeler Starting (no CHI)|
Given the last two games feature neither Edu nor Carroll, I removed those games from the table above. I also removed the Chicago Fire game as that was a passing anomaly supposedly due to the pitch. The Union completed less than 70% of their passes in that game and the numbers would strongly bias the comparison.
When looking at the two ratings, WhoScored and the D Score, Edu seems to perform better with Berry. Okugo performs similarly, although he compiled better defensive statistics with Berry. Carroll performs better with Wheeler behind him. One hypothesis to explain that could be that Carroll is sitting even further back than usual and compensating for Wheeler, thus getting more involved defensively.
From a passing perspective the statistics of the three players look relatively even. All players pass more frequently with Wheeler in lineup, but that could be a function of the competition as the impact is minimal.
What are the takeaways?
Berry is starting to get more consistent minutes with three consecutive starts, and while he's made a number of miscues he definitely makes an impact statistically.
That said, Wheeler's statistics are also solid. He is a weak passer and may be guilty of playing too high, but overall his defensive statistics look good.
The statistics suggest that Hackworth should experiment with Wheeler and Berry at center back and put Okugo in the midfield. Well, he did just that against New England and the results were not good. No one played particularly well though, as the Union had a season low 6 clearances (remember, Berry actually average 8 per game himself). Either the Revs were particularly nifty in the final third, or the Union defenders just didn't make the effort.
If Berry continues to start, it will be worth watching how Edu performs when he gets back. He has performed significantly better with Berry in the lineup, but it could just be a function of too little data.
The full back lineup of Gaddis on the right and Fabinho on the left is worth trying more. It's a surprise that Williams hasn't been more effective so far this season - with Gaddis and Fabinho as the starting pair, the Union have surrendered 1.2 goals per match, significantly better than 1.53 overall average.
Statistics are only part of the story, as there are many aspects of the game that go unmeasured. Much of this story is left up to the eye test. What additional takeaways do you have from looking at the Union defender results so far? Let us know in the comments section below.