With a promising Union season giving way to the bitterest of disappointments, allocating the blame has become the topic du jour. Criticism of ownership, Nick Sakiewicz, Jim Curtin's recent decisions, player fitness, player quality and consistent physical and mental lapses are all worthy factors to be dissected.
Breaking down the 7 minute collapse against Columbus (from the Union going up 2-0 to the Union being down 3-2) reveals another issue to add to the discussion, an inability to adjust to in-game situations. Such complaints were being heard as the Union offense faltered late in the season; the competition was adjusting to the Union counterattack and no adjustments were being made by Curtin. But a three goal collapse is something quite different then trying to figure out how to score. Here's one different look at a potential culprit last Saturday night.
Forward/Backward Pass Ratio
Before I get to my point I need to introduce a useful statistic. This statistic was recently analyzed for MLS by Alex Olshansky @tempofreesoccer. The statistic is the ratio of passes played forward versus passes played backward. The idea behind the statistic is that it is a measure of a team's directness of play. Teams that are less inclined to pass backward are looking to push the ball up quickly. While team's that pass more backward are looking to maintain possession and build a slower attack up the field. Not surprisingly, it correlates reasonably well with a team's possession numbers. A higher forward/backward pass ratio indicates a team playing more directly and therefore having less possession. Lower levels indicate a team that would maintain more possession.
The Union rank 2nd in the league in this statistic. These stats are for the full season and I'm sure that under Curtin, the Union's average is probably much higher. We'll see this is likely when looking at the Columbus game.
Plotted against possession, a negative correlation is understandable.
By looking at forward to backward pass ratio you can get an idea of a team's tactical intent and how much possession they should expect to have. In this case the Union (the 2nd dot from the right) have had more possession than they should have expected, given their directness.
The Union Collapse Against Columbus
The Union played a very direct style against Columbus. I calculated a 4.7 forward to backward pass ratio in the game. That style, coupled with high pressing made for very open play. And for the first 75 minutes of the match the Union were doing a great job of snuffing out any Columbus counter attack. Prior to the Columbus comeback the Crew had just one shot on target. The problem was, after the Union went up 2-0, when they should be sitting back in large numbers and looking to possess after fruitless Columbus attacks, the exact opposite happened.
Here is a chart of the Union's passes per minute and the ratio of those passes that were forward and backward.
Notice in the 2nd half how the Union came out with an even more direct intent. During the period of time when the Union scored their 2 goals however, they were slightly less direct than the rest of the half and had the lowest number of passes per minute than at any point prior in the game.
Take a look at the blue shaded data points. That area represents the 7 minutes of the Union collapse. It's not surprising that the Union did not possess the ball much in that time, but what is surprising was how direct they were still playing. In fact they were playing up the field more aggressively than they had before. Here is the passing chart for the Union for those 7 minutes courtesy of mlssoccer.com.
Outside of a few short passes and one backward pass the Union were still aggressively pushing the ball up the field. The Union also failed to register one clearance during this period. This has to call into question the in-game tactics employed by both Curtin and the players. Curtin spoke after the game about the team not being good enough. "Not good enough and to be honest, we’re not a playoff team," he said. But this speaks to a different issue entirely - a lack of awareness of the fundamental changes to style needed based on the score of the game. It's not about being good enough, it's about playing smart soccer.
Add this to the long list of offseason concerns to hopefully be addressed.
What are your thoughts? Let me know below!