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Not Even Vincent Nogueira Is Perfect

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While it is true that Nogueira is one of the best pick-ups the Union made in the off season and can compete with any midfielder in the league, he does have one critical flaw....

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

If you've only watched one Union game this season, you've still probably figured out that Vincent Nogueira is the Union's most important player. In fact, the stats back up that assumption. Last week, Devin Pleuler analyzed players' centrality--or influence--in relation to their usage rate. It's a fascinating article that highlights a number of players whose centrality is higher than their usage rate would indicate. Next to Clint Dempsey, Vincent Nogueira is the most "disproportionately influential" player in MLS. More than that, Nogueira is the most influential player in MLS. With a centrality of 4.73, Nogueira is more important to his team than any other player in the league.

With 1,031 completed passes, good enough for 7th in MLS, Nogueira appears to be the best central midfielder the Union have ever had. And he very well might be. He's a calming presence on the ball, and while he's not likely to make the final pass, he's a good bet to set it up for someone else. There's just one problem with Vincent Nogueira: He can't shoot.

Of course, Vincent Nogueira is not a forward or an attacking midfielder; therefore, he is not relied on for goals. However, Nogueira has more shots than any other player on the Union. The main problem with his shots is that the majority of them come from outside of the 18', which is incredibly inefficient.

Player (40 shot min.)
% of shots from outside area
Juninho
93%
Marco Pappa
80%
Pedro Morales
74%
Vincent Nogueira
74%
Will Johnson
65%
Javier Morales
64%
Federico Higuain
61%
Lee Nguyen
60%
Kekuta Manneh
59%
Felipe
50%

All these numbers come from Squawka, and it's VERY important to note that shots from direct free kicks are likely included. So that might distort the numbers a bit. Nevertheless, this chart gives you a good idea of which players like to dial it up from long range. I'll get to Nogueira in a second, because Juninho's shot selection deserves its moment in the sun. Juninho has taken 40 shots this year. 37 of those shots have come from outside the 18' yard box. None of those shots have gone into the goal. It's just absolutely magnificent.

While Juninho's shot profile is pathetic and hilarious and the best, it's important to note how unsuccessful long-range shooters tend to be. Of the 10 guys listed above, only one (Higuain) is a top 20 scorer. Obviously, it's harder to score a goal from 25 yards than it is from five yards. That's why guys like Robbie Keane (38% of shots taken from outside of 18') score the goals. The object should be to get the ball into Keane, not to let Juninho fire away.

There are 20 players in MLS with multiple goals from outside the box, and only four of them are on the above chart. There are a lot of variables at play when deciphering long shots, but it appears that skill and perhaps a little bit of luck trump volume (Sorry, Juninho). Vincent Nogueira appears to be on the losing end of this.

Nogueira has taken 46 shots this season, with 34 of them coming from outside the 18'. Of those 40 players in MLS with 40 shots, Nogueira is dead last in shots on goals percentage. Astoundingly, only 21.7% of his shots have been destined for goal. For some reference, Javi Morales is second to last with a percentage of 28.6. Everyone else is in the 30s. That's, um, very bad. Let's take a look at Sunday's game against the Earthquakes, where Nogueira took four shots.

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To start the move, Casey passed the ball to Nogueira at midfield. San Jose laid off him as he approached the 18', and Nogueira fired off a shot that flew into the stands. Perhaps San Jose had scouted Nogueira before the game and were willing to let him shoot from distance. It's also possible that the Quakes' backline got lucky, and were completely unaware of Nogueira's shooting troubles. Though he had a lot of room to take this shot, the better option, at least in Nogueira's case,  would have been to hold up the ball, and play it to either Le Toux, or Wenger, who was streaking down the other side.

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This is undoubtedly the worst shot on the night. and perhaps one of his worst since joining the Union. After dispossessing and storming by a helpless Ty Harden, Andrew Wenger moved the ball to Nogueira. He received the ball 30 yards out from goal, and made his way towards the 18. Conor Casey was occupying both Jason Hernandez and Jordan Stewart, allowing Sebastien Le Toux to run into the box unmarked. A simple ball into Le Toux would have given him a one-on-one with Jon Busch, which would have made the score 3-1, in all likelihood. Instead, Nogueira tried to shoot through three defenders, which is not something that works.

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Here, Nogueira all but puts Ty Harden on his butt in the lead-up to his only effort from inside the 18 yard box. He did well to free up space for himself, and ended up dispatching a respectable shot towards Busch. There were three men in the box, but none of them are aerial threats, and all three were marked. Nogueira could have laid it off to Wenger, but he would have been closed down quickly. Williams was not running into the empty space at the top of the box, so I can't argue that Nogueira should have played it to him. Though it's not saying much, this was Nogueira's best shot on the night, as it showed sound decision-making and tested the 'keeper.

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While the first two shots were poor because of the thought process behind them, this one put Nogueira's lack of composure and skill on display. Edu's brilliant dummy allowed Nogueira to take an uncontested shot from the top of the 18'. Make no mistake about it, this was the correct decision. He just took way too long to send the ball goalward. By the time it left his foot, Stewart was in the middle of a slide that would have blocked anything headed to the low, far corner. That may or may not have forced Nogueira to lean back mid-shot, sending the ball into the River End.

Nogueira is incredibly composed on the ball in midfield, but, for whatever reason, his brain starts farting all over the place once he enters the final third. You'd expect him to play in Le Toux in the 61st minute, and you'd expect him to convert in the 70th, but he's shown over the course of season that he's not the sharpest player in and around the 18'; that's just not who he is.

Of course, these are only four shots, and Nogueira has taken 46 shots this year. Still, it's pretty much his season in microcosm. He's only scored two goals this season, and his conversion rate (4.3%) is tied for second-to-last among those with at least 40 shots (remember that Juninho exists). Of the two goals that he has scored, one of them came from inside the box, and the other one (which was an absolute thunderbastard) would have been saved if Knighton were better positioned.

Vincent Nogueira is a fine midfielder, one of the best in the league, in fact. He can move the ball around like no one else on the roster, and has been a crucial part of a Union squad that will play in the U.S. Open Cup final in three weeks. Still, he is a very inefficient shooter, to the point where it's hurting the team. Not only is he taking very low percentage shots, but, in the process, he is also neglecting teammates who are in much better positions to score. The Union are not currently in a play-off position, but they could be if Nogueira can just slightly reform his game.