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Stats Don't Lie: Left back isn't a high priority for the Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union have a lot of work to do during the offseason. Where does left back rank on that list of changes needed this off-season?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The off-season should be a busy one for the lowly Union, and one of the positions that fans will be watching closely is what happens at left back. Fabinho, who started at that position for 22 of the 33 games this year, has had his best season with the Union, but was it good enough? His offensive play is characterized by a left foot that can send a beautiful ball down or across the pitch. On defense there is generally too much space afforded the attackers in his area, causing fans to hold their breath when the ball is his corner. He will be nearly 31 years old when the 2016 season kicks off, and the question is should he be the starting left back or should the Union upgrade the position?

Fabinho On Defense

Looking at Fabinho's defensive statistics compared to other fullbacks in the league, there don't appear to be any issues. During Fabinho's 22 starts the Philadelphia Union have allowed 1.59 points per game, which is pretty terrible, but during the other 11 matches the team allowed 1.81 goals per game. So he doesn't appear to be the root of the problem, but he's not the solution either.

Here are the tackles, interceptions and blocks per 90 minutes by Fabinho and other notable fullbacks around the league, including Ray Gaddis.

fullback defense

Fabinho is in the mix on tackles and actually looks fairly adept at intercepting balls by a wide margin. That's a valuable statistic but is it the sign of a player that might may be prone to risk taking in his defensive area?

Fabinho on Offense

The book on Fabinho is that his defense is shaky but he offers a lot in the attack going forward.  Fabinho definitely handles the ball more than most fullbacks.

fullback passes

Adjusting these numbers for the time the Union actually have the ball would make Fabinho's numbers stand out even more. Only DaMarcus Beasley handles the ball more in this group of players.

fullback completion

Fabinho has the worst pass completion percentage of this group but...

fullback risky passes

He attempts more risky passes than other fullbacks. Combining his crosses and long ball pass attempts, Fabinho stands far ahead of other fullbacks, which is partly to blame for his low completion percentage. The big problem is, these risky passes don't directly translate into scoring opportunities for his teammates.

fullback key passes

Fabinho's key passes, which are passes that result in a shot taken, don't stand out amongst the fullbacks. Fabinho takes more chances but his risks don't often enough result in offensive chances for the team. The chance taking might be to blame for the next view of the data. This heatmap represents the Union giveaways in their own defensive third. Red colors indicate more giveaways and the blue areas indicate no giveaways.

giveaways phi

The left side of the field is an abomination. This heatmap represents the entire Union team but no player has played more in that area than Fabinho. The triangle of Richie Marquez, Michael Lahoud/Brian Carroll, and Fabinho have generally managed that area of the field.

Just for comparison purposes here are the heatmaps of both the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes.

giveaways van

giveaways sj

Both teams struggle on the left hand side but not to the extent of the Union, which overall had 25% more giveaways in their own third than Vancouver.


The statistics paint a portrait of a swashbuckling Fabinho who takes risks both defensively and offensively. The offensive risks don't appear to result in more chances for his teammates than usual, but there do appear to be more turnovers in key areas on his side of the field. This is an issue that needs to be resolved next season. It may come as a surprise to fans but the defensive statistics don't reveal significant issues. He's an exceptional interceptor of the ball and the team allows fewer goals per game when he starts.

The question of whether or not to upgrade the left back position is clouded by needs in other areas. While a team at the bottom of the table needs many improvements, they need to be prioritized. In my opinion, a new left back is not a top priority for the Union. Replacing Fabinho with one of the players in this comparison wouldn't necessarily yield much better results. It may not even be a critical need for replacement. If the Union can find a sure upgrade, I think they would take it but they certainly have bigger issues to address.

Where do you think left back sits on the priority list for an upgrade? Take the poll and let us know in the comments section below!

Note: Heatmaps courtesy of @KevinMinkus from @AnalysisEvolved