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Analyzing the Philadelphia Union's defense

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There's no denying that the Philadelphia Union's main weakness was on defense. We take a look at the numbers to see who the weakest links were.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Back in August I took a look at the defensive lineups for the Union in an attempt to figure out which players performed best at the different defensive positions as well as which overall unit worked best. I decided to revisit the numbers after the end of the season to see how much had changed with the defense.

As an overall baseline, the Union gave up 55 goals in 34 games, which means the team average GA/90 is 1.62. Anything below that mark is better, and anything above that is obviously worse.

Goalkeeping

Just like with the last article, the results here weren't surprising in the least.

Player Goals Allowed GA/90
Andre Blake 9 1.5
Brian Sylvestre 19 1.583
John McCarthy 18 1.64
Rais M'Bolhi 9 1.8

Andre Blake was the Union's best goalkeeper, and his 1.5 GAA put him 20th in MLS among goalkeepers that played at least five games. Bryan Sylvestre was solid at 1.583 GAA, however he's ranked 24th - just above John McCarthy and his 1.64 GAA at 25th. Rais M'Bolhi was 29th out of the 32 goalkeepers with  five or more games - only the Chicago Fire's Jon Busch, Toronto FC's Joe Bendik, and Real Salt Lake's Jeff Attinella gave up more goals per 90 minutes than M'Bolhi.

Left Back

Again, not much of a surprise here.

Player Goals Allowed GA/90
Fabinho 32 1.48
Ray Gaddis 9 1.5
Sheanon Williams 9 2.25
Andrew Wenger 3 3

While he's much better known for his skills on the counter and offense, Fabinho had the lowest GA/90 of any left back. Ray Gaddis' 1.5 GA/90 was also decent (all things considered), however there was a steep drop-off between Gaddis and the departed Sheanon Williams' 2.25 GA/90. Andrew Wenger should probably stick to playing forward - his 3 GA/90 at left back was the worst of any of the Union's defense at any position.

Left Center Back

Here's where we start to see the surprises a bit.

Player Goals Allowed GA/90
Ethan White 1 1
Richie Marquez 30 1.5
Maurice Edu 7 1.75
Steven Vitoria 17 1.89

While he only played one game at this specific position, Ethan White's 1 GA/90 is the best for any Union player at any position. Even with such a small sample size, it is perhaps something to keep in mind going into next season. Richie Marquez' 1.5 GA/90 is over 20 games and perhaps the most compelling case for him being favored as a starter next season. Maurice Edu's 1.75 GA/90 was serviceable, however he was better on the right side of the back line. Steven Vitoria's 1.89 GA/90 was not good - especially when you factor in his mammoth salary.

Right Center Back

Again, another surprising result.

Player Goals Allowed GA/90
Ethan White 18 1.5
Steven Vitoria 15 1.67
Maurice Edu 22 1.69

Ethan White's 1.5 GA/90 is over 12 games - a much larger sample size than at left center back - and also beats out Steven Vitoria's 1.67 and Maurice Edu's 1.69. No player was necessarily bad at this position, but this tells us that White was the only one below the Union's average, which should be both encouraging for Ethan and perhaps a bit indicting of Vitoria and Edu.

Right Back

This might be a bit upsetting to Union fans.

Player Goals Allowed GA/90
Sheanon Williams 13 1.18
Ray Gaddis 37 1.76
Andrew Wenger 5 2.5

Sheanon Williams had the lowest GA/90 of any player on the Union, and he had it at right back - the position that was handed over to Ray Gaddis prior to Williams' departure to the Houston Dynamo. It's a huge trade-off - Williams' going to Houston was what allowed the Union to acquire Tranquillo Barnetta, however the cost to the Union's back line was steep. Gaddis allows over half a goal more per game than Williams did, and his backup (Wenger) is terrifyingly bad at this position.

Defensive Units

Perhaps the most damning statistic of all isn't even really a statistic, but a simple number - 22. Twenty-two different combinations of the back five played for the Union in 2015, and at positions where consistency and rapport are key, the Union were able to develop none of that. Certainly injuries and suspensions played into that a bit, however if the Union are going to have success at improving they're going to have to settle on a consistent back line. Only four other clubs -Toronto FC, New York City FC, Chicago Fire, and Orlando City SC - gave up more goals than the Union, however only the Fire had a worse goal differential than the Union, and anytime a team is being compared in that way to Chicago it's not good.

Takeaways

Solely looking at these numbers tells us a lot of things. First is that the Union desperately need to upgrade on defense. While Fabinho, Marquez, and White all show well statistically, each has questions going into 2016. Fabinho will turn 31 at the beginning of next season - can he continue to play his frenetic style of offensive defense at that age? Can Marquez avoid a sophomore slump and prove he can be an every match starter in MLS? Can White show more consistency? Also, which Ray Gaddis will we see in 2016 - the one that in 2014 showed he could be a top player in MLS, or the one that in 2015 showed that he wasn't quite ready? These are the questions that face Jim Curtin and the Union going into the offseason, however they'll have to be among the first that get answered before the Union can improve.