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Union @ Fire: Beyond The Score (and into Impressionism)

Some times depression and great art go hand in hand. This week's look inside the numbers find us getting in touch with our inner Monet.

The Union suffered a demoralizing 1-0 loss at Chicago on Sunday evening and swapped last place positions in the league. The main culprit so far has been an anemic offense that seemingly lacks purpose. There was one nice piece of work this season and that was the Real Salt Lake performance. This week we look three stats that highlight the differences in approach between the Chicago and Real Salt Lake matches.

22% - The Union attempted 18 passes into the 18-yard box on Sunday. They landed just four of those attempts for a completed percentage of 22%. Notice the below team passing chart gets more and more red as the passes are higher up the pitch.

from mlssoccer.com

from mlssoccer.com

This passing chart so beautifully depicts the Union's ineptitude in the final third, I thought this image should be fit for a museum. I went and hired an impressionist painter to create the following divine rendering.

Union Passing Chart Monet

Title: Episode au toilettte Artist: Jared Young Materials: mlssoccer.com image edited at fotor.com

This mass of red near the 18-yard box contributed to a season-low seven shots attempted and zero shots on goal. For comparison purposes, Chicago, who was only slightly more dangerous, connected on 10 of their 24 attempts, one of which resulted in the lone goal. If the Union had been able to match the 41% of the passes the Fire connected, that would have been three more completed passes in the box and three more reasonable attempts at shots. Against Real Salt Lake the Union were successful 38% of the time, and while still low, that was enough to get the team onto the scoreboard.

+16 - Against Real Salt Lake, Wenger and Le Toux stayed to their respective sides of the field as Cristian Maidana roamed freely from side to side. In his absence, Le Toux was given more free reign and he used that to drift more to Wenger's side of the field.

le toux passing

Notice that against RSL Le Toux didn't make it over to the left side at all. Against Chicago, the wing combination attempted 37 passes from the left side of the pitch (completed 70% of them) and just 21 passes from the right side (completing 57%). A difference of +16.

And it appears Nogueira and even Aristeguieta ate up that space on the right. They passed 30 times combined on the right and just 13 times combined on the left side. This results in a balanced attack but I'm not sure if Wenger and Le Toux working together on the left is the best use of their skillsets. And combining Nogueira and Aristeguieta on the right, to presumably communicate in French, also seems odd. Here's the pass chart of Aristeguieta and Nogueira combined.

Nogs Nando Pass chart

Nogueira and Aristeguieta Pass Chart at Fire

This of course doesn't suggest that the players were huddled like this the whole time but it does raise concerns about the players and their positioning throughout the match. If the players are moving around so much in order to create the effect that Maidana does, are they out of their comfort zones from a productivity point of view?  Given the success of the team against RSL, should Wenger and Le Toux just focus more on their respective wing?

53% - Michael Lahoud led the Union in touches and passes attempted on Sunday. He completed nearly 89% of them which is commendable, but I don't think the Union should be happy he was contributing so much on offense. Lahoud attempted 14% of the team's passes from the 6 position (or 4 depending how old school you are). When Edu manned that area against Real Salt Lake he only attempted 6% of the team's passes. Part of that is due to the Fire's approach, which was to sit and protect the lead, but Lahoud was not pushing on the break like would be needed in a game like this. Here is Lahoud's pass chart and it reveals a lack of directness in his approach.

Lahoud title

Lahoud Pass Chart at Fire

In fact the back five, the back four plus Lahoud, attempted 53% of the Union's passes against the Fire and that same group attempted just 34% of the passes against RSL. The bottom line is more passing was being done by the Union far away from their target and they were not getting the ball quickly enough to the offense.  The top 5 offensive players (positions 7 to 11) attempted just 38% of the passes against Chicago and 53% of the passes against RSL. Notice Edu, in the 6 position against RSL, and how little passing he did compared to Lahoud.

Edu Pass chart

Edu Pass Chart at RSL

The change in all of these statistics between the RSL and Chicago games beg the question: Is the difference just Cristian Maidana or were tactical changes made as well? The speed at which the defensive 5 can get the ball to the offensive 5 seems to be a driving factor, and one that is not dependent on Maidana, but a tactical change. The lower pass completion percentage in the box and the disproportionate weighting of wings could be an issue caused by Maidana's absence. What issues will be corrected against Sporting Kansas City?  Will Maidana return and turn these key stats in the Union's favor? That's why we have to tune in every week.

All data from mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com