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NYCFC at Union: How the Union won their first game

This week's look beyond the score finds a sturdy defensive performance and an efficient offense as keys to the Union's first win of the season.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Union possessed the ball just 37% of the game, and they completed just 64% of their passes. Those aren't impressive stats and they certainly don't sound like the stats of a winner. But those are fine stats for a Union team that cedes possession and takes risks on offense, and it worked well enough to beat NYCFC for their first win of the season. Here's why the Union were able to overcome not having the ball, and passing it poorly when they did have it.

0 key passes for Mix Diskerud. Mix was easily NYCFC's best player on Saturday. He broke up a number of Union attacks, leading his side with 8 tackles. But on offense Mix was left wanting. Check out his passing chart for the game.

Mix passing chart at Union

As he approached the final third nearly all of his passes were incomplete (marked by the red). Playing in the 8 role, he's not necessarily responsible for that final link, but he is more than capable of making those passes and is often called upon to do so. But most of his attempts were snuffed out and that was critical for a defense trying to keep the opposing team's best player from making an impact. Credit goes to the back line, especially Sheanon Williams. Both Mix and David Villa worked the left side offensively, leading 43% of the NYCFC attack down that wing. Williams did falter on the lone goal but more than held his own through the barrage on his side of the field. Credit also goes to that first line of defense in Nogueira and Lahoud for keeping Mix at bay. But limiting Mix was only part of the success equation for the Union.

2.8 minutes of possession per shot. The Union were good at creating good shots with minimal possession last season, especially during their hot streak in the middle of the year. Against NYCFC they had the ball for just 2 minutes and 45 seconds per shot, their best level of the season. On the flip side, NYCFC needed over 8 minutes of possession to squeeze off a shot. Credit the Union defense with efficiently cutting of the oncoming attacks. The Union in fact have been quite good at this measure of shot efficiency all season.

Union minutes per shot

Only in the Chicago game did the Union have a worse ratio of minutes of possession to shots, where they had an uncharacteristically bad game. The Union had their most efficient offensive performance on Saturday and had their second most efficient defensive performance. That led to a 12-7 advantage in shots and was enough of a difference to earn the win. It should also be noted that Nogueira was more active on offense as he registered 3 of the Union's shots. The third was obviously the winner but Nogueira looked very confident making the winner. You have to wonder if the shots he took leading up to the winner helped him with the final strike.

Can the Union repeat the performance on Thursday? They are sure to bunker in defensively on the road and attempt to limit the NYCFC attack. They may be able to find space in the midfield to counter without Mix Diskerud gumming up the attack. I'd still expect less than 40% possession and below 70% passing accuracy for the game. And while that might be low by soccer standards that should be good enough for the Union.