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Expected goals are down, but that hasn’t been a problem in Florida for the Philadelphia Union

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The Union is 24th in xG through five regular season games in 2020 and has the lowest rate among MLS is Back teams.

SOCCER: JUL 25 MLS - Philadelphia Union v New England Revolution Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Through the 2020 campaign and MLS is Back Tournament, the Philadelphia Union have had historically low xG metrics not only for the 10-year-old franchise but also for the league.

Expected goals (xG) is a metric that measures the probability that a shot will produce a goal — i.e. how good a shooting chance is. It is a metric that helps to find weak spots in a team and predict future outcomes by pointing out how frequently a team’s offensive scheme is producing the kind of chances that lead to goals.

It usually works best at long distance so let’s take a look back at the data available for the Union going back to 2011.

Philadelphia Union xG Data

Year xG points xG place MLS Regular Season Place Season Points MLS Playoffs
Year xG points xG place MLS Regular Season Place Season Points MLS Playoffs
2011 41.5 7 3 48 Conference Semifinals
2012 40.3 11 8 36 Did not qualify
2013 43 6 7 46 Did not qualify
2014 50.2 2 6 42 Did not qualify
2015 41.6 11 9 37 Did not qualify
2016 45.3 15 6 42 Knockout Round
2017 41.1 16 8 42 Did not qualify
2018 49.4 11 6 50 Knockout Round
2019 50.2 6 3 55 Conference Semifinals

The Philadelphia Union’s xG statistic https://www.americansocceranalysis.com/static-tables

As you can see from the table above, the Union has not been known for spoiling fans with a good xG performance over the life of the club. Their best finish in MLS xG standings came in 2014 when they were second in the league in xG but were not able to qualify for the playoffs. They finished that season with 50.2 xG points, a figure that was matched in 2019 when they finished sixth in the league in xG standings. Last year’s team not only made the playoffs but won the club’s first ever playoff game before losing in the conference semifinal to Atlanta United. LAFC finished first in the league in xG in 2019 with 68.1.

Game 1

via MLSsoccer.com https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2020/03/01/expected-goals-mls-week-1

DC Dallas accounted for 0.75 and Philadelphia Union took 0.71

Game 2

via MLSsoccer.com https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2020/03/09/expected-goals-mls-week-2

Los Angeles FC accounted for 2.57 and Philadelphia Union got 1.04.

Game 3

The xG index of the New York City Philadelphia Union match https://twitter.com/JmooreQuakes/status/1282886142493220865

New York City accounted for 1.47 and Philadelphia Union got 0.56.

Game 4

The xG index of the Philadelphia Union Inter Miami match https://twitter.com/JmooreQuakes/status/1283503145142738944

Philadelphia Union accounted for 0.50 and Inter Miami FC got 1.31.

Game 5

The xG index of the Philadelphia Union Orando City match https://twitter.com/JmooreQuakes/status/1285698964860407808

Philadelphia Union accounted for 0.86 and Orlando City got 0.86.

Game 6

The xG index of the Philadelphia Union Orando City match https://twitter.com/GameFlowxPG/status/1287371468167426050

Philadelphia Union accounted for 0.70 and New England Revolution got 1.14.

In five games that have counted for the regular season so far in 2020 and the MLS is back knockout game that does not, the Union have had a lower xG metric than their opponent in all but one game — the final Group A match when they equaled Orlando City’s 0.86 performance.

Through their three Group A matches, the Union posted a 1.8 xG, which was tied for last with FC Cincinnati among the 24 teams in the tournament.

FC Dallas (3.1) and Nashville SC (1.4), which both had to drop out of the tournament because of positive Covid-19 tests, are the only teams with a lower overall xG rate through five regular season games than the Union.

The Union’s xG isn’t great either by league or historical standards. Yet they have still managed to win three of their four games in the MLS is Back Tournament by making up for their offensive deficiencies in other areas. Their defense has been strong, conceding just twice in four games in Florida and they have been able to create high percentage scoring opportunities through counter attacks. Over the five games that have counted for the regular season, the Union are 17th in shots taken with 10.6 per 90 minutes and 15th in shots on target per 90 minuted at 3.8.

Jim Curtin is a very clever coach and he knows his team well and their system well enough to improve and make the most of the chances when they do come. The most important metric, after all, is what the scoreboard shows at the end of the match.

The Philadelphia Union look like a train going downhill right now that will be hard to stop, regardless of what the metrics about their expected goals do or don’t say.