Passing stats show early-season trends, tactical shifts

Passing stats show early-season trends, tactical shifts

After yesterday's debate and my subsequent not-posting (of the usual blog, I mean), I thought it would be good to tackle (probably a standing tackle and not two-footed, studs-up — wouldn't want a retroactive ban now, would I?) something a little more objective: Passing. Not just passing in general, of course, but how our passing and our opponents passing has looked throughout the season. Perhaps there will be something interesting we can derive from it.

Once I'd finished compiling the passing statistics to this point, there were a few interesting things to note: Our best passing rate (84.27%) came against New York Red Bulls, while our worst passing rate (73.65%!) came against Sporting KC. It is perhaps interesting (I'm not certain yet!) that we attempted approximately the same number of passes against both sides, but it was clear who was the better side tactically. Further, in the former, we saw only 46% of possession, and in the latter, we held 56% possession.

Those numbers on their own don't mean terribly much. We can derive only a few things from them, and the biggest one speaks mostly to the latter match: Sporting KC shut us down. We had far fewer touches than in any other match we've yet played — 597 on the day, while our average is 661 per match — though we allowed them only 527, so there's that. It is telling, though, that 46% of SKC's passes were forward-moving, a full 8 percentage points more than our average.

In fact, in general, our passing rates have been worse as the season's gone on. I know it's still quite short yet, but there's something unusual about that. While it may be partly attributed to injury, we've not really had a match with our starting XI to use as a relative control stat — though I recognize the folly of that on its face.

It is also a little surprising that we've trended toward being slightly more left-sided than right-sided, despite the general presence of right-sided Ned Grabavoy and the only recent return of left-sided Will Johnson. This perhaps speaks more to the full backs, who have been in fine form — Wingert perhaps more of a safe passing option and Beltran perhaps more of an attacking option generally.

On average, 24% of our passes have come in the final third, though there's a good deal of variation in this. A whopping 31% of our passes against Chivas were in the final third, while a paltry 19% were there against Colorado. There is not yet a correlation between passes in the final third and wins (a statistical correlation, I mean — if we took zero passes in the final third, we'd never win) so it'll be interesting to see that shape up over the season.

As you'd perhaps expect, having a big set of numbers means I'm still learning about our loss to Sporting KC. As I wrote, we surrendered the center of the park, but while the impression is one thing, a statistical backup is another: 58% of their passes came were in the center of the park (as opposed to the flanks).

It's also interesting to note what I've seen as a shift in responsibility for our midfield has led to us allowing  one-third of our opponent's passes to come in our defensive third. Indeed, in all but the Colorado match, when we allowed only 19% of passes to occur in the final third, we've allowed a few percentage points more than 33% in every match. Compare this with our average of 24% in the final third — something's amiss here.

It would be easy to just attribute it to defensive awareness on the part of the sides we've faced — or at least awareness that we're very dangerous in the final third — it doesn't do much to explain the discrepancy in the passes we allow. Has our high-line defense eroded? Perhaps not: There may be mitigating factors there. I would attribute it instead to the fragility of the midfield. Not fragility as in proneness to injury — that's a different thing — but in our general lack of midfield pressure when we lose the ball, allowing the opponent to get forward more easily.

Regardless of the cause — there are likely a few, anyway — we can see that there's a potential problem there. The more we allow our opponents to pass in the final third, the more likely it is they'll score a goal, it would seem to follow, other factors notwithstanding. It represents, I think, a shift in Kyle Beckerman's play: He's been playing a bit further forward and has been more focused on harrying rather than breaking up play. Perhaps it's an early season thing, or perhaps it's because he's more fit than he's ever been, but it's created a shift in our play that we'll need to be aware of moving forward.

Right, 'til tomorrow, folks. We've got a match coming soon, and I really can't wait to get the taste of this loss out of my mouth.