A letter to the Union: Defense, not possession, is “key”

  1. Dear Union,

I want to have hope. I so do. That’s why I look forward to reading or watching tidbits from Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference. He might drop some ideas about what we can look forward to in the next iteration of the Union. There may be a sentence I can replay in my brain that gets me anxious for the next match. I did the same thing last week. I scanned the twitter for what he said. A formation change? A commitment to defending? A lineup tweak?

Last week the tidbits were sparse. There was just this recap from the Philadelphia Union about what was said. One of your highlights gave me pause. You said, “Possession is Key.” I got nervous. You went on to say that the Union have had good possession this year with 50.3%, good for 10th in the league. You then touted your season high of 57% in the 2-1 loss to D.C. United.

“Overall, it’s fair to say we’ve had good possession of the ball, but it’s been in the middle third of the field,” Curtin said. Last year the Union had possession 49.3% of the time, just shy of the good possession the Union have had so far. But all of this is moot because possession doesn’t matter in MLS. Over the past three seasons just 18% of the variance of the league table can be described by possession.

MLS Possession influence

While the chart above shows a positive relationship with possession and points, there is a very wide spread around the line. Teams with 47% possession, for example, had earned about 30 points in a season, and they’ve also earned almost 60 – meaning it is just not a big deal in parity-happy MLS.

What you and your coach should be talking about, however, is defense. The Union have now conceded two or more goals in 10 of their last 11 matches and in fact average two goals against over their last THIRTY-TWO games. That’s 64 goals in less than a full season. The league average is 1.33 so the Union are giving up 50% more than the average team. This is really bad and needs to be fixed. But you’re talking about possession.

Since 2011 MLS teams that have given up two goals or more have won 11% of the time. The fact that the Union have six wins over that 32 game stretch is actually a positive sign, because that’s a win nearly 20% of the time. Teams that concede two goals draw 21% of the time and lose 68%. Just to complete the math if a team gives up two or more goals in every game then you’ll finish a season with about 17 points. Pretty dreadful. Kind of just like this season so far! ¬†Imagine that.

So let’s not talk about a 1% improvement in possession. Let’s talk about a defense that isn’t giving this team a chance.

What concerns me most is not the lack of focus on fixing a bad defense but the assumption that fans can be swayed by useless statistics. You either think very little of the Union fan base or you know very little about what really matters in this league. It’s probably both. That goes for your coach too.

And now your players and coach just stumbled through a home game in which they had 32% possession and gave up 3 goals. It’s a miracle you got a point when you think about it. But rather than be bummed about the possession, let’s focus on that defense. After all, it really is the key.

Sincerely,

We pay attention

 

 

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