A key to the Union’s success has been putting the shackles on Fabinho

The word that comes to mind when I think of Fabinho and his play on the field is “swashbuckler”. Pick your favorite swashbuckler: Robin Hood, Ivanhoe or maybe Indiana Jones? Fabinho is in that category for me because one thing you can count on with Fabinho is sword-toting adventure on the field. Whether it’s being aggressive against the opponent’s attack or bounding down the wing to put in one of those nifty left footed crosses, Fabinho’s energy and passion are never in doubt. The trouble is I always wonder if that’s the best style of play for the Union.

Fabinho is the one of the more aggressive defenders in MLS, statistically speaking. Last year he ranked 13th in the league among fullbacks in tackles with 2.4 per game. He was 1st among fullbacks in interceptions with 3.3 per game, and 8th in clearances with 2.4 per game. There’s no good statistic for being in the right position all the time but obviously you can count on Fabinho to be around the ball. This year Fabinho has upped his intensity and leads all fullbacks with 3.3 tackles per game, good for the 7th in the league overall.

But an interesting thing has happened during the Union’s resurgence in May. The critical change to the Union’s fortunes has been keeping the team more compact, allowing for better defensive density and creating an excellent run of defensive performances. This compactness has forced Fabino to shift his activity deeper on the pitch. Let’s take a look, starting with his passing.

Prior to the four game win streak Fabinho attempted 49% of his passes in the Union’s attacking half and 22% of his passes in the final third. He also attempted 2.9 crosses per game. Compare that with the Gaddis/Rosenberry combination of 43% of passes in the attacking half, 16% in the final third and 1.3 crosses per game. Fabinho is clearly the more aggressive fullback going forward.

During the four game win streak Fabinho was in the lineup for three games, missing the Colorado victory. During that stretch his numbers dropped to 41% in the attacking half, 16% in the final third and 1.2 crosses per game – very similar to the right side and a significant shift. Where is thy sword, Fabinho?!

On the defensive side the story is similar – less aggression up the field. Here’s a chart of Fabinho’s defensive actions comparing the first eight games and during the win streak.

Fabinho Defensive Chart

Fabinho was slightly more aggressive during the win streak but almost all of that aggression was occurring in his own defensive half. Previously about 20% of his activity was higher up the field.

Looking at the trends in Fabinho’s statistics we can see yet another example of how more conservative play has served the Union well. Shackling the swashbuckling Fabinho appears to be a good thing. The loss at Real Salt Lake provides yet more data points that bear this out because the Union went back to some of their old habits. Fabinho had seven defensive actions in that game, with three of them occurring in the attacking half, similar to the statistics during the winless streak. He was also playing much more forward offensively. Here are three passing charts for Fabinho. The first is the home Toronto match early in the season. The second is during the second D.C. United game that the Union won, and the last game is the Real Salt Lake game.

Fabinho Passing Chart Combined

Notice the volume of passes in the yellow boxes for each game. During the lone win and lone clean sheet on that chart against D.C. United, Fabinho was much less active in the attacking half. As much as I love my swashbuckling Fabinho I’m hoping he keeps his aggression focused on his defensive half.

Data for this post was compiled from americansocceranalysis.com @AnalysisEvolved, mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com @Whoscored

 

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