When a team musters three shots in a game and the opposing keeper is able to watch them while sipping from his water bottle, the fans and pundits will pulls their heads out of the sand and suggest something must be wrong. The Union offense was insipid in Columbus last weekend, but the reality is that the offense hasn’t been good all year. Sure, they got a little hot for a few games, but they’ve been producing low levels of chances consistently all year long.
But let’s look at those “hot” games where the Union scored fourteen goals in six unbeaten games and compare them to the most recent run of eight games where the Union have seven goals, two off of penalties. Here’s a chart displaying some of the key differences:
What’s not shown directly on the chart is that the Union have spent about 15 percent less time in their opponents’ final third since the unbeaten streak. Once there they are there they are producing shots 10 percent less often. Before we even get to the quality of those shots the Union offense is 25 percent less effective. You can see that in the drop in shots per game from 11.3 to 8.5. Now let’s look at the shooting.
The Union are scoring on 10 percent of their shots in the last eight games while during the hot streak the Union finished 20 percent of their shots. The “xGoals/Shots” data is also important. Expected goals are calculated by assuming an average player takes all of the shots, and the shots are adjusted by their level of difficulty. You can see that the expected goals per shot went from 15 percent to 10 percent. Since the quality of the shooter is assumed to be the same in both numbers, that means that the only difference in the scores must due to the quality of the shots. What this metric tells us is that the Union have been getting 33 percent harder shots over this streak. So not only are they 25 percent less efficient at producing shots, the ones they are getting are more difficult.
There are many theories behind what is going on recently. The Union have been without Alejandro Bedoya for much of latter part of the season. Ilshino was given the 10 role in the middle of the hot streak but has been generally ineffective. Teams have caught up to the left footed wizardry of Haris Medunjanin. Fafa Picault has had brilliant moments but doesn’t contribute as much in efficient build up play. Take your pick. But let’s take a look at the big picture. Consider the following chart. This is a look at the cumulative goals scored against the expected goals scored. The difference between actual goals and expected goals will be a combination of two things: 1) Better or worse shooting than average and 2) luck.
The Union have actually scored more goals than an average team would have given the shots taken – meaning either their shooting has been above average or they’ve been a tad lucky. But as you can see they are basically right in line with expectations. That is, low expectations. A straight line very nicely conforms to the Union’s season. Following that line to 34 games the Union will finish the season with 44 goals, not terrible but not playoff caliber either. The Union have been a little up, a little down, but almost always on the path that was charted out early in the season.
The six game streak was nice, even fun, but the three shots on goal against Columbus was just a different side of that same coin. The Union offense will sputter all year without a dramatic change. And we all know change is a four letter word in Philadelphia.
Note: Expected goal data provided by AmericanSoccerAnalysis.com