Saturday's game was a classic case of statistics not exactly telling the entire story of a match. For the most part, numbers do a good job of illustrating the nuances of a game and identifying patterns of play over the course of 90 minutes.
But this weekend, the story was more about capitalizing on chances and benefiting from Zac MacMath's late-game heroics.
We talked a lot about possession, passing, and shot attempts through the first four games of the season.
This was the first game of 2014 in which the opposition put more shots on goal than the Union. The possession was fairly close, trending 52 percent to 48 percent in favor of Chicago. And the passing accuracy for both teams was down – 73 percent for Chicago and 65 percent for the Union.
Let's look at the three road games the team has played so far:
At Portland (1-1 draw)
10 shots, six on goal, 43 percent possession, 335 passes, 77 percent accuracy
At Columbus (2-1 loss)
19 shots, four on goal, 47 percent possession, 415 passes, 80 percent accuracy
At Chicago (2-2 draw)
Seven shots, two on goal, 48 percent possession, 302 passes, 65 percent accuracy
Philadelphia put up lesser numbers this weekend, but scored multiple goals for the first time in 2014. In fact, both shots that were on target found the net. Just goes to show that if you continue to get the ball on frame, it's going to go in eventually. It shows the quirkiness of numbers in soccer.
2. Fullback activity
When you look at the OPTA Chalkboard following a game, fullbacks usually have the most "activity" next to their name. They have the highest interaction numbers in the team filter.
Part of this is a little misleading. If you look at Lovel Palmer for example, 17 of his 99 interactions were either successful throw-ins or unsuccessful throw-ins. If you remove that parameter from the filter, you're looking at 82 interactions, which is closer to the activity of midfielder Jeff Larentowicz or forward Conor Casey.
Wide play is probably better determined by looking first at a fullback's individual heatmap, then filtering their pass attempts and defensive numbers accordingly. Especially in a system where you want your fullbacks to get forward, the field positioning of their interaction statistics probably tells the bigger story on which team was able to press, which team was able to play high, and which team had better overall positioning.
Ray Gaddis is a great example of this because he played one half at right back and one half at left back. At right back, he was able to get forward a bit more. At left back, he spent more time inside his own half, as Chicago started to shift momentum as they got closer to an equalizer.
3. Zac's save
People could argue that this could be considered one of the most important saves of Zac MacMath's career.
Just looking at the circumstances, the fact that he preserved a point for the team, and did it on the last kick of the game, will always be more important than any save that comes earlier in the game or during a run-of-play situation.
There are really three different parts to the play:
- A. the initial stop, diving low and to the right
- B. the second stop, with the rebound hitting him in the side
- C. the spin and recovery, in which he catches the ball out of the air
Which of those did you think was the most important? Which was the most difficult?
I think C might have been the most tricky part of the play. After diving right, then making himself "big," which is a common soccer term explaining a goalkeepers ability to show more of himself than the goal to an opponent, he rotates 360 degrees and snags the ball before it can hit the ground. With players closing down, you have no idea where that ball ends up if he doesn't catch it.
It was only the second time in history that a Union goalkeeper has made a penalty save. The first was the PK stop from Chris Seitz in the very first game at PPL Park against Seattle. There was a situation in 2012 where D.C. United missed a retaken penalty kick, but that shot was driven over the bar by Dwayne De Rosario.
Since 2011, opponents have converted five of seven penalty kicks against MacMath. Faryd Mondragon was 0-2 in penalty saves, and Chris Seitz saved one of the five PKs he faced during the 2010 inaugural campaign. Make no mistake, stopping a penalty kick is one of the hardest things to do in soccer.
Credit to MacMath for a huge save, and also credit to defender Sheanon Williams for rushing into the box to help. That save really changed the narrative of the game and those are the kinds of plays that are confidence builders for goalkeepers.
Think of something we missed? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org