Let's be honest – the American sports fan loves stats and numbers. We rank our college football and basketball teams. We dedicate TV segments to fantasy football. We evaluate production using metrics like batting average, ERA, and plus-minus.
A lot of coaches and players will tell you that the only important stats are win and losses. But, as fans, we'll always dig into the figures behind the outcome, looking for numbers that might shed some light on performance.
And some numbers aren't so obvious, especially in soccer. When you read between the lines, though, some telling statistics came out of Philadelphia Union's inaugural campaign.
Home and Away
Peter Nowak's squad totaled 31 points this year. 24 of those points came from home games. That means 77.4 percent of the Union point total came from matches at Lincoln Financial Field and PPL Park. The final home record in league play? Six wins, three losses, six draws.
When you break it down, only three teams had fewer home losses than Peter Nowak's squad. And all three of those clubs were from the Western Conference.
On the flip side, the Union managed 12 road losses, the worst in MLS. But this young squad also played eight of its first 10 games on the road, a ratio that no other team came close to duplicating.
No doubt, a normal schedule in 2011 will make a major difference.
Hitting the Target
Sebastien Le Toux featured in 28 of the Union's 30 games this year. He bagged 14 goals, meaning that he averaged a goal in every other game.
Of his 90 shots, 48 were on goal. No other player in MLS put more of his shots on target. Edson Buddle came in second with 43 of 96 shots on goal. Juan Pablo Ángel put 40 of his 98 shots on target.
As a team, the Union only managed 300 shots, good for third to last in MLS. But 142 of those shots were on target. At 47.3 percent, it was the league's best ratio - no other team put a higher percentage of shots on goal.
How did that translate to actual goal scored? The Union were 11th in the league, suggesting that at times quantity can outweigh quality.
Going the Full 90
In the span of an MLS season, it's possible to play 2,700 total minutes. Only centerbacks Tim Ream and Drew Moor played all 2,700 minutes this year.
Union defender Jordan Harvey totaled 2,620 minutes, meaning he was on the field 97 percent of the time this season. He was the only Union player to feature in all 30 games this year, starting in 29 of them.
Michael Orozco Fiscal played the second most minutes this year, 2,562 in total. He started in each of the 29 games he played.
Danny Califf and Sebastien Le Toux were number three and four on the team. Each started and played in 28 games, logging in the ballpark of 2,500 minutes each.
Leaving it Late
[inline_node:287998]Scoring late goals can be interpreted in different ways. Late goals can be dramatic equalizers, and other times they can be "garbage time" goals that don't say much about a 90-minute performance.
But no matter the outcome, Peter Nowak's squad liked to "leave it late," scoring 12 goals this year in the final 15 minutes of play. At 14 and 13 goals respectively, only Columbus and Real Salt Lake brought more late drama to the table.
And when you split the game into halves, the statline is similar. The Union also scored eight goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Again, only RSL and Columbus scored more goals in this time frame.
The Value of Striking First
The Union tallied first in 12 games this year, conceding first in 18. Three other teams conceded first more, with another three equaling Philadelphia's total.
When striking first, the Union compiled a record of 6-2-4. When conceding first, the Union compiled a 2-13-3 record. Believe it or not, the nine points salvaged when faced with a deficit were tied for second most in the league, behind only Houston. That, of course, has something to do with the fact that the Union were in position to salvage points from behind more than most. Their 49 goals allowed on the season was tied for second most, and a -14 goal differential was tied for third worst.
When leading at halftime, the Union put together a 5-0-2 record. In other words, not once did Philadelphia enter the locker room with a first half advantage and go on to lose. Then again, only eight times did a team go into the interval with a lead only to drop all three points. Eight times all year in 180 total matches.
Philadelphia were 2-9-1 when trailing at the half, but even a percentage of .208 was the fourth best in the league. It's a stat that goes hand-in-hand with salvaging points from a deficit.
Open to Interpretation
Statistics can be spun and manipulated in a manner of ways. Still, there are telling trends that can be extrapolated from the numbers.
When it comes to winning trophies, the players and coaches are right – only wins and losses count. But stats often help explain how those results were achieved. And for the sports fan who likes to talk shop at the water cooler on a Monday morning, well, few topics are more fun to debate than the numbers.
Note: Compiled statistics only include 30 regular season matches.