As we head into a rare weekend without a Philadelphia Union match, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the home stretch of the MLS season. Philly is rolling and aiming for the postseason, and the Eastern Conference in general looks to be fairly wide open behind Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls.
Additionally, Borek Dockal is now tied for the league lead in assists, Cory Burke is tied for the eighth most goals in MLS since the start of July (and he's added a few in Open Cup play), and -- quietly, until the last one -- Fafa Picault has five goals in the past two months.
Those are the headline numbers. But since it's Friday and, who knows, you might be prepping for that Happy Hour or weekend hangout, let's explore some of other Union numbers that don't necessarily tell us that much about how the team is playing but are interesting nonetheless. Most of the data discussed here is drawn from AmericanSoccerAnalysis, which is just great.
Let's start with Ilsinho. The magic man from Brazil has quite publicly torched Chicago and New York City this season en route to fantastic goals, leaving Bastian Schweinsteiger red in the face and Ronald Matarrita seeing red in both the figurative and literal senses. Ilsinho has five goals this season... on six shots on frame. In fact, every shot on goal Ilsinho has taken has gone in since Steve Clark fell on the Brazilian's long shot in the final minute of Philly's April win over DC United. A few other players in MLS have scored with all but one shot -- Dallas' Reto Ziegler has scored with every shot since March 18 -- but nobody has done it without the benefit of set pieces (in which nobody can legally get close to you), and nobody who has done it has as many goals as Ilson Jr. The man is truly magical, may he recover soon.
Cory Burke has come out of nowhere to aid the Union's offense this season, so here are a few strange numbers behind the big Jamaican's season. Burke attempts the fourth fewest passes per game among MLS strikers, with only guys like Gyasi Zardes and Dom Dwyer above him on the list. This is another indication that Burke takes a different approach to the number nine position than CJ Sapong, with whom he has split time this season. Sapong is excellent at checking back to hold up the ball and creating space for the Union's wingers. In fact, that was a large part of Philly's plan at the start of the season: Sapong's strength and workrate would allow the wing players to run off him into spacious 1v1s they could dominate. Burke can bang bodies, but instead of checking back as often, he stays higher and looks to run into channels between center backs and fullbacks, leaving the center to Borek Dockal.
Burke also can claim the lowest passing completion percentage in the league and the lowest Expected Passing Completion percentage in the league among, both among strikers only. This means Burke is likely trying a lot of risky passes and, unfortunately, not completing them. This could be seen as a warning sign, but remember that Burke is still barely over 1000 minutes playing with these teammates in all competitions, so as he gains more comfort on the ball he could see an improvement that would at least bring him back to the pack in terms of passing.
Whatever Burke is doing right now, it's working. The striker's 43% ChainShot percentage indicates that over 40% of the time Burke touches the ball -- either with a pass or dribble -- during a Union possession, that possession results in a shot. Nobody in the league with at least 800 minutes has a higher number.
Let's take a look out on the left wing, where Fafa Picault has been making it harder and harder for US Soccer to ignore him over the past few months.
Among attacking players that aren't strikers (so - wingers and attacking mids), Picault has the sixth highest shots on target per match, just behind big names such as Alberth Elis, Joao Plana, Miguel Almiron, and Daniel Royer. Picault's 0.45 Expected Goals per game is fifth among non-striker attackers as well, suggesting he's continuing to put himself in good positions to score even though the Union offense often operates up the right most of the time.
And let's finish with the man that loves a gorgeous first time outside of the left foot key pass almost as much as he loves an orange slice. Haris Medunjanin is, unsurprisingly, among the most creative deep-lying players in the league. With 2.28 key passes per game, he's fourth among midfielders this year, trailing only Yoshi Yotun, Mark Rzatkowski, and Magnus Eriksson. The big Bosnian is averaging over 74 passes per game, which is more than everyone in MLS except Michael Bradley. He is involved in the fourth most possessions per game of any player -- which makes sense given the Union's desire to have the ball more than opponents -- and takes over 13% of the team's touches when he's in the match, a number that is seventh highest this season across MLS.
So there you have it: An extensive list of debatably interesting facts to use as icebreakers at your next social gathering. Alright fine, one more: Keegan Rosenberry is one of only ten fullbacks averaging at least one shot per game this season. Any guesses on the other nine? The answers are on invaluable resource AmericanSoccerAnalysis.com, where possession chain numbers (and definitions!) have recently been added to the interactive tables. Or send me your guesses at @adamtcann on Twitter or email@example.com.