TSG’s Tuesday plays contrarian–or does he–on the maligned US centerback
At TSG, we’ve tried to offer some explanation for Michael Orozco-Fiscal.
All the pundits, professional and armchair men alike seem to be in agreement. They sing a holiday chorus asking for this weak brew to be left out in the cold in favor of the stout, USMNT-eligible MLS defenders of the moment. Yet, Jurgen Klinsmann continues to select the Primerican.
What’s he seeing that the rest of us don’t?
We’ve looked at his individual statistics and they don’t seem impressive.
But soccer and statistics share a tenuous relationship without the help of Hadoop. What happens on the soccer field isn’t always easily quantified. A shot is a shot, on target or not; a corner is a corner; an offside is an offside, most of the time; a save is a save; and a goal is usually a goal. On the basics, our eyes can agree.
At the same time we’re citing a player’s passing statistics to illuminate their performance, youth soccer coaches around the country are reminding the next generation that it takes two to make a pass.
Xavi would hardly be sporting the same Tom Brady-level passer rating if it weren’t for his teammates moving dizzily around him like electrons in orbit around a proton, buzzing into pockets of space. The Messi-Welker connection sadly does not work here.
The basic measures don’t do much when we’re trying to assess a defender.
Good defending comes from a team working like a finely tuned machine, not just from one-on-one tackles. Take this statement by Jay DeMerit to TSG last year:
On ball defending is about two things. Desire and effort in that the attacker coming at you is not getting by and second about the responsibility to your teammates not to let that player get by you and put them under pressure because you did your job.
Individual numbers lie in soccer because soccer is all about how a team of players function together.
Standout individual performances can sometimes mean the team is broken. Sometimes it makes more sense to assess the team’s performance with and without a certain player to understand the impact he makes.
So we come to the US Men under Jurgen Klinsmann and his quest to transform American soccer.
We can all argue about what we see happening on the field until we’re blue in the face. Can some team numbers tell us something more about this conundrum?
The argument for Orozco-Fiscal is that he (or a player of his type) is crucial to the success of Klinsmann’s project by allowing the US to play a higher defensive line, win the ball back more quickly and keep possession more effectively by reducing the space between their lines.
The argument against is that he’s a defensive liability whose mistakes give the opponent too many chances to score.
Under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USA has averaged the following per 45 minutes:
US opponents have averaged the following per 45 minutes:
Source: MLSSoccer.com Chalkboards
* Passing statistics exclude USA vs Mexico on 8/10/2011 as data was not available.
If we compare how the USA team performs by these measures with Orozco-Fiscal compared to without him on the field:
- The US averages 70.1 more attempted passes, 68.3 more successful passes and a completion rate 4.5% higher per 45 minutes with Orozco-Fiscal on the field.
- The US averages 0.5 fewer shots and 0.7 fewer shots on target with 0.4 more goals scored.
- US Opponents average 39.4 fewer attempted passes, 35.4 fewer successful passes and a completion percentage 3.2% lower with Orozco-Fiscal on the field.
- They average 0.4 fewer shots but 0.2 more shots on target with no difference in goals scored. The conversion rate of shots to goals was 0.9% higher.
What do these numbers–with a Bayesian lens–mean?
Klinsmann’s team keeps possession far better with Orozco-Fiscal on the field and the score more goals despite creating a few less chances.
The USA wins the ball back more quickly so their opponents have less of it and create fewer shooting opportunities. Whenever a team plays a high line, the chances they concede are of better quality, so we see the opponent’s shots are somewhat more likely to be on target, and a slightly higher conversion rate of shots to goals.
What the US gains by keeping the ball away from their opponents attack mitigate the impact of his individual defensive shortcomings so they don’t lessen the quality of the team’s overall defending, at least over the course of these 4 matches.
When seen within the context of team’s performance, Orozco-Fiscal isn’t quite the defensive liability that he is sometimes singled out as based on his individual stats. And 70 more American passes per half when he plays is good evidence for his defense. (Or is it offense?) His presence allows the US to play a possession style that is difficult to maintain when a deeper defensive line dictates more vertical space between the lines. The key, as always, remains turning that additional possession into quality scoring chances.
At the very least, this seems to show what Klinsmann sees in a player that many fans and pundits have declared to be simply “not good enough.” His apparent impact on the team’s ability to keep possession, Klinsmann’s oft-stated goal for his side, is the reason he has continued to be named to the roster for international friendlies, much to the pundits chagrin. Maybe they’re just not seeing the big picture.
Is Orozco-Fiscal’s value to the whole greater than a single poor defensive play–or in this sense–a single poor defensive chance observation? Well, that’s subjective. And that is of course, the manager’s decision.
For now, at least, Orozco-Fiscal is the future.