DC United – Divided they fell…

How does a team win more games in the US Open Cup than they did the entire season of MLS?

Amazing, simply bloody amazing – DC United defeated Philadelphia 3-1, New England 3-1, Chicago (away) 2-nil and of all teams, Real Salt Lake (away) 1-nil to win the US Open Cup last year.

All told they scored 9 goals and gave up just 2 in those 4 Cup games while conceding 59 goals and scoring 22 in the 34 MLS Regular Season games.

Is it too much to expect that at least some of that Cup run magic would have spilled over into the Regular Season?

Apparently so – out of 19 teams DC United were the worst in just about everything.

Not only did they finish on just 16 points, 10 fewer than Chivas, they also had the worst attacking Possession with Purpose Index rating {1.87} and the worst Final Third attacking efficiency Index rating {1.32}.

Translated back into team performance attacking statistics it’s actually a bit deceiving.

DC United averaged ~54% possession per game; that ranked fourth highest in MLS last year!

They also completed an average of ~418 passes per game; that too is ranked fourth highest in MLS last year!

And even when looking at passing accuracy they ranked 5th best in MLS last year by completing 77.26% of their passes.

So where did this team fall short?

Out of those 418 passes completed per game (4th best in MLS) only 19.19% of those passes occurred within the final third with an accuracy rating of 65.14%.  So that means roughly 80% of their possession was possession without purpose!

I offer that for one reason – it has to be possession without purpose because DC United only won 3 games last year.

If they had won 14 to 18 games or more and had a goals against of less 1 or so (like Sporting KC or Portland) then that 80% possession outside the attacking third would have had purpose – that purpose would have been to control the ball and the game to keep the opponent from tying or winning.

But possession within the attacking third wasn’t the only issue with DC United last year.

Of all the teams in MLS they had the 4th fewest Shots Taken per game (11.76) and the worst average Shots on Goal per game at 3.18.

All told they averaged .65 goals per game in the MLS Regular Season; next closest was Chivas USA with .88 goals per game.

I’d offer up individual statistics on shots taken, shots on goal and goals scored but to be honest the numbers are so low (for everyone) that it really doesn’t matter – this team was a team who couldn’t score or even create the opportunities to score!

So how did DC United perform, as a team, on the defensive side of the pitch last year?

All told DC United had the 2nd worst goals against last year (1.68) with only Chivas USA being worse.

In looking at totals for team tackling, interceptions, clearances and blocked crosses they had the 3rd lowest total number of those defensive actions of all teams in MLS last year – averaging just over 60 of them per game.

They were 7th worst in defensive actions within their defending third with ~43 defensive actions per game.

What that means is over a 90 minute game last year DC United only successfully tackled or intercepted their opponents possession 17 times per game outside their defending third – again – like most every other team performance indicator that was worst among all MLS teams last year.

Bottom line is DC United simply didn’t apply much pressure to the opponent in their own defending half and pretty much allowed them minimal resistance in penetrating the DC United defending third.

But wait, there’s more.  DC United also had the worst goal keeper save ratio to shots on goal in all of MLS; a paltry 65% ratio.  Pretty much meaning that the opponents had almost a 35% chance of scoring a goal simply by putting the shot on target!

In closing…

So it would seem pretty obvious that DC United were a pretty poor team when it came to executing within the Attacking Final Third.

That probably translates to at least three new strikers and three new midfielders and three new defenders.

With Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola and Conor Doyle being added that’s three new strikers – De Rosario is gone and Davy Arnaud has been added to the midfield while Attakora, Boswell and Franklin have been added to the defense.

I’d be very surprised if that were all the moves Olsen made – he’s got some significant issues in penetrating and attacking within the final third as well as simply defending the teams penalty box; and from what I’ve seen recently in my data analysis that usually that means the midfield is extremely weak.

Finally, perhaps we also see DC United make a move for a veteran goal keeper, similar to what Portland did when trading Perkins for Ricketts.

A great place to start when everything is pear-shaped is the goal keeper and back-four; even if a team can score goals they must also defend – and 1.68 goals against was simply huge, if not inordinately large!

Chris Gluck

Chris Gluck

I have been covering the Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer, as a community blogger/analyst for the Columbian Newspaper, since June, 2012. Since then my involvement in soccer analysis has expanded to include participating in the Regional Emmy Award Winning Soccer City PDX TV Show (Comcast Sports Northwest). My unique analytical approach has been published in Europe and presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. I also appear regularly as a co-host on Rose City Soccer Show and the Yellowcarded Podcast. You can find my work on PossessionwithPurpose.com, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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