By Jamon Moore (@jmoorequakes)
I’m a die-hard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Please don’t leave yet. In case you aren’t paying attention to MLS much this year, the Quakes have been…underperforming, even by their less-than-lofty standards. I was preparing data for an article about the Quakes troubles with defending the opposition Zone 14 (or are you #TeamZone5?) discussing why they have given up a league-high six goals from there so far this season, when – as you may be aware – Matt Doyle and Bobby Warshaw publicly blasted the Quakes for the very same issue on May 27.
If you aren’t familiar with the 18 zones of the soccer pitch, the image to the right may help.
Zone 14 is, for the attacking team, the most dangerous spot on the pitch: a player can pass, dribble, or shoot out of it and have options in front of them -- as well as to their right and left. If you’re defending, you want to keep the ball out of your opponent’s Zone 14, where a lot of bad things can happen. San Jose had not been able to do that as of yet, but they tried something new on Saturday.
It seems the Quakes paid attention to Doyle’s comments, or maybe with the absence of Anibal Godoy and Harold Cummings, who are on their way to the World Cup, San Jose was forced into the MLS Analyst’s recommended single-CDM formation, choosing to go with a brand-new 4-4-2 narrow diamond on Saturday against the Chicago Fire.
The Fire have had their own share of troubles this season, and you could have been forgiven for skipping this Saturday night game on in favor of one of the other matchups, or maybe spending time with loved ones. Chicago didn’t do much at all in Zone 14, choosing instead to play effectively through the wings, which San Jose chose to defend 1v1 with fullbacks Nick Lima and a pressed-out-of-position Florian Jungwirth. Bastian Schweinsteiger started on the left for Chicago, but the Fire got two goals off of the right-hand side and enjoyed a 2-1 win.
Following the Doyle and Warshaw video above, I hastened my analysis and put out my article on a site dedicated to covering the Earthquakes. Prior to Saturday’s games, I tweeted out this chart about the goals and xG for each team defending the opponent Zone 14.
As a bonus for ASA readers, here is a similar graph showing which teams which give up a lot of key passes within and leaving Zone 14 with up-to-date data from Week 14.
Ouch, Minnesota United, just…ouch.
Where the Ball is Won
The San Jose-focused article itself garnered a fair amount of attention from Bay Area coaches along with Quakes fans. I had conversations with two USSF “A” licensed coaches, along with other top local coaches, about it. Both of them had similar things to say, that the Quakes’ real troubles were less about poor defending in the opponent’s Zone 14 (San Jose’s Zone 5), and more about how often they were forced to defend in this zone. The problem with San Jose is that they do not have a clear and effective strategy for winning the ball farther up the pitch.
That’s not a revolutionary statement, and soccer minds sharper than mine were already thinking it. But as I was crunching passing data to prepare for this article, I looked at where MLS teams were winning the ball. Allow too much penetration into your defending third, and Zone 14 (as well as Zone 17 in front of the goal) will be under constant assault.
ASA has published articles showing which teams are more active and reactive and examined the Red Bulls’ high press. I had suspicions this analysis will either further confirm those studies or show which teams may be making shifts.
The data I prepared was related to passing chains (sequences). Here are the total number of passing chains started by each MLS team through Week 14 -- even if the first pass was unsuccessful -- along with how many were started in the attacking half or defensive half.
|Total Sequences||Attacking Half||Defensive Half|