US goal-by-goal breakdown brings end to Donovan debate

Donovan celebra con la seleccion de EE.UU.

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They may have decided to bring Landon Donovan off the bench against Panama, but Wednesday night’s Gold Cup semifinal win reinforced one thing that has been consistently proven in the Bob Bradley era: Landon Donovan is the man for the USA.

An analysis of the 132 goals scored by the USMNT since Bradley took over reveals that Donovan had a hand in a third of them. He leads the USA in both goals (20) and assists (24) in the Bradley era.

There are several other trends and tactical conclusions that can be drawn from the details of how each of the US goals was scored in the Bradley era.  

START SLOW, FINISH STRONG: The USA under Bradley has scored 47 percent more second-half goals (78) than first-half goals (53), confirming their reputation of being slower starters but finishing stronger than the opposition. Almost half of all US goals (47 percent) have come in the final half-hour of matches.

ENOUGH SCORERS?: It has been evident for quite some time that one of the USMNT’s issues was finding goal-scorers. But what’s the real state of affairs?

Halfway through the fifth year under Bradley, there have been 36 different players who have scored at least a goal. However, although the wealth has been spread, there have only been three players who have reached double digits in five years: Landon Donovan (20), Clint Dempsey (16) and Jozy Altidore (12).

DEMPSEY MORE OF A FORWARD THAN A MIDFIELDER: In case we needed any more proof of the fact that Dempsey has greater scoring tendencies than he does generating play in the midfield, the numbers are lopsided. While he has 16 goals since 2007, he only has five assists. In other words, the US are better served having the Fulham star closer to the goal than occupying a wing slot.

MIDFIELD DEFICIENCIES: Aside from Donovan (24 assists), the next midfielder with the most helpers during Bradley’s tenure is DaMarcus Beasley (six assists), who has not been back with the USMNT since the 2010 World Cup. And the drop-off is considerable.

More alarming is the fact that the midfielders who have regularly been counted on to carry the central midfield duties barely register when it comes to assists, an indication that breaking up plays comes easier than creating for the US central core.

Michael Bradley has just two assists in over four years, which is the same number of helpers generated by Benny Feilhaber, Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu. Sacha Kljestan has three assists, but none after 2008, and Stuart Holden, who is currently out injured, has four to his name.

SEND IT INTO THE MIXER: Those same central midfielders definitely prefer to go wide and send the ball into the box rather than sizing up shots from outside the area.

While just 19 goals have come from shots from outside the penalty box — that’s 14.39 percent of the time for the USA, which compares to England’s six percent, Germany’s 15 percent and France’s 25 percent during 2010 World Cup qualifying — double the amount of US tallies have been generated off of crosses (38), which have directly or indirectly led to a goal.

The remarkable data surrounding the crosses category is that of the 31 crosses that have directly resulted in a goal, 12 have come from fullbacks, eight from Donovan, five from forwards and only six from wingers not named Donovan. While the numbers tell a positive story about fullbacks pushing into the attack, the desperate need for a true winger to counterbalance Donovan is glaring.

SCORING RATE: The 132 goals scored in 79 total matches make for a scoring rate of 1.67 goals per game.

STOP WITH THE CLICHÉS: US players are tall and physical and so they dominate on free kicks, corner kicks and headers, right? Not all the time.

The USMNT has scored 17 goals (12.88 percent) off corner kicks in 79 matches over more than four years. By comparison, England netted 15 percent of its goals on corners, Germany had 12 percent, while Spain didn’t register a single goal off a corner kick during 2010 World Cup Qualifying, according to data provided by Opta.

When it comes to headers, 30 of the USA’s 132 goals since 2007 have come on headers (22.73 percent). The percentages among European teams during 2010 World Cup qualifying — a smaller sample size — run the gamut: Scotland (50 percent), Portugal (32 percent), England (24 percent), Italy (17 percent) and Spain (14 percent).

US IS NOT HOME OF THE FREE KICK: Another stat that might prove slightly alarming is the fact that the USA have scored just 11 goals off free kicks in four-and-a-half years — direct shots on goal or service that directly led to goals. Donovan and Beasley were on top of the ball for eight of those plays.  

During 2010 World Cup qualifying alone, England scored on four direct shots from free kicks, which doesn’t take into account indirect free kicks.