Opta Spotlight: Union must develop itchy trigger finger
Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 10-18-6 (36 points); 37 GF / 45 GA (-8 GD)
2012 Philadelphia Union Average Position
Take a quick glance at the above graphic, then wipe the slate clean. There was so much shuffling in Philly during the 2012 season that any conclusion gleaned from the average position chart is practically moot.
The Union's hope is that head coach John Hackworth will instill some consistency in the squad, and the recent acquisitions of Sébastien Le Toux and Jeff Parke clearly speak to that aim. Come this time next year, if the season is a success, the Union should have some rhyme and reason behind their personnel moves and lineup choices and a position graphic that actually tells a story.
2012 Philadelphia Union Passing Matrix (Download HERE)
Like most MLS sides, the ball flows through the middle of the field, and the Union are no different.
Three players dominated the ball for Philadelphia – Carlos Valdés (1,107 successful passes), Brian Carroll (1,234) and Michael Farfan (1,052) – and the route upfield was clear. Valdés or Amobi Okugo to Carroll, and Carroll to Farfan, with the 24-year-old pulling the attacking strings from there. That worked at times, but the Union certainly need another attack-minded midfielder to take the pressure off Farfan, and Freddy Adu doesn't seem to fit the bill.
Speaking of Adu, the former prodigy completed 472 passes during 2012. His most productive partners? The Farfan brothers – Gabe and Michael.
1) Philadelphia have to find a way to test opposing goalkeepers more frequently
If I told you Chivas USA, by far the league's least productive attacking side, had the fewest shots on goal in MLS, it would be an easy sell. But the Union? Maybe it's not quite as believeable, but it's certainly the truth.
Philadelphia put the ball on frame just 112 times during 2012, 80 shots fewer than league-leading San Jose and more than 38 below the MLS average. That's just not going to cut it.
Thing is, accuracy isn't the problem (47.76 percent, third-best in MLS), but frequency is certainly cause for concern. Bringing Le Toux back into the fold and having a full year of Jack McInerney on the field should help, but the Union must pull the trigger more.
2) Where will the chances come from?
It's easy to say Philly need to take more shots; it's harder to say just where those opportunities will come from.
Michael Farfan (39), Adu (26) and Sheanon Williams (25) led the club in chances created, and every club but Chivas USA and Vancouver had at least one player with more than the Union's leading chance creator. Now that's a bit misleading – Farfan had plenty of other responsibilities (third on the team in tackles attempted) – but Hackworth must find another creative influence to help disguise from where the service will originate.
Le Toux will pick up some of that slack, but another midfielder with an eye for a pass should be on Philadelphia's wish list this offseason.
3) Carlos Valdés has become one MLS' elite defenders
Valdés got his first Colombia call-up in four years this season, and it was well deserved.
The Union center back led MLS in CBI+T (combined clearances, blocks, interceptions and tackles) with 453, 14 more than Colorado's Drew Moor in second. Among the top 10 in that category, Valdés was also second in completed passes behind only Moor and Sporting KC's Matt Besler.
With Parke ready to slot in next to him, providing an ideal partner to clean up after the 27-year-old plays destroyer, Valdés should be primed for another strong year in the City of Brotherly Love.
Random nugget: Passing accuracy and completed passes were up in 2012, but the Union still registered 11 fewer assists (31 vs. 20).