Tempo-Free Soccer: Judging how Jurgen Klinsmann has advanced USMNT's attack | Gold Cup

Way back in 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked at his introductory press conference what style of soccer he wanted the US national team to play.

His response? He said he would like to see a “more proactive style of play where you would like to impose a little bit the game on your opponent instead of sitting back and waiting for what your opponent is doing and react[ing] to it.”  He went on to say that keeping possession would be the starting point for changing the team into his image.

Has Klinsmann accomplished these goals? It's been an up and down four year tenure, and there is no better starting point than this simple chart of goals scored during Klinsmann’s games in charge.

Number of Goals by Game under Klinsmann

Here we see the lackluster start, the rampant 2013 Gold Cup run, and historic 12 game win streak, followed by the struggles of late 2014 and early 2015, then put out of mind by a recent rich vein of form. 

The US will enter the 2015 Gold Cup having been held scoreless only once in their last 21 games and averaging nearly two goals a game during that span. But when looking at the data, it is hard to discern what, specifically, the team is doing better now than at the beginning of the Klinsmann era. We looked at a variety of metrics, and the only statistic that showed a noticeable relationship over time was the percentage of shots attempted that were on target (“shot accuracy”).  

USMNT Shooting Accuracy under Klinsmann

Intuitively, the higher percent of shots that are on target is a good thing and generally speaking, better teams have higher shot accuracy. However, there is not a consensus among the analytics community as to why this might be the case. After all, goals are contained in shots on goal, so separating these variables is tricky. Signal or noise, it is undeniably a good trend for the US national team.

And while the US has not always played the possessive soccer that Klinsmann and most fans would like to see, the team has certainly shown its quality on the ball more often than not. A good measure of a team’s ability to possess the ball is in the number of passes they complete per possession. Under Klinsmann, the United States passes the ball nearly four times per possession, a rate higher than any other MLS team this season.

No. of Passes Per Possession
Team # of Passes Per Possession
USA 3.80
Orlando City SC 3.55
Seattle Sounders 3.52
Columbus Crew SC 3.29
Montreal Impact 2.99
New York City FC 2.99
Chicago Fire 2.98
Portland Timbers 2.97
New York Red Bulls 2.92
LA Galaxy 2.91
Toronto FC 2.90
D.C. United 2.88
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.81
Colorado Rapids 2.75
Real Salt Lake 2.72
New England Revolution 2.72
Sporting Kansas City 2.71
Philadelphia Union 2.67
FC Dallas 2.65
Houston Dynamo 2.63
San Jose Earthquakes 2.50

Looking back at the previous two Gold Cups, we can see an uptick in passes per possession from the 2011 team to the 2013 team.  It will be interesting to see if the 2015 team can continue some of the positive strides we have seen the US team make in the past four years.

USMNT in Gold Cups
Year Coach # of Passes per Possession
2011 Bradley 4.00
2013 Klinsmann 4.73
2015 Klinsmann ?



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