After an exhausting period of time (almost un-ending) I’m pretty sure US Soccer will announce Gregg Berhalter as our next US Men’s National Team Coach.
Is this a good decision?
Earnie Stewart set the tone in Philadelphia by standardizing a system of play and directing the development of players (across the entire organization) to match that system of play…. the 4-2-3-1.
A good piece, by Philly Soccer Page, highlighting tendencies of Earnie Stewart, can be found here.
Some might call him steadfastly stubborn, I tend to think of him as being stubbornly steadfast and predictable.
As a youth soccer coach in both England and America the single greatest weakness I’ve seen in American international and domestic soccer is our predictability.
Below is a heat map between Crystal Palace (left side) and Tottenham Hotspur (right side).
Tottenham, who offered 581 passes to 306 for Crystal Palace, makes far more use of the entire pitch than Crystal Palace.
Spurs players pass, turn, dribble, use their first touch and alter their facing/movement in far more congested areas than their opponent. Doing more of this intuits two things:
- Players who are asked to work more areas of the pitch must have a higher soccer IQ as they have to learn to make decisions (with and without the ball) across the entire pitch.
- Players who are asked to work more areas of the pitch are less predictable – the more space you use the more space your opponent must plan to defend.
From a different perspective – passing distribution England vs the United States (3-nil to England):
The US Men’s National Team use virtually no space, with the ball, atop the 18 yard box…
England offered up 691 passes with > 60% possession while the Americans offered 450 passes and failed to reach 40% possession. The US Men’s National Team ball movement was predictable and they used far less of the pitch than England.
This passing diagram, for the US Men’s National Team, is the norm not the exception.
Here’s the two most recent games played by Columbus against New York Red Bulls in the Major League Soccer Playoffs; Game 1 on the left – Game 2 on the right:
In game one Columbus pushed down the right side – in game two they pushed down the left side.
Their ball movement was predictable and lacked worthy penetration/movement, with the ball, atop the 18 yard box.
Possession – controlled possession.
In the highest echelons of professional soccer teams that possess the ball more – earn more points on a regular basis.
- France, who mastered counter-attacking soccer to the nth degree this past World Cup, still played controlled-possession-based soccer. Three of their wins saw them possess the ball greater than 55% of the time. The 2014 winner, Germany, averaged over 60% possession.
- The best teams in the EPL this year considerably out-possess their opponents on a regular basis; the same was true in 2014.
- The best teams in UEFA CL this year considerably out-possess their opponents on a regular basis; the same was true in 2014.
- Two of the top four teams in MLS this year out possessed their opponents on a regular basis.
- There will always be exceptions; here’s a couple .
- In 2014 WC Japan possessed the ball 59.22% of the time but earned just one point; need I remind about Spain?
- In 2018 WC Germany possessed the ball 71.97% of the time but earned three points.
A good yardstick when measuring possession, that can intuit higher soccer IQ, is when teams regularly exceed 60%.
If a team regularly hits this target it’s usually accepted that the team plays controlled possession-based soccer and they use every inch of the pitch.
A few examples before historical info about Columbus since 2014:
- Arsenal has exceeded 60% possession in all but one of their six wins this year.
- Chelsea has exceeded 60% possession in all of their six wins this year.
- Liverpool has exceeded 60% possession in four of their seven wins this year – in the other three wins their possession was under 50%; a trend matching France… being able to win with and without the ball.
- Manchester City has exceeded 60% possession in six of their seven wins this year.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession three times in 2014; they won one, drew one and lost one.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession six times in 2015, they won five.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession six times in 2016; they won one, drew two and lost three.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession five times in 2017, they won two, drew one, and lost two.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession three times in 2018, they lost all three.
Columbus has never consistently dominated games through controlled possession; only six times out of 34 games (2015 and 2016) did they exceed the 60% target.
How about 55% possession? Major League Soccer has a salary cap so perhaps they have a better track record in earning points when exceeding 55% possession.
- In 2014 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 14 times; in those games they won five, drew three and lost five.
- In 2015 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won nine, drew three, and lost six.
- In 2016 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won twice, drew six, and lost six.
- In 2017 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won five, drew once, and lost six.
- In 2018 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won five, drew twice, and lost five.
- All told, Gregg Berhalter has lead Columbus to 26 wins, 15 draws, and 28 losses when his team has exceeded 55% possession.
While having more than half their games exceed 55% possession, in four of the last five years, Gregg Berhalter has not shown a tendency to win more games than he loses.
How about in the general sense of out-possessing their opponents?
Gregg Berhalter has shown a history of out-possessing his MLS competitors, has this lead to more points on a regular basis the last five years?
- 2014: 53.84% Possession, 52 points, +10 goal differential, 7th overall
- 2015: 53.47% Possession, 53 points, +5 goal differential, 5th overall
- 2016: 55.05% Possession, 36 points, -9 goal differential, 18th overall
- 2017: 51.83% Possession, 50 points, +3 goal differential, 6th overall
- 2018: 52.57% Possession, 52 points, -2 goal differential, 10th overall
While earning more points than most opponents in some years Gregg Berhalter does not show a tendency to earn more points year in and year out.
If it’s reasonable to intuit playing possession-based soccer means players have a higher soccer IQ and make the game less predictable Gregg Berhalter teams don’t really do that.
- So is US Soccer taking a bold step to change the style and direction (regularly looking to exceed 55% or 60% possession per game) of the US Men’s National Team by hiring Gregg Berhalter?
- I’d say no… not yet.
- Does it appear US Soccer are at least lending credence to changing the style of soccer to match that of teams who historically earn more points through controlled possession-based soccer that also includes the flexibility to play a brutal counter-attacking style of soccer? (Liverpool and France)
- I’d say no… not yet.
- Does it appear they are looking to increase soccer IQ and make more use of the soccer pitch than previously?
- I’d say no… not yet.
- Does it appear the US Men’s National Team will be less predictable?
- I’d say no… not yet.
For now, I’m not on the Gregg Berhalter bus; but then again I’m not on the sidewalk disparaging his selection either.
Time will tell; the greatest asset Gregg has going for him is his ability to organize a team that wins more than it loses.
Having the capacity and capability to select players without regard to salary cap should be highly beneficial.
My hope is the US Men’s National Team learn to dominate the entire soccer pitch – when that happens the flood gates to create great soccer players in our country is limitless.
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