By Gordon Strachan
Sons of Benjamin West
In the short history of the Philadelphia Union, no other player has been as polarizing for fans and soccer pundits as Freddy Adu. Freddy has at times over his career been an absolute lightning rod for criticism and speculation, and recent reports and commentaries have maintained this trend. For a quick sampling read Philly Soccer Page’s discussion on “Fixing Freddy,” US Soccer Daily’s snapshot of the current marker in Adu’s career timeline, and Kckrs’ description of a twitter beef between Adu and Alexi Lalas, who’d referred to Freddy as having the practicality of a luxury car.
Criticisms about Freddy’s play on the field are often made in the context of his comparatively high salary and higher expectations as a team leader and former wunderkind, which suggests that perhaps the measuring stick being used to evaluate Freddy may be a slightly different size than that for other players. This is understandable given that in a capped league, dollars spent on Freddy impact the level of talent that can be distributed elsewhere on the pitch.
Meeting with the press this week, interim Coach John Hackworth reminded everyone that he will make roster decisions that are best for the success of the team. Judging by the roughly 10 minutes of playing time that Freddy played last Friday against Real Salt Lake, Hackworth may not be convinced that this always involves Adu.
Has Freddy’s form slipped to the point where benching him produces a better net result? In other words, are the Union currently a better team without him? These are important questions not only as the team clings to a glimmer of 2012 playoff hope, but also as it transitions toward developing next season’s on-field product.
Analyzing Freddy’s impact on a game and his overall contributions to the Union can be done in a variety of ways. However, it might be best to start with some simple metrics as a benchmark. Before analyzing what exactly Freddy is doing to influence matches, we sought to get an idea of the Union’s success when he is simply on the field or not on the field. How has his presence influenced the outcome of matches?
Enabling this analysis is the fact that Freddy isn’t always a common feature on the field, being utilized in only 57% of available minutes this year. The table below lists Freddy’s playing time in each game this season in addition to the games’ results. You don’t have to be a statistician to recognize the trend, though the analysis and take-home points are limited by other factors we’ll discuss afterward.
When Freddy plays more than half the game, the Union have 7 wins, 5 losses, and 1 tie. When Freddy plays half the game or less, the Union have 1 win, 6 losses, 3 ties.
Interestingly, given the nature of the attacking MF’s game, Freddy’s presence on the field hasn’t produced a higher rate of scoring. But, the team has performed better in terms of goal differential, which is -5 when he is off the field and +3 while he is playing. Soccer is a game of ripple effects. Alter your defense and you will inevitably change your ability to attack, and vice-versa. Accordingly, there are several ways an attacking MF can influence goal differential without physically being involved in activities such as blocking a shot or making an assist or placing the ball in the net. An understanding of how Freddy is going about helping his team or whether he is reaching his potential requires a more in-depth and nuanced discussion about the merits of his game, but in this evaluation, we seek to open the question as to whether Freddy’s presence on the field has been associated with greater success for the Union this season. By the simple metric of game results—arguably the most meaningful stat—he has.
Numerous factors beyond Freddy’s presence obviously influence the outcomes above, including a coaching change on June 13, as well as other additions and subtractions to the starting XI in a season marked by turnover and change since day 1. And, there is more to influencing score and outcome than merely being on the field. For the purposes of simplicity, we sought only to explore a single variable and whether it impacts larger trends and provides an indication of his contribution to the team.
Tonight, the Union face Columbus Crew. If Freddy is once again left off the starting roster, the pertinent questions will be: How does Hackworth evaluate Freddy’s game, his influence on outcomes, and his role going forward?
Gordon Strachan is a founding member of the Sons of Benjamin West (SOBW), a group of supporters based in Delaware County and centered in Swarthmore. On game day they live in the "West" endline (Section 118).
US Presswire photo