Advanced Passing Stats – USWNT vs. France – SheBelieves Cup 2018

Similar to the last post I wrote for the USA-GER match, we’re going to look at passing stats for the latest USA-FRA SheBelieves match, with an added look at specific types of passes such as launched and through balls. Like last time, we’ll only look at open play passes – which excludes throw-ins, free kick passes, goal kicks, and corner kick passes.

Formations

The United States started out with a 3-4-3 on offense that turned into a 4-3-3 on defense. In the 3-4-3; the back three was Tierna Davidson, Andi Sullivan, and Abby Dahlkemper; the wingbacks were Kelley O’Hara on the left, Abby Smith on the right, and Casey Short on the right after Smith was subbed out; the center midfielders were Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, and Savannah McCaskill after Horan was subbed out, and the front three forwards were Mallory Pugh, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Lynn Williams after Rapinoe was subbed out. On defense, the 3-4-3 would turn into a 4-3-3 with the wingbacks dropping back to defend and Sullivan moving up the midfield in front of the backline. In that 4-3-3, Crystal Dunn played as a fullback and Christen Press played as a forward winger

Later in the game, sometime after the 72nd minute after Sullivan was subbed out and an injury to Short, the 3-4-3 stuck to a 4-3-3 for the rest of the game. On attack the fullbacks would continue to move up, but no center midfielder dropped back to form a back three.

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The French formation was a 4-4-2 throughout the match that at times turned into a 4-2-3-1 when on the attack. The centerbacks were Aissatou Tounkara and Mbock Bathy, the fullbacks were Amel Majri on the left and Marion Torrent on the right, the center midfielders were Amandine Henry and Onema Geyoro, the wingers were Eugenie Le Sommer on the left and Viviane Asseyi on the right, and the forwards were Gaetane Thiney and Valerie Gauvin. Gauvin was later replaced by Kadidiatou Diani. Thiney was the more withdrawn of the two forwards, often dropping back deeper to receive the ball.

I will go over the passing stats for each group. Scroll to the bottom to see the complete table.

The Centerbacks

In the U.S. backline, Sullivan’s role was largely spent passing sideways – 56.7% of all her open play pass attempts went sideways, the highest of anyone on the field with at least 10 open play pass attempts. Dahlkemper and Davidson were more forward-minded, with 56.7% and 51.9% of their open play pass attempts going forward, respectively. For the French centerbacks, Tounkara and Mbock’s breakdown of open play pass attempts by direction were similarly more forward-minded, with 53.6% and 63.0% of their open play pass attempts going forward, respectively.

There was a great difference in passes attempted, with the three U.S. centerbacks combining for 181 open play pass attempts, compared to 55 for Tounkara and Mbock, showing just how much time the ball spent going through the U.S. backline during the game.

There was also a great difference in the types of passes attempted. The U.S. centerbacks combined for 23 launched balls and 4 through balls out of open play. No other position group, U.S. or French, got even close to attempting as many launched balls. Dahlkemper even drove forward far enough to attempt a cross. The French centerbacks, however, even with less launched balls and only one through ball attempt, were the ones to get goal out of their efforts – Mbock’s through ball to Le Sommer in the 38th minute led to the score that drew the match for France and registered as a key assist.

The Fullbacks

The U.S. fullbacks were a mixed bag, with O’Hara finishing the match but three different players playing on the other side of the field. O’Hara’s was the more involved, attempting 34 open play passes while the other three combined for 25. O’Hara’s 73.5% completion percentage was the highest of any of the fullbacks with at least 10 pass attempts. The entire group of U.S. fullbacks in open play only amounted to 3 launched ball attempts of which one was completed by Short, 0 through ball attempts, and 3 cross attempts that were all incomplete. Short appeared to have been on her way to an offensive-minded day with 5 of her 8 open play passing attempts going forward until she got injured.

The French fullbacks, meanwhile, were much more present on offense. The two combined for 60 open play pass attempts, one short of the U.S. fullbacks’ 59, but appeared to attempt more on the attack – 63.6% of Majri’s open play pass attempts went forward while it was 74.1% for Torrent – even if their success rate wasn’t as high. Majri competed only 54.5% of her open play pass attempts, while Torrent completed 66.7%. Majri was 1/6 on launched balls, 1/2 on through balls, and 1/5 on crosses. Torrent was 2/6 on launched balls, 0/2 on through balls, and 1/2 on crosses.

The Center Midfielders

The U.S. center midfielders were a similarly mixed bag, and possibly a story of what could have been had McCaskill played for the full 95 minutes. Brian attempted 26 open play passes, the most of any U.S. midfielder, and had a completion percentage of 73.1%, higher than any other U.S. player with at least 10 pass attempts who wasn’t a defender. But McCaskill attempted 20 in just 49 minutes which was on pace for 38.7 passes (let’s say we round it up to 39) in 95 minutes. The biggest knock against McCaskill’s passing numbers is her 65% completion percentage, the third lowest in the game for a U.S. player, likely explained by 65% of her passes going forward, second in the entire game only to Torrent if you exclude the goalkeepers. Horan, who played the entire first half, and Lloyd, who played the last 22 minutes, simply didn’t get off enough open play pass attempts. Between the entire group, they were 1/4 on launched balls and 1/1 on through balls thanks to McCaskill.

The French center midfielders were more involved. Henry attempted 36 open play pass attempts with a completion percentage of 80.6%, while Geyoro attempted 24 passes with a completion percentage of 70.8%. They combined for 5/11 on launched balls and 2/8 on through balls thanks to Henry’s two through ball completions.

The Wingers

The U.S. wingers had the lone goal for their team – a goal by Pugh coming off a chaotic set piece. In the open play, they had a tougher time driving the ball forward. Pugh attempted the most passes, 20, but had a 55% completion percentage, the fourth lowest in the entire game of anyone with at least 10 pass attempts. Williams, who played the entire second half, attempted 13 passes but completed 46.2% of her pass attempts, the lowest in the game. Rapinoe, meanwhile, attempted 10 open play passes and completed 7 of them, but only played the first half. Not a single of the U.S. forward wingers completed a through ball and Press, who only played 18 minutes and attempted 5 open play passes, had the only two completed crosses.

Meanwhile, Le Sommer attempted 30 open play passes and completed 80% of them, higher than any other midfielder in the game with at least 10 pass attempts. Asseyi had less pass attempts, 18, and a lower completion percentage, 72.2%. They each completed one through ball, and Asseyi completed one cross.

The Forwards

Morgan had 17 open play pass attempts, a 70.6% completion percentage, and 52.9% of her pass attempts went forward. That was a higher completion percentage and higher percentage of passes going forward than any of the other U.S. forward wingers. Morgan was 0/1 on launched balls and 1/2 on through balls.

Thiney, meanwhile, had more pass attempts, 29, a lower completion percentage, but appears to have been far more aggressive in driving the ball forward from her withdrawn role. She was 1/2 for launched balls, 3/6 on through balls, and 0/2 on cross attempts. Gauvin, meanwhile, often the lone striker at the top of the French formation, attempted 16 open play passes and racked up a higher completion percentage than Morgan or Thiney, 81.3%, but more of her pass attempts, 43.8%, were going backwards, likely to pass on the ball onto an teammate running towards the goal.

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USWNT passing – comparing positions and opponents’ FIFA rankings

Over the past couple of days I’ve been trying to figure out how to create a Tableau workbook that aggregates all our USWNT data in a similar fashion to the NWSL 2016 Tableau workbook. The main challenge has been figuring out how to best show and compare stats from USWNT that, quite frankly, are all over the place due to how varied the quality of opponents has been.

Thankfully, we’re able to use all the USWNT stats tables we’ve got in the GitHub repo and use the database.csv file, with data for all the matches in the WoSo Stats GitHub repo, to create something that can show something like passing stats adjusted for the opponent’s quality.

The visualizations for the USWNT data, for now, are the two worksheets in this Tableau workbook. Below, I’ll explain what each one is, and some more detail on how how the data was calculated and aggregated to make it easier for you to make similar visualizations.

I won’t delve too much into an actual analysis of the data in the two charts. There’s too much there to go into right now – and why have all the fun when you can do that, too? Anyways, on to the charts

Visualizing USWNT Open Play Passing Stats

First, this visualization of USWNT passing stats for the USWNT matches that we have in our database. Each mark on the chart below represents a USWNT player from a match in our database. The x-axis is her total number of open play passes attempted during that match, the y-axis is her open play passing completion percentage. The color is her designated “position” (more on this later) and the shape of the mark is whether or not the opponent, at the time, had a FIFA ranking in the top 15.

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Midfielders and defenders generally pass the ball more, which is to be expected. Forwards, who are often surrounded by defenders, and goalkeepers, who may often launch the ball forward, see less of the ball and have lower passing completion percentages. It’s pretty clear that differences in passes attempted and in passing completion percentage have to do with the nature of a player’s position. We need to better adjust for position.

Adjusting For A Player’s Position

This visualization shows passing stats adjusted for a USWNT player’s position by using her standard deviation from the average for USWNT players in her position.

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Now it’s easier to spot which players, given their “designated” position, attempted to pass the ball more than average and completed their passes at a higher percentage than average. On the other hand, it’s also easier to spot which players passed the ball less than average and completed their passes at a lower percentage than average.

To account for some outliers, in the chart below I used the filters to exclude performances from any USWNT players who played less than 30 minutes and any USWNT players who had less than 10 open play pass attempts.

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A few things stand out. One, it’s easier to rack up more passing attempts with a high passing completion percentage against lesser opponents, as indicated by how many more cross-shaped marks compared to circle-shaped marks are in the upper-right. And playing top opposition can drastically cut down on both, with several circle-shaped marks spread out throughout the bottom-left corner.

Players’ “Designated” Positions and Next Steps

About the positions. Players are only given one for all their matches, instead of one for each match. This means that a player like Allie Long who in this chart is classified as a “midfielder” is being misrepresented for games where she has played as a defender.

And even within positions, some further refinement could be used. Fullbacks like Kelley O’Hara and Ali Krieger, who are correctly classified as “defenders,” have a propensity towards lower passing completion percentages because, as fullbacks, they often play higher up the pitch where a completed pass is less likely. But because they’re defenders, their passing completion percentage’s standard deviation from the average for all defenders looks worse than it really is because they’re counted against centerbacks, who are also correctly called “defenders” but have some of the highest completion percentages in the game.

A next step is going to be to figure out a way to resolve that Allie Long problem and figure out, on a match-by-match basis, a player’s position for a given match. And then further breaking down some positions like defenders into fullbacks and centerbacks.

Another idea is to only show passing stats broken down by thirds of the fields. I suspect the difference in passing stats vs Top 15 opponents and non-Top 15 opponents would be even more stark when we look at the attacking third.

You can help!

This data only happens because of help from fans like you (yes, you)! The WoSo Stats project needs help to log more stats and location data for USWNT stats, and past NWSL seasons. With your help, we can get even more richer data to expand on what we know about the sport.

If you’re interested in logging data for matches (that are all publicly available on YouTube), read more here and email me at wosostats.team@gmail.com or send me a DM at @WoSoStats on Twitter. All the data logged will be publicly available on the WoSo Stats Github repo and will help me and others do more analyses like these!