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A tale of two sides: Philadelphia Union offense and defense both making history

It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness – it just depends on which side of the ball you're on.



It is the best of times, it is the worst of times… but at least it is a summer of hope. This Philadelphia Union team currently is historically good on offense and equally bad on defense. These two tales are told on both sides of the ball – one when the Union have the ball, and one when they do not. It is equal parts riveting and agonizing but at least the soccer matters. At least we want to read the rest of this book.

Let's examine what's happening and let's start with the bad news. Here is a chart that shows the history of the Union's goals allowed showing a five game moving average.

union history defense

First notice that the Union recently reached an all-time high in goals allowed over a five game stretch with 2.75 and then did that second time. You’ll also notice that they just ended a twelve game run where the goals against average over five games hasn’t gone below 1.5. That’s the second longest streak in history only behind a fourteen game streak at the start of the 2015 season, also under Jim Curtin‘s reign. Safe to say it’s been historically ugly on the defensive side of the ball. Although with two clean sheets in the last four matches, the defense is showing signs of life.

Now let’s look at the offense.

union history offense

John Hackworth‘s offense was humming when they canned him. But looking at the same metric examined for defense notice that the Union are currently pretty hot. They have a record fourteen straight games where the five game moving average is over 1.5 goal scored per game. The next best streak in Union history was nine games when Hackworth turned the team over to Curtin.

Taking both charts together this season has put Curtin into a category all his own when it comes to high risk and high reward. Take a look at the percentage of each coaches’ games where the five game moving averages were greater or equal to 1.5. Curtin is much higher than either Peter Nowak or Hackworth, indicating a much more open style of play.

union points history

Note: the bar chart excludes the first four games of each coaches’ tenure

The coach who claimed to like 1-0 games when he was hired has now opened the floodgates and let the midfield and offense push for goals. That decision has had a negative effect on the defense which has been more exposed and caught out of position more than the early part of the season. As the Union hit the home stretch of this season and hopefully get ready for the playoffs, is it the right decision to expose a young defense and lean on the experienced midfield or should the Union spend more energy protecting the defense? As the final few pages of the book turn, the Union’s ability to tighten the defense while maintaining the potency of the offense will decide if this read indeed turns out to be a classic.

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