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Data behind the U.S.’s 2013 defensive performance

Jun 9, 2013, 5:25 PM EST

Omar Gonzalez

SEATTLE, Wash. — On Saturday, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked about the growing partnership between Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, one about which Major League Soccer fans have every reason to be excited. Both players have been brought up through the domestic league and, along with the likes of Graham Zusi and Brad Evans, are starting reestablish MLS’s influence on the national team. Remember, only three MLS players represented the U.S. at the last World Cup, with Landon Donovan the only one to make a significant contribution in South Africa.

Right now, Klinsmann could probably care less his new center backs play in Major League Soccer. Of course, he’s supportive of the domestic league, even if he stresses players continue to push themselves, even if that means leaving home soil. But when it comes time to pick a squad, it’s all about what you’re capable of doing, whether you play for an MLS cellar dweller or an EPL Champions League contender.

So no surprise, the U.S. head coach was full of positives about his center back duo, with Friday’s late goal the only score the Besler-Gonzalez pair has been on the field for in two qualifying starts.

Klinsmann:

“I think they’re on a very, very positive path. They’re gaining experience … they did very well. It’s a partnership that is growing, that is developing. We have other center backs there as well …

“The more they play together, the better their understanding is, the better they’re fine tuned and know what the other one is doing. We can do more work in a tactical way. So every training session helps there.

“But overall, we’re very pleased with the development of the back line and the alternatives that we have there.

(MORE: Klinsmann talks injuries, absences ahead of Panama)

Words are nice. Data can often be nicer. So we went back through the U.S.’s 2013 games and looked at the performance of the center backs, how they’ve done both individually and as tandems, and collected the numbers.

Here’s what we found:

Individuals – All 2013 games

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We didn’t worry about who was at fault for goals and whatnot. This is just goals allowed while a player was at center half (so Cameron’s work elsewhere isn’t included here).

(MORE: Remember Klinsmann preaching adaptation? Look at that left side.)

Omar Gonzalez has played every minute of every game at center half for the U.S. in 2013, including all four World Cup qualifiers:

Individuals – Final Round World Cup Qualifiers

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Chemistry being what it is, we also looked at how players performed as tandems. Since Gonzalez has been ever-present, this could just as easily be seen as “who’s fitting best with Omar”:

Tandems – All 2013 games

source:

The all games data is heavily influenced by the recent qualifiers, the Belgium and Germany games featuring seven of the 10 goals the US has conceded this year. Without the Germany game, the Besler-Gonzalez duo has only conceded once in 270 minutes.

Tandems – Final Round World Cup Qualifiers

source:

There isn’t enough data here to be meaningful, particularly considering the snow game. The Gonzalez-Goodson pairing in Commerce City had the benefit of defending in a blizzard.

(MORE: Quick turnaround, long trip between Jamaica, Seattle)

What does all the data tell us? Not much. We see some positives with Besler and Gonzalez, some negatives with Cameron, and not enough information on Goodson, but they’re merely interesting results – not enough to serve as a basis for any conclusions.

A better basis, until we get more results: Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez look good. They’re the pair that seem most-capable of keeping goals off the board. That’s why they’ll almost surely start together on Tuesday night.

  1. twayward - Jun 9, 2013 at 8:52 PM

    Since there is not an American Nesta sitting out there somewhere, may as well go with Gonzalez and Besler. They’re relatively young for international central defenders (24 & 26). So hopefully they’ll continue to improve both individually and as a tandem. But let’s not kid ourselves. Central defense is a big weakness for the USMNT (and was long before Omar & Matt arrived on the scene).

    Top class central defenders require a combination of tremendous tactical acumen and athleticism. The USA has made great strides on the international level. But this is one area where we’re still left wanting.

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