Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
As was recently reported here at PSP and elsewhere, when Freddy Adu came to the Union he thought he would be the playmaker. PSP’s Dan Walsh related a conversation he had with Adu after the recent draw in DC,
“I thought I was going to play the No. 10 when I signed,” Adu said. “I talked to Peter Nowak. That’s what he said.”
Adu said he doesn’t understand why he never got that chance.
“I don’ t know,” Adu said. “I’ve talked to the coaches about that. That’s my natural position. You see the ball more. I wish I played No. 10.”
Instead, for much of the season, it has been Michael Farfan that has been in the No. 10 role.
Opinion about Adu is divided among Union fans. His supporters remember a brilliant move or a beautifully delivered ball, while his detractors remember the series of step-overs that ended in a flop or his failure to provide defensive coverage. Meanwhile, Farfan is held up as an example of the vast potential on the young Union squad, even though at 24 he is a year older than Adu.
I decided to go through the season’s match stats available through the Opta-powered chalkboards at MLSsoccer.com in an attempt to see where each player excelled beyond the other and also better understand both the criticism and praise each receives.
There are some 40 individual statistical events separated into six categories recorded for field players on the Opta chalkboards. With 25 games to go through, I selected 14 offensive categories and six defensive categories to examine. In addition to individual numbers for Adu and Farfan, I also recorded the team’s numbers for each category for the sake of context.
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of either player, each has indisputably seen significant playing time out of their natural position. Farfan, for example, has started everywhere from right fullback and right midfield to attacking midfielder and forward. This will necessarily have some effect on each player’s individual numbers. Additionally, Farfan (24 appearances, 23 starts, 2082 minutes) has seen significantly more playing time than Adu (20 appearances, 17 starts, 1269 minutes). This is mainly due to Adu’s time with the US U-23 squad for the unsuccessful Olympic qualification campaign at the start of the season, although more recently this has been due to form and internal disciplinary reasons. This is also because Farfan tends to play complete games.
Looking at the basic numbers, the first thing that struck me after gathering the data was how comparatively poor Adu’s passing accuracy is, which is perhaps related to the large number of unsuccessful crosses. Indeed, he has the lowest passing accuracy among regular Union starters, with the exception of Zac MacMath.*
(Adu is 69.26 percent. For Farfan it is 73.19. MacMath’s passing accuracy numbers are 62.26. According to a glossary for Opta’s UK users, “Usually, pass completion excludes crosses.” On MLS chalkboards, however, unsuccessful crosses are recorded as unsuccessful passes.)
Farfan has more through balls, successful dribbles, shots, shots on goal and assists. Adu has more key passes, successful crosses (nearly a quarter of the team’s total), and goals.
As mentioned, Adu has more unsuccessful crosses, but Farfan has more unsuccessful dribbles and possessions lost. (For the chart on the above, the possession lost stat is derived by subtracting the unsuccessful passes from the tackled/possession lost numbers on the chalkboard to reveal how often each player turned the ball over through some way other than an unsuccessful pass.)
Commentary: Offensive stats comparison
What’s remarkable is how similar the numbers are for Adu and Farfan when the season totals are averaged. In fact, outside of passing statistics, the only categories that show a difference of more than a .5 — which would mean that an additional instance of a particular event could be expected to happen once every 2 games — are successful cross and unsuccessful cross for Adu and unsuccessful dribble and possession lost for Farfan.
When the raw numbers are equalized on a per-90-minutes basis, some separation returns, particularly with crosses. For example, while Adu has fewer through balls overall and on average, once the numbers are equalized by minutes played, he shows slightly better than Farfan. The same goes for shots on goal.*
Adu has long been criticized for a lack of defensive quality. Comparing his overall numbers with those of Farfan, it’s clear that Farfan is more aggressive defensively, attempting and winning many more tackles than Adu.
Whether or not it’s a function of playing more centrally, Farfan also has far more pass interceptions, clearances, and recoveries (when a player wins back a loose ball or it has been played to him).
Where Adu outperforms Farfan is with defender blocks, all of which have come during corners, including the goal line block against Portland.
When we look at the averages, Farfan’s better defensive numbers remain. This holds true when the numbers are equalized by minutes played. In fact, Farfan actually has slightly fewer tackles lost. Either way, Farfan’s industry in the midfield is especially apparent in terms of balls recovered, which makes up, on average, more than 10 percent of the Union’s numbers.
When I looked at the offensive and defensive stats for Adu and Farfan, I expected to see big turnover numbers from Adu. That may be because visions of Adu deploying fancy footwork while taking on a defender and then failing spectacularly are the kind of memory I have all too often. But the reason such memories stand out is that these plays are generally scoring opportunities in or around the box, a spectacular moment whichever way the play goes.
That Adu has more crosses wasn’t surprising, given the fact that he’s played outside precisely so he can deliver them. It seems pretty intuitive that crosses should have a relatively low success rate. That Adu, on average, is successful 25 percent of the time with his crosses is probably a decent number. If the Union had more height for him to aim for, perhaps the number would be better still.
With the obvious exception of defensive stats — and it’s really no surprise Farfan has much better numbers there — what really surprised me was how similar so many offensive numbers were for the two. I’m not sure I know what the similarities mean. I do know the averages for shots and shots on goal are disappointingly low, as they are for the team as a whole.
Other writers on PSP have examined the high expectations that have, rightly or wrongly, surrounded Adu ever since he joined the league. A recent post at the 700 Level concluded that the Union has a better record when Adu is on the pitch for more than 45 minutes and that the team has a better goal differential when he plays. While Adu continues to face questions about whether he’ll ever fulfill the potential, discussion of Farfan describes a player on the rise whose potential is only now being comprehended and, if realized, could make him part of the next generation of national team stars.
Whatever the case, the Union have two players who can fill the No. 10 role into the future, one who expected to be given the role when he arrived, and another that is only now beginning to discover his potential in the position. One costs $519,000 a year, while the other costs $94,700. Fans will continue to debate the return on investment. Looking ahead to 2013, you can be certain that the Union will be doing the same.
[*Note:Regarding passing accuracy, the numbers in the first chart are the cumulative average of each player's passing accuracy on a game-to-game basis while the numbers on the second chart are the avergae of total successful passes divided by total passes. Regarding shots, regular readers of PSP stat articles won't be surprised to see there are discrepancies between the shots statistics shown on the stats page, the chalkboard in the MatchCenter on the league website, and the game logs on the Union website for the home games against DC and Chicago. For the DC game, Farfan has 3 shots and one shot on goal according to the game log, and 2 shots and 0 shot on goal on the chalkboard and stat page. For the Chicago game, Adu has 2 shots and 1 shot on goal on the game log and the MatchCenter stat page, 1 shot and 1 shot on goal on the chalkboard. I have chosen to go with the chalkboard numbers so my totals differ from those on the Union website by 1 goal and 1 shot on goal for Farfan and 1 shot for Adu.]
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After the above post was published, several readers expressed an interest in what Farfan’s numbers look like when Adu is not playing, so I gathered that information together in the charts below.
Farfan has 5 appearances (4 starts, 405 minutes) when Adu did not play, including being subbed on at the start of the half against Vancouver. In each of the games he is listed as a midfielder except for the away game against Dallas, where he is listed as a defender. Despite recording one of his lowest passing accuracy percentages of the season in that game (against DC his passing accuracy was 59.6 percent), he still managed to record 2 key passes and 2 successful crosses from 4 crosses attempted. In the 5 games without Adu, his passing averages are generally better, as is the possession lost average, while the shots average is the same. To varying relatively smaller degrees, the opposite is true of the rest of his offensive stats.
Looking at Farfan’s defensive stats, the Dallas game again stands out, which makes sense since he was at right back, although he didn’t record a successful tackle in that game. Nevertheless, the average for tackles won is the only defensive stat that is much different from the season averages.
For those who are interested in Adu’s numbers when Farfan did not play, the pickings are much more slim. Adu was away at the Olympic qualifiers for the Vancouver game in which Farfan did not start. There are five other matches in which Farfan was either subbed out before the end of a game or did not play. In the away games against Portland and Chivas USA, Adu was subbed out before Farfan. In the away games against Seattle and Toronto, Farfan was subbed out in the 76th and 83rd minute, respectively, while Adu went the full 90. Finally, while Farfan did not play in the recent match against Montreal and Adu started, Adu was subbed out after 45 minutes. Not much can be learned from looking at the total of 66 minutes in which Adu was on the field and Farfan was not.