23 June 2014

Visualized: USA 2-2 Portugal

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka, as well as ESPN FC for the average position diagrams for both sides.

An FYI. Chances are, I won't often include substitutions in the passing networks, but it seemed important to display two of Portugal's: Eder, on in the 16th minute, and William, on at halftime. Both were more involved in the game than the players they replaced.

There were few surprises in the Portugal passing network. Ronaldo and Nani both further forward than Portugal's "striker"; a very tight midfield triangle, with Veloso's average position pushed left because of his switch to fullback at halftime; a lot of interplay between Moutinho, Pereira, and Nani down the USA left, although Nani struggled to keep the ball moving, completing few passes with Portugal's other attackers, creating only one chance and averaging just 66.7% pass accuracy. And, unsurprisingly, Ronaldo was a black hole – except, of course, for his infuriatingly perfect assist on the late late late equalizer (sigh) – taking more shots than any other player. And he clearly wasn't fit either, missing the target with six of those seven shots. The USA's numerous interceptions also helped disjoint Portugal's attack – 19 in their own half, 12 in the defensive third – demonstrating the Americans' smart defensive positioning.

The US passing network shows a reasonably compact midfield – at least between Beckerman, Bradley, and Bedoya, with Bradley very much the hub – and a clear desire to exploit Portugal's left flank. The US started its attacks on their own left, Howard mostly passing to Besler, working the ball into midfield, before trying to find Johnson, Zusi, or Jones (then Yedlin as a substitute) down the right, a tactic which demonstrably led to the second US goal. It's no coincidence that 12 of Portugal's 15 interceptions were clustered in that quadrant of the pitch.

Altogether, it was a see-saw match, one seemingly necessitated by the game state at the time. Portugal's early goal meant the USA needed to come out, while Portugal retreated into a shell similar to the USA's against Ghana, with the Americans averaging far more possession in the first half compared to the second. After the halftime changes, and the subsequent US equalizer, Portugal responded, and responded even more after the the Americans' go-ahead goal.

The "wave diagram" from Infostrada Sports excellently captures the ebb and flow:

The heat and humidity in Manaus probably had something to do with it as well, requiring each team to take the foot off the gas at times, most notably the USA just before the end of the first half, with the referee calling for a water break in the 39th minute which was very much needed.

Both sides also made crucial substitutions. Eder for Postiga was a wash – neither made much of an impact – but Portugal's halftime substitution was decisive. Veloso's move to left-back helped stem the tide on that flank, while William did well to break up the USA's decent midfield play, attempting more tackles than any other player despite only being on the pitch for 45 minutes, with only Veloso completing the same total. And Varela was the super sub with the late goal, just as he did against Denmark in Euro 2012: like yesterday's from a cross that defenders were in position to prevent.

But the USA's changes were just as important, especially DeAndre Yedlin, his pace responsible for the go-ahead goal, emulating Fabian Johnson's bursts into space in the final third, that pace much needed as the starters tired. The other two substitutes, coming on in the final few minutes, made less difference, although Wondolowski held play up well when given the chance.

Conceding with seconds to play was a kick in the shorts, but on the balance of play, the draw was probably merited by both sides. Portugal with more possession, taking more shots; the USA with better opportunities while matching Portugal in midfield and able to exploit the holes in Portugal's formation thanks to Coentrão's absence and Ronaldo's unwillingness to track back and ostensible lack of fitness. Of course, both of Portugal goals came from preventable mistakes: Cameron's wayward clearance, Bradley's inability to keep possession with the final whistle imminent. If only the USA had held on for 30 more seconds…


Parker Crowe said...

nate can you delete the above comment, thanks.

nate said...

Yeah, absolutely