Martin Bonjour of the Vancouver Whitecaps "beats" Alvaro Saborio to a header from a cross, explaining away at least one inaccurate cross. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
As Real Salt Lake prepares for a trip off to the bridge-adorned lands of Philadelphia and its fantastic little stadium in which the Philadelphia Union play, they come up against a side so bereft of style that it is difficult to pinpoint where, exactly they succeed.
Much easier, of course, is where they fail: Key passes, for one, are lacking, and as you might expect from that, the Union are one of the sides that pass least in the final third. Perhaps there is no real surprise to this, such is the nature of a manager whose flippancy about playing personnel was such that legends will be written about the Nowak era.
But when it comes to brass tacks, the Philadelphia Union are a side in a league position befitting their style, which is rather nonexistent. Closing in on the bottom of the combined league table, the men in blue and gold must be frustrated with the state of their play.
Which all brings me rather around to something different: Where, instead, we are lacking, if the Union are so lacking in the final third. The answer seems a rather obvious one, I think. If we're to take a statistical look at it all, the answer must be simple: our crossing.
It must first be considered that we are a side with a real propensity for on-the-ground play; we are constantly and consistently looking to make "magic" happen with the ball, rather than just by flinging it hopelessly into the box. It must also be considered that I have no statistical look at rebounds in the box, but I am rather inclined to hold that there are not so many of those as to make a real statistical dent in anything.
So let's get to the statistics, shall we? The best crossing side in the league - or at least the ones with the highest degree of accuracy to their crossing - are Colorado Rapids, who are at 26.95 percent. This should frame the debate, as expecting much more than that is rather a fool's errand. Near them are Seattle Sounders (26.79 percent) and Houston Dynamo (25.83 percent).
We occupy the other end of the table - and while it's a nonzero number, we're not doing great: 16.37 percent of our crosses are accurate ones, a full 10 percentage points below the Rapids. Perhaps we can consider, too, blocked cross percentages, as that will surely play into things. Vancouver Whitecaps have had 21.55 percent of their crosses blocked, while we're not entirely too far behind, with 16.96 percent of our crosses blocked.
Let's look at what sorts of matches our crosses are coming in, though, because that proves elucidating.
The match in which we attempted the most crosses was against San Jose (our demons of the season, it seems) on June 23, when we attempted 28 crosses in a 2-1 loss. Interestingly, though, our two other matches against the Earthquakes rank among our lowest: The 5-0 loss (the loss which shall not be named, I suppose) saw us attempt only 9, while the early season 3-1 loss saw us attempt only 10.
Correlating our crosses to wins proves exceedingly difficult: We average 13.15 crosses per match (with a standard deviation of 5.07, placing our 28-cross match firmly outside the realm of normalcy), and rarely do we move one standard deviation from that.
But one thing emerges from those stats: The losses we've endured at home have seen us attempt more crosses than average every single time. All four of them (my heart hurts!) have seen us attempt at least 18 crosses. Questions inevitably bubble to the top: Is it desperation? Is it impatience? Is it something else entirely? Is it an at-home occurrence? It must be considered that only one occasion of us making more crosses than usual came away from home, and that was during the 3-1 defeat of the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
We can say, though, that we do slightly better when our accuracy is above average (which, if you'll recall, is at about 16 percent). When our crossing accuracy is above that average (peaking with the 3-0 win over Portland), we end up with 2.09 points per game, but when it's below, we end up at about 1.58 per game. It's not entirely significant, but it's something.
It's all food for thought. Surely we must get better with our crossing on average, especially with a superb center forward like Alvaro Saborio in our side. But given that our problem - by and large - hasn't been in scoring goals but in defending them, perhaps improvement in our crossing is not the first place on which we should focus our efforts. It's a funny game, isn't it?