Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A Macro Deep Dive Into Forward Madison’s 2022 Start

Photo: Forward Madison FC • Writer’s note: All statistics were via USL League One website and/or americansocceranalysis.com

A dreary April saw Forward Madison win one game, draw three, and lose two games. Early in the season, the manager clearly has been feeling out what this squad was or is capable of. As we hit the end of the month, there has been a small shadow of pessimism among fans. Forward’s latest league game, a loss to Central Valley 0-1, had people wondering, “What is going on with this team, and should we be hitting the panic button?” On Monday morning, I posted a question on Twitter asking Forward Madison fans (and those that follow the league closely) to state their biggest issue with the Flamingos’ start to the season:

The responses all seemed to hit on three general and consistent themes that are (in my opinion) pretty accurate. It’s a chicken or the egg scenario, as I wondered, “is x is causing y, or was y always going to happen?” I wanted to touch on the macro level of the situation and answer the questions of why, and will this team be able to improve its fortunes in the month of May?

Attacking and Directional Ineptitude

The prominent issue has been an all-too-familiar problem the past few years. Madison has scored four goals in their four games, which is on par with most of the league. The issue, however, is the lack of chances the team is creating. Brandon over at USL League One Review detailed it best:

The opportunities simply are not there — and when there are chances — they go begging. Last year Madison started the season creating plenty of opportunities that simply didn’t result in a goal due to inefficient finishing. This year though, despite leading the league in average possession at 57.3% there isn’t much in terms of using that possession. Basically, Madison is just having the ball but not doing anything with it. Forward is averaging 11.25 shots a game, but only 8.5 if you exclude shots that are blocked. With those numbers, only 9 total shots have been on target and four goals. This leads to a conversion rate of 11.8% which has them third bottom only ahead of Tormenta and Greenville. Madison is also showing an expected goals of 3.61 which means unfortunately, they are likely overachieving their output (one of the goals was an Audi Jepson penalty).

So why is it happening? As I mentioned, Madison isn’t doing much with their possession. While they have the second most completed passes and third highest passing accuracy, the distribution is inflating the numbers. The team is playing passes left and right which account for 49.6% of the passing direction, while only 34.2% is going forward. For comparison, Richmond Kickers (second in the league in goals scored) make 45% of their passes in the forward direction, while Union Omaha is at 47.4% 

Madison’s passing distribution
Union Omaha’s passing distribution
Richmond Kickers Passing Distribution

In terms of low quality chances, we talked about distribution but even when Forward are in the opponent’s half, they are usually not near the opponent’s box. Madison have had progressively fewer touches in the box in each game since their opening match against Chattanooga. Madison was doing a better job of pushing up the field against the Red Wolves than any other game this season. The ball was going out wide more often and then was able to service Abdou Mbacke Thiam. While they didn’t cope with Chattanooga’s physicality early on, Madison improved and were able to get more attacking chances, particularly on the right flank.

Heat map vs Chattanooga 1st half
Heat Map vs Chattanooga second half

Omaha had them pinned back more in the first half, however it was thanks to Derek Gebhard’s run into the box that drew the penalty and led to Jepson’s goal. The second half saw Madison chasing the goal more often and surrounding Omaha’s box, which helped setting up Streng’s equalizing goal.

The next week against Tucson, Madison again did a better job of keeping the attack and pressure on the opposition. In particular, it was their pressing that created Christian Enriquez’s goal. Cyrus Rad’s red card forced Madison to be more conservative until the final few minutes after Tucson equalized, so trying to get a fair attacking heat map would be a bit harsh. Against Fuego, the touches in the box were near non-existent — which led to Madison having none of their 12 shots on target. 

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oof pt 2

When he was first hired, Coach Glaser said he wanted to win a game 5-4 instead of 1-0; we haven’t gotten that thus far, and there has to be some tweaks to get the goals. Part of that will be natural chemistry and cohesion which Jeremiah mentioned post-game against Fuego. There were moments against Fresno where Forward would have a pass from deep — trying to get to a winger making a diagonal run, or a player making a run behind the defense. This is a good example of the increased risk-taking Madison needs to implement in order to force opposing defenders to make a mistake. Injuries will always factor, and this is where it hurts not having Derek Gebhard healthy, as he was the guy to play direct and take it to the opposition.

It’s also a possibility that shifting away from a back three might be needed. The pros of that system are creating more pressure and winning the ball further up the field, of which Madison has done a solid job. With a 343 formation, you are putting emphasis on your wing players to create something out wide. But with Madison’s lower quality of crosses — which leads to the set piece inefficiency, and putting it to nobody — it might also be the case that attackers are afraid of making mistakes and not playing as free-flowing. Could that be due to the opposition? Maybe — in the end, while defense wins championships, goals win games. 

Author

  • Kyle Carr

    Capo, light gamer, podcaster and super amateur baker. All that plus some other stuff

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