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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bedoya's impact more than a passing fad

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, left, defending Montreal's Donny Toia
last Saturday, has improved the Philadelphia Union since arriving
in August. But how to quantify his impact? (AP)
At the risk of attributing any credit to Eric Wynalda, the question has been raised in recent weeks if how to evaluate Alejandro Bedoya’s impact, for the national team and for his new club. For as stable a presence as Bedoya is over the last month for the Philadelphia Union, his impact can be enigmatic. It seems tough to avoid confirmation bias in projecting your expectations on Bedoya’s actual utility on the field.

(Aside/disclaimer: I thought Bedoya was solid if unspectacular for the U.S. in recent World Cup qualifiers, a calming presence that contributed more to consecutive shutouts over overwhelmed opposition than to the attacking avalanche that swarmed it under.)

The very nature of Bedoya’s position with the Union is difficult to assess for its all-encompassing nature. He’s not a pure attacking player, subject to those metrics. He’s not called upon for exclusively defensive roles, thus not fully summarized by those figures.

Union manager Jim Curtin has always doled out his expectations of Bedoya in minute doses. Here’s an important one, Aug. 17 in appraising Bedoya’s debut in the win over New England:
“I thought Alejandro brought a real calming presence to the group in possession, did a lot of the little things that maybe don’t show up on the stat sheet just to get us out of some tight spots, connect us from front to back. His fitness is gaining, is growing, so that’s a positive. But, we talked in the locker room before the game about everybody winning their individual battles and I thought, on the day, every guy, including the three reserves that came in, impacted the game and won their individual duels on the night.”
Qualitatively, Bedoya can be credited with plenty of positives from the team success that he has, in some proportion, inspired. The Union are 3-1-1 in his five games. That’s 2.0 ppg with him, as opposed to 1.29 without (31 points in 24 games). They have scored 10 goals with him and allowed five, keeping two clean sheets.

Individually, he’s made those around him better, unspecific as that praise is. Warren Creavalle has stitched together his best performances of the season as the No. 6 to Bedoya’s No. 8. Curtin has lavished praise on Tranquillo Barnetta as one of MLS’s best No. 10s, accentuated by his linkup with Bedoya.

But what about the numbers? Here’s a look, via Opta Stats, at Bedoya’s passing numbers, the most readily available yardstick of his impact.

Game Result Passes comp. Passes att. Passing % Successful passes
own half
Successful passes
opp. half
Successful passes
final third
Passing %  opp. half
at NE W 4-0 44 50 88.0 22 22 12 84.6
Toronto L 3-1 58 65 89.2 23 35 13 92.1
at Clb W 2-1 48 53 87.8 20 28 7 87.5
SKC W 2-0 50 54 92.6 11 39 16 95.1
Montreal D 1-1 50 55 90.9 26 24 14 85.7

Bedoya’s passing stats are impressive. He’s completing passes at an 89.3 percent clip, and he’s regularly near the team lead for touches in games. When you consider that the Union aren’t even 18 months removed from this passing nadir against Sporting Kansas City last April, it’s all the more impressive a transformation.

For comparison, the next highest passer on the Union this season is the man Bedoya replaced, Vincent Nogueira, at 85.9 percent. He’s followed by Josh Yaro (85.8) and Roland Alberg (85.4), while Barnetta, the temporary stand-in as the No. 8, is at 75.9 (though his passes are generally higher leverage and higher up the field). 

For a team that sits 10th in MLS in possession and 15th in pass completion, per WhoScored, his introduction as an influential midfield commander is magnified. (The Union have won the possession battle in three of Bedoya’s five games.) Among players with five or more MLS starts this season, Bedoya’s passing efficiency ranks sixth, behind Ozzie Alonso, Darlington Nagbe, Mohammed Saeid, Nicolai Naess and Anibal Godoi. 

All those numbers are fine, but a completed pass is only as good as the danger content of said pass. (It’s great that Yaro, for instance, completed 90.5 percent of his passes against Montreal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw. But that’s not equivalent to the leverage gained by Bedoya completing 90 percent of his passes.)

One criticism stems from pass directionality. As for where they originate, the table indicates that in three of his five starts, he’s completed decisively more passes in the opposition’s half of the field than in the Union’s half. Against Sporting KC Aug. 27, 78 percent of his passes came in the attacking half, and he completed them at a 95 percent clip.

The spray chart from that SKC games also indicates that most of those passes were forward, answering the criticism that Bedoya plays laterally or backward too often. Really, that day illustrates a masterful performance for a No. 8 (though it finished against nine men, which certainly helped). Green passes are completed; red are unsuccessful. 

Alejandro Bedoya passing chart vs. Sporting KC, Aug. 27. (via Opta Stats)
Where Bedoya’s numbers confound are in the attacking half, and maybe this is a product of expectations. With the exception of the Columbus game, he’s registered at least 12 successful passes in the attacking third in each game. Yet he’s only generated three chances total. That’s driven down by the fact that he’s low in the pecking order for set-piece taking, and it also reflects the fact that the Union's front four attackers are capable of creating their own space in the attacking third while Bedoya is allowed to focus on preventing counterattacks. 

While Bedoya's attacking-third numbers may seem low, they're line with Nogueira's. In the Frenchman’s last sustained stretch of five games with the Union from April 16-May 14 (before an oblique injury and his release June 16), Nogueira created just one chance and scored a goal against L.A.

Wherever on the continuum your opinion falls, one thing appears to be certain. The Union identified Bedoya as a key cog to acquire in part because of his ability to aid them keeping the ball. Replacing Nogueira with someone that helps to keep possession so adeptly has paid clear dividends.

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