Were the Reggae Boyz really great defensively at the Gold Cup? – Statistics says No

Machel Turner
Sports By the Numbers (SBTN)

On Wednesday night, Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz concluded their second consecutive run to the finals of the Gold Cup. Again, the run ended in disappointment, going down 1-2 to the USA at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

The Theodore Whitmore coached team’s gallant effort was blighted by a late 88th-minute goal by Jordan Morris. The players should be proud of themselves for the dedication and team effort demonstrated throughout the entire competition and so do the coaches, management and supporters.

Following a disappointing Caribbean Cup where the team lost their title to up and coming Curacao, many observers were not expecting the team to make it to the final, or even out of group C where they were paired with the new Caribbean champions.

However, the infusion of experienced MLS players who have been around the national team for at least the past three years made all the difference.

Jermaine Taylor was solid in marshalling the back line, making clearance after clearance. Alvas Powell and Kemar Lawrence proved why they are two of the best fullbacks in the MLS, with their bombarding runs down the flanks.

Darren Mattocks showed the trademark grit and skill that made him one of the most promising young forwards in the MLS and a crowd favourite for the Reggae Boyz fans.

However, this finals run will be remembered by all who watched for the goalkeeping heroics of Andre Blake, who pulled off a number of spectacular saves that kept Jamaica in the hunt for the trophy.

The reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year deservedly won the Golden Glove award, and in all fairness, should also have been named Tournament MVP for his consistency from start to finish.

Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake blocks a shot on goal during the second half of a 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group C match against Curacao (Sean M. HaffeyGetty Images North America)

But in football, whenever your goalkeeper is your MVP it usually is a sign of a weak defense or an ultra-defensive strategy.

Jamaica’s play was characterized by an ultra-defensive approach that, on the surface, seemed to have worked well.

But did it really?

It’s hard to argue against tactics that helped a team advance to a final they weren’t expected to reach and lose on a late goal. But its also hard to argue against that fact that if it weren’t for Blake’s brilliance, the Boyz wouldn’t have advanced thus far.

We at SBTN analysed Jamaica’s performance in their six games at the tournament and our research found that the Reggae Boyz defensive approach did not really stymie the opposition. The counter-attacking tactic resulted in a mountain of pressure on the Reggae Boyz. In most of the games, the team conceded way too many shots.

In fact, the team conceded the highest average shots per game of all the 12 teams in the tournament at close to 15. The 21 shots given up to Curacao in the opener was the most of any team in any one game in the tournament.

It’s not often a team gets praised for being defensively solid when it concedes so many shots per game. This lack of front foot play and the inability to take the game to opponents ultimately made life extremely difficult for the players, having to chase their opponents for large periods of each game.

Jamaica’s inability to keep possession of the ball throughout the tournament manifested in the average possession statistics. They had the lowest average possession of all teams at 34.7%, with four of the five lowest possession percentage games in the entire tournament.

The inability to string passes together also bears itself out in the passing statistics as well. Jamaica recorded four of the five lowest total past attempts for teams in the tournament. This lack of consistent midfield play is by no means a new revelation, but the numbers are stark.

The team’s inability to move the ball fluidly and efficiently led to four of the five lowest pass accuracy percentages in the opponents’ half throughout the tournament, and the lowest average of all Gold Cup teams.

Shooting and goal statistics for Jamaica in matches  played against their opponents at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup (data gathered from Onefootball)

This inefficient passing would have been much more of a hindrance if the attack was not as commendably efficient as it was. Darren Mattocks and Romario Williams led an attack that was on target nearly half the time – just under 45%.

This led to a goal total of seven which was the second highest of the tournament and a goals per game average of 1.16 that was 6th highest.

Mattocks is Jamaica’s all-time leading goal scorer in the Gold Cup and Williams is the current leading goal-scorer in the United States Soccer League (USL). So with better ball retention and passing accuracy in the opponent’s half, chances are they would’ve gotten better shots and scored even more goals.

Passing and possession statistics for Jamaica in matches  played against their opponents at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup (data gathered from Onefootball)

If the goal is consistent deep runs at the Gold Cup and recognition as one of the major teams in the region, there will be a need to change the hunker down mentality of the team that exists now, to one of confidence.

The offensive potential is there, as is the trustworthy goalkeeper and a solid back line. What seems to be lacking from coach Whitmore’s approach is the belief that the team can go toe to toe with teams, especially the giants of the region, and still come out on top.

Counter-attacking football, though seen by some as negative, has been an effective tactic in football. But in order for it to work, teams have to be effective when they do get a chance to attack and possess the ability to keep possession when necessary in order to give players a breather.

There is a difference with well-orchestrated counter-attack game plans compared to negative tactics borne out of an inferiority complex. Based on how it played out, the Jamaican coaching staff’s tactics were just too negative to be sustainable, even against teams that were on their level.

The numbers show the glaring weaknesses of this team but also highlights what is needed for the future. The introduction of more midfielders who are comfortable possessing the ball with purpose in advanced areas of the field will take a lot of pressure off the defense.

Despite the deficiencies outlined, it is a positive start to the rebuilding of the Reggae Boyz team. This desire to do the ‘hard yards’ needs to be accompanied with a greater desire to control games with the ball at our feet.

There should be an appetite to look any team in the region in the eye with the confidence that the Reggae Boyz can give just as good as they get and still come out on top. A similarly negative mindset moving forward will not do.


*Data sources: Onefootball



Category: CONCACAF, Football, SBTN
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