About a year ago, the MLS website started a Chalkboard feature that tracks what each player does on the pitch throughout a match. I absolutely love this feature because I’m a nerd who is a sucker for graphics and data. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to look at the Chalkboard after a Fire match and see if I can get anything useful out of it.
Before I get in to anything, I should mention a few of the short comings of the Chalkboard. The data in the Chalkboard feature is limited to a number of things involving play on the ball. Any off the ball movement is not tracked, which can leave a bit of a blind spot when using this information. Also, I've come to find that the only real useful things in the Chalkboard are the heat maps (which are unfortunately made useless by the way the feature is built in) and the pass tracking. With that in mind, let's begin.
It's no secret that Marco Pappa tends to wander and drift to the center of the pitch. He does this to a point where he tends to a act like a second center attacking mid, but because that's Grazzini's role, he holds back from fully taking the role on.
Pappa is struggling with what Pappa wants to play versus what Pappa is suppose to play, and it's weakening the midfield. With Pappa playing out of position, the flow of our offense is disrupted because Grazzini and Pardo already occupy the center of the pitch. Pappa being in the center just makes things more crowded. Also, with Pappa occupying the center, he leaves gaps along the wings where whoever is playing behind him (Segares, Gargan or Jumper) will need to fill in.
To illustrate, here’s a look at the first half activity of the four midfielders with comments:
Pavel Prado 1st Half
Here is Prado being the holding mid for this team and backing up Grazzini in the center of the pitch. Nothing special here.
Grazzini 1st Half
I like to see that Grazzini is covering a lot of ground both defensively and offensively. He's doing what a good attacking mid is suppose to do which is to get the ball into the attaching third.
Logan Pause 1st Half
Here is Pause working his side of the field. Pause was on the left for the first 40 minutes of the game. The 5 passes on the right happened after the 40th minute after Pause, Pappa and Nyarko switched around. Pause seemed uncomfortable playing on the left. He started to make more forward passes, and even sent one into the box, once he was switched to the right.
Pappa 1st Half
Those touches all the way over on the left side of the field happened between the 10th minute and the 25th minute which was well before he switched to Nyarko's position. After he did switch, he still played fairly deep in the midfield. With the exception of a few passes, he pretty much disappeared.
The only real contribution I saw from Pappa last week was a classic Pappa move. He tried to dribble around defenders, but when he couldn't get past them, he moved to his left across the top of the box and fired a shot from distance that never even challenged the keeper.
So how do you solve a problem like Marco? You don't start him. It's not that he lacks talent, and I doubt anyone would deny that, but he just doesn't fit with the team anymore. I think it's a bad situation for both Marco Pappa and the Chicago Fire. Marco still needs to a little bit of growing, and he needs to be with a team that can utilize him. The Fire needs a player who can play the left side of the pitch.
One of the reasons we tolerated Pappa last season was because there wasn't anyone to replace him. It's been talked about all off season about how the Fire have added dept in the midfield and how things are crowded. If that's true, then we need to give our new acquisitions a chance, which means some one has to sit. I'm hoping that the only reason Pappa started last weekend was because Robayo wasn't available.
I know there is some fondness for Pappa since he's had a couple of good seasons with the club, but I'm tired of watching him play out of position, attempt to dribble through multiple defenders, and take errant pot-shots from distance.