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Defensive Frailties: Are The Fire Progressing Defensively?

A statical walkabout of the Chicago Fire's defense under the Frank Klopas era and beyond.

Jamie Sabau

On September 21st in Columbus, former Chicago Fire forward, Dominic Oduro, scored a goal against his former team in the 16th minute. That goal was the 41st goal the team conceded on the season, which matched the 2012 total. The Fire would then go on to concede two more goals to the Columbus Crew.

The Fire's defense has been an issue all season and does not seem to be progressing. In fact, it feels like the Fire have been the same defensive slump for the past couple of seasons. To get some perspective on how the 2013 Fire defense ranks against other teams under Klops' tenure, and beyond, I compiled some statistics.

Goals By Interval

The first thing I wanted to look at was the goals by intervals. In 2012, the issue seemed to be that the Fire were conceding goals early but tightening up as the game wore on, whereas 2013's team is giving up everything late.

 photo GoalsByInterval_zps2132147a.png

The data does show that, in 2012, the Fire conceded goals early with 53.6% of their goals against coming in the first half. One interesting trend in the data is that the Fire seemed to have a weakness for giving up goals in the final 15 minutes of the first and second halves. 41.4% of the goals conceded in 2012 happened in the final 15 minutes of the two halves.

Here are the goals conceded by intervals for 2012:

1-15 16-30 30-45 46-60 61-75 76-90 Total
2012 5 8 9 6 5 8 41

For 2013, the Fire have only give up 16 goals in the first half, which is an improvement from the 22 goals given up in 2012; however, the amount of goals the fire have given up in the second half of games is astounding.

1-15 16-30 30-45 46-60 61-75 76-90 Total
2013 7 5 4 7 13 11 47

The above data confirms what is already common knowledge, however, the data turned out to be worse than I expected it to be. The Fire have conceded 65.9% of their goals in the second half of games this season and, more specifically, 50.1% have been given up in the final 30 minutes of games. 31 goals conceded in the second half of games this year is just an astounding number.

Goals Conceded During Klopas' Tenure

Since the Fire have surpassed the amount of goals they conceded last season, I started wondering about clean sheets and how many goals are conceded in a game and whether there is any trends in Klopas' tenure to this point. Since Klopas only coached 23 games in 2011, I broke down the data in percentile form.  photo Klopasovertehyears_zpsbe708598.png

A couple of things stand out from the graph right away. Firstly, Klopas, as an interim coach, saw his squad notch 7 clean sheets in 23 games. He has 6 clean sheets in 2012 and 2013. Secondly, the 2012 team gave up only one goal in over 50% of all their regular season games. Lastly, the 2013 team has given up more multiple goal games than in previous years.

Below are the numbers.

Clean Sheet 1 Goal 2 Goals 3 Goals 4 Goals
2011 7 (34.43%) 8 (34.78%) 7 (30.43%) 0 (0%) 1 (4.35%)
2012 6 (17.65%) 18 (53.94%) 8 (23.53%) 1 (2.94%) 1 (2.94%)
2013 6 (18.18%) 13 (39.39%) 10 (30.30%) 2 (6.06%) 2 (6.06%)

The 2013 Fire squad has had 4 games more of multiple goals scored than in the previous season. This is more indicative of how much of a setback the loss of Arne Friendrich was. Both of the 4 goal trashing came during the first month of the season. The addition of Bakary Soumare has helped the Fire clean things up. Prior to Bakary's arrival, the Fire were conceding 1.7 goals per game. With Bakary starting, the Fire have only been conceding 1.33 goals per game.

Goals Conceded Over Past Years

To gain a little more perspective I decided to compare Klopas' tenure to those of Calos de los Cobos and Dennis Hamlett.

It might not be really fair to compare the past couple of teams to the ones that Dennis Hamlett was in charge of, but I felt it could act as a benchmark of what the Fire need to aspire to. In 60 regular season games as a head coach, Hamlett’s squad notched 20 clean sheets. Also, the Fire do currently have half of Hamlett’s backline with Gonzalo Segares and Bakary Soumare.

 photo HistoricalStat_zps7465d307.png

While the teams that Klopas puts on the field might not be shutting out opponents, they’re also not getting blown out as often as Carlos de los Cobos’ teams; however, it is a very, very slim margin. The only real difference between Klopas and de los Cobos and Klopas is on the offensive end. Klopas' teams score more goals. In 41 games as a coach for the Fire, de los Cobos’ side only netted 52 goals. Klopas’ team in his first full season netted 46 goals in 2012, and the 2013 team is also at 46 goals with one more game to play.

Looking over the data, the only conclusion I can come to is that the Fire have been a mediocre team defensively over the past 4 seasons and have shown very little progress. With one game left to the 2013 season, the Fire are taking on a high powered New York Red Bull team that has not been shut out since mid-August. In the 8 games since they were last shut out, New York has been averaging two goals a game. If the Fire are finally going to step up their game defensively, this weekend would be the perfect time to do it.