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Different Season, Same Offensive Woes for Chicago Fire

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Aside from the goal fest that was the opening game of the season, Chicago Fire have had an anemic scoring record in 2016.  It isn’t that they have been robbed by great goalkeeping nor has it been a total inability to get looks at goal.  The primary offensive issue is poor shooting accuracy.

Chicago Fire fans have grown accustomed to this reaction from the team's attacking players in 2016.
Chicago Fire fans have grown accustomed to this reaction from the team's attacking players in 2016.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Campbell netted his first career MLS goal late in the first half on Saturday versus DC United with the kind of deft touch fans would expect from one of Chicago Fire’s attacking Designated Players .  Perhaps Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike should be taking notes from the 22 year-old rookie defender because they seem to need a lesson in finishing this season.  After former Chicago Fire favorite Patrick Nyarko leveled the score in the 64th minute, the only positive outcome for Chicago seemed to be holding onto a draw because this 2016 team just doesn’t score more than one goal a game.

On the drive home from the game I thought to myself, "It sure seemed like we outplayed them and we could have bagged a few more goals with the chances we created."  I returned home, let the feeling return to my fingers, and checked the game stats to see why Chicago only put one goal on the board.  It was pretty clear.  In 90 minutes of play, they put one shot on target.  It is hard to score more than one goal with an effort like that.  After comparing the game’s shot statistics to the historical league average, it revealed itself as being subpar.  Sometimes gut feelings are correct and sometimes one has to look at the statistics to get the real picture.  In this case, my feeling after the game was incorrect.

What the Shot Data Shows

To start, I recorded the shot stats for the 2016 season for each individual game and calculated goals as a percentage of the number of shots on goal and the number of shots on goal compared to total shots (essentially a measure of shot accuracy).  It is hard to draw many conclusions from these figures because the goal and shot values are so low, but it gives an idea of how poorly Chicago Fire have performed on the offensives side of the game.  Look at Game 5 against New York City FC.  Chicago scored no goals and put no shots on target.  I bet Pauno’s film study was a short one that week.

The best way to evaluate the shot deficiencies of the 2016 season is to compare it to the league historical average per game.  I used the 2016 MLS Fact and Record Book to total goals, total shots, shots on goal, and shots off target or blocked and computed the average over every MLS game through the end of 2015.  See below for these averages:

data

chart

This Weekend’s Game Compared to History

We have already established that the offensive performance this weekend was subpar.  Chicago scored less goals than average, they took less shots than average, they had far less shots on goal than average, and they had just slightly less shots off target or blocked than average.  Being close to average on shots off target is not a good characteristic when combined with the aforementioned.

To really compare how poor Chicago Fire were this weekend, one has to look at the calculated stats.  They had 1 shot on target and had 1 goal.  It would be a positive to have a high scoring efficiency compared to shots on goal, but 1 for 1 says more about the lack of shots on goal than being efficient.  Chicago only put 1 of 8 shots on goal (12.5%) compared to the average of 39.6%.  Not what you would expect from a DP striker with several years of MLS experience.

The 2016 Season Compared to History

Taking into account the entire season thus far, the sample becomes larger and gives a better picture of the offensive output, though the conclusions are just as grim.  The team is averaging 1 goal per game compared to 1.4 in MLS history.  They have averaged 9.57 shots per game compared to the 12.55 average for MLS.  These are below average but only paint a small picture of the problem.

The 2016 team is only averaging half as many shots on goal compared to the league historical average.  Through seven games, Chicago has been putting 2.43 shots on goal and the average MLS team registers 4.99.  Unless a team can somehow win without hitting the frame, this has to change.  They are pretty much on par with shots missing the target or being blocked but considering how much less they are shooting, this is troubling.  I find it strange that they are actually scoring more of the shots they put on target than history suggests is average.  The 2016 team is scoring 40.5% of shots they put on target compared to 28.2% MLS average.  If the shots on goal and goals scored were not so anemic, this could be a prideful point of emphasis.

The big problem is the 2016 team’s shot accuracy (percentage of shots that end up on target).  This stems from missing the goal altogether or a defender blocking the shot.  Both scenarios are indicative offensive woes of the team so far this season.  MLS teams have averaged a 39.6% shot accuracy over the course of 8,726 games in the league’s history.  The 2016 Chicago Fire are hitting the target at a 21.5% rate (nearly half of the average).  This needs to improve if the Fire are to have a respectable season.

Final Thoughts

The offensive production has been pretty poor, no doubt.  Hopefully it will improve with the midfield reinforcements that are likely to come this month.  Things might look a lot better if David Accam, the most dangerous player on Chicago’s roster, had been able to play all 7 games in 2016 and his return should help.  It is possible the shots that don’t hit the target aren’t all that far off from being goals.  Shooting it right at the keeper is just as frustrating as missing just wide even though one would be considered on target and one would be off target.  It could be that the attack is just too slow and predictable and a lot of shots are being blocked by defenders (my gut agrees this is part of the problem, but historical block data is not available for analysis).  I’ll continue to be a disappointed optimist and hope things can be tweaked and improve the statistics dramatically.  Until then, this just isn’t good enough for a professional soccer team to have success.