April 18, 2017
We've heard the criticism of Roland Alberg: he doesn't run; he doesn't play defense; he's lazy; he came into camp overweight; he doesn't fit the system.
Those things may or may not be true, but one thing is certain – he's a goal scorer.
You can't do it from the bench, and the Philadelphia Union went winless in their first five games with 14 other guys on the field, so there's a lot of blame to be passed around.
The Union's second-year Dutch forward got his first start of the season on Friday night. Alberg didn't score, didn't assist, and didn't exactly grab the opportunity by the throat, but he did some nice things that weren't talked about it, which is why I'm here to provide context.
Start with the activity charts:
• 71 minute shift
• 2 shots (zero on goal)
• 1 foul conceded
• 3 fouls drawn
• 25/32 passing (78%, not super important for a number ten)
• 1 cross attempt
• 1/2 in tackle attempts
• 1 interception
• 1 clearance
• 1 recovery
The reason I say that passing accuracy is not super important for a number ten is because it's less about percentages and more about volume. You want your number ten to try that difficult through-ball or chip. If it doesn't come off, fine, but that final pass is always going to be the hardest to connect on.
For a number ten, failing on a difficult pass is always better than playing a safe outlet. If Ross Barkley goes 10 for 20 in passing attempts, but hits on a game-winning assist, then nobody is talking about 50% accuracy, right?
The real concern with the first chart is that Roland just didn't have enough activity inside the final third. That's the same issue that Alejandro Bedoya was having when playing the position in previous games.
It's also worth mentioning that Alberg, like Bedoya, is not really a playmaker. He's more of a withdrawn forward or second striker that has a good nose for goal and isn't afraid to shoot. Say what you will about Roland, but he makes a lot more sense as a number ten in this formation than Bedoya.
Conversely, Ale is a better number eight and had a decent game Friday night in his preferred position, pressing smartly and doing two-way work for the entirety of 90 minutes.
For more context, here's Alberg's heatmap from the game, juxtaposed with Bedoya's map from the D.C. game.
I couldn't use the most recent game (Portland) because Bedoya only played 64 minutes as a number ten before moving back to a deeper position.
Anyway, the issue here is only 45 touches for Alberg in a home game. Sapong finished with 43 and he's usually stranded up top.
You see Alberg with a little bit of activity at the edge of the final third but there just aren't enough meaningful touches in dangerous areas. Early in the game you probably saw him come deep to get some time on the ball, which caused Bedoya to move forward. That was sorted out a little bit later as they settled in.
The irony is that I feel like Roland's second-best pass of the game actually came from that deeper area, when he picked out Ilsinho with this brilliant diagonal for a knockdown.
That rocket from Bedoya was one of just two shots on frame. To the point about Alejandro playing as an eight, that's the kind of late run that you want to see him make.
It was just a pretty play all around.
I also picked out two sequences where Roland positioned himself well, or made a smart run into the box, but just couldn't get on the end of the setup pass.
In this play, Ilsinho tries a chip over the top -
You see Alberg throw his arm out in frustration because he knows he was just a step away.
Similarly, this sequence saw Keegan Rosenberry get a cross into the box, which Sapong was able to hold and layoff. The pass comes up a little bit short, and maybe Alberg could have crashed harder, but better execution leads to a prime shooting attempt here.
Alberg's best move of the game came just before his substitution, when he found himself on the ball after a Sapong aerial win.
The Alberg through-ball from Friday night - pic.twitter.com/UIxCsRA3zp— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) April 17, 2017
It's a perfectly-weighted through ball that Maxime Chanot does incredibly well to read and stifle. If Ilsinho is just a step faster, you're looking at another good scoring chance.
At that point, it was still a 1-0 ballgame, and if that sequence turns out differently, then maybe we're not talking about a fourth-straight Union loss.