May 25, 2017
It started with a question about the Philadelphia Union clawing back to the .500 mark, ripping off four straight wins to move up to 7th place in the Eastern Conference with a 4-4-4 record.
Head coach Jim Curtin talked about the incredible difficulty of fighting out of an eight-game winless slump, but the more interesting answer was in a follow-up question about whether or not it's fair to even use the term ".500" in the sport of soccer, which involves draws, penalty shootouts, and cup games against lower-division opponents.
"You look at when they throw up win percentages all over the soccer world," Curtin explained on Wednesday. "It's a strange one because it subtracts the draws from it. In the NFL, it'll be that a good coach wins 70 percent of his games. In college it's 80 or 90 percent for a lot of these guys. And you go, 'wow, they just don't lose.' But soccer is different. Even Alex Ferguson, his (win percentage) is high, but one in the sixties is a high one, or an unbelievable one in soccer because of the tie factor. The context of a soccer manager's record is unique with the element of the tie. It does add a variable to that whole thing."
So let's go down the list.
The Union have four wins in 2017. By definition, all wins are good wins, right?
They also have four losses. By the same logic, there are no good losses, correct?
Good, glad we got that out of the way.
Context comes into play when we get to the four Union draws.
at Vancouver: 0-0 draw
vs. Toronto FC: 2-2 draw
vs. Montreal Impact: 3-3 draw
at LA Galaxy: 0-0 draw
Which of those would you define as "good" draws and which are "bad" draws?
You could certainly say that keeping two clean sheets on the west coast is a positive, so let's put Vancouver and LA in the "good" category.
The Montreal draw saw the Union blow a three-goal home lead, so that goes in the "bad" column.And against Toronto, Philly missed a penalty kick before finding a second-half equalizer against the defending conference champions. Is that a good draw or bad draw? I'll say "bad," since you should expect to win all of your home games, no matter the opponent.
It's really about semantics and context when we talk about ties. Even during the 16-game winless streak that started last August, not every result was entirely poor. The Union scraped a 1-1 result in Toronto and you also had the 0-0 in Vancouver. Despite not winning a game, they did have some decent performances over that stretch of games.
Now, eight months later, they're on a four-game winning streak, which can also be defined as a six-game unbeaten run if we include the two prior draws. No one is going to tell you that the 3-3 against Montreal is a good result, but that's technically part of the unbeaten streak, whether you like it or not.
It's only fair for us to point that out, since so much was said and written about the winless slump.
During their 4-game win streak, the Union have conceded just 11 shots on goal in 360 minutes (5 vs. NY, 1 vs. DC, 4 vs. HOU, 1 vs. COL)— Joe Tansey (@JTansey90) May 22, 2017
Another odd thing is the way we look at those winning percentages, which Curtin mentioned in the quote.
He currently has a record of 42 wins, 43 losses, and 26 draws in all competitions since taking over in 2014.
When you do the math, he's won just 38% of his 111 games, which sounds rather poor.
But if you take draws out of the equation, he's won 49%, which puts him right around the even mark.
For true context, we really need to go through all 26 of those draws to determine whether or not they were "good" or "bad," then weigh the results against the win and loss column.
Here's how I see it -
July 12th, 2014: Union 3, Rapids 3 (bad draw, conceded an 86th minute equalizer at home)
July 19th, 2014: Fire 1, Union 1 (good draw, Union equalized on 91st minute penalty)
August 1st, 2014: Sporting KC 1, Union 1 (good draw, Brian Brown second-half goal)
September 13th, 2014: Union 2, Red Bull 2 (probably a bad draw, with Philly scraping a 92nd minute penalty at home)
September 20th, 2014: Union 0, Houston 0 (I'd say that any scoreless home draw is in the bad column)
October 2nd, 2014: Union 1, Fire 1 (horrendous draw, this is the game where Rais Mbolhi got chipped in stoppage time)
March 7th, 2015: Union 0, Rapids 0 (bad draw)
March 14th, 2015: Real Salt Lake 3, Union 3 (good draw, even though Philly blew a road lead)
April 16th, 2015: NYC 1, Union 1 (great draw with an 86th minute Sapong goal)
June 27th, 2015: Union 2, Montreal 2 (bad draw with an Eric Ayuk red card and 75th minute Maurice Edu equalizer)
August 8th, 2015: Orlando 0, Union 0 (a clean sheet on the road always goes in the good column)
August 16th, 2015: Union 3, Fire 3 (92nd minute Chicago goal is a bad draw)
September 26th, 2015: New England 1, Union 1 (you'll always take a point in New England)
April 30th, 2016: Union 1, San Jose 1 (actually a very poor draw, giving up a late goal to 10-man San Jose)
May 11th, 2016: Union 2, Galaxy 2 (actually a decent result against a great team, but I'll put it in the bad column since it was a home game)
May 14th, 2016: Montreal 1, Union 1 (great draw in a road game taking place on short rest)
May 25th, 2016: Orlando 2, Union 2 (excellent draw in a game where Philly was hosed by the ref)
May 28th, 2016: Rapids 1, Union 1 (even better draw on short turnaround against the best team in the Western Conference)
July 17th, 2016: Union 2, Red Bull 2 (most people agreed that this was a good result, but I'll stay consistent with my view that all home draws at bad draws, just for the sake of the article)
August 6th, 2016: D.C. 2, Union 2 (still a good result despite conceding in the 94th minute)
September 10th, 2016: Union 1, Montreal 1 (bad draw in a game where they really needed 3 points)
September 24th, 2016: Toronto 1, Union 1 (good draw on the road)
March 5th, 2017: Vancouver 0, Union 0 (good clean sheet on the road)
March 12th, 2017: Union 2, Toronto 2 (goes in the bad column because of home field and blown penalty)
April 22nd, 2017: Union 3, Montreal 3 (bad draw)
April 29th, 2017: Union 0, Galaxy 0 (great draw)
When I tally those up, I've got a perfect 50/50 split of 13 "good" draws and 13 "bad" draws.
So, if you added a fourth column to Curtin's overall record, it would look like this:
42 wins, 43 losses, 13 good draws, 13 bad draws
That's about as close to .500 as you can get.
There are, of course, plenty of other things to consider. Does advancing on penalty kicks count as a win or draw? In this case, I marked down five USOC penalty shootouts as three wins and two draws.
Should we even count early round Open Cup wins against non-MLS opponents like Harrisburg and Rochester?
Do we look up every single time that opposing teams had an injured or suspended starter? What if they rested a few players after qualifying for the postseason?
Curtin's record will skew a little bit in each direction, depending on what parameters you want to emphasize and where you want to place the asterisks.
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