To Ottawa football fans, it is no secret that Nikola Popovic’s philosophy is one of possession and passing. He was unfortunately unable to implement this style of play last season, his first as Fury FC coach.
In an interview with SHIFTER Sports’ Markus Marshall on Medium last year, Popovic said his coaching influences were José Mourinho and the beautiful football played by Pep Guardiola’s teams. Pep is well known for his tactics of possession and passing.
Popovic on his style of play: ”It’s a style of play in which we want to have a lot of the ball. However it’s not simply about having the ball for having it’s sake. It’s with the idea of being organized and bringing defensive stability. We want to be able to break through our opponent with penetrating passes and with all of this the idea is to play in a passionate way. A way that will be attractive for the fans to watch us. It’s a very ambitious and demanding style and this is what we are trying to implement here.”
-Nikola Popovic to Markus Marshall, April 13th 2018, SHIFTER Sports
This is the style that Popovic used as head coach of Swope Park Rangers in 2017. That year, SPR led the USL with an average of 524 passes per game, a trend which continued in 2018.
Fury FC was on the other side of the spectrum. In 2017, Ottawa finished last in the Eastern Conference, and third from the bottom of the league. Ottawa had an average of 357 passes per game, almost 200 passes less per game than Popovic’s Rangers. In 2018, while being coached by Popovic, Fury FC did not improve this aspect of the game. They again ranked last in East and second last in the USL, with average number of passes per game of 332.
In seeking to understand how Fury FC could be expected to fare in 2019, I did a quick analysis of the past and current squad (as of February 6th), based on 2017 and 2018 available individual stats.
This analysis quickly showed that Popovic kept players that fit into his expected style of play, and signed new players that would assist in establishing his philosophy. Popovic may now have a team that will help him implement his philosophy in the Capital.
Fury FC averaged 35.3 and 35.5 passes per game per player in 2017 and 2018, respectively. By way of comparison, top passing teams in the USL averaged well above 40 passes per game per player.
As such, the current squad averaged 46.3 passes per player per game through 2017 and 2018. This would make them the top passing team in the USL in passes per player per game.
There are no doubts that this average will probably go down, but what is clear is that the addition of Wal Fall, Charlie Ward and Dakota Barnathan was partly made to drastically increase passing for Fury FC. All three have an average of over 50 passes per game over the last two years.
In addition, these three new players are all above and beyond the returning players in terms of successful long passes per 90 minutes. In non-returning players, only Cristian Portilla, Colin Falvey and Sergio Manesio approached the area where Wal Fall is situated in the graph below. We can say that Fury signed three new players whose aim will be to enable breaking through with penetrating passes, as Popovic put it last year.
It is important to remind readers that a high number of passes is not an indicator of success. Phoenix Rising FC were definitely not a passing team, but made it to USL Cup Finalsand Atlanta United II was a top passing team, but this style of play did not lead them to a playoff berth. This said, many teams which ranked high statistically in terms of passing also ranked well in their respective Conferences, such as Louisville FC (also USL Cup Champions), Swope Park Rangers, and Orange County SC, to name only a few.
And it is obvious that passes and possession need to lead to finishing. This is still something that Fury FC appears to lack in the current squad.
The possession and passing game could lead to success, but it can also bring us beautiful football. We cannot underestimate the potential success, but mostly the watching pleasure when a team is able to play a coach’s style of play, and when the players are able to play that style. This will be a change of philosophy for Fury FC, and if executed well, may lead to enjoyable games for fans of all ages.
Ottawa needs wins, but also beautiful football this year. This team and its fans need to cope with all the uncertainty of the past and coming months. This style of play will hopefully keep fans interested, bring new ones to TD Place and hopefully bring success on the pitch.
Cet article est également publié en français sur 613 Sports