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Ranking the performance of the USA players during the 2022 World Cup using the match GPA

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Jesús Rico-Sanz, PhD

Soccer Performance & Science Institute


 

In the previous four articles (1, 2, 3, 4), I reported the match grade performance average (GPA) of the players of USA National Team during each of the games that the team played in the 2022 World Cup. In this article, I am summarizing the results of these four games against Wales, England, and Iran in the group stage, and against Holland in the round of 16 game. The average number of actions, the average attacking GPA, and the average match GPA of each player during the four games played is presented. Also the standard deviation (SD) of the attacking GPA and the match GPA is shown to demonstrate the consistency in the players' performance from game to game. I will also present the ranking of the players based on the analysis of the average attacking GPA and average match GP; showing the best players when in possession of the ball and the best players in overall game performance, respectively. At the end, I will bring up some considerations for the future based on the match GPAs of each of the players and the team.


SUMMARY OF THE TECHNICAL ACTIONS


Attacking technical actions

The total number of attacking actions recorded and analyzed during each of the four games that the USA played in the 2022 World Cup are shown below. Namely, the ball handling interventions while attacking included ball controls, dribbles, passes, headers, and scoring attempts.


Total number of attacking actions by players of the USA National Team during the four games played in the World Cup 2022.
Total number of attacking actions by players of the USA National Team during the four games played in the World Cup 2022.

The highest number of technical actions in possession of the ball was against Holland (1129) and the lowest against England (822). The average number of attacking actions per game was 992 distributed as follows: 1) 38 for Turner, the goalkeeper, 2) 574 for the defensive players (defenders and center midfielder), 3) 380 for the attacking midfielders and forwards. The field players include the starting players and the substitutes that played on either a defensive or attacking role. The average ratio of attacking touches on the ball used during a game by defensive players compared to the attacking players was 1.51. That is, the players tasked with more defensive roles had about 51% more possession of the ball than the players with more offensive roles.


Defending Technical Actions

The defending technical actions included blocked passes, blocked dribbles, blocked shots, saves, interceptions, defensive headers, and clearances. The average number of defending technical interventions for the team was 144; 9 by the goalkeeper Turner, 99 by the defensive players (defenders and defensive center midfielder) and 36 by the offensive players (attacking midfielders and forwards) including starters and substitutes. The ratio of defending technical actions recorded by defensive players compared to the players in more advanced positions was 2.74.


ATTACKING TECHNICAL GPA VS PERCENT ACCURACY


Average Technical GPA vs Percent Accuracy of the attacking actions

A total of 20 players were utilized by the USA National Team during the World Cup. Below is the attacking average technical GPA and the percent accuracy for each player that participated in at least one half of a game. Two players only participated in one game: Carter-Vickers played a full game against Iran and Ferreira started as the center forward against Holland and was substituted at half time. Three players participated in at least two games: Wright started against England and played as a substitute in the other 3 games; Aaronson played a full half against Iran, and was a substitute in the other 3 games; Reyna, substituted Ferreira at half time against Holland and played about 12 minutes against England. The rest of the players started between 2-4 games, and therefore represent the main USA line up chosen by the coaching staff during the World Cup. Except for Carter-Vickers and Ferreira, who only participated in one game, the GPAs are the average of the games in which they participated. For simplicity, other players, Acosta, Yedlin, Moore, Morris, who entered the field and played significantly less than one half of a game are not included in this report.


Average Technical GPA vs Average Percent Accuracy while in possession of the ball for players of the USA Team for the games they played in the World Cup 2022.
Average Technical GPA vs Average Percent Accuracy while in possession of the ball for players of the USA Team for the games they played in the World Cup 2022.

The average technical GPA for the attacking actions of the entire USA team on the four games was 1.30; the highest GPA was obtained against Iran (1.34) and the lowest against Wales (1.21). The average percent accuracy for the USA National Team was 89%; the highest percent accuracy was 90% against Wales and the lowest was 88% against Iran.


Regarding the attacking GPA, Turner, the goalkeeper, had an average GPA of 1.28 for his attacking performance during the four World Cup games; his best technical performance being against Iran (GPA=1.67). For the defenders, the highest average attacking GPA was obtained by A. Robinson with a GPA of 1.32; his highest was against England (GPA=1.45) and lowest against Iran (GPA=1.23). In general, outside backs had consistently higher GPA than central defenders. Regarding the midfielders, McKennie had the highest attacking GPA with an average of 1.49; his highest was against England (GPA=1.62) and the lowest against Wales (GPA=1.37). Consistently in all games, Adams had lower GPA than the more attacking midfielders Musah and McKennie. For the forward line, Pulisic earned the highest average attacking GPA which was also the highest for the team during the World Cup (GPA=1.58); his highest was against Iran (GPA=1.75) and lowest against Wales (1.38). In general, center forwards had lower GPAs than the wingers.


The highest discrepancy between the average GPA and average percent accuracy in attacking technical actions was found on Pulisic with 0.78 points, which indicates that the actions executed accurately by Pulisic had a high degree of difficulty. That is why his attacking GPA earned him the top ranking in the team. He was followed by McKennie and Aaronson who had a difference between GPA and accuracy of 0.64 and 0.63, respectively, indicating the significant role these two players played in the attack of the USA National Team during the World Cup games.


On the other hand, the lowest discrepancy between the average GPA and average percent accuracy was found on Zimmerman and Carter-Vickers with 0.09 and 0.07 points, respectively. Zimmerman started in 3 games as the right central defender and Carter-Vickers played in the position of Zimmerman in the game against Iran. These low discrepancy values indicate their technical actions did not have a high degree of difficulty.


Variation of the Technical GPA of the attacking actions from game to game

The consistency of the performance of the players from game to game can be assessed by the standard deviation (SD) of the GPAs of all games in which they participated. The USA team average SD of the technical attacking GPA was 0.06 which included the performance by the starters and substitutes. Of the starting eleven, players that started in at least one game, the lowest variation was observed on Ream with a SD of 0.03; he started in all games and played all 90 minutes and extra time. The other central defender, Zimmerman, had a SD of 0.05; he started in 3 games and played about 17 minutes in the game against Iran. Similar SD was determined for the central defensive midfielder Adams (SD = 0.04). This indicates that the defensive central triangle performed similarly from game to game when in possession of the ball.


Compared to the central defensive triangle, the attacking midfielders had higher variation in attacking performance from game to game (Musah, SD=0.17; McKennie, SD=0.11). Regarding the wingers Pulisic and Weah, they both had similar SD in attacking GPA (Pulisic, SD=0.15; Weah, SD=0.16). The highest variation in attacking technical GPA for a player who played all games was found on the goalkeeper Turner (SD=0.26). Also, the two center forwards that participated in at least 3 games had high variation in technical GPAs in possession of the ball from game to game: Sargent, two games as starter, 1 game as substitute, SD=0.23; Wright, 1 game as starter, 3 games as substitute, SD=0.36. Aaronson, who participated the most as a substitute in all games had a SD of 0.34, which can partly be explained by different attacking roles and playing time in different games.


MATCH GPA


The match GPA includes the grades for all the attacking and defending technical actions. Below are the average GPAs for the players of the USA National Team who participated in at least one half of one game. Also included are the GPAs for Carter-V (Iran, full game) and Ferreira (Holland, 1st half) for the only game in which they participated. Also, the SD of the match GPA for the players and the team is discussed to describe the variation in match performance from game to game.


Average Technical Match GPA of 4 games

The match GPA includes the attacking and defending technical actions. The average match GPA for the USA National Team was 1.47 which includes the performance grades for the attacking and defending technical actions of all players participating in each game.


Average Technical Match GPA for each player in the USA Team including attacking and defending performance for all the 4 games in the World Cup 2022. In white, players who played in one game only. In red, players who were substitutes in at least 2 games; Aaronson played all 4 games, Reyna played in 2 games, Wright started in one game and was a substitute in 3 games.
Average Technical Match GPA for each player in the USA Team including attacking and defending performance for all the 4 games in the World Cup 2022. In white, players who played in one game only. In red, players who were substitutes in at least 2 games; Aaronson played all 4 games, Reyna played in 2 games, Wright started in one game and was a substitute in 3 games.

Also not shown in the picture above are players who participated in at least two games: Yedlin, Acosta, Moore and Morris. Their playing time, match GPA, and match SD were: 1) Yedlin played 27 minutes against Wales and 22 minutes against Holland (GPA=1.58, SD=0.24); 2) Acosta played 26 minutes against Wales and 35 minutes against Iran (GPA= 1.54, SD= 0.09); 3) Moore played 17 minutes against England and 18 minutes against Iran (GPA= 1.41, SD= 0.17); Morris played only 12 minutes and 5 minutes, against Wales and Holland, respectively; due to fact that he participated in a small number of actions, his average GPA and SD are not included.


The top 5 players of the USA Team based on the average match GPA of the four games played in the World Cup were:


1) Pulisic, GPA = 1.65

2) McKennie, GPA = 1.61

3) Aaronson, GPA = 1.61

4) Turner, GPA = 1.56

5) Weah, GPA = 1.54


It is interesting to see that all 5 players ranked at the top of the USA National team based on their World Cup performance have international experience competing in the top European Leagues. As shown above, Pulisic not only had the highest attacking GPA but, as shown in this section, he also had the highest match GPA, indicating that his defending performance was also significant. Importantly, Pulisic is the only USA player who has participated in the UEFA Champions League since 2019 with his club Chelsea of the English Premier League. Importantly, he won the Champions League Final with Chelsea in 2021 with significant participation throughout the tournament in 2020, 2021 and 2022. He is also a FIFA Club World Cup Champion with Chelsea. McKennie has been a regular starter for Juventus in Italy, another team regularly in the UEFA Champions League. Mckennie has had UEFA Champions League experience since 2020. Aaronson has played one year in Champions League and one year in the Europa League with Red Bull Salzburg from Austria. In fourth place, Turner also has had experience in the Europa League in the fall of 2022 playing for Arsenal. In fifth place, Weah has Europa League as well as Champions League experience with his team Lille of the French League 1.


However, Dest with significant Champions League experience since the 2020-21 season with Barcelona and in the 2022-23 season with AC Milan could not reach the top 5 in the USA National Team. Also, disappointing is that a player with such an experience as Dest had a lower average match GPA than his counterpart on the left side of the defensive line, A. Robinson, who earned an average match GPA of 1.48 and who does not have any Champions League experience. Yedlin would have been a good alternative to Dest. Yedlin had Champions league experience and Europe league experience in the 2020-21 season with his team Galatasaray in Turkey. Furthermore, Yedlin had better average GPA performance than Dest in World Cup qualifiers (5). Moreover, in the two games in which Yedlin participated in the World Cup (27 min against Wales, and 22 min against Holland), he earned an average match GPA of 1.58 which was higher than Dest's GPA. At least, Yedlin should have been given a starting role in one game and play more time in all games in the World Cup.


Variation from game to game

The most consistent match performances are those where the variation is smaller; that is, the standard deviation (SD) of the GPA values for the 4 World Cup games played. Below is the SD for the match GPAs ranked by least variation:


1) Ream, SD= 0.05

2) Adams, SD= 0.08

3) Zimmerman, SD= 0.09

4) Pulisic, SD= 0.12

5) Turner, SD= 0.12


The center defensive triangle (Ream, Adams, Zimmerman) had the same defending and attacking roles in all games; thus, the low variation from game to game. Pulisic had a slightly higher SD compared to the players in the defensive triangle, but his 4th place in the variation of the GPA shows the consistency of his performance in the forward line. Playing in the goalkeeper position in all four games, Turner had a relatively low variation of his technical GPA. Of the starting players, Musah had the highest SD of the technical GPA with a value of 0.26, despite the fact that he started in all the games and played the entire 90 minutes, with the exception of the game against Wales when he was substituted in minute 75. Musah's best match GPA was 1.87 against England and his worst performance was against Wales when he had a GPA of 1.27.


STARTING POSITIONS FOR THE PLAYERS WITH BETTER GPAs


After three decades working on match analysis and performance grading, soccer technical performance testing and training systems, training methods, physiology and nutrition of soccer players, muscle energy metabolism and fatigue in soccer players, and soccer-specific fitness testing and training (https://www.soccerpsi.com/publications), many years ago, I created the Soccer-GPA to establish meritocracy in soccer. Player selections and starting positions should be awarded to the best performers. The match GPA analysis is the most objective and fair method to grade each action with the ball based on a set of objective criteria. Pulisic earned the best average match GPA for the 4 games played by USA, demonstrating that he had the best average match performance for the USA team in a World Cup. The fact that he ranked in the top 3 in match GPA in each game demonstrated his consistency. Of the players ranked in the top five according to their match GPA, only Aaronson was not a starter.


The case for Aaronson

First, the match GPA ranking gives credit to Aaronson who worked hard coming in as a substitute and performed at high technical standards in each game. He had the highest match GPA of the team against Iran (1.85) playing only the second half. Even though only the players who played at least one half in each game were shown on previous analysis, Aaronson had a match GPA of 1.89 against Holland, playing the last 30 minutes of the game. His performances in all games demonstrate that he should have been given a starting position. In fact, he tied with McKennie for second place in match GPA ranking at the World Cup.


Secondly, Aaronson had demonstrated that he had earned a starting position already since the World Cup qualifiers (5). In the fall of 2021, during World Cup qualifiers, he scored the only USA goal on the 1-1 tie against Canada. It is important to remember that Canada was the top team from the region qualifying for the World Cup 2022. Aaronson also scored the third goal in Honduras to make the score of the game 3-1, in a very difficult match for the USA to qualify for the World Cup. And, Aaronson provided the assist to Pepi in the second goal against Jamaica in World Cup qualifiers. Aaronson's match GPA at the World Cup is consistent with how he was performing prior to the World Cup.


Aaronson's goal against Canada in the home game qualifier for the World Cup 2022.
Aaronson's goal against Canada in the home game qualifier for the World Cup 2022.

The USA team may have missed a great opportunity to have given a starting role to a player with such a high match GPA. A player with Champions League experience playing game after game at the top level for several years in the Austrian top league and currently in the English Premier with Leeds should have been given the credit he deserved. Aaronson's determination, work rate, skill, and endurance level could have given 90 minutes of top intensity in the four games. Aaronson should have started in each game of the World Cup.


Starting forward line by merit: Aaronson, Weah, Pulisic

By merit, of the forwards selected for the World Cup, the starting forward line should have been Aaronson, Weah, Pulisic. Furthermore, the forward line may have benefitted if Aaronson had started as right winger in all games, Weah as center forward, and Pulisic as left winger. The reasons to contend for this are:


1) Because of his endurance, Aaronson can run up and down the right side to attack and defend any incursions from the opponents' left backs; thus, relieving the goal scorer Weah of more defensive efforts he had to be involved playing as a winger.


2) Weah scored the goal against Wales from the center forward position, and he took a brilliant shot against Holland from a central part outside of the penalty box. A player with the speed, size, skill, attacking awareness, and shooting accuracy as Weah should have been nearer the goal.


3) With Pulisic making diagonal runs looking for a fast forward to penetrate the defensive line, being near Weah would have strengthen the performance of both players. The goal against Wales demonstrated these two players can help each other shine. Pulisic gave another assist to Wright against Holland and scored against Iran the winning goal.


Wright earned the trust on him

The other center forward and goal scorer Wright had an average match GPA of 1.43, based on his match performance on game 2 when he started and his contribution on games 1, 3, and 4 as a substitute. Wright scored a goal against Holland, and had a goal denied by an opponent at the goal line in the same game. Thus, moving forward and based on the World Cup performance as determined by the match GPA, I contend that the center forward position should be claimed by Weah (GPA= 1.54), followed by Wright (GPA= 1.43), since both scored goals in World Cup games. It is not an easy task to score in World Cup games.


Pepi should have been in the World Cup

However, when considering the center forward position, the case for Pepi must be brought up as well. I never understood why Pepi was not selected to be in the World Cup. Pepi should have been in the World Cup for the credit he had earned for his performance helping the team qualify for the World Cup. Pepi was instrumental for the USA to qualify for the World Cup by scoring important goals. His attacking GPA in three home world cup qualifiers was 1.39 which is higher than the average attacking GPA than any of the four center forwards utilized by the USA in the World Cup. His match GPA on the World Cup qualifiers was 1.62, the highest of all forwards, which indicates his significant defensive contribution as well.


Importantly, Pepi scored the 2nd goal against Honduras in the must-win game for the USA putting the team ahead 2-1 with only 25 minutes left in the game. Furthermore, he provided the assist for the 3rd goal 12 minutes later (6). Then, in the home game against Jamaica, Pepi also scored two goals (7).


Pepi's second goal against Jamaica in the home game qualifier for the World Cup 2022.
Pepi's second goal against Jamaica in the home game qualifier for the World Cup 2022.

Since the summer of 2022, Pepi has been playing in the Dutch top league. Pepi not only scored several goals for his team Gronningen but he was the only player in the Eriedivise in the 21st century to have been involved in 5 goals in the first 4 games (8). Thus, just prior to the World Cup he was in top form competing against Dutch players whose National team ironically eliminated the USA from the World Cup.


Turner, a goalkeeper on the rise

The decision to put Turner as the number one has proven to be a good choice, although Steffen was performing well in World Cup qualifiers (5). and may have performed equally good in World Cup competition. Steffen had experience being in the Manchester City squad. The fact that Turner had Europa League experience playing for Arsenal during the fall of 2022 prior to the World Cup likely gave Turner the confidence needed to play in big games. It is likely that Turner will get more experience in International Competition in Europe and it may be in Champions League after this season considering that Arsenal is at the top of the Premier League.


CONCLUSIONS


The performance analysis of the USA National Team in the World Cup showed that the more defensive players were in possession of the ball on average 51% more than the offensive players. This indicates that a conservative style was chosen throughout all the games. The ball should have been more in the possession of the attacking midfielders and forwards.


Once again, I have postulated that the percent accuracy is not a key performance indicator of skill in soccer games. By percent accuracy, Pulisic had the lowest value (80%) of the starting eleven in the USA National Team in the World Cup. However, he had the highest average match GPA of the USA Team. Pulisic's GPA indicates that he was the best player in the USA team by merit because of the difficulty, quality, and success of his actions and not only because he scored a goal and gave assists in two other games.


With the GPA analysis, I have demonstrated that when an objective match grading method is applied, the players performing at the highest levels of precision under difficult situations throughout a game obtain the highest scores. The ranking of the players in the USA National Team based on the match GPA showed that the players with most UEFA Champions League experience earned the top 3 spots. However, disappointing was Dest's average match performance, considering his Champions League experience with two top clubs in Europe.


The GPA ratings should determine who has earned to go to a World Cup, who should start in games, and who should have more participation in games at the top stage in soccer. The match GPA should be the essence of soccer meritocracy. The Soccer-GPA establishes who has earned to be a part of a team, to start and to play more time at all levels from professional to youth soccer.


References:

  1. Rico-Sanz, J. Match GPA Analysis of the USA team during the round of 16 game of the World Cup 2022: USA vs Holland. Jan, 2023.

  2. Rico-Sanz, J. Grade Performance Average of the USA National Team during game 3 of the World Cup: USA vs Iran. Jan, 2023

  3. Rico-Sanz, J. Grade Performance Average of the USA National Team during game 2 of the World Cup: USA vs England. Jan, 2023

  4. Rico-Sanz, J. Grade Performance Average of the USA National Team during game 1 of the World Cup: USA vs Wales. Jan, 2023

  5. Rico-Sanz, J. Soccer-GPA of attacking technical actions for USA players during qualifiers to the 2022 World Cup. Feb, 2022.

  6. SI. Ricardo Pepi Sparks USMNT's World Cup Qualifying Comeback Win vs. Honduras. Sept, 2021

  7. The Athletic. "USMNT's Ricardo Pepi scores 2 goals in World Cup qualifier win over Jamaica". October 7, 2021.

  8. ESPN.com. "USMNT striker Ricardo Pepi scores 2 goals for Groningen to continue hot streak". October 7, 2022.

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