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Negative Action

Doesn't seem to matter the formation or opponent - the Columbus Crew like to keep two defensive midfielders in the starting lineup this year. All totaled, the team has played seven different players who have accumulated over 20% of all starting minutes to date. Let’s dig in.

Matías Sánchez meets with refs after Crew fall to Chicago, 22 June 2013
Matías Sánchez meets with refs after Crew fall to Chicago, 22 June 2013
Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the year the Crew made it clear that defense was what was in need of the most attention. Fans saw fresh new signings like Glauber, Wil Trapp, Chad Barson, Tyson Wahl, Agustin Viana, Konrad Warzycha and Matias Sanchez join the team. What do they have in common? Well, outside of Wahl and Barson, most of them have found themselves in a holding mid type role.

Getting a read on how well a holding mid contributes to the actions isn’t as easy as measuring the contributions of an attacking player. Goals and Assists are not measurements that can be applied to a defensive minded midfielder role. Especially with the Crew.

In almost 4000 minutes of play by holding mids have only been able to muster one goal and no assists. That’s over 20% of all available starting minutes over 20 games. One goal.

In order to get a read on the players in this role you have to look elsewhere. But where? Looking to Opta for answers it became clear that preventing a negative action is important to a player in a holding mid role.


Turnovers. Being Dispossessed. Errant Passing and Shots off Target...

...these are things that could be considered as negative actions for a defensive mid and all are tracked by Opta, the official stat keeper of Major League Soccer. With that, I thought it’d be interesting to take the total number of negative actions a Crew defensive mid makes and divide it by total over all touches a player makes.

Since the Crew have so many different players with plenty of minutes let’s take a look at who avoids the negative.


Kevan George has had 198 Total Touches. Of those...

36 : Misplaced Passes

01 : Shots Off Target

03 : Dispossessed

02 : Turnovers


42 / 198 total touches = 21%

21% of Kevan’s touches have been something that resulted in something negative. How do the rest of our defensive mids do? Here is the list:

% Negative Action (HIGH=BAD) : Player

43% Konrad Warzycha

27% Tony Tchani

24% Agustin Viana

21% Kevan George

21% Matías Sánchez

18% Danny O'Rourke

17% Wil Trapp


Almost half of all of Warzycha’s 112 total touches in his 200 minutes have resulted in some sort of negative result. Breaking it down further; 30 of his 75 passes have been bad passes (20th of 23 outfield Crew players). His dispossession rate is second highest on the team (2.2x per 90 mins) and he is one of only a couple players in the league with over 8 shots and none on frame (or blocked).


The Crew have brought Sanchez on a little slower than expected but he has managed to accumulate the 2nd most minutes of any other DM. He seems like a live wire out there, looking over some of his metrics he skews ‘responsible’.

Minutes Played : Name

1304 Danny O'Rourke

685 Matías Sánchez

676 Tony Tchani

555 Agustin Viana

375 Kevan George

204 Konrad Warzycha

180 Wil Trapp

Sanchez, O’Rourke and Trapp seem to shine above the rest when evaluating negative touches. But it doesn’t stop there, on of the more critical metrics for a holding mid is one of the most common and understood:

Passing % : Defensive MF

84.9% Will Trapp

78.8% Danny O'Rourke

76.7% Matías Sánchez

72.7% Kevan George

70.1% Agustin Viana

68.4% Tony Tchani

57.1% Konrad Warzycha

The immediate qualification for stats like this is how many games a player has played and against whom. Trapp has only played a couple game, true. And one of them was against a 10 man side, but Warzycha has played in the same games and appears at the opposite side of the spectrum.


Whether it’s a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 (or 4-6-0 that Massive Report Managing Editor Patrick Guldan has pointed out) the Columbus Crew like to keep two players on the field that are ‘holding’, regardless of the situation.

What I’ve found, sifting through the data in this way, is that Matias Sanchez is playing well and that Trapp is already separated himself from the pack in the early going. With Danny O’Rourke moving to a Center Back it only makes sense that these two players find a little bit of time to play together.

Thanks for reading.