Stats Stories

Staying on Track: Atlanta United’s pursuit of territorial dominance


As Atlanta United, and MLS, develops deeper knowledge and use of data analytics, we’ll be taking a look behind the curtain at some of the specific stats the club values. In our new weekly content series, we examine one metric provided by StatsBomb that may not stand out on a first watch, but upon closer evaluation, is a useful tool to measure the team’s performance.

Nine matches into the regular season, Atlanta United has been one of the best passing groups in the league. The team completes 86.7 percent of their passes, which currently ranks third overall in MLS.

For this week’s stat, we’re looking at how Atlanta United passes the ball in one specific area of the pitch, which also happens to be the most dangerous: Atlanta United’s attacking third. This is Staying on Track presented by MARTA.

The stat: Territorial dominance (and field tilt)

What it means: How dominant a team is when it comes to possession higher up the pitch.

In the team’s most recent match, the scoreless draw with Chicago Fire on April 27, Atlanta United had a territorial dominance value of 66 percent, which indicates Atlanta United’s share of possession in the match considering only touches or passes in their attacking third. The better attacking team usually dominates the metric because they have more of the ball in attacking areas. So, we can conclude from this metric that Atlanta United dominated their danger zone and did a good job controlling the ball in dangerous territory.

Let’s look at this video that highlights one particular moment at Soldier Field. As Atlanta United hunts for a game-winner in stoppage time on the road, we see the team complete 11 passes in the attacking third, a significant weight added to tilt the field in Atlanta’s favor.

On first look, we evaluate the offensive side of the ball when it comes to territorial dominance. But the metric also reveals the play of the opponent. Since Atlanta United had 66 percent, and the total value equals 100, Chicago Fire’s field tilt in the match was 34 percent. This means that Atlanta United’s opponent spent less time in front of their goal than Atlanta United spent in front of their goal.

This point is proven even further with the quality of Chicago Fire’s attacking chances. Against Atlanta, the Fire had zero shots on goal. This show’s that Atlanta United was very successful in disrupting Chicago’s chances and preventing their opponent from developing possession into a quality chance.

To show this territorial dominance, StatsBomb shows it through field tilt, which looks at the most dangerous part of the field for an attacking team and their passes in the final third. For example, the precise cross Brooks Lennon sent to Saba Lobjanidze, which nearly resulted in a goal if not for the timely reaction from Chicago goalkeeper Chris Brady, contributed to this value for Atlanta United, as did Thiago Almada’s pass to Giorgos Giakoumakis inside the 18-yard box that eventually found its way to Tristan Muyumba for a shot in the 14th minute.

As StatsBomb puts it, “territorial dominance is not the end-all, be-all" for attacking opportunities. Many other factors improve a team’s performance, among them shooting skill (which we’ve studied defensively with post-shot expected goals) and defensive pressure (which we studied last week with Almada).

And the case is true here. Atlanta United succeeded in territorial dominance last weekend in the Windy City. However, as good as they were in their attacking third, finishing the match not only with the advantage in field tilt but also 16 shots and six on goal, Atlanta United didn’t convert. If everything were to come together, quality finishing along with territorial dominance, Atlanta United would certainly have found the formula to produce three points.

Atlanta United's Data Scientist & Analyst Arjun Balaraman contributed to this story. Visualizations and video by Khoury Kennedy, Atlanta United's Motion Graphics Producer and Video Editor.

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