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Possession is 9/10's of the law... but what about the other 10%?

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When the full-time whistle blew last Saturday afternoon, it could certainly be said that the Sounders had pulled out a much-deserved 3 points. While far from the most beautiful performance we have seen from the home side, getting the result without either of our "South American connection" of outside mids must certainly be worth something.

The OPTA stats show the Sounders with clear advantages in shot attempts (18-4), shots on goal (5-1), corners (9-2), and a slight edge in duels won (63-55). This certainly follows the narrative of what most of us will claim to have seen on that sunny afternoon: A clearly better Sounders team eventually went ahead on Zach Scott's first MLS goal and hung on for the win, while giving Colorado very little of their own to work with.

However, when you go down the stats you see some numbers that seem downright counterintuitive: Colorado had 566 passes with a 77% success rate, compared to just 377, at 72%, for the Sounders, granting the Rapids a clear 60-40 edge in possession.

Most of us have gained an understanding as to how important possession is to the modern game. It's hard to argue with the basic logic that you give yourself the jump on your opponent by keeping the ball the majority of the time. So how do we explain this? Did our eyes deceive us, did the glorious sunshine play tricks on our vision?! Furthermore, not to put to fine a point on it, but by most objective standards the Sounders passing numbers were pretty poor. So what happened?

There may be some clues in some of the other numbers, like the aforementioned duels won, or the fact that Colorado blocked 6 shots, which may show a defense bunkering against a determined attack. But bunkering doesn't really denote possession.

We can learn a lot more by looking over the chalkboards, where we can gain some understanding about where all those touches came. Rapids' holding midfielder Jeff Larentowicz led the team with 161 trackable actions, 101 of which were passes, 79 of which were successful. Right back Kosuke Kimura was next with 151, 91, 70; then left back Luis Zapata with 123, 66, 53.

This immediately brings to mind the "hidden layer" of fullbacks and defensive midfielders who are tasked with "pro-active defense" and providing their team with the touches and high-percentage passes that could rightfully be considered possession as a defensive tactic.

It could very well be that the lesson learned from Colorado's decisive possession advantage is they were a team under immense pressure for most of 90 minutes that did everything they could to hold off the lions. In this case, it could rightfully be said that they desperately poked and prodded for a way out of their cage, but to no avail.

Looking at the Sounders chalkboards basically confirms this. Although the Sounders' defenders had plenty of time around the ball -- Osvaldo Alonso, Leo Gonzalez, and Zach Scott all had over 100 trackable actions (Gonzo leading the team with 117) -- Fredy Montero had 116, and David Estrada had 91, which compares favorably to Omar Cummings 71 and Brian Mullan's 98. None of the four offensive players had great passing numbers, but his makes perfect sense, of course, as it is logically harder to complete passes in the attacking 3rd than the back third. However, significantly more of Montero and Estrada's actions were past midfield. Montero, particularly, spent a lot of time on the ball, working hard to find a way to unlock Colorado's defense, usually attracting at least 2 defenders for his trouble.

The team stats paint a stark contrast as well. Per agtk's research, the Sounders had roughly 80 successful and 41 unsuccessful passes in the attacking third, while the Rapids had only 66 and 27 in the same area, showing again the Sounders were doing the lion's share of the poking and prodding. Perhaps even more telling is that the Sounders were 163-64 for passing in their half of the field, while the Rapids had an incredible 324-89. And this was not just the Sounders bunkering after Scott's goal: the Sounders were 120-46 in their own half before the goal while the Rapids were already at 200-61.

In the end, we can safely say the sun didn't play tricks on our eyes. The Sounders took it to the Rapids for most of the match; and we can also learn that the statistics can actually be used effectively to explain the holistic nature of the game.

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