Player Acquisition: The Tweeners

There is a thing that constantly steals my interest when it comes Major League Soccer. It’s how teams choose to scout and evaluate talent that is already in the league. One thing that has been made quite clear with the financial constraints is that it is difficult to hold on to those players that hover around the $200,000 salary threshold, and yet aren’t stars or obviously consistent difference makers.

Player makers such as Chris Rolfe, Mauro Rosales and Bobby Convey have found new homes in MLS, either in the few months leading up to this season or since the first kick. The names themselves aren’t specific references of importance, but rather examples of what happens in the off-season concerning players in the aforementioned pay range that are just casualties of cap situations in today’s era.

These players we understand to a degree. They are interesting talents with a fair amount of room for critiquing, whether that be due to personality, problems with injuries or just inconsistent displays of performance from week to week. There are always one or two or even three (in this case) of these players that are available come the off-season.

Two of the three players went to clubs with the ability to take chances.

Chivas USA was obviously getting a steal in adding Rosales. Super Mauro, since being added to the roster, has accrued 17 key passes and 3 assists while producing 12 shots on his own. He leads the club in Total Shots Created.

DC United needed anything to help save their season and jump start their offense. The arrival of Rolfe in return for a bit of allocation money was seemingly a worthwhile risk–and his influence on Ben Olsen’s chances of keeping the head coaching job can probably be debated to some extent. Prior to the trade, Olsen and DC United had only produced 1 point through 3 matches. Since the addition of Rolfe, they’re now rolling at nearly 2 points per match.

Now, I’m not saying that Rolfe is truly responsible for the turn around. That idea would represent lazy analysis. In fact, DC United generated 34 shot attempts to its opponents’ 36 in the first three games, and 108 to 112 since, so it’s not like Rolfe’s presence has indicated a stable improvement yet. Frankly, since MLS week 4, it’s been the Fabian Espindola show at RFK, and that is a completely different discussion.

On to Convey, who didn’t go to a team that had to take on a lot of risk. Instead he went to the defending Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. He has been somewhat of middling attacking influence in his time on the pitch for the Bulls, adding 9 key passes and 2 shots in just under 700 minutes over his initial tenure this season.

WhoScored isn’t exactly impressed. They have graded his performance so far by issuing him a 6.39 rating which is well below their league average rating for a player—which sits near 6.7. Squawka ranks him 16th on the  roster depth chart which mostly follows up that thinking being that WhoScored placed him 15th overall.

These three players represent teams that have taken advantage of a system available to them in an effort to improve their club. What is intriguing to me at this juncture isn’t necessarily the impact they’ve made upon their current club but how their current clubs targeted them as being upgrades and financially worth their investments.

I’m sure that MLS teams have personnel that help front office types make decisions and help discern player talent and ability that make them right for the acquisition. I am familiar enough with certain clubs to be aware of the individuals that are involved in that process, and much of it seems archaic and awkward in method.

Mauro Rosales may have been less of a risk when it comes to Chivas. In fact it was kind of “duh” type moment that perfectly fell in their lap. The other side of the coin is that Rolfe and Convey were both risks, and heavy ones at that considering their price tags (before New York lapped Convey up, that is).

I would certainly concede that all are substantial talents within the US first division. But how they fit the rosters to which they were added to is a bit interesting.

Some could point to Convey’s addition to New York as an attempt to add competition to the left side and some wide play making, Convey has instead shifted to the back line in the form of a full back. Which begs the question, was that the idea before he was added?

I, as well as many, had thought Luis Silva would be taking over the role of central play maker in Washington after the departure of Dwayne De Rosario. After the stumbles by Silva early on, I thought that Rolfe would take over that role, but instead he looks to be pushed out wide with Nick DeLeon, being featured more frequently in the central attacking role. Was this a decision made before acquiring him, and did the club think he could fill that role any better than some of the more natural wide midfielders who have moved clubs since?

Results-based analysis is often unhelpful, and in these cases, don’t truly tell the story we’re seeking in how MLS teams are valuing these types of players. I’m curious if there are any specific statistical values that teams could point to as to why they made this move–and please, I hope it’s more than the assists or goals totals, or the fact that they’re “winners.” For all the talk about transparency in details for the league, it would be nice to see some of the true thought processes involved in analyzing these talents beyond tired cliches. Especially considering that all these clubs they have access to far better gauges and methods than what most of us have at our disposal.

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D.C. United: Shooters, Providers and What?

As you might have seen from our twitter stream, I kind of wrote an article on DC United last night. Then I scrapped it. Then, Alex Olshansky dropped this brilliant mess concerning Michael Bradley, and I was like “that’s basically what I was doing… on a team level!” So it kind of nudged me to at least put forth an effort to finish it…only not really.

What I did was basically compiled stats for four “core” attacking players on three different clubs. Two of those clubs (Sporting KC and Houston Dynamo) have shown consistent success the last two years, while D.C. United…well, you know, they have kind of stunk the place up.

The rest I submit to you without further inane commentary.

 

D.C. United

DC-Four

SH=shots, KP=Key Passes
SH/KP = Shots/key passes ratio
ShCPG =Shots created per 90 minutes played
%ofTeam= the total percentage of the teams shots that the individual created

 

 

 

Houston Dynamo

Hou-Four

SH=shots, KP=Key Passes
SH/KP = Shots/key passes ratio
ShCPG =Shots created per 90 minutes played
%ofTeam= the total percentage of the teams shots that the individual created

 

 

 

Sporting Kansas City

SportingKC-Four

SH=shots, KP=Key Passes
SH/KP = Shots/key passes ratio
ShCPG =Shots created per 90 minutes played
%ofTeam= the total percentage of the teams shots that the individual created

MLS Attack Pairings

Today, I was asked simply, which team has the best pairing in MLS? It’s a good question, and oddly one that I’ve been asked a lot and. Despite the frequency of requests, it’s something that I have trouble answering. There are a lot of ways to measure performance for attacking personnel, but due to my time restraints I found the easiest way to do this was to go to Squawka and use their attack score.

Below is a listing of teams and their two highest* attacking score combos. Since it’s a purely cumulative stat I pro-rated it to 90 minutes. As you probably wouldn’t be shocked to find out. Mike Magee, Landon Donovan and Federico Hinguian round out the top-3.

Player Team Minutes Attack Score AS per 90
Mike Magee Chicago 1051 582 50
Patrick Nyarko Chicago 1554 527 31
Carlos Alvarez Chivas USA 1653 360 20
Eric Avila Chivas USA 1634 260 14
Dillion Powers Colorado 2035 576 25
Deshorn Brown Colorado 1800 448 22
Federico Hinguian Columbus 2142 1162 49
Dominic Oduro Columbus 1987 610 28
Dwayne De Rosario DC United 1208 343 26
Kyle Porter DC United 1403 244 16
Blas Perez FC Dallas 1569 584 33
Michel FC Dallas 2004 538 24
Brad Davis Houston 1408 540 35
Will Bruin Houston 1721 472 25
Landon Donovan LA Galaxy 1380 753 49
Robbie Keane LA Galaxy 1320 698 48
Marco Di Vaio Montreal 1868 897 43
Felipe Martins Montreal 1768 535 27
Diego Fagundez New England 1621 613 34
Lee Nguyen New England 2137 527 22
Thierry Henry New York 1952 854 39
Tim Cahill New York 1761 441 23
Sabastian Le Toux Philadelphia 1864 729 35
Conor Casey Philadelphia 1528 667 39
Darlington Nagbe Portland 1895 761 36
Diego Valeri Portland 2072 725 31
Javier Morales RSL 1796 838 42
Ned Grabavoy RSL 2043 467 21
Chris Wondolowski San Jose 1890 530 25
Shea Salinas San Jose 1400 434 28
Eddie Johnson Seattle 1300 461 32
Obafemi Martins Seattle 1024 448 39
Graham Zusi Sporting KC 1860 680 33
Claudio Bieler Sporting KC 1986 620 28
Jonathan Osorio Toronto FC 1164 397 31
Robert Earnshaw Toronto FC 1495 333 20
Camilo Sanvezzo Vancouver 1674 876 47
Kenny Miller Vancouver 1305 506 35

There are a couple of key individuals missing from this list that may or may not “pop out” at you. The first is Philadelphia’s top goal scorer Jack McInereny. Part of this is due to his missing time with the Mens National Team during the early rounds of the Gold Cup tournament. The other part is that outside of his bunches of goals scored early in the season he hasn’t done much else with his time.

The other name, though less likely to be spotted, is Luis Silva. Since arriving at DC United, he’s posted the top overall score determined by Squawka, as well as the highest rating on Whoscored, with his new club. However, he’s only played 5 games and a total of 420 minutes for DCU, so it’s a small sample and I decided to drop him from the listing. This lowered DC United’s end score rather dramatically and yet corresponds quite well with whatever combination player they might be able to muster.

Now, taking all those dynamic duos and adding them together gave us a combined score of the two best attacking players on each team. Here are those in order.

AS per 90
LA Galaxy 97
Vancouver 82
Chicago 80
Crew 76
Philadelphia 74
Seattle 71
Montreal 70
Portland 68
RSL 63
New York 62
Sporting KC 61
Houston 59
FC Dallas 58
New England 56
San Jose 53
Toronto FC 51
Rapids 48
DC United 41
Chivas 34

It’s not a surprise to see LA at the top of any such list. Robbie Keane and Donovan have long be herald as the best dynamic attacking duo of the league. But if you are looking beyond those two the teams are rather surprising. Vancouver, Chicago, Columbus and Philly all make up the top-5 with the often scrutinized Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson contributions falling just outside the grouping.

Another interesting note, taking us further towards the discussion of single best player. While individual performances matter, it’s about team accomplishment rather than singular performances over the stretch of the season. It’s obvious that while Chicago and Columbus both have had outstanding performances from their key men up top, they are lacking something on a team level such that these individual metrics don’t correspond entirely to the tables at the end of the day.