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Depth Chart Battles - Blondell v. Hurtado

As the Whitecaps head into the home stretch of the 2018 season, there are crucial decisions to be made about squad selection. We’ll be taking a look at several key battles on the Depth Chart to see who should be getting minutes during the run in.

MLS: Canadian Championship Final-Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

In light of some recent super-sub heroics, the debate has come to a head as to which of the two strikers should be primary back-up to Headmaster Kei Kamara. Erik Hurtado has picked up two goals in his last three appearances which were both timely, and really well finished. Meanwhile Anthony Blondell has only managed one goal and one assist so far in 2018.

Fans can be forgiven if recent results tend to sway opinions, and in this case, it’s hard not to lean towards Erik Hurtado. The Oregon native has come up with some big goals in his last three appearances, playing the super-sub role to perfection. His volley in Yankee Stadium stole the Vancouver Whitecaps a point after a full rotation of the squad, and the goal he picked up against Toronto FC in the first leg of the Canadian Championship Final was another well timed and well taken marker.

On the flip side, there’s Anthony Blondell. Personally, I went into the season with high expectations for him. Following a breakout year in 2017, where he bagged 24 goals, eight of which were game winners, along with six assists across 39 appearances, many have seen him as something of a bust at this point in his MLS career.

We’re a long way removed from Blondell’s own super-sub performance in Dallas, where he came off the bench and put enough pressure on their backline, that Maynor Figueroa got really confused and hammered the ball into his own net. Shortly thereafter, recognizing the threat, Jimmy Maurer of course decided he would have no more of this smash and grab business and tried to chokeslam Blondell in his own box, forgetting there was the consequence of VAR and a certain penalty.

The problem is, that’s now three months ago. It looked as if Blondell would be breaking out of his early season slump and turning a corner, but the goals haven’t followed. Through 17 appearances, Blondell has managed just 20 shots, and only seven of which found the target. Definitely not a formula for success.

When you get into the advanced stats, the numbers aren’t any prettier. On the season Blondell’s xG is 2.19, meaning he could possibly be disappointed he hasn’t put one more ball in the net over the course of 17 appearances. When you break that down to his expected output per game, we’re looking at an xG/90 of just 0.30, or in Layman’s terms - less than a goal per three full matches.

Back to our recency bias. Erik Hurtado has been marginalized since the signing of Blondell in the offseason, but he’s bided his time and is now showing what he can do when given opportunities. Hurtado has bagged two goals in the league, and of course one in the Voyageurs Cup. This in the meantime has been across just seven appearances in all competitions.

While the goals of late have been hugely important, the underlying numbers aren’t much friendlier for Hurtado. His xG in the league is just 0.76, while his xG/90 is only a shade higher than Blondell at 0.33. That’s still only a goal per three full matches played.

Digging further into the realm of advanced stats, neither Hurtado or Blondell are very industrious in creating shots for themselves. Thanks to we have the Solo stat to judge by, which takes into account the percentage of shots taken unassisted. In this case, Blondell boasts a measly 0.1, while Hurtado is as low as you can go at 0.

This isn’t entirely an uncommon theme among Whitecaps forwards. For reference, Kei Kamara’s Solo percentage is 0.16.

Clearly service into the front line is a premium, and in the current system, with this group of players, the strikers need to be supplied with chances to score. That feels like an understatement and one worthy of mascot Captain Obvious.

So where does that leave us?

Blondell has clearly found a purple patch before, and while I don’t claim to watch much of the Venezuelan Primera Division, he did light up the top flight just a year ago. When you look at other Venezuelan products, perhaps the hottest commodity you can think of is Josef Martinez. By comparison to Blondell, Martinez managed only eight goals in the Venezuelan top flight across 36 appearances. In almost the same amount of opportunities Blondell clearly outdid his compatriot.

Meanwhile, this is now Erik Hurtado’s fifth year in Vancouver, and he’s creeping up on the 100 appearance mark for the club. In that time, he’s registered all of 12 league goals. While the work rate has always been there, that’s a really large sample size to look at and be able to draw a fairly definitive conclusion about a player. Is he really the best striking option the ‘Caps have behind Kamara?

At this stage of the season, should the Whitecaps continue to give Blondell opportunities or has he been usurped by Hurtado? Or do you keep hedging your bets that the goals will start to come for a player that the club spent $1M on, and has shown in the past that he can deliver the goods?

What do you think?