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Don’t Come for my Honduran King | Why the Vancouver Whitecaps Should Keep Michaell Chirinos

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at LA Galaxy Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There is only one game left in this ill-fated Vancouver Whitecaps season. Marc Dos Santos has said he has a clear idea of who will be back to hopefully right the ship next season. One player people seem particularly unsure of is Michaell Chirinos. Indeed a lot of people seem kind of down on him. The AFTN guys showed extreme indifference to him while discussing what players should stay for 2020; most people on twitter don’t seem to have much interest in him, and Kristian Jack (described in his TSN bio as “one of Canada’s top young soccer broadcasters”) said he felt the Whitecaps would look for bigger and better things at the wing positions. Only one person as far as I’ve seen has come to a strong and, in my view, very correct position.

Congratulations Peter on being woke on the issue of Chirinos! Allow me to lay out my reasoning for why the ‘Caps should absolutely keep Chirinos.

At its most basic my argument is that in his limited appearances Chirinos has been extremely effective at generating high quality scoring chances. He’s perhaps been more effective in this regard than any other Whitecaps player. Chirinos has averaged 0.44 expected goals per 96 minutes and 0.12 assists per 96 minutes. That may seem sort of confusing and mathy but what it means in practical terms is this: prorating what Chirinos has done in 339 minutes (or 3.5 full games) to the number of minutes Yordy Reyna has played in 2019 (2109 minutes), one would expect Chirinos to get 9 goals and 3 assists (assuming he wasn’t extremely lucky or unlucky) based on shooting data from the past 5 MLS seasons. Considering Vancouver’s struggles when it comes to getting the ball into the final third, that is excellent. I have brought up a few times how, despite a perception that he’s been indispensable this year, Reyna’s underlying metrics have been quite bad. I feel this is because Reyna’s best role doesn’t exist in the 4-3-3 formation. Therefore, I’ve floated the idea that the Whitecaps should trade or sell Reyna while his value is still high and reinvest the return to bring in a player who is a more natural fit. I am usually told (by like two people since most are quite checked out on the ‘Caps at this point) that Reyna is clearly very good and with a better supporting cast his numbers will return to normal. Maybe they are correct. After all, the Whitecaps are the least optimal team to be in for any attacking player at the moment, regardless of skill, so you have to be a little forgiving of the struggles of their attacking players. But if this is the logic we are operating under then we should expect Chirinos to turn into the MLS version of Eden Hazard if the Whitecaps improve their midfield. Under the same sub-optimal conditions as Reyna, Chirinos is doubling his expected output and doing it without the advantage of being on set pieces.

Now obviously Chirinos has a small sample size and these numbers may come down a bit over time. But isn’t the point of these short term loans for the team to get a look at a player to see how he does before committing to him? Chirinos could hardly have done much better in the time he’s been given. 3.5 games isn’t a lot, but it is also not nothing.

Chirinos has not only generated chances for himself, there is evidence he has improved the players around him. Moves which involve Chirinos generate on average 1.27 expected goals per game. This is the best total on the Whitecaps by a huge margin. 30% of the moves he’s involved in lead to a shot, which is higher than any other Whitecaps.

Many of the Whitecaps’ struggles in 2019 have been a result of an inability to keep possession or to advance the ball up the field. Well guess who’s at least decent at both of those things! That’s right, it’s our old friend Michaell. He is Vancouver’s only attacking player who is over-performing his expected pass accuracy, he attempts the second most dribbles per game and his 55% completion rate, while not amazing, is respectable for a winger who tries a lot of high risk moves.

Do I expect Chirinos to take MLS by storm in 2020? No. He’s not going to be Carlos Vela. But a player who’s shown the potential to flirt with double digit goals from the wing in difficult circumstances, is a proven goalscorer in a league that’s a bit above MLS (Liga MX), compliments the players around him, and is good at all the things the Whitecaps as a whole struggle with is not a gift horse a notoriously cheap team with trouble scoring goals should look in the mouth. Stay woke, folks!