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Which Whitecaps are #ActuallyGood?

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SOCCER: JUL 20 MLS - San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Vancouver Whitecaps are having a bad season. It’s been two season in a row of disappointment and likely two seasons in a row of roster churn. Most of the players have struggled. This being the case, I think it is important to try to understand which players are struggling because the team is struggling and which are the reason the team is struggling. So let’s look at the Whitecaps who have played over 200 minutes. This article won’t include players Branden McDonough or any of the players who have played 0 minutes because there isn’t really enough evidence to say one way or another if they would have positively or negatively effected the team.

#ActuallyGood

Ali Adnan:

The subject of much controversy lately. Is Ali Adnan a good enough defender? Does he try hard enough? People are split. Some are even throwing GIFs around, the barbarians. Let’s address the defending issue first. It is true that Ali Adnan is dribbled past the 5th most on the team (per 90 minutes), much more than any other ‘Caps defender. However he also attempts the 5th most tackles so part of the reason he gets dribbled past is because he attempts more tackles. He successfully completes around 65% of his tackles. That isn’t great but it is manageable. Currently someone dribbles at Adnan 3-4 times a game on average. Statistically he will probably miss one of those tackles. But if the Whitecaps were a better team who controlled the game more and thus Adnan was tested less defensively, maybe twice per game, then the tackles he misses would be much less of a problem. Successful tackles are of course only one aspect of defending. Adnan also blocks more crosses than anyone else, wins a higher percentage of his aerials than anyone else, and makes the 4th most interceptions of anyone on the team.

On the other side of the ball Adnan completes the highest percentage of his attempted dribbles of any Whitecap (he is 12th in MLS in total successful dribbles despite Vancouver rarely having the ball) and is more involved in the Whitecaps’ attack than any other player. So yes, Adnan is good. Being on a team that caused him to be tested less defensively and gave him some support going forward could make him great. I wish he would run back harder and take fewer low percentage long range shots but those downsides pale in comparison to the good stuff he brings. MDS should yell at him more, I guess.

Maxime Crepeau:

Crepeau is way overhyped by Whitecaps fans. He isn’t a USL goalkeeper as some people (well one particular person) bizarrely continue to insist. He is a league average shot stopper and an above average distributor. He’s fine. He makes a lot of saves and has a high save percentage but his numbers are boosted by the Whitecaps mostly limiting opposition to shots from distance and sharp angles. AmericanSoccerAnalysis.com ‘s GA-xGA model has shown that throughout the season he’s conceded about the amount of goals you’d expect him to based on the xG of the shots he’s faced. Sometimes he’s been stopping slightly more than you’d expect, sometimes slightly less, but he’s always hovering around what would be expected. His distribution is very good, he’s 8th amongst MLS goalkeepers in completed long passes and 11th in completed short passes per game. Crepeau is fine and having a keeper who is fine is fine.

Zac MacMath:

See above. You gain a bit in shot stopping with MacMath but loose a bit in distribution.

In-beom Hwang:

I already discussed Hwang pretty extensively in a previous article but essentially he is the only half way competent #8 on the Whitecaps at the moment.

Doneil Henry:

Very solid both in the eye test and in analytics. He’s maybe a little overhyped but for the most part he’s solid.

Scott Sutter:

Sutter has quietly had an excellent season. He completes the highest percentage of his attempted tackles on the team, blocks the second most passes of anyone on the team and wins a surprisingly high number of aerials. He doesn’t offer very much going forward and he’s 33 but he’s still getting it done defensively so i’d keep him around next year.

Erik Godoy:

Godoy has been solid but this recommendation comes with a big asterisk. Godoy is currently on loan with an option to buy. Whether or not the Whitecaps should keep him depends on what that option is. Godoy’s defensive stats are all good but not great and his fancy passing stats are pretty impressive but if you look around the league there are players who offer something pretty similar for less money.

Lucas Venuto:

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Lol, I guess not.

Derek Cornelius:

He started off a bit rough but his stats are all pretty similar to Godoy’s and Henry’s and at 21 he still has a big margin to improve.

Theo Bair:

Theo Bair currently leads the team in xG per 96 minutes from open play. If you count the four penalties Montero has scored then Bair is tied for the team lead. His xG+xA per 96 is comparable to established MLS stars like Sebastian Blanco and Jordan Morris. Now obviously this is a faint comfort if he hasn’t actually scored a goal yet and he still looks a bit clumsy out there, but in the limited minutes he’s played Bair has generated high percentage scoring chances. That’s something you can’t really say about most of the Whitecaps’ attacking players this season. The 2019 ‘Caps are pretty much the definition of not being put into a position to succeed for a young striker but if they manage to sort out their midfield (not a guarantee) then I think Bair could do some damage in 2020.

The Bubble:

I wasn’t really sure what to make of these three players so they’ve been designated “on the bubble.”

Yordy Reyna:

Yordy Reyna has been awful in 2019. If he hadn’t been so good in previous seasons he would easily be the bad section. His goal and assist totals have obviously taken a bit of a hit but his underlying stats have cratered. His xG+xA/96 from has more than halved from 2018, his key passes are down by a 3rd, and he’s completed less than 50% of his dribbles. Although Reyna is second on the team with 4 goals but if you think about it, two of those goals were due to catastrophic goalkeeping errors and one was a deflected free kick. He’s not exactly scoring replicable goals. He is taking more shots than in 2018 but the shots he’s taking are mostly garbage. He is shooting more from outside the box and from sharp angles. Reyna is 26 so this sudden decline isn’t due to age. More likely it’s due to the way he’s been used. Reyna’s best position is as a shadow striker behind a target man. This role doesn’t exist in the 4-3-3 the Whitecaps have most commonly used. You could run a 3-5-2 with a shadow striker but Dos Santos has said his long term vision is for the team to play a 4-3-3. The commitment to a 4-3-3 seems like an odd choice for a team that put so much money into Ali Adnan but if they are really committed to it then it may be wise to try and move Reyna while his value is still high. The other option is to work at converting him into an inside forward and to get him to stop shooting from outside the box but lots of coaches have tried him on the wing before and it’s never proven all that effective.

Jon Erice:

Is Jon Erice good? I’ve watched him play, i’ve looked at the stats and I still have no idea. Stats wise he’s about as good a defender as Ali Adnan (there’s a rorschach test for you) and he doesn’t loose the ball very often. But other than that he doesn’t do a whole lot. That might be reasonable in a league without a salary cap but a >700k salary and an international spot for a player who doesn’t score goals, doesn’t create chances, and isn’t noticeably involved in more buildups that lead to shots than any other Whitecap may be a luxury the team can’t afford. The dirty little secret amidst all the calls for the Whitecaps to spend more money is that they don’t have a whole lot of roster flexibility next season. It’s not impossible to turn things around but it will be tricky. They will most likely have 1 DP slot, two or three international spots depending on what moves they make, and room for two, possibly three, TAM players. The Whitecaps could probably find a player who’s a decent tackler and keeps the ball for a lot less money than they’re paying Erice and if they can find a way to make that switch they probably should.

Jake Nerwinski:

Meh. He’s fine but he’s slightly worse than Sutter. He’s an MLS quality American so you might be able to get something decent for him.

Joaquin Ardaiz:

There is no way that the Whitecaps should make Ardaiz’s signing permanent but despite not scoring any goals, he’s generated the second most xG on the team so I thought he didn’t deserve to be in the bad section.

Part of the Problem:

These players have not been good.

Fredy Montero:

Started slowly, looked like he might be coming to life for a moment and then quickly disappeared again. No Whitecaps striker has really been put in a position to succeed this year but even taking this into account Montero has been disappointing. He’s only managed two open play goals and generally looks slow and disinterested. When you control for the four penalties he’s taken he lags behind both Bair and Ardaiz in xG. I wouldn’t totally discount him succeeding elsewhere but I feel like i’ve seen enough of what he currently has to offer Vancouver.

Russell Teibert:

In the past Russell Teibert has been unfairly maligned as a player who only passes backwards and has minimal impact on the game. This season though, that’s actually been true. His defensive stats are all down, the verticality of his average pass as dropped almost 75% and he continues to not do much going forward. Teibert doesn’t count against the cap as a homegrown so i’m fine with him staying as long as he’s given a lot less responsibility.

PC:

I will say one thing for PC. His stats are better than I thought they’d be. They are still very bad but they are better than I thought they would be. His defending is very bad, and he doesn’t create very much going forward. He is surprisingly high in expected assists but even then he doesn’t offer a whole lot. PC makes a pretty tiny percentage of the cap but he makes more than a guy like Latif Blessing and I think you could find at least a dozen guys in the CPL who could offer at least the same level of output.

Lass Bangoura:

0.12 xG+xA/96 and less than 50% of his dribbles are successful. I’ve seen enough.

Brett Levis:

He intercepts a lot of passes but that’s about it. He’s just never really been the same since his injury. I’ve seen the stats so I know none of you read my WFC2 articles (this is a callout post) but he really looked like he could be a good MLS player before getting hurt. I’ll always wonder what might have been but unfortunately I think it’s time to move on.

Authors note

I woke up in a cold sweat having realized I forgot to add Andy Rose and Felipe to this article. I’m quite sure how this happened but please accept my apologies for this grave oversight.

Andy Rose:

A big guy who doesn’t play like a big guy. Doesn’t go in to many tackles, no real passing or dribbling ability to speak of and he actually wins a lower percentage of his aerials than Hwang, a player who’s been criticized for being a bit behind the physicality of MLS. I am very much out on Rose.

Felipe:

He’s struggled and probably has some trade value within MLS. Last year his underlying stats were good but this season even those have taken a hit. I just don’t think it’s going to work in Vancouver.