It almost feels cliche to bemoan the Vancouver Whitecaps’ lack of midfield quality at this stage. But it continues to be a really big problem so we have no real choice but to keep talking about it. So with this in mind I thought it would be worthwhile to take a sober statistical look at what the Whitecaps have in the middle of the park. People often complain, not entirely unfairly, that when we do charts that compare Whitecaps players to each other it isn’t particularly meaningful because the Whitecaps are a bad team. So, inspired by the charts that American Soccer Analysis puts out sometimes, I have been playing around with visuals that compare ‘Caps players to all of the other players in the league who play the same position as them. For the purposes of this article I have compared the Whitecaps midfielders to players designated as defensive midfielders and players designated as central midfielders since all five players that will be discussed in this article have played a mixture of the two.
An Overview of the Stats I Chose to Incorporate:
Part of looking at stats effectively is choosing which stats to look at. So I thought it was only fair to you, the reader, to outline why I chose the stats that I chose and what is meant by them. I chose all of these stats before I knew how any of the players would do in any of them.
xG and xA: I’m sure these are familiar to you all by now but, just in case they are not, xG and xA stand for expected goals and expected assists. They measure how good a chance is based on previous chances from that location. So if I took a shot from a location where 30% of previous shots went in I would be awarded 0.3 xG and the person who passed to me would be awarded 0.3 xA.
Involvement: Involvement is a measure of the share of a team’s total touches. I chose this because it gives you an idea how influential the player is on the team.
Passing Accuracy: Passing accuracy is simply the percentage of accurate passes a player makes.
Verticality: Verticality is the average total forward distance a player’s pass travels. As many people have pointed out (especially when Russel Teibert is being discussed) having high passing accuracy doesn’t necessarily make one a good passer. You could spend the whole game making 5 yard passes back to your centre back and you would have great passing accuracy but would not have done much to help your team win.
Passing score: The average number of passes above or below expected according to ASA’s expected passing model. When looking at this stat in conjunction with verticality and passing accuracy you should get a good handle on how effective of a passer a player is.
Tackles: The number of tackles a player makes on average in a game.
Tackle Success: The Percentage of of tackles that a player attempts in which he wins the ball. This in conjunction with Tackles gives you a good overall picture of how effective a tackler a player is.
Interceptions: The number of interceptions a player makes. I feel between this, tackle success, and tackles you can get a good idea of how effective of a defender a player is.
G+: It’s very complicated but also very useful. It essentially measures how many goals a player adds per game. For a more in depth breakdown please see the ASA explainer.
All of the stats are based on a per 96 minute basis (or per 90 minutes if they are from Whoscored) and I have removed penalties from all xG calculations. The charts show what percentile a player is in when compared to all other players in that position in that particular stat. Now let’s get into it!
Baldisimo looks very promising for a 20 year old midfielder just starting to find his feet in the league. He is above the league average in 7/10 of these stats. He is below average in xG, which is not a huge deal since his role doesn’t really ask him to take a lot of shots. He’s slightly below average in the defensive stats but above average in the number of tackles he attempts. Defending is not a strength for him but he tries hard. One hopes that his defending will improve as he gains experience. Baldisimo would be most effective when paired with a ball winner who makes up for his below average defending and allows him to use his above average passing. Baldisimo is involved a lot, plays a lot of forward passes, and is a positive in G+. When you consider how young he is and his margin for growth you have to feel very positive about what the Whitecaps have here. Savour that feeling because positivity will be in short supply going forward.
If this chart could make a noise it would be the noise Marge Simpson makes whenever something concerning happens. The Whitecaps’ minutes leader is in the bottom 25% of players in his position in 6 of the 10 stats of the relevant stats. His only redeeming qualities are his mostly backwards passes and his interceptions. I have long argued that Teibert deserves his spot on the team because you need some average domestic guys to fill out the squad. But this is not what an average midfielder looks like. With guys like Damiano Pecile and Patrick Metcalfe coming up through the ranks, and a number of Canadian midfielders making a good case for themselves in CPL I don’t know that Teibert’s spot on the team should be as secure as it is. This certainly isn’t a player I would be locking up for three more years plus an option.
Like his 2020 season, Owusu’s chart is a mixed bag. On the one hand he brings the most goal threat of any of the Whitecap’s midfielders and on the other hand he’s even less vertical in his passing than Teibert. His lack of involvement is concerning, especially considering this is a player they have invested a fair amount of money in. Every other stat is just kind of middling. He has had some very good games (and some very bad ones) and it’s a bit of a weird season to say the least so maybe there is a salvageable player here. Consider the case of Cristian Dájome. While he was separated from his family due to Covid-19 he averaged 0.15 xG+xA per match and since being reunited with them he has averaged 0.52 xG+xA per match, essentially going from plug to low level DP in terms of offensive output. To me that shows how much of an effect feeling comfortable can have on a player’s performance. So I am willing to cut Owusu some slack but Baldisimo should clearly be ahead of him in the pecking order.
Bikel is a very one dimensional defensive midfielder. He has yet to take a shot or make a key pass but he is comfortably above average in tackles, tackle success and G+. He is more involved and more vertical than Owusu, which is a little concerning considering Owusu is supposed to be the #8, though he is less accurate in his passing. What concerns me is that while he is above average in his tackling, he’s not way above average. He is not in the top 25% in any relevant stat and when the famously thrifty Whitecaps spend a decently sized transfer fee (reportedly 2.2 million) that’s not good enough. Again, weird season, maybe we aren’t seeing the best of him, but if you’re going to provide 0 attacking threat you had better be an elite defensive midfielder and Bikel appears to be merely above average. Also he makes hardly any interceptions. That might just be a sample size thing, he’s played slightly fewer minutes due to injury, but it raises an eyebrow for me. I’m not writing him off but generally speaking I would like to see more.
Where to begin? Metcalfe has played the fewest minutes so his chart is the whackiest but it seems like he hardly does anything except play the occasional very difficult backwards pass. I am very sympathetic that this is possibly the hardest possible year to make the breakthrough as a professional and also that the small number of minutes he has played so far don’t necessarily represent everything he is as a player. But also, let’s keep it real, that doesn’t look good. Metcalfe is 22, which is around the age when a player transitions from being a prospect to “Ok, what are you?” I think the best thing for him next season is probably a loan to CPL where he can play regular minutes and the Whitecaps can see what they have.
I rank the Whitecaps midfielders as follows:
If the Whitecaps are trying to put their best team in the field, regardless of what formation they are playing, that should be the order in which their midfielders fill up spots.
Looking more long term I think Baldisimo is a player you have to incorporate into any plans about what the midfield will look like going forward. He and Bikel in a double pivot behind a the fabled DP #10 might just be a functional midfield. You would probably have to throw in a couple of new additions to truly feel confident, perhaps using one of the new quasi young DP slots but there is at least something to build on there.