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Puzzle Pieces | An Analysis of How the Vancouver Whitecaps Stack up in Attack

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

These chart articles seem to be quite well received so naturally I decided to do another one, this time focusing on the Vancouver Whitecaps’ attack. Do you know what? This one actually wasn’t that depressing. Vancouver’s attack is not exactly great but it does seem salvageable with a bit of tinkering.

Overview of Stats Used:

Judging attackers can be a bit tricky. It’s generally in the attack that positions are the most fluid. Is David Milinkovic a #10 or is he a winger? Is Fredy Montero a #10 or a Striker? The only attacking players currently on the 2020 Whitecaps who have exclusively played in one position are Tosaint Ricketts and Lucas Cavallini. Everybody else has played a mixture. Therefore I have taken the ambitious move of looking at them all together. I have tried to pick a range of stats that allow all styles of attacking player to get a fair go.

xG and xA: At the end of the day it comes down to what an attacking player produces.

xG per shot and xA per Key Pass: Although it does come down to production at the end of the day, the Whitecaps are famously bad at getting the ball out of their own end. If a player is not getting a lot of shots, or not creating a lot of chances, but the ones they do get are of really high value then I think that’s worth remarking on.

Dribbles and Dribble Success: Dribbling can be an effective way of unsettling the defence and advancing the ball. These stats measure the number of times a player beats his man successfully in a game and the percentage of the time he’s successful when he attempts to take an opposing player on, respectively.

Aerial Success: The percentage of aerial duels a player wins.

Involvement: The percentage of a team’s touches the player is responsible for. I feel in the case of attackers this is a good way to measure if the player is driving the play and/or how much of the ball they are getting.

Pass Score: I don’t think pass accuracy matters so much for attackers but if they are completing more passes than expected in a role where in theory they attempt more difficult passes that’s probably a good thing.

Attempted tackles: Ideally I would like this to be something like pressure regains but I don’t have access to that. Attempted tackles will serve as a decent enough stand in. We’re not necessarily looking for defensive prowess from out attackers but we are looking for them to at least give it a go.

G+: ASA Explainer

Lucas Cavallini:

Lucas Cavallini is good at some things and bad at others (now there’s some analysis for you). Cavallini is good at getting into dangerous scoring areas and winning physical battles. He is not good at dribbling or passing. If Vancouver build around playing to his strengths and don’t make him do things like try to dribble three guys at the same time and/or beat defenders for pace then he could be a genuinely effective player. If they aren’t going to do that then one wonders what the point of a DP striker was in the first place.

David Milinkovic:

Milinkovic is a generally average MLS attacker with above average chance creation. He’s not exactly the cornerstone of the team but he’s a good enough support player. Given the amount of turnover that’s happened it would probably be wise to keep him around, unless his purchase option is obscene.

Fredy Montero:

Fredy Montero has had a bit of a resurgence in 2020. The quality of his shots are lower than Cavallini’s though he is more of a creative force and a better dribbler. He also does quite a lot of defensive work, and is surprisingly good in the air, which is always welcome.

Cristian Dájome

Cristian Dájome certainly gives it his all. He has the second most attempted tackles per 90 minutes of any attacker in MLS. He also attempts a lot of dribbles. But when it comes to actual output, he’s just not delivering that much. He has seen a distinct increase in his underlying numbers since his family were finally able to move to Vancouver so perhaps by the end of the season this chart will be more favourable. But at this time he is not setting the world on fire. Dájome is an ultra direct player who frequently attempts long range shots and overly ambitious dribbles. Sometimes these work out but often it makes him frustrating. The thing is, unlike some other players discussed in this article, i’m not sure how much of a difference better service would make for Dájome. He’s already Vancouver’s second highest attacker in terms of involvement and a shot from 30 yards is a shot from 30 yards no matter how nice the pass you got it from was. He’s not a terrible player but nor is he particularly amazing.

Theo Bair:

Theo Bair is decent when he is involved but he is not involved very often. The quality of his shots are pretty good but he takes almost no shots. His pass score is good but he’s Vancouver’s least involved attacker. That’s partly on the general poor service Vancouver’s attack gets but it’s also partly on him. He could do more to involve himself when the ball isn’t coming to him. MDS apparently sees Bair as a winger but I look at this chart and I have to wonder why. This is a player with good passing, aerial prowess, high quality shots and very little else. Surely that’s a target man?

Tosaint Ricketts

Ricketts hasn’t played a huge number of minutes so perhaps this is a little harsh but it’s not very good, is it? Ricketts played genuinely well last season but did they really need to extend a 33 year old depth forward? Couldn’t they have waited to see how the season went first?

Ryan Raposo

Pre-season is, unfortunately, not real life. In four of these ten stats Raposo is the worst attacker in the league. In 341 minutes he is yet to attempt a shot. Of course it should be said that Raposo has been sent on late in lost games fairly often in 2020 so he has not exactly been put in a position to succeed but with the player taken right after him in the 2020 draft already on 4 goals it’s hard not to feel a bit disappointed. I’m not writing Raposo off but perhaps a CPL loan is in order for him in 2021.

Conclusions:

On the one hand there is some cause for optimism here. The players playing serious minutes are not terrible, something that can’t be said for other areas of the pitch. To an extent this gives me hope that if they genuinely nailed their DP number 10 signing that it would actually make a difference. On the other hand though, while these players are not terrible, fitting them together in a coherent way is kind of challenging.

Cavallini needs players to occupy the space behind him so that he can spend his time getting into goalscoring areas and not having to drop deeper to get the ball and be forced to do all the stuff he’s bad at. Montero and Milinkovic can both kind of do that but having both on the field leads to a front line that’s on the slower side and when Vancouver is mostly relying on quick breaks to create chances that leads to a lot of opportunities being wasted.

Montero needs quick runners to move into the space beyond him when he drops off to receive a pass. The only players who can really do that role are Dájome and Bair who, as you can see in the charts, are not the most reliable goal threats.

The Whitecaps’ attack has some good pieces but the puzzle is not entirely complete. With some careful planning and some smart additions they could turn these pieces into a quite effective attack. What could possibly go wrong?