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Yikes! | An Analysis of How the Vancouver Whitecaps Stack up at Centre Back

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After my article on the Whitecaps’ midfield enjoyed some success I decided to do a version of it for their centre backs. Doing so was an incredibly depressing experience. Part of the reason I like stats is that, if used correctly, they cut through subjective opinion and bias. If you’re a person, you have biases. We all have players we have a soft spot for, for one reason or another, or a player who’s style has just always rubbed us the wrong way. But stats don’t care about any of that. Until now I had been of the opinion that the Vancouver Whitecaps’ defence was basically fine but they were under so much pressure that they eventually conceded goals. I have been given good reason to reconsider that opinion.

An Overview of the Stats I Chose:

xG+xA: I chose to use the combined total because centre backs have so few direct attacking contributions

Tackle Success and Aerial Duel Success: I have chosen to focus more on success rates when evaluating the centre backs. Defenders on teams who have less possession are going to have more opportunities to make tackles and win headers and as such I think focusing on how often they are successful in those match ups is more important.

Interceptions: You have to approach these with a bit of a skeptical eye for the reasons outlined above but there is a fair amount of variation amongst the Whitecaps players in this stat so I thought it was a useful measure. I chose not to include blocks because the Whitecaps defenders were all at the top and as such I felt that stat was to related to the amount of time the team spends in it’s own end.

Pass Score, Verticality, and Passing Accuracy: The passing stats from the midfielder article are back. I think these stats are all worthwhile to look at for centre backs as well.

G+: The ASA Explainer

As always stats are adjusted per 96 or 90 minutes depending on the source of the stat, penalties are removed from all xG calculations, and players who have played less than 150 minutes are removed from the sample. I did not know how the players would perform in these stats when I chose them, though after gathering the data I decided that blocks when not adjusted for possession levels were not a useful metric.

Erik Godoy:

Erik Godoy has spent a lot of the season out with injury and it’s clear that the team missed him. His passing is a bit middling but in every other way he scores quite well. In particular his aerial success stands out (especially when you see how all the other players make out). Godoy is good and should remain part of the club’s long term plans.

Jasser Khmiri

Khmiri is in most ways a below average MLS centre back. That’s probably not that surprising to anyone.What might have been had his injuries not been so bad I suppose we will never know. However he is not the worst centre back on the team (oh just you wait) and interestingly is the only defender to score highly in interceptions. I think this speaks to how passively the team defends in general, with centre backs rarely stepping up to try and win the ball back higher up the field.

Ranko Veselinovic:

Folks, this is why we use stats. I loved the Veselinovic signing when it happened. He was young, highly rated, and came from a league I personally think is a good pipeline for MLS talent. The way he plays, to me at least, is quite pleasing to the eye with his frequent forward bursts and occasional good long range pass. You can find me tweeting as recently as a week ago that they should exercise his purchase option. But my god this is bad. He is not above average in a single stat, he regularly looses duels and his passing stats are dreadful. He may have some impressive passes on his highlight real but he hasn’t been able to produce them consistently. Veselinovic has Vancouver’s 4th highest value on Transfermarkt but by the looks of it he could probably be replaced by any decent USL or CPL centre back. I must hold my hands up and say it looks like I was wrong about the purchase option.

Derek Cornelius:

Cornelius is a slightly above average passer but generally below par at anything that involves defending. He is still only 22 but this is suboptimal. I think he is worth keeping around but I don’t think you would want him to be a starter.

Andy Rose:

Well that’s a bit surprising, isn’t it? Andy Rose, who was unimpressive as a midfielder in 2019, is a genuinely good MLS centre back in 2020. He’s excellent in the air, is an attacking threat from set pieces, and his passing is pretty good for a centre back. His accuracy is below average but as you can see from his verticality and passing score, that’s because he’s attempting difficult passes, and succeeding a surprising amount. One area for concern though is that Rose’s tackle success rate is lower than average for an MLS centre back and as a result he is a weak spot against skilled opposition dribblers. He seems like he might be best suited to playing on the right or left side of a centre back trio where there would be more cover for him. Importantly though, if you happen to be the head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps and are thinking about moving him back to midfield...don’t do that!

Conclusions:

I am left with the somewhat baffling conclusion that Vancouver’s starting centre backs should be Andy Rose and Erik Godoy. I am also left with the conclusion that the three U23 centre backs who have played this season are all kind of bad. That’s concerning because the Whitecaps have invested a surprisingly high amount of money and international spots on their defence. With results like this serious questions have to be asked about how the team evaluates central defenders in their recruitment phase. Former Whitecaps trialist Amer Didic and former WFC2 player Dominick Zator have both been standouts in the CPL. Maybe it’s time to give those guys another look. Maybe, also, it is time to see what highly touted, though untested, prospect Gianfranco Facchineri can do.