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Deep Dive: Tristan Blackmon

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MLS: Los Angeles FC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps have acquired Tristan Blackmon (25) from Charlotte F.C (after they selected him in the MLS expansion draft) for $475,000 in General Allocation Money over the course of two seasons. Blackmon can play as a right-back but will most likely slot in as a ball-playing centre-back for Vanni Sartini.

Career Summary:

Blackmon was drafted by LAFC in 2018. He played a season and a half on loan at Phoenix Rising before breaking through as a more or less full-time starter in 2019. He has made 72 total appearances mostly split between playing as a centre-back and right-back.

Stats:

The thing that stands out about Blackmon’s game, from a statistical perspective, is how comfortable he is on the ball. Only SKC’s Andreu Fontas played more successful progressive passes amongst centre backs last season, he was in the 95th percentile amongst centre-backs for passes into the final 3rd, and he was in the 98th percentile for nutmegs.

Data Courtesy of Fbref

You may recall this G+ map from a previous article of mine. The blue areas are the areas where the opponent is doing more to add goals than the Whitecaps:

Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

The biggest reason for the Whitecaps deficiencies in zones 7 and 8 (the area where a right-sided centre-back would occupy) was that they weren’t adding very much G+ through passing. So a right-sided centre-back who is really good at passing makes a lot of sense.

If we were to pick out an area of concern in Blackmon’s data it would be his 1v1 defending. He has never been dribbled past very often, probably because LAFC always had the ball, but his success rate when facing an opponent has been up and down over the years. However, he does make a lot of interceptions, has an above-average aerial duel win percentage, and frequently pressures the ball a lot. So being an aggressive centre-back in the right side of a back three seems to suit his relative strengths and weaknesses pretty well.

Data Courtesy of Fbref

My main reason for thinking he will mostly be a centre-back is that, apart from the 2019 season where he had a sudden burst of productivity, Blackmon has never really been a Julian Gressal style attacking wing-back. He has always been more about progressing the ball from deeper areas with relatively little direct offensive production.

The Deal and Where That Leaves the Squad:

For an American who is in his prime years and is actually pretty good, I think 475K is a very reasonable price for Blackmon. This leaves the Whitecaps with 5 centre-backs Vanni Sartini clearly views as starters (Blackmon+Godoy, Veselinovic, Nerwinski, and Jungwirth). This may seem like a lot but at this point, you can’t rely on Erik Godoy to be fit for 34 games, maybe not even 24, and you probably don’t want to be relying on 33-year-old Jungwirth to player every minute of every game, so they did need someone.

The team is now pretty set in the defensive positions. I would hope the focus would now switch to adding secondary scoring, midfielders who can help them control the game more so that the defence has less to deal with, and the intersection of thereof.