Every year we think this is the year Russell Teibert will be relegated to a depth role on the Vancouver Whitecaps. Every year he keeps coming back. This year he has been playing in a defensive winger role, covering for a very attacking Cristian Gutiérrez. The reviews are tepidly positive. I would say most people don’t feel that he is the ideal player they would want on the left wing but that he looks a lot better than he did as a central midfielder. Here’s a reminder of what his chart looked like last season, where he mostly played in a central midfield role:
In most ways Teibert was pretty far below average. But as a winger he certainly looks better. So I thought it might be fun to test that hypothesis. I have come up with a whole range of stats to look at that should take in to account Teibert’s unique role. I have not actually looked at any of these stats yet so we’ll be embarking on this journey together. Obviously there is no way for you, the reader, to verify that but just trust me.
Teibert’s role is mostly a defensive one. I would hope that he generates some offence but I would not be too disappointed if he is below the median. So long as he is doing something I will be satisfied.
There’s a lot going on here. On the one hand those crosses he has been putting in are clearly doing something. Teibert is actually in the top half of MLS wingers in expected assists. This is honestly quite impressive considering Vancouver creates so little from open play and Teibert does not take set pieces. On the other hand that is basically the only element of his attacking game he has going for him.
It wouldn’t be a Russell Teibert article if we weren’t asking questions about how much he passes the ball backwards. As we saw at the beginning of the article, Teibert is an ultra conservative passer for a central midfielder, ranking very low in verticality and very high in passing accuracy. But how does he compare to wingers? My gut feeling is that he might do surprisingly well. Maybe not up at the top of table but somewhere slightly above the average.
Ok, wow, that’s a lot better than I was expecting. By the standers of MLS wingers Teibert is a skilled, direct, and accurate passer. It is not that Teibert has suddenly become a super aggressive passer, it’s just that when compared to wingers rather than midfielders his passing is a lot more progressive. Wingers generally don’t have to progress the ball from deep areas of the pitch, so you don’t need to be as progressive a passer to rank highly when compared to them. I think it is becoming increasingly clear that winger is Teibert’s position (and probably always has been).
I would hope that Teibert is head and shoulders above the pack here. You would hope to see a defensive winger being good at defending. Otherwise, what’s the point?
A bit difficult to know what to make of this. Teibert’s tackling numbers feel a bit disappointing. It’s always been kind of strange to me that Teibert has not been able to translate his high level of physical fitness into a ball hunting midfielder role. That said though, he is making a lot of interceptions so he is doing something to help with the defensive side of things. He also has the most pressures on the team according to fbref but they don’t let you filter out players by position or minutes played like ASA or Whoscored do so I can’t really put that in the chart.
If this exercise has convinced me of one thing it is that Teibert should never play in the middle ever again and moving him there in the first place was probably a big mistake. He is not exactly setting the league on fire as a winger, and I wouldn’t necessarily want him to be first choice, but he’s undeniably doing some positive stuff. When you compare what he has done as a winger this year to what he did as a centre midfielder last year it really could not be more clear which position he is stronger in. There are weaknesses in his game to be sure. He is not a dangerous dribbler, he is not a goal threat, and he is not an amazing tackler. But his crosses are a weapon that opposition defences have to respect, he is a pretty progressive passer for a winger, and he can break up opposition attacks with his interceptions. As a wise and handsome blogger once said:
The Whitecaps are a team of guys who are very good at one or two things. The trick is to find a system where none of them ever has to do any of the things they are not good at.— Caleb Wilkins (@wilkins_caleb24) May 3, 2021
Teibert is good at running hard and crossing the ball with his left foot. In his defensive winger role those are the only things he really has to do. In a central role he is forced to do things he is bad at like progress the ball from deep areas with his passing. You’re hard pressed to justify him as an MLS player in that role. But as a winger, while he is not perfect, there is no question that he’s an MLS level player. Definitely not an elite MLS player but an MLS player nonetheless. It really makes you wonder where he would be if he had been allowed to continue to develop in his original position. But that can’t be helped now. The best time to make Teibert a permanent winger was in 2014. The second best time is now.