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Deep Dive: The Deep Dives

Vancouver Whitecaps FC v Real Salt Lake Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

This season I have been analyzing new Whitecaps singings with my “deep dive” series. The Whitecaps are currently being linked to Ryan Gauld who would fill the long empty role of the ‘Caps main playmaker. If they manage to get a big signing like that over the line then it’s important for you, the valued reader, to know you are in safe hands when it comes to analyzing his prospects in MLS. So I thought it was worth looking back at the deep dives I have done so far to see how accurate they were.

Deiber Caicedo:

I projected Caicedo would be a fairly average winger in MLS in his first season with the potential to develop into a very good one.

So far this assessment has been, in my opinion, mostly accurate. Caicedo only has 1 goal and 1 assist so far but he creates quite a lot of shots for how anemic the Whitecaps are and in most metrics you would use to measure a winger he is around or above the median. Caicedo is currently second on the Whitecaps in shot contributions per 96 minutes (behind Javain Brown who out of nowhere looks like the second coming of Maicon). He is just inside the top half of MLS wingers with at least 200 minutes in xG+xA. He is not amazing but he is solid and has a lot of room to improve.

I had access to some Data on Caicedo’s time in Colombia, thanks to Peter Galindo posting his radar on twitter. Here is how that data would have compared to MLS wingers if it had translated exactly and how he has actually done in MLS.

Caicedo’s Actual MLS Outcomes So far. Data Courtesy Of American Soccer Analysis and Whoscored

As we can see Caicedo mostly looks how we thought he would. His expected assists from open play and the number of fouls he has won have not quite translated but everything else more or less matches up. These two discrepancies can be explained by two factors, in my opinion. Firstly, as I noted at the time, MLS is a bit stronger than the Columbian first division and players generally see a slight decrease in their production.

Secondly, it’s the Whitecaps. They rely heavily on chances from set pieces and have the second lowest xG from open play in MLS. When corners and free kicks are factored in Caicedo is in the 61st percentile of MLS wingers in expected assists but only the 42nd from open play. The discrepancy in the number of fouls won can probably be explained by Caicedo having less of the ball in Vancouver. In Colombia Caicedo played for a dominant team. Now he plays for a team that is, you know, not that. According to Fbref.com Caicedo is in the 5th percentile for touches amongst wingers in the last 365 days in MLS. So he doesn’t exactly have a lot to work with at the moment.

I finished by projecting that Caicedo would have between 4 and 7 in both goals and assists.

See? I did say that. with 1 goal and 1 assist in 9 games Caicedo is on pace for 3.7 goals and assists over the course of the season (so 3 or 4, essentially). He has underperformed xG slightly and it’s not unreasonable to think his production would get a bump if the Whitecaps finally manage to sign a player like Gauld (I know). So i’m claiming victory on this preview.

Caio Alexandre:

I projected Alexandre to be an above average box to box midfielder who would also chip in offensively.

Alexandre generally has pretty impressive passing numbers but the direct involvement in chance creation has not really materialized so far. Alexandre has the most passes into the final 3rd of any player in the MDS era but he has only directly set up two shots. One possible explanation for this is that he is being used in a deeper role than he was in his time in Brazil.

Alexandre’s MLS Heatmap via SofaScore
Alexandre’s Serie A Heatmap

As we can see, Alexandre’s touches are a lot more concentrated in his own half with Vancouver, whereas he was all over the pitch for Botafogo.

As with Caicedo here is how Alexandre’s numbers in Brazil would have stacked up in MLS compared to how he has actually done so far.

Alexandre’s Actual MLS Outcomes. Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis and Whoscored

As we can see, aside from the huge drop in key passes, Alexandre basically looks the same as what we were expecting. Much like Caicedo, he is around the average but his age means that there is reason to be optimistic he can take it to another level in the coming years. Also, I feel this chart does not fully capture just how good his passing has been. Here is how he stacks up in some of ASA’s advanced metrics:

Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

As we can see, Alexandre is above the median in terms of how accurate his passes are, how many he completes above expected, how vertical they are, and how involved he is in his team’s possession. He is not by any means the best #8 in the league but he is young and still has time to take his game to the next level. More importantly though, my assessment of how well he was gong to do in MLS was mostly correct. Chalk up another W on your charts at home.

Bruno Gaspar

Gaspar has been limited by injuries in 2021. To the eye he has not looked terribly impressive and his data has shown some regression. His offensive contribution has not really translated, his defensive numbers are down, and his ability to progress the ball has not materialized. He has been weirdly dominant in the air though.

Here is what his data from earlier in his career looked like compared to how things have actually worked out for him.

Gaspar’s Actual MLS Outcomes. Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis and Whoscored

It’s a smaller sample size but it’s looking like Gaspar is not going to end up being quite as good as I thought he would be. I spent quite a lot of time in my deep dive on Gaspar talking about his ability or progress the ball but so far he has not come anywhere near the level he was able to achieve in Serie A. I did note in the article that data was from a while ago but maybe in the future it would be a good idea to take older data on a player with a grain of salt, especially if that player has suffered injuries or is reaching the point in their career where they start to slow down physically. I can only work with what I have available to me but maybe it doesn’t make sense to call something a “deep dive” if I have incomplete data. Gaspar also had the least amount of easily accessible video for me (someone living in Canada who pays for as little as he can get away with) so I think that probably contributed to my having a less full picture of him compared to Alexandre and Caicedo.

Brian White:

It’s too early to say on this one but White has played one game where he barely touched the ball and then scored a high xG chance. That’s basically what I told everyone to expect.

Conclusion:

There are some lessons to be learned but overall my strategy for evaluating how well players will do in MLS. Simply showing how a player’s data would stack up in MLS seems to be a weirdly accurate way of determining how they will do. I would be interested to see how this held up if/when the Whitecaps sign a player from a league that is significantly weaker than MLS.