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Deep Dive: Brian White

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at New York Red Bulls Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps have acquired American striker Brian White from the New York Red Bulls in exchange for 400k in allocation money (plus 100k in incentives). According to Manuel Veth, White was targeted as a stand in for Lucas Cavallini when he departs for the Gold Cup.

Career Summary:

White (25) has spent his entire professional career with the Red Bulls. He has scored 14 goals and added 4 assists in 45 MLS appearances. He has generally been around 0.5 xG+xA per 96 minutes in MLS play.

Style of Play:

I got in touch with Once a Metro’s Ben Cork to get a bit more info on White. Ben described him as a smart striker who makes good runs and has decent technique, but who is limited by his lack of pace and inconsistency.

White’s video shows that most of his goals are from close range. In fact, according to Whoscored.com, he has taken more shots inside the 6 yard box than he has from outside the penalty area in MLS play. Having the movement and intelligence to get these chances for yourself is a real and valuable skill but it does kind of rely on someone to pass the ball to you. Here we arrive at the biggest problem with this acquisition. The Whitecaps have hoarded a veritable army of guys who would be good with someone to pass them the ball but have nobody to pass the ball to that army of guys. Cavallini, Bair, Egbo, and now White are all basically fit the same mold of a poacher who has got his strength and aerial ability sliders turned all the way up. This type of player can be very effective but they rely on other players to do the work of getting the ball to them (I guess this is technically true of every soccer player who has ever existed but you know what I mean). Lucas Cavallini, basically the platonic ideal of this type of guy, has struggled this season so naturally there are questions about how well White can be expected to do in the same team.

I asked Ben about White’s link up play and he told me White is decent at it but is not necessarily a distribution genius. Based on this description, and others, in conjunction with some stats it seems White might be slightly better at coming deep to receive the ball than Cavallini but probably not to the extent it would make a huge difference.

Looking at FBref.com, White generally scores very highly (compared to other MLS strikers) in defensive stats and aerial duels. So clearly work ethic, grit, stick-to-itiveness and so forth are strengths of his.

Data:

Here is how Brian White compared to MLS forwards (players ASA defined as strikers, attacking midfielders, and/or wingers).

Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis and Whoscored

As we can see, White is extremely good at the things he is good at and pretty awful at the things he was bad at. White was fantastic at getting shots off in dangerous areas. His xG and expected goals per shot were ahead of several DP strikers. But other than that? There’s not a lot going on. If the Whitecaps had successfully landed a DP #10 target his profile would actually be pretty exciting. If Otavio were pinging him the ball four or five times a game he could probably do some real damage. But without that player in place it’s hard to see how White is going to succeed.

A couple caveat to these stats: His low attempted tackles makes it look like he doesn’t defend very much. But that’s just because that’s the only easily sortable and rank-able defensive stat that I really have for attacking players. The FBref scouting report makes it clear that he does well at other aspects of defending:

White’s 2020 defensive stats courtesy of FBref

White doesn’t make a whole lot of tackles but he pressures the opposition a lot and has a high success rate on those pressures. So he may not personally take the ball away from the other team very often but he does harry defenders into giving the ball away to someone else quite often.

Secondly the 2020 season was part of what Red Bulls fans refer to as “the zone.” “The zone” is the period of time the Red Bull were coached by Chris Armas. This period was defined by a lack of team cohesion and regression by individual players. So this may not be the peak of White’s abilities. Of course he’s not exactly coming in to a great situation for a striker in Vancouver so maybe it’s a moot point.

One more fun stat: White was in the 92nd percentile for nutmegs by strikers in 2020.

Effects on the Squad:

The Whitecaps are now a bit over loaded at the striker position. But David Egbo is apparently heading out on loan to an as yet unnamed USL club. Glass City reported that Theo Bair is close to a loan but J.J Adams and Manuel Veth both said that their sources refuted that claim (we’ll see how that plays out). This has naturally lead to discourse about young players and the chances they get. Personally I am a believer in the long term potential of Theo Bair. I have yet to actually see Egbo play but people who have seem very high on him. I understand wanting to see more of two players who have great potential if they can put it all together at the MLS level. But I don’t think it’s correct to say that young players aren’t getting a fair shake in this team. Recent draft picks and academy grads like Ryan Raposo, Javain Brown, Michael Baldisimo, and Kam Habibullah have all played more than Egbo and Bair. So clearly there is a route into the team for young players who do well enough. If Bair and Egbo aren’t trusted to play right now then I think a loan is the right move for both.

In an Interview with J.J Adams Axel Schuster said that they have agreed personal terms with their main DP #10 target but are waiting for his current team to replace him before the transfer can go through. Schuster described the unnamed player as a “perfect fit.” Given the sheer volume of players on the team who, in theory, would be improved by getting improved service you have to think that the addition of that player might seriously turn things around for them offensively. I am sorry if thinking this makes me a simp for the team.