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Thomas Hasal Should Play More

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MLS: LA Galaxy at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

With Maxime Crepeau away at the Gold Cup the Vancouver Whitecaps have been forced to turn to another Canadian Goalkeeper in Thomas Hasal. In this article I will argue that they should keep doing that, at least sometimes.

Maxime Crepeau got off to a red hot start to the 2021 season. At one time he had saved more goals above expected than any other keeper in the league. This hot start was then followed by a poor run of form that saw Crepeau’s numbers crater and the Whitecaps to only pick up one point over a five game stretch. This is not to say that Crepeau was making catastrophic errors every game, but sometimes you need a big save and Crepeau just wasn’t producing them.

Since Crepeau has been away Thomas Hasal has played in his stead. Now, I will not tell you that Hasal has been amazing, that would not be true. But a look at some key metrics shows that there really isn’t all that much difference between him and Crepeau.

Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis and Fbref

There are 27 teams in MLS, and that means 27 starting keepers. 53 keepers (54 if you count midfielder Alex Roldan who was forced to go in goal for the Sounders at one point) have played so far. Conveniently for this chart someone who was 27th in every stat would fall in the 50th percentile. So if one of those stats is over the 50 line on the chart then Crepeau and Hasal can be said to be doing it at an MLS starter level.

What we can learn from this chart is pretty clear. The Whitecaps have two low end starting keepers who are really good at distribution. Maxime Crepeau is often described in Vancouver as one of the best keepers in MLS, or one of the league’s best shot stoppers, but this isn’t really true in any quantifiable way. That’s not to say that he is bad, he’s just not as good as Matt Turner or Andre Blake. Likewise, Hasal is not taking the league by storm but he is by no means bad.

Now a quick breakdown on how the two compare on all these metrics. Crepeau lets in 0.06 more goals than expected per match and Hasal saves exactly the number of goals expected. Which is to say both basically make exactly as many saves as you would expect the average keeper to make. Right now Hasal is slightly ahead but they are so close I would not be shocked to see them flip back and forth.

Both score super high in passing stats. Hasal completes more of his passes but Crepeau completes more difficult passes. Again though, the difference is not huge. Hasal’s completes 79.7% of his passes and Crepeau completes 73%. According to the boffins at American soccer analysis Crepeau completes 7.82 more passes than expected per 100 passes (best in the league) and Hasal completes 4 (7th best in the league). They are both good passers, folks.

Crepeau catches, punches or otherwise blocks 5.9% of the crosses he faces. With Hasal it’s 3.3%. It is not a major strength of either but Crepeau has a pretty clear edge. Interesting side note, the best keeper in the league at blocking crosses is another Canadian in Montreal’s James Pantemis (14.3%).

Crepeau is very willing to come out of his penalty area to make a play. He makes a defensive play outside his area once per game, which is quite high. So far Hasal is yet to record one.

But, although Crepeau is more active coming off his line, there is a tradeoff. The smart folks at American Soccer Analysis have come up with a G+ or goals added metric for goalkeepers. You can read all about how that works here. As we can see from the chart, Hasal is ahead of Crepeau in this metric. When you take a closer look you can see that a large part of that difference is due to a G+ category called “handling.” Hasal adds 0.03 goals per match compared to Crepeau who is on -0.04. In less jargony terms this means that when Hasal makes a save he is a lot less likely to parry it back into danger. So with Crepeau you get better control of the penalty area but with Hasal you get better rebound control.

The other element of this is that Hasal is just 22 years old. He’s not a total youngster but he is still improving. If you compare his 2021 numbers to his 2020 numbers you can see he’s improving a lot!

Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis and Fbref

There is an element of asset management here. You have two basically equivalent goalkeepers but one has the potential to get better. In order to get better he has to play. Loaning him to the USL or CPL would be kind of a waste since he’s already shown he can handle MLS.

I am not saying that Hasal should be the automatic starter every game when Crepeau returns. What I am suggesting is more of a 1A/1B type of arrangement. This will allow Hasal’s transfer value to build and then you can get a nice fee for him without seeing a big drop in the quality of your goalkeeping.

Or you just have a really good homegrown keeper and which would also be nice. But just planting him on the bench when Crepeau gets back would be clutching defeat from the jaws of victory.