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David Egbo Showing MLS Readiness on USL Loan

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2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Vancouver Whitecaps’ first pick in the 2021 super draft is off to a hot start in the USL. 22 year old Nigerian striker David Egbo looks primed to be a contributor to the Whitecaps’ first team in the 2022 season. On loan at USL side Phoenix Rising, Egbo already has four goals and an assist. He is still a little rough around the edges but right now all signs point to him having a future as at least a solid MLS striker.

The headline of Egbo’s game is his ability to evade defenders in the box and get on the end of high danger scoring opportunities. Or to put it another way; He’s a very effective tap in artist. He’s #56 in the videos below.

Egbo averages a whopping 0.27 xG per shot. This is indicative of a player with good off the ball movement and an ability to pop up in the weak spots in an opposition defence. Egbo has the fourth highest xG per game of any striker with at least 400 minutes in USL This aspect of his game is fantastic.

Of course a striker can’t just stand around in the opponents six yard all day. They also have to be involved in the play and tack back. Egbo’s defensive work is pretty good. Egbo is the 15th best striker with at least 400 minutes in G+ through interrupting, which is good enough to be in the 78th percentile. In actual practice this usually looks like one of two things. Either Egbo will put pressure on a defender, forcing a bad pass, or he will drop into the midfield to make a tackle on an unsuspecting opponent. Egbo seems to have a pretty good idea of when to press an opponent, often using the sidelines to reduce the amount of space a defender has or chasing down a defender who is in an awkward spot due to a bad pass or unfortunate bounce. He also loves to sneak up on someone and poke the ball away from them, which is always entertaining. The defensive pokes also often lead to transition chances. If Egbo does play regularly for the ‘Caps first team it will be at the head of the Caicedo/Gauld/Dájome. Creating transition opportunities for those three can only be a good thing

Egbo’s link up play is a mixed bag. Egbo has the 2nd most key passes per match of any striker in USL with at least 400 minutes and the 6th most expected assists. So he does have some playmaking ability. Most of these key passes are the result of quick layoffs in the box.

He also does a good job of holding the ball up. Egbo uses his strength and stature intelligently to hold off opposition defenders. This makes him a good outlet for progressive passes and frequently forces defenders to foul him because they can’t get the ball off of him.

But when Egbo tries to drop deep and make a play things tend to go wrong.

Egbo missed an entire year of competitive football due to the Covid-19 pandemic so perhaps it’s not surprising that the things he seems to struggle most with are to do with timing and coordination. His first touch also lets him down sometimes. Once he has the ball at his feet he’s actually quite tricky but he doesn’t always control the ball properly when it’s pinged into him.

I also think he could get a bit meaner on crosses. Egbo is a big guy and he uses that to good effect when shielding the ball on the ground. But so far he hasn’t shown himself to be a huge aerial presence. That’s not to say he shies away from contact necessarily but doesn’t show quite the same bloodlust that Lucas Cavallini does. Looking at Egbo’s data and watching him, shot volume is a bit of a concern. That is to say the shots he gets are all super dangerous chances but he doesn’t get that many of them. He may be 4th in xG but he’s all the way down at 39th in shots. If he could brute force his way into getting on the end of more crosses that might help with his shot volume.

But what does it really mean to be an effective striker in USL? How does that translate to MLS? Well, thanks to American Soccer Analysis adding some of the lower American leagues to their database we can get a pretty good idea. I looked at 21 strikers/attackers who have played significant minutes in both USL and MLS during their careers. I found that on average players retained about 69% (nice) of their USL non-penalty xG+xA when making the jump to MLS. Most players fell somewhere in the range of 50-80% of their production retained with a handful doing better or worse. So in Egbo’s case that would mean somewhere between 0.44 and 0.7 non penalty xG+xA per game with 0.60 being exactly 69% of his USL total. This would put him somewhere between 32nd and 9th amongst MLS strikers. Or in other words, somewhere between Corey Baird and Chicharito. That’s a wide margin but either way it’s an MLS level striker.

Now, there is some evidence that a player’s overall game does not translate well from USL to MLS. None of the players in my sample had an above average G+ in MLS. On average their G+ fell by 0.14 per match. In Egbo’s case this would mean a G+ of -0.17 compared to the league average. This is still above replacement level but, obviously, well below average. G+ is not a perfect metric, sometimes it puts out some weird results, but this seems like a clear indication Egbo’s game is a bit rough around the edges, especially when he’s not directly in front of goal. But we kind of knew that from the video.

Overall Egbo looks like he will be ready to be a first team contributor next season. Were it not for injuries, the global pandemic, and his status as an international he probably would have been on the first team this year. He is rough around the edges and at 22 he might not get all that much better than he is now. But he looks like he can at least be a dangerous goal poacher in MLS. The additions of Ryan Gauld and Pedro Vite make this type of player more attractive to the Whitecaps, even if their game is limited in other ways. If he can improve his passing game, first touch, and aerial presence then he can be a really deadly striker. So look out for Egbo in 2022.

Postscript:

You might be wondering, since I did all that work trying to figure out how Egbo’s production would translate, who else in USL might be good? Well I also wondered this and I think two attacking players stand out based on their production and age.

The first is Haitian international striker Ronaldo Damus. Perhaps best known to readers of this blog for missing an open net against Canada during the Gold Cup. Despite that embarrassing moment, the 21 year old Damus has been tearing up the American lower leagues for the past three seasons. His status as an international may discourage some MLS teams but based on my findings you would be looking at somewhere between 0.41 and 0.64 non-penalty xG+xA per game from him. If you got that from an early 20s player signed out of a South American league or European you’d probably be pretty pleased so I think he would be worth the risk for someone.

Perhaps more interesting from a Whitecaps perspective is 21 year old Canadian winger/forward Adonijah Reid. The Whitecaps once passed up on drafting Reid in favour of Francis De Vries (0 first team appearances, now plays in Sweden’s 3rd tier). Reid was drafted by F.C Dallas but never played for them. He had two mediocre seasons in 2017 and 2018 with Ottowa Fury in USL. He then signed for the reserves of French side Le Harve and wasn’t really heard from for a while. This season he signed with Miami F.C and has so far put up 0.84 xG+xA per 96 minutes. This has only lead to two actual goals and he tends to get brought on as a sub but he is just a shot creating machine. His production, based on my investigation, would most likely translate to between 0.42 and 0.67 non-penalty xG+xA in MLS. That would be pretty incredible for a player who’s career as a high level player in North America looked to be over this time last year. Now, I would urge some caution based on two points. Firstly he’s underperforming his xG by a pretty huge amount. Usually this is just a sign of bad luck but if it persists over a long period of time it may be a sign of lack of finishing ability. Secondly we have a lot more evidence of Reid not being nearly this good at the USL level. He is young so it’s possible the surge in production is simply due to him improving as a player but it could also be a blip. I would probably wait until at least the end of the season before making any moves to see if he can keep it up.