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The Gauld Table | Part 2: It’s Happening

MLS: Austin FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Gauld has now been available to the Vancouver Whitecaps for 6 games. In those games, he has 2 goals, 2 assists, has taken 18 shots, and made 9 key passes. The Whitecaps have a record (in MLS, I know) of 4W-2D-L0 scoring 11 and conceding only 5. Gauld’s impact seems pretty obvious. But let’s analyze how things have looked compared to how they were before.

The Gauld Table Part 2

Reporting Period PPG Supporter's Sheild Standings (overall) Shots For Per Game Shots Against Per Game xG xGA xGD xPPG
Reporting Period PPG Supporter's Sheild Standings (overall) Shots For Per Game Shots Against Per Game xG xGA xGD xPPG
Pre-Gauld 0.93 (21) 21 9.38 (27) 13.81 (15) 1.12 (21) 1.49 (18) -0.38 (19) 1.18 (18)
First 6 games (2 starts,4 sub) 2.33 (3) 15 12.83(18) 13.67 (13) 1.54(7) 1.6 (19) -0.05 (14) 1.41 (14)

As we can see, the ‘Caps have made significant gains in some areas, while still having room to grow in others. Gauld’s addition has lead to growth in the number of shots the Whitecaps take per game. The ‘Caps had the fewest shots per game of any team in the before times. Since August 5th they have been 18th in shots per game. This has naturally lead to an increase in expected goals going from 1.12 per game before Gauld to 1.54 per game with him. The fact that Gauld has only actually started 2 of the 6 games he has played leads one to believe that there is yet more to come from Vancouver’s attack.

Interestingly, although the ‘Caps are now getting more shots and generating more xG, they haven’t really been entering the final 3rd all that much more often*. This suggests that Gauld isn’t so much transforming the way the team plays. It’s just that now their final 3rd entries are being turned into chances a lot more regularly. As Pacific F.C, San Jose, and Austin F.C (in the first half anyway) have all shown us; playing a proactive defensive system that dares the Whitecaps’ defensive players to try and pick a pass under a bit of pressure is still an effective way of blunting their offensive potential. But now when they do manage to get forward they pose a greater degree of danger.

Two individual players have most obviously had their fortunes changed by Gauld’s addition to the lineup. They are Brian White and Cristian Dájome. Up until the signing of Gauld, White and Dajome were averaging 0.23 and 0.33 xG+xA/96 respectively (discounting penalties). During the pre-Gauld times, Brian White was 58th in xG out of 63 strikers with at least 300 minutes. But since the arrival of Gauld, White is all the way up to 3rd in xG. White has never been a guy who drives the play. He’s not very strong or very quick. But he is good at getting free in the penalty area and (over the course of his career) scoring more goals than expected. With Gauld in the lineup that’s all he really has to do.

Meanwhile, Dájome has seen a tidy increase to 0.54 xG+xA per game. Somewhat surprisingly, Dájome is the player who leads the Whitecaps in expected assists since Gauld has joined.

Defensively, it’s a bit of a different story. When asked about the team’s defensive frailties Axel Schuster and Marc Dos Santos (when he was still around) would usually say that improving the attack would also improve the defense. The idea is that if the ‘Caps could attack better then other teams would not be able to spend as much of the game attacking and thus there would be less pressure on the defence. So far this effect hasn’t really materialized. The Whitecaps are attacking much better but their defence is giving up almost exactly the same number of shots and expected goals per game as they were before.

The reason the ‘Caps have been able to stay undefeated in MLS when Gauld plays is that they have been getting quality goalkeeping. After a worrying drop in form, Maxime Crepeau has been in the top 10 goalkeepers in goals saved above expected since the arrival of Gauld. Thomas Hasal also put in a strong performance against Austin F.C.

All in all the Whitecaps have basically had the underlying data of an average MLS team during the brief time Ryan Gauld has been here. Considering they were a bad MLS team for most of the season before this, that’s a positive development. But, sadly, it does mean that the playoffs are probably a bridge too far. If the ‘Caps are going to make the playoffs they are probably going to have to take their play to another level still.

In a way though, I find the fact that they are only average right now to be kind of exciting. Perhaps this is me being a sycophantic homer. In 2019 the Whitecaps were one of the worst MLS teams in the TAM era. Two years later and they have managed to elevate themselves to average. But average has been a ton of fun to watch. So I have been thinking; How much more fun to watch can this team get? How much more fun will they be when we finally get to see Lucas Cavallini play with Gauld? How much more fun will they be when they appoint a permanent manager who can organize the squad into the high-energy style we have all been longing for? How much more fun will they be next season when the recruitment staff that brought us, Caicedo, Alexandre, and Gauld fills the remaining open DP slot? When they improve their depth? When Pedro Vite finally gets a visa?

This season might be a lost cause. but the future is very exciting.


*When I was writing this up it was true that the Whitecaps were not getting into the final 3rd all that much more often. But then they smashed their season record against Austin F.C so maybe things really are changing!