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Deep Dive: Whitecaps Acquire Sebastian Berhalter

Austin FC v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Vancouver Whitecaps have traded 50k of GAM to Austin F.C for midfielder Sebastian Berhalter (20). Let’s get this out of the way right now, yes, he is Greg’s son. But beyond that little tidbit, Berhalter is an interesting pickup who could potentially make a big difference for the Whitecaps this season.

Berhalter’s career is still in an early stage. He has played a little over 1000 minutes of MLS football, split between the Columbus Crew and Austin F.C. But those minutes have been pretty interesting so far. I’m going to be honest with you. I haven’t seen him play a ton. But his stats are super interesting (to me at least). Fbref considers him to have a similar statistical profile to players like Eric Remedi, Diego Chara, and Will Trapp.

Berhalter’s defensive and passing numbers are off the charts. His career average for passes into the final 3rd (6.92) per 90 minutes would have led all Whitecaps last season. His career average of progressive passes per 90 minutes (4.53) would have been in a very tight race for first on the team with Ryan Gauld (4.97), Michael Baldisimo (4.75), and Caio Alexandre (4.72). So progressing the ball through passing has not been an issue for him so far.

Berhalter’s passing stats courtesy of Fbref

At the same time, Berhalter’s numbers also show signs of a player who can defend well. The only Whitecaps player who had more tackles per 90 minutes last season was Javain Brown. According to Fbref Berhalter does get dribbled past a lot but his percentage of dribblers tackled is above average. A player who can disrupt opposition moves in the middle of the park is important for the Whitecaps. If you like me- are a freak who goes back and watches Whitecaps highlights over and over during the offseason-you may have noticed something. A lot of opposition chances during the Vanni Sartini era began with an opposition player easily evading one of Russell Teibert or Leonard Owusu. American Soccer Analysis’ G+ metric backup up this subjective observation, as it showed the Whitecaps getting shredded in the middle 3rd of the pitch.

But, speaking of the G+ metric, this is where things get kind of interesting. The metric rates Berhalter as well below the average MLS starter and a barely above replacement level player. So there is a disagreement between the counting stats and the fancy model. What can account for this? I have no idea!

Still, for a player that’s only 20 and for a measly 50k in GAM, I think this is a low-risk high reward investment. Berhalter is either a steal on the level of getting Maxime Crepeau for 50k in GAM or he’s just kind of a meh MLS player who doesn’t cost very much and is domestic. Seems like a risk worth taking.

Berhalter joins a growing stable of players who might be good but there is no way to say confidently if they are or not. I recently wrote about some other players that fall into this category, though two of them have since been sold on.

As it is currently constructed, the Whitecaps 2022 roster is like flipping a dozen coins and if enough of them come up heads they’ll be a top 3 team in the WesternCconference and if they don’t they will crash and burn.

Also of note, the Whitecaps squad is now awash with players who have shown an ability to progress the ball (N.B this ability has not always been demonstrated whilst wearing a Whitecaps jersey or on a sustained basis). So in theory, if Vanni Sartini can get them all clicking they should be in a good position to play very quick and efficient attacking soccer. I guess we’ll see.

We’ll get our first glimpse of what Sartini and his coaching staff have been up to next week when the Whitecaps begin their pre-season friendlies (at least we will if they are streamed).