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Deep Dive: Andres Cubas

Colombia v Paraguay - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifier Photo by Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images

The Vancouver Whitecaps have signed Paraguayan midfielder Andres Cubas as a designated player for a fee of 3 million euros. At least I think they have. I recently moved to New Zealand and by the time I’m awake, it’s already at least mid-day for all of you back in the Pacific time zone. So I’m just going to assume that signing the Whitecaps are teasing is Cubas, who they have been widely reported to have signed, and schedule my article accordingly to get the best possible exposure. So if it’s somehow not Cubas or it isn’t announced tomorrow then I’m going to look foolish. Also if there is some detail about the transfer that only gets announced tomorrow, I obviously won’t be able to comment on it right away. If the Whitecaps have agreed to pay part of his salary in precious metals or had to find accommodation for his pet jaguar then I don’t know about it! But I do know a fair amount about the life and times of Andres Cubas, having studied up as soon as the signing was rumored, and I have included those findings in this article. I hope you enjoy it.

Career Summary:

Cubas began his career with Boca Juniors. He played parts of 5 seasons there before moving on loan to Serie A side Pescara. This loan spell was not very successful, as Cubas only made one appearance. The next season he was back to playing regularly in Argentina, this time on loan to Defensa y Justicia. He then left Boca Juniors to sign with Talleres where he made 51 appearances over parts of 3 seasons. He then left them for Nimes in exchange for a 2.9 million euro transfer fee. Nimes were in Ligue 1 at the time but were relegated the following season. Cubas has played nine times for the Paraguayan national team. He was a part of their most recent World Cup Qualifying and Copa America squads.

Style of Play:

It becomes pretty immediately obvious upon looking at Cubas’ numbers that he is a ball winning midfielder. The one data scouting report fbref has for him, from the 2021/21 Ligue 1 season, is mostly middling except for his defensive stats which are all excellent.

Cubas’ Defensive Numbers From 20/21 via Fbref

Switching over to video, we can see what that defensive work looks like in practice. What stands out right away is that Cubas always reacts to opposing moves very quickly. He doesn’t always necessarily bowl over opposing attackers and win the ball back personally in super definitive fashion. But he is very good at blunting the momentum of opposing moves, forcing opposing players to turn back helping a teammate win the ball back. This is why he has so many successful pressures and has such a high percentage of successful pressures. He is quite small and sometimes he can get into trouble against bigger opponents. But overall he is so good at harassing opposing players that it doesn’t matter that much.

Now, you might reasonably be wondering how he is at everything else. Looking back at the 2020/21 season data, there is no sugar coating it, Cubas’ passing numbers are not good. But they are slightly misleading because Nimes were really bad that season. It’s hard to wrack up progressive when all you are doing is defending. One way that has been proposed to account for situations like this is to normalize stats by 100 passes received rather than by 90 minutes. So if we look at the 2020/21 season on Wyscout we can see that when we count Cubas’ progressive passes per 100 passes rather than per 90 minutes, he jumps all the way up to the 75th percentile. I’m not saying he’s Andreas Iniesta but he might have a little more to offer than his per 90 numbers suggest.

Taking a look at the video we can see that Cubas does have the ability to pick a pass. He’s not necessarily splitting defences open but he looks more than capable of shuttling the ball forward to a more creative player (which should be all that is required with Ryan Gauld and Pedro Vite in the team).

Fit With The Team

For me the biggest question around Cubas is what he would allow the Whitecaps to do. Can he be a solid enough defensive stopper that Vanni Sartini would feel confident enough to start Gauld and Vite in the same side. Or would they prefer to free Cubas up to chase the ball down by pairing him with a more defensively sound midfielder like Sebastian Berhalter (or, inevitably, Russell Teibert)?

You might remember the image below. I have tweeted it out a few times and I am sure it has made it into an article at some point:

Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

This is a map of the field where the attacking 3rd is at the top and the defensive 3rd is at the bottom. American Soccer Analysis has a model called G+. How it is actually calculated is way over the head of somebody like me but doing well in G+ is correlated with getting actual results. They also let you break down how a team performs in each 30 squares of the pitch, which is handy. In the image above I have highlighted the areas of the pitch where the G+ model rated the Whitecaps as being worse than their opponents in 2021 in blue. As you can see, they were kind of trash in the midfield. The ‘Caps have not played enough games in 2022 yet for the map to be as meaningful but let’s just say similar patterns are starting to emerge. How much of this problem Cubas will be able to fix on his own remains to be seen but adding a quality player in your biggest area of weakness is a good thing.