Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Top Passers in the USL, 2018

The USL regular season has wrapped up, so I decided to dig into the wealth of data available on their site. First up - Passing.

The better passers you have on the team the better your possession. This means you can dictate more of the game. Do what you want to do instead of having it done to you. If that makes any sense.

Along with a couple of charts, I want to get to what it means to have good passers on your team. How I did this - take a few measurements that Opta has pulled out of USL games. Those categories:

1. Total Passes
2. Pass Completion %
3. % Complete in Opposition Half
4. Long Pass % Complete

Here are the top 12 players when you take the rank in each of those categories:

Having the better passers in the league should mean you have a better team. Obviously, that's not always the case, but let's put it to the test real quick.

By my count, there are 527 players that have managed over 900 minutes this year. If we take to top 20% passers (which works out to be about 100 players) and match them up with their team records, we should see a relationship.

Pos.CityPWLTGDPtsTop Passers
2Orange County SC34208630666
3Louisville City34196933665
4Sacramento Republic34197815653
5Phoenix Rising34199625631
6Real Monarchs34191238609
8Reno 1868341671118596
7Pittsburgh Riverhounds341551421592
9Charleston Battery341461413563
10Portland Timbers 234171349554
12Saint Louis34149116534
11Swope Park Rangers3415118-1533
13New York Red Bulls II341381312520
14Bethlehem Steel341412815502
15San Antonio3414128-3501
17Nashville SC341291311494
16Indy Eleven341311103491
18North Carolina FC341313810477
19Ottawa Fury3413156-12450
20OKC Energy3412157-3434
21Charlotte Independence34101212-13426
22Tampa Bay Rowdies34111580415
24Fresno FC34913126393
23Colorado Springs3411176-3392
25Rio Grande Valley3481214-6382
26Penn FC3491510-9371
27LA Galaxy II3410177-7371
28Atlanta United 23471710-35317
29Las Vegas Lights FC348197-24310
30Seattle Sounders 2346217-31252
31Richmond Kickers346244-50223
32Tulsa Roughnecks3431912-41212
33Toronto II344246-35182

Great, it works out (mostly).

- Top 5 average 4 players in the top 20% of all passers in the league.
- Middle group has 3
- Bottom averages 2.

Or, to put it another way. Average points earned if you have +5 top passers is 52. If you have 2 or less? Those teams averaged 41 pts. 11 point difference. Find passers everyone.

Below will be a more straightforward look at the top passers in the USL for 2018. Total passes / Overall Completion %.


The United Soccer League isn't looked at as a pathway to a higher league. Part of that is exposure, part of that is the way soccer is structured in the United States. That said, here are some players that warrant a closer look.
1. Graham Smith, North Carolina FC. DM, 24 years old Graham is in the top 20% in all my categories. Notably 5th in passing in the opponents half of the field. At 24, he's reaching mid-career without a whole lot of professional experience, but what he's done in his first USL season is impressive.  

2. Boluwatife Akinyode, Nashville, DM, 24 years old Another defensive mid and ranked first in Pass% and % complete in the opposition half. He's been bouncing around the NY Red Bulls system for years, with stops at Bethlehem and NCFC. Currently mired in mid-table nowhere's ville Nashville, he's definitely worth a closer look.  

3. Justin Portillo, Real Monarchs, MF, 26 years old Justin spent quite a bit of time with the Charleston Battery and has struck gold in the USL. the Monarchs have 9 players in the top 20% according to my measurement, he tops the list.
There are two Graham Smith's in the USL. The other plays off and on for Swope Park as well as MLS Sporting KC. Both are good players, but the NCFC one is better (at least in terms of the 2018 USL season).

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