Thursday, January 9, 2020

Forwards for Columbus, USL

At my fingertips is 95,760 cells of glorious spreadsheet USL data that I have been trying to mine for the past week or so in front of the 2020 domestic season. Why? Because I think there is a fresh well of solid talent that doesn't get the time of day. I've been looking at USL players since I started writing about soccer back in 2010 and many of the players I've found end up have excellent careers.

The rarity of players jumping from the USL to MLS was covered recently over at The Athletic. The question was asked as to why it doesn't happen much and nobody really came to a solid conclusion. 

But I know why! 

MLS sees the USL as "minor league" - and it is, but not because it's classified as such by US Soccer. It's because the competition is wonky and ever-changing. It's very difficult to get your hands around it. I also think that MLS wrestles with its position in the global game. When they are buying players from Argentina, Mexico, and Europe a signing a USL player seems like a big let down. Which I get, but perhaps MLS should recalibrate.

A few years ago the USL bought into Opta to record activity on the pitch and make it public for folks like me. I think this has helped the relationship between the USL and MLS. If you look at attacking activity like non-penalty goals + assists per 90 minutes you'll see that the leaders in the USL the last couple years are bubbling up to MLS teams.

To give you a few examples from just last year, here are the best NPG+A guys in the league and where they are now:

NPG+A per 90 : Name, Age

1.19 : Brian Brown, 27
Jamaican player picked up by an Albanian 1st Tier team FK Partizani
1.08 : Douglas Martínez, 22
With Real Salt Lake now. One of my best USL players.
0.93 : Tom Barlow, 24
With the NY Red Bulls. Saw playoff action recently.
0.91 : Junior Flemmings, 23
Another former Red Bull player, LW. I'm very high on him as well. Helped Phoenix have a great year.

All good players, but their recent career trajectory is pretty predictable when you consider is basically due to their NPG+A performance. Lazy.

For me, there's a lot more to the game and thankfully Opta and the USL give us that data.


And a SuperDraft pick isn't it. 

I'm going to get very specific here and recommend a couple players for the Columbus Crew SC to look at to play a role on the team. Zardes, for me, is good at finding space in front of goal to head a cross in, but that is about it. He also needs to be challenged. So here are 2 USL players to do just that.

1. Wojciech Wojcik, 27
Woj Woj(?) is tops in more of my key performance metrics than any other player in the USL last year. He's my 27th over best in Defensive Activity and 28th in Attacking Activity. At 6'3" he's able to win the ball and be a contributor in the attack. As a center forward he was 37th overall in duels won, 24th in the air. On the attacking side, he was 22nd in assists, 32nd in Shots on Target and 18th in NPG+A per 90. Limited minutes (1200) was the only thing keeping him from gaudy stats. But in that short time he had 4 assists (21 key passes) and 7 goals. If you watch him on youtube you'll find him a bit heavy when with the ball, but look more closely and you'll find an intelligent player. He knows where to go with the ball.

2. Robert Kristo, 26
Another 6'4" player that was fairly limited in action last year, but in just less than 900 minutes of play he had 9 goals from open play, 2 assists, and 11 key passes. More impressively, perhaps, is he was able to average over 2 shots on target per 90 minutes for 2nd best in the league. Oh, his 9 goals in 900 mins? Best in the league for players over that much. Something else is that he was best, as a per 90, in duels.  Number One in both total duels won as well as ariel duels won. To cap all this off... the Columbus Crew drafted this player in 2015. Berhalter wanted him, but he never signed with Columbus because he was with a 2nd tier side in Italy. The couple years have seen him bouncing around the 2nd tier in Italy and Germany before coming back to having an impressive short stint with North Carolina's USL team.

No comments: