Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Best Uncapped American Player + MLS Homegrown Growth

With Jurgen Klinsmann looking to start a youth movement in the US national squad over the coming months we will no doubt see a slew of fresh faces earning their first cap.  And who do we want to see earn their first cap the most?  We have written about him before, but we have no qualms about doing it again.  Wil Trapp, the young Columbus Crew homegrown player, has been turning heads with his intelligent, technical play (see above pass distribution from a recent game vs. Colorado).

When looking at Trapp's statistical profile, one metric in particular jumps out: the number of 25+ yard passes he completes (what Opta calls "long balls").  Trapp completes an astonishing 9.8 of these per game, at a very accurate 86% clip.  The majority of these are not hopeful long balls to a striker, but are what most fans might call a "switching ball" that shifts the point of attack from one flank to the other - an indispensable skill for a holding midfielder.

While we know Trapp has a great statistical profile, it is difficult to really assess a player without surveying for potential comparisons.  As such, we looked at every central or holding midfielder under the age of 25 who completes 4+ 25 yard passes a game in eight top divisions: MLS, EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Eredivisie, Russian PL, La Liga.  We found 22 such players (including the Whitecaps' Gershon Koffie and Matias Laba).  Then, we compared them across three major factors: pass distribution, defensive contribution, and pass usage rate.

There are a lot of familiar names on this list, including seven players who featured at the most recent World Cup, but it is self-evident that statistical comparisons across different teams and leagues make drawing any conclusions exceedingly difficult.  Each player is used in different tactical fashions by their teams and it is no doubt much easier for Wil Trapp to play a switching ball at home against Chivas USA than it would be for Jordan Henderson playing at Chelsea.  Nevertheless, it is hard but not notice that of the players who complete 6+ 25 yard passes a game, two played in the World Cup, two others play for their national team, a fifth is worth ~8M euros, and the sixth is Wil Trapp. Give the kid a cap, Jurgen.

MLS Homegrown Growth

Seeing the success of Trapp, DeAndre Yedlin, Diego Fagundez, and a litany of other MLS "homegrown" players, we cannot help but be excited about the future of the MLS academy program and what it portends for the league.  At the current rate teams are signing homegrown players (and if we assume an average MLS career of 5 years), it is not implausible that in 10 years over a third of the league will have been signed directly from an MLS academy.

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