Stats Don’t Lie - Key Flaws in Berhalter’s March Roster
Let us preface our article by saying this: we think a new era of U.S. soccer has already begun. Gregg Berhalter is the right man for the job, and above all, our player pool is as good as it’s been in a long time. Maybe ever. We also realize that a full transition for the senior team will take some time, as younger prospects are slowly introduced and Berhalter instills a certain approach/culture that he wants the USMNT to execute on the field.
Nonetheless, the March roster left us thoroughly disappointed. We are particularly focused on the selection of attacking players given the exclusion of many of our most exciting prospects including Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes and Djordje Mihailovic.
Trying to understand the frustrating selection, we have revisited various key statistics (big thanks to WhoScored.com and Transfermarkt) to (unfortunately) reach the same conclusion: our most productive players were simply not included.
Fair warning, in an effort to get the most “apples to apples” comparison, we’ve tried to analyze each player’s latest competitive matches. For better or for worse, that means our stats are based on first team appearances in the 2018 MLS season and Europe’s 2018/19 season.
That said, let’s start with the strikers and the simplest measure of productivity: how many goals do they score?
Just by looking at the numbers above, the exclusion of Timothy Weah and Josh Sargent is puzzling — they have been by far the most dangerous in front of goal. With our stats in a vacuum, this does not even consider the fact that Sargent scored his goals in the Bundesliga, while Zardes has done so in the MLS at an arguably much easier level of play. Yes, Sargent and Weah both don’t have a ton of games under their belt so their numbers look excellent, but it does prove that both of them can be productive at a high level. Most importantly, it demonstrates their killer instinct in front of goal that the majority of Berhalter’s March Camp seems to lack. Not to mention, they are by far the youngest in the group and if they can already compete at the senior level, why hold them back from gaining senior experience?
Minutes Needed per Assist
The picture looks similar when it comes to assists, as Mihailovic, despite injuries last season, clearly showed up for the Chicago Fire. Mihailovic’s exclusion becomes even more upsetting in a second, so keep reading…
Positively: While the inclusion of Jonathan Lewis has received some criticism, we can’t deny that he’s been productive with club and country when given the chance. He thrives in one-on-one situations on the wing given his remarkable speed and technical abilities, a skill he already showcased against Panama and Costa Rica earlier this year. We also believe he has everything to become a consistent threat in front of goal despite admittedly having very few minutes this season. In short, we think he deserves a shot, but not at the expense of Weah, Holmes or Sargent…
Pass Accuracy (% of Passes Completed)
A little bit painful to comment on this, but two out of our best five passers including the best one aren’t included…enough said.
Holmes has been the creative pulse for Derby County. In fact, it’s slowly becoming difficult to picture Derby’s offense without Holmes’ inspiration given his blistering speed and dribbling abilities. For much of 2019, Holmes has been able to impress at taking defenders one-on-one and slotting in teammates that are in open space, contributing to three assists already. Moreover, he has proven increasingly versatile in terms of his playing position, as he’s grown into a playmaker role. With a top rating in dribbles, passing accuracy and key passes, he should have had a chance to prove himself in an attacking midfield role for the USMNT.
Key Passes per 90 min
And back to Mihailovic. His strengths: a solid one-touch passer, strong on the ball, and not afraid to pull the trigger in front of goal. But this key pass statistic speaks volumes. He brings exactly what has been missing from the USMNT for some time — a spark, a true playmaker, someone who can create chances in front of goal. Similar to Holmes, Mihailovic is one of the players who could grow into a true “10” role for the US, which would allow Pulisic to return to his favorite position on the wing.
We realize statistics don’t tell the whole story and we’ve only picked a handful, albeit telling, stats. Nonetheless, the difference between the call-ups and who has performed well at a club level is frightening.
And yes, we realize this would imply a very young squad with little experience in international games. But other nations have done it and are doing it. Berhalter’s USMNT March roster has an average age of 25.7. Compare that to another country that has recently started a major transition, England. England’s average age in their last match against Croatia was just 24.6 and their strategy is already paying dividends.
In short, we have the player pool at our disposal. We will continue to be patient in this transition, but can’t wait to see some of the young guys not included in this camp finally link up with our big guns like Pulisic, McKennie and Adams. The future on our way to 2022 remains bright — let’s not waste time.