I’ve taken statistical looks at nearly every position so far, and it’s time to bring things (almost) to a close. With the decreasing likelihood that Nashville SC brings in additional striker help before the beginning of the regular season, let’s analyze that position.
If you didn’t click through any of the above, the elevator pitch for this series is: a statistical/analytical look position-by position. Since there are only three center forward-types signed, we’ll look at the big three individually.
Fortunately for, um, my lack of desire to put a ton of effort into this particular post, I’ve already written about Badji with the wingers, since he’s played that position for the better part of the past three years.
He’s a guy whose finishing has been a question mark anecdotally, but I found that it’s pretty close to in line with expectations:
Above the line means better-than-average finishing, below the line means worse. The graph seems to show a guy who is – at worst – pretty close to league average. It’s worth noting that one of those below-average years is his 2019 – the “FCD” close to the middle of the chart – and the recency bias probably plays a role in the reputation. It was also a year of position transition, which may have affected the numbers. And of course, there are always questions about the meaning/significance of finishing, anyway.
The issue, then, becomes one that applies to both of Nashville SC’s striker signings from within MLS: they don’t create buckets of expected goals and expected assists generally:
Badji has a broader resume than the man to follow, but it’s not one that impresses, necessarily.
There’s a catch, though: Abu Danladi has played just three MLS seasons, and the one in which he eclipsed 1,000 minutes (his rookie year), was actually by far his worst from an offensive production standpoint. Let’s view the same chart with sub-1000-minute seasons included, instead going down to 500 minutes – given Danladi’s 2018 season saw him notch 541 ticks on the field:
Badji adds an above-average xG+xA season to the mix (and also adds one that is by far his least-productive, but you take the good with the bad, I guess), and Danladi has two more years within the average range. Given that those two Danladi years are more recent than the “bad” year, there may be something to be said for the player improving. There’s also something to be said for the reason he’s played fewer minutes: he was beaten out at striker by a younger player in Mason Toye. Being more productive than his rookie season – in which, to be fair, he was runner-up for rookie of the year – still wasn’t good enough to keep a gig.
Overall, what we can see from these two players is that they’re not guys who are going to go out there and get the job done themselves. At the striker position, they’re going to be service-dependent, to a degree. Both of them didn’t have great service with their previous clubs, so they’re test cases for the consistent “valuing the undervalued” mantra we hear from the front office. The hope has to be that each is a winning test case (of course, a broader resume for Badji means we’re more likely to know what he is).
SO, based on what there is on the roster now, there’s one more hope:
Is he great? Is he horrible? Is he somewhere in between? We don’t know, because he’s never played in MLS. What we can do is look at some test cases for guys who have made the transition from the American second division (in its various incarnations) to Major League Soccer, and see if there are any significant trends:
A warning: this data is noisy as hell. What we is every forward since 2015, with players who set foot on a USL field in an earlier season or the same season as their play in MLS. It includes guys who had like a one-game rehab stint in USL, it includes the entire available careers of guys who went MLS-USL-MLS (i.e. the time both before and after their USL days), etc. It doesn’t just include the closest test cases like Christian Ramirez: guys who began their time in US professional soccer in the second division, and later played in MLS.
That said, there appears to be at least one trend: the players who spent some time in USL seem to be given less of a chance – via minutes on the field – to prove that their early performances can be extrapolated into similar success in more minutes. However, once you cross about the 500-minute threshold or so, the differences between the two categories of players seems to disappear (and it seems like among guys who are over 2,000 minutes, former USL players are getting more of a chance in spite of performance).
Without robust second-division data throughout the longitude of the sample, it’s tough to know exactly where he falls skill-wise in that pantheon (and as noted above: this is not allclean data). However, we can safely assume that he’s one of the better, given his productivity at the level (first-ever USL player with back-to-back 20-goal seasons, for example).
They aren’t out-and-out center forwards, but Hany Mukhtar, Randal Leal, Alan Winn, and David Accam have goal-scoring (and distributing) skillsets that can be used as part-time fill-ins at the position. It’d likely require some tactical changes – playing someone as a Messi-style (and definitely also Messi-caliber!) False 9, playing a two-high formation with one playing off another, etc.
It’s easy to see why Nashville SC is regularly mentioned as a team that has to add one more piece to even dream about being a contender this season. There isn’t a proven goal-scorer in the bunch.
For the reasons outlined above, I think it’s most likely that Daniel Ríos, of the players currently on the team, is “the guy,” whereas Dom Badji and Abu Danladi are more complementary players who can fill the role and also contributed elsewhere. If NSC isn’t going to add any more talent, it’ll be in part because Ríos hits the upper end of his expectations – or one of the other two exceeds their more-meager estimations.
Assuming that doesn’t happen, it’s safe to keep an eye on other transfer targets, possibly in the early-season window, which is open until Cinco de Mayo, but more likely during the summer window July 7-Aug. 5. Those targets can go in two ways, though, because you don’t need elite scorers if you have elite creators who can provide easy dunks for a guy who maybe doesn’t have the most skill (the Gyasi Zardes Ultimatum). If NSC’s current midfield and wingers are good-not-great but the finishing up front is fine, a right winger is an option, too.
For the time being, though, if Nashville’s season gets off to a disappointing start, it’ll likely be because this position isn’t performing at a high enough level.