By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
Yesterday, FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele was named MLS Rookie-of-the-Year for 2014. Major League Soccer made the announcement on their website and I'm sure pictures of him holding the cool trophy will be forth coming. The award comes on the heel of an awesome campaign for the award. But I also hold a special plece in my heart for any Napoleon Dynamite references.
My commentary and how I usually set these things up goes some a long the lines of "having a big problem". I'm not trying to troll you with Peg + Cat references but the commentary here that follows the award presents the idea that Akindele deserves this more because of how he performed towards the end of the season compared to his competition of Harry Shipp.
The narrative goes something like this: "Shipp just faded down the stretch of the season and simply wasn't accustomed to the long hard season and Akindele only got better". Now based upon quantity/quality there maybe a legitimate argument to take place in favor of Shipp and he performed at the beginning of the season. But, Dallas was really good at the end of the season and Akindele had something to do with that. The thing is, where was Akindele in May? In June? He was mostly a rotational piece which leaves the question of does the time frame of accumulated production important?
There is less leverage and a smaller probability impact concerning the playoff seeding early in the season. It would make sense that as the season progresses certain games will hold a greater importance to the final standings. The thing is I believe that once the season concludes you should evaluate the season performance as a whole. Slumps at the early stages of this season are sadly why the Union didn't make the playoffs and why the Red Bulls missed out on top-3 seed.
This goes hand in hand with evaluating players like Shipp who had a significant influence in helping Chicago tread water. They were not a good team and Shipp didn't have a lot of help. Their home goal differential was all of plus 2, tied for the four worst in all of MLS.
By June 1st Shipp had nearly logged 1,000 minutes (894) and placed 14th in total minutes (and within 90 minutes of the four in front of him; Felipe Martins, Wil Trapp, DeAndre Yedlin and Shane O'Neil) for individuals that were 23 and under. He wasn't expected to start this soon and, yet, here he was already being the impact fans had hoped he'd become. Akindele hadn't even played 400 minutes to that point of the season.
At the end of the season Shipp played 600 more minutes than Akindele. It's important to realize the amount he played isn't because he was better it was because of his situation and talent in the context of his team. But when we realize that Akindele had the bulk (over 50% of his minutes) the second half the season it explains why we recall more of his moments and why most of them seem to matter more.
Okay, this isn't just me being contrarian to make a point. I agree, Akindele was the better choice for the award between him and Shipp. Akindele's expected goal impact was more significant and showed quanity and quality over what Shipp produced. Yes, Akindele did have the luxury of playing a high number of minutes at the end of the season but more importantly his actions directly influenced points.
It's a bit tongue-in-cheek to say a forward is more influential than midfielder. But a forward has more defined accomplishments (e.g. goals) making it easier to acknowledge the established events and actions that go towards helping a team win.
Akindele won this award because he was the best player. It's not because Shipp was good and then not or that Akindele didn't fade down the stretch. The two competitors were in different worlds, different scenarios and produced the bulk of their accomplishments during two different time frames of the season playing two different positions.
I personally shaded to Akindele for the simple reason that he had more tangible production (won more duels/created more expected goals) in less time than Shipp. I suppose some will argue that point and be disappointed with how I'm only looking at things on a spreadsheet. Oh well, just the facts man, just the facts.