By Phil Luetchford (@luetchy10)
FC Dallas Technical Director Fernando Clavijo stated in the 2015-2016 offseason that his goal was to “try to find that player that can score 15, 20 goals, that can compete for the Golden Boot at the end of the year.” Is Maxi Urruti the striker that can score 15 goals this year, or should Clavijo go shopping this summer to find his desired striker?
Urruti arrived in MLS in Toronto during the summer of 2013 and then bounced to Portland, so we begin in 2014, his first season with significant minutes.
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In 2014, Urruti massively outperformed his expected goals projection, with more than twice as many goals scored as expected from the shots he took. There are a multitude of reasons why this could be, including because he was used as a late game sub, because MLS defenses were not prepared for him, or because he got lucky.
For FC Dallas, Blas Perez was the primary option. We can see that Urruti’s expected goals per 96 (96 minutes being the average MLS game length) were nearly identical to Perez’s, while David Texeira was an inferior option to any of the other strikers analyzed.
In 2015, Urruti scored only four goals yet improved his expected goals total. He no longer overperformed in the xG department. While we don’t know why, it could be because MLS defenses figured him out or because he was unlucky.
All FC Dallas strikers decreased in their expected goal performance in 2015. Perez was still the best option and Teixeira the worst when it came to expected goalscoring. Tesho Akindele spent more time on the wings than at center forward, and his xG suffered.
Even though he scored fewer goals than the others, Urruti was the best striker analyzed in 2015 when it comes to expected goals scored per minute.
During the 2015-2016 offseason, Clavijo needed to make his decision. Does Urruti meet FC Dallas’ requirements of a 15-20 goal scorer?
If we average Urruti’s expected goals in 2014 and 2015, weighted for minutes played, we get 0.374 xG/96. I averaged the number of minutes of 20 top forwards (based on xG) in 2015 to get an estimate of how many games we can expect Urruti to play this year and came up with 2400 minutes, or 25 games. If he were to play 25 games this season, he would be expected to score 9.35 goals. However, Urruti does not have a history of injury and will not miss time with his national team, so we have reason to believe he may play more minutes than his peers. Therefore, we could project 2700 minutes, or 28.125 games, during which he would be expected to score 10.52 goals.
One thing to note is that FC Dallas strikers seem to always outperform the expected goals model. This is likely because FC Dallas is a counter-attacking team, so there are typically fewer defenders between the shooter and the goal. In 2015, FC Dallas was expected to score 42.46 goals but actually scored 51 goals, a difference of 20%. We can therefore be generous and add 20% to Urruti’s expected goals to approximate the boost he might receive from counter-attack opportunities. This brings Urruti’s potential goal total to 12.62 goals.
If Maxi Urruti continues at his historical expected goal scoring pace, he will not be the 15-goal scorer that Fernando Clavijo desires.
This year, Urruti’s xG/96 is slightly lower than previous years. This could be due to his new role as full-time starter. He is no longer afforded the opportunity to enter a game late to feast on tired defenders. All three of his goals came in games where Mauro Diaz was on the field, and Diaz has missed five out of 11 games in which Urruti has played.
Akindele’s performance is noticeable as his expected goals per minute is staggering. The sample size is small, but it is obvious he thrives as a second striker in a two-striker system rather than as a winger since nearly all of his minutes this season have come when paired with Urruti at striker. Unfortunately for Dallas, Urruti seems to prefer having Diaz on the field instead of Akindele.
Is 15-20 goals a reasonable expectation?
Most 15-20 goal scorers benefit from being their team’s primary penalty taker. Urruti has not taken a penalty kick in his professional career. Below is a list of those who have scored 15 non-penalty kick goals (nPG) in the last three years. We can see that Urruti would have to produce at an elite rate to enter the pantheon of 15 goal strikers.
Does FC Dallas need a 15-goal striker?
FC Dallas finished 2015 tied in points with the New York Red Bulls, and would’ve won the Supporters’ Shield if not for conference imbalance. In order to compete for the 2016 Supporters’ Shield, a similar goal scoring tally by the key team contributors would be reasonable.
Urruti is expected to slightly exceed the combined contribution of Texeira and Perez over an entire season.
FC Dallas had five players who contributed five or more non-penalty goals, which is unusual. Only the Columbus Crew, MLS Cup finalists, could match them. The depth of the FC Dallas squad was one of the key features that enabled them to compete at a high level over the entire season. With Urruti expected to slightly exceed the combined contribution of Texeira and Perez over an entire season, and all other top scorers returning in the same roles and system, it seems as though the addition of Urruti is a slight boost to goal scoring in a Dallas offense that already competed for the Supporters’ Shield.
But what else does Urruti provide? A strategy of the FC Dallas’ offense is for Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios to play high up the field to be ready for through balls into space behind defenders from Diaz. The center forward must have a high defensive work rate to cover for the wingers and to pressure opposing centerbacks and defensive midfielders who attempt to dribble or play the ball through the middle. This was the role of Texeira last year. Urruti has continued this tactic with 3.5 defensive actions per game in 2016, which is more than one action per game higher than Castillo, Diaz, Barrios, or Akindele. Clearly, Urruti provides value in Oscar Pareja’s system beyond his goal total.
One problem experienced by FC Dallas’ spread of goal scorers was that they could not all be on the field at the same time in the playoffs. Texeira, the lowest expected goal scorer, played the majority of minutes at forward in the playoffs while Perez and Akindele entered games late, each of the three forwards scoring one goal over four games. With Urruti replacing Texeira and Perez, there will be one less mouth to feed on the bench in the postseason.
The 2015 MLS Cup Champion Portland Timbers were led by 13 nPG scorer Fanendo Adi. The Timbers were not impressive until the final few weeks of the season when Darlington Nagbe moved inside to a #8 role. Beyond Adi, during the regular season Nagbe scored five goals, Urruti four, center back Nat Borchers hit three, as did defensive midfielder Jack Jewsbury. This does not appear to be an ideal break down of scorers. In the postseason, the Timbers received goals from unexpected sources, like two from Rodney Wallace and one from each of Dairon Asprilla, Lucas Melano, Diego Chara, and Liam Ridgewell. There was significant luck involved in the penalty kicks versus Sporting Kansas City. Thus, it would not necessarily be suggested that the Timbers’ run in the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs is a formula for long-term success.
The 2015 Supporters’ Shield winner New York Red Bulls had a primary goal scorer in Bradley Wright-Phillips who scored 15 non-penalty goals. Does this mean FC Dallas needs a 15-goal scorer in 2016? The Red Bulls’ breakdown of goal scorers in 2015 is actually not that different from what is being proposed for FC Dallas in 2016. Replace these names with their positional counterparts in Dallas, and this would be a reasonable goal scoring list for FC Dallas in 2016.
Does FC Dallas need a 15 goal scorer? No. FC Dallas already competed for the Supporters’ Shield in 2015 and Maxi Urruti is an upgrade over FC Dallas’ 2015 forwards. When it comes to the MLS playoffs, a team needs only to get hot at the right time with goals from some unexpected sources at key moments.