Kendall Waston, the Vancouver Offense and Defense / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

The last few years the Vancouver Whitecaps haven’t exactly optimized their attack. They’ve been a cross happy team, ranking in the top third of crossing attempts back to 2015. Still, they have usually not possessed the attacking third talent to regularly win those attempted crosses.

Octavio Rivero, Masato Kudo, Erik Hurtado, Giles Barnes and Fredy Montero have not exactly been the dominant aerial ball winners the organization has needed. In fact, none have even a career aerial win percentage of 50%. Basically, they’re not especially good at jumping up and heading the ball either towards the goal or in a manner where their team maintains possession. Unsurprisingly, this is also the primary tactic in which Carl Robinson, Vancouver's head coach, has chosen to create goals and win games.

Then there is Kendall Waston.

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Waston has been, defensively, the exact type of individual you want lining up opposite the Vancouver Whitecaps. In fact over the last four seasons you could even say he's who the front office has been searching for. Tall, strong, gives zero... you know, “forgetmenots” about your feelings and, on average, has won an incredible three out of four balls floated into the box.

This season the Whitecaps have had roughly 110 dead ball situations. Of those, they have parlayed only 24 into shots (ranked 19th out of 23 teams). But Kendall Waston makes up 10 of those shots, which is roughly 41% of those successful attempts, the highest for any individual in the league.

Waston’s dominant aerial skills were very much on public display on Friday, as he headed five shots at Joe Willis including one that came with him nearly unmarked on the back post in which was discussed by (the other) Harrison Hamm in his week 11 break down.

The Costa Rican center back posted a total expected goals of 0.758 against Houston, becoming only the fifth player this season to tally more than 0.50 xG in a game. It’s his third highest total since coming to Vancouver and his highest total since 2016. Again, he’s really good at jumping for balls and knocking them towards or away from the net.

Using our interactive table we can look back to 2015 and control for positions. Doing that we can see Waston has been not only been one of the most aerial dominant defensive player but since 2015 he’s been the best in MLS from the defensive position at creating shots and it’s not really that close.

Player Team Min Pos Shots Goals xG xPlace
Kendall Waston VAN 8,296 D 87 10 10.12 3.56
Steve Birnbaum DCU 7,529 D 80 6 8.48 -2.62
Matt Hedges FCD 8,730 D 48 4 7. -.8
Ike Opara SKC 6,061 D 47 6 5.97 .49
David Horst HOU, RSL 6,395 D 43 3 5.76 -1.58
Kevin Ellis SKC, CHI 4,655 D 24 7 5.12 1.87
Seb Hines ORL 4,756 D 48 5 5.06 1.83
Bobby Boswell DCU, ATL 6,872 D 40 5 4.9 1.12
Chad Marshall SEA 8,558 D 48 5 4.84 2.17
Walker Zimmerman FCD, LAFC 6,430 D 52 5 4.7 .83
Daniel Steres LAG 5,402 D 26 4 4.39 -.6
Laurent Ciman MTL, LAFC 8,985 D 79 4 4.37 -2.01
Drew Moor COL, TOR 7,700 D 41 6 4.28 -.97
Kofi Opare DCU 4,982 D 48 3 4.09 -1.83
Tim Parker VAN, NYRB 7,761 D 41 1 4.09 -.44

One thing you may notice is the inclusion of Waston’s center back partner the last few years, Tim Parker. Parker’s inclusion may indicate that they used to play off each other, the Whitecaps’ system is especially conducive to center backs getting shot attempts, or perhaps it means something entirely different or even nothing at all.

I’m a bit curious as to if Vancouver could leverage Waston more in an attacking role, considering their rather uncomplicated tactics and dependency upon set pieces. Regardless, you have to applaud the fact that Vancouver has enabled an immensely talented center back to get a higher amount of shots created than any other team in MLS, even if it’s barely at a 9% success rate from dead ball scenarios.