Little Things from Week 21: Carleton's Development, Agudelo as Winger, and Bush's Distribution / by Harrison Hamm

By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)

Andrew Carleton’s development

Early in Andrew Carleton’s first MLS start, there was a play that makes me hopeful for his future development. If you watched the game, you’ll probably remember it; it was the cross he sent to Josef Martinez that was put over the bar:

Whether or not the ball went out of bounds, it’s an impressive play from Carleton. He picks up on the space in the channel early and makes the correct run, taking advantage of Franco Escobar’s positioning and forcing Frederic Brillant to chase Escobar’s through-ball. Understanding and making that run is crucial for a winger like Carleton.

The most important part of this play, though, is his composure once he gets on the end of the pass. Some players, particularly young ones, tend to panic when given the ball in tough, tight situations. The 18-yard box, with defenders naturally more willing to close down the ball, is perpetually a tight, tough situation, and Carleton seems to understand that. He doesn’t take any more time to think than is given and takes a first touch that brings him to the endline, knowing that stopping the ball and facing up on Brillant would likely lose him the ball.

His first and second touches weren’t quite delicate enough to prevent a close brush with the out of bounds line, but he does really well to get his left foot around a quality cross. Putting a ball right at the head of a striker in that position is no easy feat. Martinez should have scored.

Carleton finished the game with 42 touches and two shots on goal in 64 minutes, a solid, if tentative, shift. Like Alphonso Davies before him, he will gradually gain confidence to take risks on and off the ball.

In 105 MLS minutes, Carleton has 0.81 xG+xA per 96. That is roughly the same pace as Bradley Wright-Phillips, Gyasi Zardes and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Small sample size, sure, and maybe a bit misleading, but it’s enough to get the hype train on the the tracks.

Reggie Cannons motor

In a league (and nation) mostly devoid of good full backs, Reggie Cannon has been a wonderful outlier. Cannon, 20, has started every game for FC Dallas and played all but 28 possible minutes, approaching 2016 Keegan Rosenberry levels of durability. Dallas have received their fair bit of criticism for their inability to transition talented academy players to meaningful first team success, a point highlighted by the Kellyn Acosta trade, but Cannon’s is a positive case.

He played another solid 90 against Houston on Saturday, including this play:

Stoning Romell Quioto on a 1v1 in space like that is no easy task, and Cannon makes it look easy by staying balanced and making an efficient, sturdy tackle. He follows that up with a lung-busting overlap, supporting Maxi Urruti and Roland Lamah on a counter-attack. He never gets the ball, but his presence forces a second defender to Lamah, unlocking a pass into Michael Barrios.

This is a great example of Cannon’s energy and endurance; remember that this takes place outdoors in July in Houston. Cannon is a no-frills right back, with a relatively low 9.6% touch percentage (reflecting FCD’s general unwillingness to keep the ball) and just 1.4 xG+xA, one of the lowest per-96 marks among MLS full backs. But his passing score is 38.0, second-highest of any full back in the league, and he completes four percent more passes than expected.

I’d suspect he’ll be getting significant USMNT looks over the next year.

Juan Agudelo the winger

For whatever reason, the Revolution have been dedicated to playing Juan Agudelo at winger for much of his Revs career. This experiment has continued under Brad Friedel, who otherwise has made mostly sane decisions as manager.

Agudelo as a winger works only under the pretense of playing as a “target winger,” with the responsibilities of occupying defenders like a striker and adding an extra element in the box. His talents — passing with his back to goal, playing on the back-shoulder of center backs — are better suited for striker.

Here’s an example of why it can be difficult defensively to play a true target winger:

Agudelo inverts, firing a shot from the middle of the field, and the Red Bulls counter directly into the space he left behind. As a natural striker, he spends much of his time drifting into the middle of the field while New England have the ball, conceding real estate on his right flank in the process.

New England’s performances have declined of late, mostly due to instability on the defensive end. But they continue to have trouble matching their attacking puzzle pieces.

Evan Bushs distribution

Evan Bush had a rough one at Portland on Saturday. His two howlers secured a 2-2 result for Montreal. But I enjoyed this piece of distribution from him:

Goalkeepers often have teammates yelling for quick distribution after safely gathering the ball. Much of the time, it is more advantageous to refrain, in part due to the risk entailed (losing possession while still scrambling at the back) and in part because holding the ball gives teammates time to rest. If one player is making a run and wants the ball, nine others could be jogging back into position hoping the keepers holds the ball.

Sometimes, though, quick distribution from the goalie is the fastest way to a counter-attack. Goalkeepers have to know when such distribution is appropriate, and they have to be able to throw or kick the ball in the path of their target — a miss likely loses possession. Manuel Neuer, master of the monster throw, is an expert at this.

Bush executed his throw to Saphir Taider perfectly, putting enough weight on the pass to give Taider ample space to move. Crucially, he spins the pass so that it comfortably sits down on the turf for Taider. Well done.

That’s it for this week, check back again after Week 22!