Expected Narratives: Jos' Valuable Platayer / by Ian L.

xN is our weekly look at what you can expect to read, write, and discuss about Major League Soccer this week. We take a look at each prospective narrative and rate it based on its strength and whether or not it has any actual merit.

By Ian Lamberson (@ahandleforian)

Of course Zlatan doesn’t want to go to the All Star game. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, beyond all of the memey “you are all lucky to be in the presence of Zlatan” schtick that pervades most of the think pieces penned about him, Zlatan knows his body better than anybody. He promised a rapid recovery from an injury that would have ended most careers and he delivered. “Lions don’t recover like humans” he remarked, and I suppose he’s got a point, but weird analogies aside, he’s played a lot more minutes than I think most of us would have expected, and if he thinks it’s a stupid use of whatever he’s got left in his tank to run around for the cameras during a midweek friendly, then I’m inclined to take the lion’s word for it.

That’s what makes MLS’ decision to suspend him from the next match all the more bizarre to me. Zlatan is one of the league’s biggest draws for the casual “it’s cool we’ve got a team, but I prefer to watch Liverpool on Saturday mornings than show up to the stadium on Saturday night” fanbase that MLS seem so desperate to engage with. People that were going to the All Star game aren’t likely to skip it because Zlatan won’t be there, but can you say the same thing about Colorado the next weekend?

I understand why MLS feels the need to enforce it’s “All Star policy”. They’ve invited Juventus over to hang out  with the assurance that some really good players are going to be there and if the cool kids don’t show up they’re gonna look pretty lame. Still, I’m not sure how this doesn’t give the league pause. Generally speaking if your event requires coercion to guarantee attendance, it’s probably not that cool of an event. Even if a player has picked up a light injury that prevents them from squeezing in an extra match, they’re going to be suspended. It sort of makes getting picked for the team either through voting or videogames or league/coach decision kind of a nuisance, and that seems, well, not good.  Anyway, all of this once again to press my main point which is that the All Star game is stupid. That should be the last you hear about it from me this season.

Oh right. Narratives.

Almiron is not the MVP. Josef Martinez is the MVP.

Narrative Strength: I’m starting it. We’re doing this.
Narrative Accuracy: I’m feeling pretty confident.

Since like week 2, (and if we’re being honest probably since some time last season) Miguel Almiron has been the presumptive MVP for 2018. I’ve said it. You’ve said it. We’ve all thought it. Both of Atlanta’s stars have been in fine form this year, but while Almiron has started to cool off, Josef Martinez just keeps getting more and more productive.

To Wit:

Player Minutes Goals p 96 Assists p 96 Pass Score Minutes Shots P96 xG p96 xA p96
Miguel Almiron (first 11 matches) 1072 0.54 0.5 1.30 2.42 5.01 0.73 0.36
Migiel Almiron (next 11 matches) 1000 0.19 0.4 -5.10 2.02 4.13 0.34 0.34
Player Minutes Goals p 96 Assists p 96 Pass Score KP per 96 Shots p96 xG p96 xA p96
Josef Martinez (First 11) 970 0.79 0.1 -17.40 0.59 2.57 0.94 0.1
Josef Martinez (Next 11) 979 1.37 0.1 -6.60 1.37 1.96 0.91 0.22

As you can see Miguel has taken his foot off of the gas ever so slightly, while Josef has thrown a cinder block on his. The point of all of this isn’t to suggest that Almiron is in some way bad, far from it obviously, just that while I think the Landon Donovan MVP trophy may already have a work order at the engravers with Almiron’s name on it, surely Josef Martinez deserves similar consideration for his blistering scoring pace and potentially historic season.

There’s been an idea that Josef Martinez’s success has come in no small part down to the contributions of his Paraguayan teammate. This is a dynamic duo. These are the two biggest stars on a team of stars, possibly the biggest stars in the league. This creates a possible issue for MVP voters. How does one choose between Batman and Robin? Well, it's easy, you pick Batman. But which one is Batman? Almiron is certainly more involved more often. We describe him in almost every broad soccer cliche. He orchestrates. He pulls the strings. He sets the tempo. He is the engine of that midfield, the general, the talisman. Not that these things aren't true (or at least trueish). That's certainly a superhero. 

Josef Martinez is not a superhero. His skillset isn't otherworldly or supernatural. He's fast and he makes brilliant runs. Magical? Certainly not, but a magician? A master of misdirection and guile? Oh absolutely. That sounds more like Batman to me. Would it surprise you to learn that his favored assistant isn’t even Miguel Almiron? The Paraguayan has provided three assists to Martinez, but Hector Villalba has pledged four, and Julian Gressel is responsible for 5. Raw assist numbers are for suckers though (or so I’ve been told), so let’s take a look at that xA:

Shooter Passer xG
Josef Martinez Unassisted 8.012
Josef Martinez Miguel Almiron 3.133
Josef Martinez Julian Gressel 2.099
Josef Martinez Hector Villalba 1.816
Josef Martinez Ezequiel Barco 1.266
Josef Martinez Andrew Carleton 0.694
Josef Martinez Darlington Nagbe 0.503
Josef Martinez Greg Garza 0.463

So Almiron is definitely helping, but Martinez mostly seems to be helping himself. Granted, a lot of that unassisted xG is going to be the result of penalty kicks (also if you were wondering the root cause of Almiron’s slight number slip, it’s definitely no longer getting or taking those penalty kicks which were padding out some already excellent stats).

MVP voting seems to feature a few schools of thought. The most common (and correct in my opinion) discipline is that it should be awarded to the best player in the league. Some people would argue that the most valuable player in the league should be the most productive. Still other more people believe that the MVP is the player that is most valuable to their team. In either of the first two criteria I think Martinez is a good shout. Almiron certainly as well. If we were just going by the “player without whom their team would be completely lost”, you’re probably looking at Ibrahimovic, Quintero, or Frei. So I’m going to go ahead and say that given all schools of thought and methodology you probably need to not try and make this complicated and give the trophy to the guy that will have literally scored the most season goals in this history of the danged league.

Also, since I brought up Atlanta again, let’s raise our eyebrows in a judgmental but non confrontational manner at Barco. Very good. Let’s continue.

Narrative: Toronto and Seattle are back baby!

Narrative Strength: Do you hear the people sing?
Narrative Accuracy: There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

Seattle are on a nice unbeaten run and recently took all three points off of a short handed NYCFC side. Their new DP striker Raul Ruidiaz has already tallied one goal and looked to be quite a nuisance to NYCFC’s backline while his team scored three. Add another Peruvian TAM level player to that mix (Paolo Hurtado) and those whispers of a new left back that just won’t go away and you’ve got Seattle addressing almost all of the major issues that have plagued them in the opening half of the season. Where there was once Will Bruin and no plan B, there is now speed and tactical flexibility. Where there was once an Alex Roldan/Eikrem/Rodriguez/Shipp there is a Paolo Hurtado, and where there was once exciting forward runs with horrifying end product and suspect defensive positioning, there is potentially a new left back. That’s a decent team. If nothing else it finally gives them some tactical flexibility as the 4-2-3-1 just wasn’t fooling anybody.

Toronto have Jozy Altidore back and that’s huge for them. They’ve won two on the trot, and look to continue this good form at (checks schedule) Atlanta and then NYCFC. Well. We might be getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s check in on them in a couple of weeks.

Narrative: RSL are making a mistake shopping Joao Plata

Narrative Strength: Not as strong as it needs to be.
Narrative Accuracy: Sad but true. Like a sad story that happens to be true.

I’m going to let you all in on a little insider MLS knowledge here. Joao Plata is a good player. Nonetheless, RSL seem to want to be rid of him. Whether this is due to some attitude issues, clearing space for a future move, or guarding against him walking at the end of his contract I can only speculate. Nevertheless if you’re a MLS team that wants to be good right now and you have some extra allocation monies, you’re not going to do much better.

Joao Plata is good. I know I led with that, but it bears emphasis for this next part where I show you just how good he is.  Ok. First. Let’s play a game.

Here are some statistics from this season. Using these statistics. Which player would you most like to sign for your team?

Player Minutes Goals p 96 Assists p 96 Pass Score KP per 96 Shots p96 xG p96 xA p96
A 814 0.71 0.4 -0.49 3.54 2.00 0.48 0.35
B 1301 0.52 0.2 1.24 2.80 3.84 0.45 0.15
C 1896 0.51 0.4 -0.98 1.92 2.73 0.34 0.3
D 1741 0.5 0.1 -1.06 1.65 1.60 0.25 0.29
E 1235 0.39 0.0 -2.25 1.17 3.58 0.59 0.11
F 1744 0.44 0.3 -2.99 1.16 2.97 0.24 0.2
G 986 0.29 0.3 -1.82 1.17 1.27 0.32 0.31
H 1362 0.21 0.6 0.29 2.33 3.67 0.28 0.45
I 1699 0.51 0.3 -1.05 1.30 3.96 0.64 0.3

If you picked any player other than "A" or "I" there might be a lot of MLS front office jobs for you! Now let's reveal those names.

Player Minutes Goals p 96 Assists p 96 Pass Score KP per 96 Shots p96 xG p96 xA p96
Joao Plata 814 0.71 0.4 -0.49 3.54 2.00 0.48 0.35
Carlos Vela 1301 0.52 0.2 1.24 2.80 3.84 0.45 0.15
Ignacio Piatti 1896 0.51 0.4 -0.98 1.92 2.73 0.34 0.3
Aleksandar Katai 1741 0.5 0.1 -1.06 1.65 1.60 0.25 0.29
Daniel Royer 1235 0.39 0.0 -2.25 1.17 3.58 0.59 0.11
Cristian Penilla 1744 0.44 0.3 -2.99 1.16 2.97 0.24 0.2
Hector Villalba 986 0.29 0.3 -1.82 1.17 1.27 0.32 0.31
Romell Quioto 1362 0.21 0.6 0.29 2.33 3.67 0.28 0.45
Alberth Elis 1699 0.51 0.3 -1.05 1.30 3.96 0.64 0.3


Let’s go a bit farther and compare Plata’s nascent offensive campaign with those of recent MLS history and see which ones it most closely resembles.

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Yeah that’s pretty good. Diego Valeri’s MVP year. Giovani dos Santos’ best year for the Galaxy, Robbie Keane with a 20 goal, 7 assist effort, Villalba with 13 goals and 9 assists last season, and………. Tomas Martinez this year. I didn’t expect that last one. Let’s look into that next week.

I suspect that no matter where Plata winds up, he won’t be long for this league once his contract ends and perhaps RSL thinks that it’s a good idea to get something instead of nothing, but still how bad can a guy’s attitude be that you’re willing to bench and trade one of the more productive players in the league? Maybe that’s something that I’d understand better if I were actually a professional athlete or coach and not just a guy who stares at spreadsheets and armchair GMs from my lordly place in a few slack channels. Trust me when I say, we will never know.

That’s all I’ve got this week, Enjoy the All Star game. Seriously, go Atlanta! Beat those Juventus! We’ll be back here next week to talk about what we’re talking about!