Setting the Table Week 32: Lee Nguyen's new role, the rise of Ebobisse, and Mutch ado about nothing / by Eric Walcott

By Eric Walcott (@ericwsoccer)

Welcome to Setting the Table. Each week we take some time to focus on the best chance creators in MLS from the last weekend. If you want to see the best chances that were wasted, check out Lowered Expectations. Here we focus on chances that ended with the ball in the back of the net.

#5 Lee Nguyen to Adama Diomande, LAFC, 42nd minute, 0.29 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 1

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After this season is over, someone should talk to Lee Nguyen about what his experience in Los Angeles has been like. I just think it would be interesting to hear what it is like to basically play a specific role for your entire career and then suddenly get traded and asked to play a completely different role for your new team. I know players roles often change as they change teams, but I’m having a hard time remembering a player who seemed so locked into a specific role have their role change so much.

Player Team Season Min Pos Shots xG KeyP xA xG+xA
Lee Nguyen NER 2016 3048 A 2.14 0.23 2.6 0.2 0.44
Lee Nguyen NER 2017 2656 A 1.77 0.29 3.1 0.3 0.58
Lee Nguyen LAFC 2018 1677 M 0.97 0.07 1.9 0.2 0.25
*Production per 96 minutes

Check out Nguyen’s numbers in 2018 so far. On a per 96 basis, he’s way down in shots, WAY down in xG, and down in key passes and xA compared to the previous two seasons.

Lining up mostly in central midfield, rather than as a number 10 or even basically a striker, which he often did in New England, Nguyen’s attacking numbers are significantly down. Based on where he’s played, our dataset even categorizes him differently as a midfielder this year rather than an attacker. His passing has changed too. He’s attempting more passes per game, but they’re shorter and less vertical on average. They’re also less risky, as you can see from the bump in his xPass percent.

Also notable is Nguyen’s passes in the final third are down to 18.1 per 96, compared to 22.5 and 23.1 in 2017 and 2016.

Player Season Team Passes PassPct xPassPct Distance Vertical
Lee Nguyen 2018 LAFC 57.4 84.8% 83.9% 17.6 0.4
Lee Nguyen 2016 NER 47.7 76.2% 76.0% 19.0 2.4
Lee Nguyen 2017 NER 47.1 74.3% 75.4% 19.1 1.6

It’s obvious looking at LAFC play that Nguyen is being used differently than he was in New England, and these numbers simply accentuate that. It’s also impressive, and a credit to Nguyen that he’s been able to still largely be very effective even in a very different role. Despite the deeper role, Nguyen is still about as involved in the attack as he was in New England, just usually earlier, rather than being the one making the key pass or taking the shot. His expected buildup/96 is higher than either of the previous two seasons, and his xG chain is just below last seasons 1.15 at 1.02 per 96 minutes.

LAFC seems to have lost some of its early season shine, and Nguyen’s goal and assist numbers certainly aren’t what they have been, but hopefully that doesn’t distract from the impressive job he’s done in a new role.

#4 Keegan Rosenberry to Alejandro Bedoya, Philadelphia Union, 17th minute, 0.34 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 6

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The main thing I learned in looking at what to write about Keegan Rosenberry or Alejandro Bedoya for this goal is that searching for Union players in the ASA interactive tables is annoying because when you type in the team abbreviation “PHI” players like Bradley Wight-PHIllips, SaPHIr Taider, and PHIlippe Senderos get included to mess everything up.

In all seriousness though, I think what I like most about this goal is that the Union didn’t just lump it towards goal and hope to win a header. They still targeted CJ Sapong, as they might otherwise have, but they again showed the patience that they’ve shown all year in possession, keeping the ball until a space opened up to attack. In the end, Rosenberry does a great job exploiting space on the wing and putting in the ball for Bedoya to finish.

#3 Sebastian Blanco to Jeremy Ebobisse, Portland Timbers, 33rd minute, 0.46 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 4

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There’s a lot to like about this goal. It doesn’t show up in the gif, but go look up the extended highlight so you can see the great ball Bill Tuiloma plays to Diego Chara to get this one going. From there, Sebastian Blanco makes a great run and plays the perfect ball across the face off goal, behind the defenders, but too far out for Nick Rimando to snag it. Then there’s this Jeremy Ebobisse run and touch for the finish. I almost jumped off my couch when Ebobisse scored this because it feels like for the last few games running there’s been a play just like this that the ball skipped passed, inches in front of Ebobisse’s outstretched leg. Not this time. This time the timing was perfect.

It’s fun to see a young guy like Ebobisse playing well in Portland, mostly because seeing young players, especially young Americans, has been a non-event in Portland the last few years. Ebobisse though, with a goal and an assist against RSL, seems primed to continue to earn minutes. In just under 400 minutes this year, Ebobisse is putting up 0.65 xG per 96, surpassed on the Timbers only by Lucas Melano, who has only played 83 mintues since his return to Portland. Ebobisse’s main competition for the starting role, Samuel Armenteros, is at just 0.40 xG per 96.

#2 Diego Fagundez to Juan Agudelo, New England Revolution, 93rd minute, 0.50 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 2

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Is it just me or is it time for the New England Revolution to break up the band? The Revs have a group of still young-ish players who could be solid contributors on good teams in MLS, maybe even impact players, but as a group they just have not been able to turn this into a successful team. Diego Fagundez probably leads that charge, and this ball from him to set up Juan Agudelo is just about perfect. There’s nothing the defense can do.

But back to big picture. Diego Fagundez is 23 years old. He’s in the middle of his best season as a pro, putting up the best xG+xA/96 of his career as he’s finally “the man” making the attack go. There’s still time for Fagundez to find himself on a team that can make the most of his talent, and where he can win. It’s clear though that is not in New England.

I don’t want to make this a New England Revolution hate session, but I can’t help but feel bad for guys like Fagundez, Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, maybe even Andrew Farrell who seem like good players that would be fun to watch on good teams, but as a group, it’s just not there.

#1 Jordan Mutch to Kei Kamara, Vancouver Whitecaps, 78th minute, 0.67 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 2

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Raise your hand, unless you’re a Vancouver Whitecaps fan, if you forgot Jordon Mutch played for the Whitecaps. I’m going to put mine down now, since it’s hard to type with one hand. Transfermarkt informs me that Mutch has been injured for much of this season, missing 18 games with injury. That math doesn’t quite add up since he’s appeared in 15 games and the Whitecaps have only played 31, but the point is he’s been off the radar since he joined. I don’t actually know anything, but I guess I’d be surprised if Mutch is back next year, given that he’s on loan and there seem likely to be a lot of turnover this offseason in Vancouver.

That said, this is a nice pass in for the assist to Kei Kamara and very much the type of goal we’ve come to expect from Vancouver. Win the ball, get it down the field quickly, cross or dribble from wide to set up the goal. I’m not really sure why the Toronto defenders just stop, letting Kamara run right by for an easy finish, but perhaps if they knew that they would’ve made the playoffs this year.

Top save of the week, according to goalkeeper xGA:
Jesse Gonzalez vs Will Johnson, Orlando City, 13th minute, 0.84 keeper expected goals

This is a fantastic save from Jesse Gonzalez, but probably one he never should’ve been forced into. FC Dallas is bit too intent on playing out of the back here, and it gives Orlando a couple chances at goal after the initial shot off the crossbar. You can see, watching the replay, how the more FC Dallas search for a way out of Orlando’s pressure, the more they play themselves out of good defensive position, and that lets Will Johnson get off this shot that very well could’ve put Orlando up 1-0 early in this game. I know Dallas wants to keep possession, but sometimes playing the ball long is okay.

That’s all for this week’s Setting the Table. Thank you for giving me the chance to discuss these great chances with you. I hope you enjoy another great weekend of soccer and lots of great chances created!