By Joseph Lowery (@joeincleats)
The Major League Soccer season is almost over, which means that it is time to dish out some awards. Today, we are going to put together the official “Analytical All-American MLS Youngster Starting Eleven”. There are only three criteria that a player must fulfill to be in contention for the “AAAMLSYSE” (the trademarks for the name and abbreviation are pending):
All players must be American
All players must have played at least 500 minutes in MLS this season
All players must be 22-years-old or younger
Why 22? Moving the age up to 23 would have allowed established American MLS players like Zack Steffen, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan, Marky Delgado, and Paul Arriola to remain in the mix. Since the goal is not to highlight players who have already become well known commodities, including those players would be unproductive. That’s why the age cap is 22.
While 23-and-under would have been simple, the player pool available for a U-22 American roster is extremely thin (in numbers, but not necessarily in skill). Still, I think it is more effective, and damning for MLS, to show that while you can make a lineup out of very talented young, established domestic players, it’s not easy.
With those difficulties in mind, let’s look at the “Analytical All-American MLS Youngster Starting Eleven”.
GK: Matt Turner, 24, New England Revolution
No goalkeeper under the age of 22 has gotten more than one start this season, so we’re just going to ahead and have to break our rules right away here. Enter, Matt Turner. Turner is only 24 and has been excellent in goal for the Revs this season. His -4.85 goals allowed minus expected goals allowed is the third best in MLS. To give more perspective on Turner’s year, his -4.85 GA-xGA figure is in the top 30 among goalkeepers since ASA started collecting data in 2011. This team needs a keeper and Turner is well worth fudging the rules a bit.
RWB: Reggie Cannon, 20, FC Dallas
Reggie Cannon has been one of the best fullbacks in Major League Soccer this year, regardless of age or nationality. Offensively, Cannon has played more key passes (passes that lead directly to a shot) than any other FC Dallas defender. He is also:
Sixth among all MLS fullbacks with 1000+ minutes in passing completion percentage across the whole field (84.2%)
Eighth in completion percentage in the final third (79.3%) among fullbacks with 1000+ minutes
Fourth among fullbacks in xGChain and expected buildup
Defensively, Cannon has been a key part in maintaining Dallas’ impressive defensive record. Dallas has only allowed 1.33 goals/1.40 expected goals per game this season. If the rest of this calendar year goes by without Cannon getting a USMNT call up, the system is even more broken than we thought.
CB: Justen Glad, 21, Real Salt Lake
If the MLS season ended today, Real Salt Lake would be in the playoffs. If you took Justen Glad away from Real Salt Lake, they would not be in the playoffs. It’s that simple. Glad has started every game for Mike Petke this season and has put up some impressive passing numbers from his center back spot. Among center backs with 1000+ minutes, Glad is in the top fifteen in passing completion percentage (86.6%), expected passing completion percentage (83.1%), and Score, a statistic that measures the total passes completed over the expected number (48). In a trial by fire, Justen Glad has grown a lot over this season and will need to keep growing if RSL want to make a run in the playoffs.
CB: Auston Trusty, 20, Philadelphia Union
At just 20-years-old, Auston Trusty has been the defensive anchor for an Eastern Conference playoff team that has put up really good defensive numbers. The Philadelphia Union have only allowed 36.3 expected goals this season, which is the sixth fewest in all Major League Soccer. Looking at Trusty’s play with the ball, we see some promising production as well. He is in the top twenty center backs in terms of xGChain and expected buildup. Between his impressive defensive contribution and his buildup numbers, Trusty’s value to a team is evident.
CB: Mark McKenzie, 19, Philadelphia Union
When you saw Trusty up above, you had to know that Mark McKenzie was trailing right behind him. McKenzie has had a crazy year. He has played in USL, MLS, been injured, and featured for the U.S. U-20’s. Like Trusty, McKenzie has been a big part of a highly productive defensive unit. McKenzie’s game doesn’t stop on the defensive end: the teenager has some of the best passing numbers of any MLS center back. McKenzie has an 88.3% pass completion rate and an 84.0% expected pass completion rate, both of which are seventh among center backs with 1000+ minutes. Expect to see McKenzie’s name buzzing around Philadelphia and the USYNT system for the foreseeable future.
LWB: Jaylin Lindsey, 18, Sporting Kansas City
Jaylin Lindsey hasn’t gotten as many minutes for Kansas City as USMNT fans might want. When Lindsey has played, however, he has shown why he is such a highly-touted prospect. Uniquely skilled on the ball for a defender, Lindsey is averaging 1.14 key passes and 0.19 xG+xA per 90 minutes. In the final third, Lindsey has the fourth highest passing completion percentage and the highest Score among fullbacks with 500+ minutes in MLS. Though he isn’t likely to get starting minutes for the rest of this season, Jaylin Lindsey is poised to build off his playing time this year and become a real impact player for SKC in 2019.
CM: Tyler Adams, 19, New York Red Bulls
Every time Tyler Adams steps on a soccer field, he makes himself integral to his team. This idea is now called The Tyler Adams Principle. We’ve seen The Tyler Adams Principle in action for the USMNT recently against some of the best in the world and for the Red Bulls all season. Adams is the one pulling the pressing strings that have made the Red Bulls the fourth best MLS team in xG allowed. Even on the ball, Adams has begun to stand out compared to the rest of his RBNY teammates. Adams has a higher pass completion percentage (77.3%) than any other Red Bulls contributor. With improved passing numbers, it’s getting harder and harder for people to question Tyler Adams’ game.
CM: Chris Durkin, 18, D.C. United
Unfortunately for Chris Durkin, a red-hot Russell Canouse (who just missed out on age eligibility for this lineup) has largely displaced him in D.C. United’s starting lineup. Still, we shouldn’t let Durkin’s circumstances detract from his impressive passing numbers. Durkin is the only central midfielder on D.C. United’s roster to have a positive passing Score in the defensive third. In fact, Durkin’s defensive third Score is the tenth highest in Major League Soccer among CM’s with 1000+ minutes. Still only 18, Durkin is going to play a big part for the U.S. U-20 team in World Cup qualifying.
RW: Chris Mueller, 22, Orlando City SC
Orlando City need something to feel good about. That something is Chris Mueller. Mueller is third on OCSC’s roster in assists and expected assists. Mueller’s 18 key passes also put him in the top 25 among MLS’ wide attacking midfielders. In the midst of a dismal year, Orlando City fans don’t have much to cheer about, but they do have one of the more promising young wide players in Major League Soccer.
LW: Sebastian Saucedo, 21, Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake’s second player on this list, Sebastian Saucedo has very similar expected production to Mueller. In just over 1000 minutes, Saucedo averages a respectable 0.36 xG+xA per 96 minutes. One odd thing about Bofo Saucedo: he averages more shots on target per 96 minutes than all but five MLS players. The only guys with more SoT/96 than Saucedo are Zlatan, David Villa, Giovinco, Alberth Elis, and Joao Plata. Despite being used more by Mike Petke as a substitute than a regular starter, Saucedo isn’t lacking for confidence.
ST: Corey Baird, 22, Real Salt Lake
Corey Baird has played as a number nine for RSL but brings value to his team in ways other than goal scoring. The 22-year-old forward rarely shoots, averaging the third fewest shots per 96 minutes among forwards with 1000+ minutes. Instead, Baird’s best numbers come from his passing. Baird sits in the top five among MLS center forwards with 1000+ minutes in passing percentage (77.5%). Those passing numbers along with a combined double digit goals plus assists tally make Baird a decent option at striker. It also doesn’t hurt that he is the only eligible player for this lineup at the striker position.
So, there you have the “Analytical All-American MLS Youngster Starting Eleven”. The squad is very talented, but Major League Soccer did most of the work in picking this team. The options at each position ranged from zero, to just a few and the starting eleven looks a lot like a Philadelphia Union/Real Salt Lake hybrid lineup. Step it up and play your youngish Americans, MLS. Make this lineup harder to choose next season.