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Inside the Numbers: Breaking down the 50 most accurate passers in MLS in 2013

Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso and Portland's Darlington Nagbe

Photo Credit: 
Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

With the 2013 MLS regular season in the rearview mirror, it's time to take a look at some of the key data points gathered over the last eight months. Let's start with passing.

Passes can be broken down into several different categories. For instance, we can look at:

  • Location - own half, opponents' half, defensive third, middle third, final third
  • Direction - forward, sideways and backwards
  • Length - short, medium, long

Instead of diving into some of the more advanced statistics right off the bat, let's keep it simple. We'll examine passing from a general perspective today and dig a little deeper in the near future.

One of the most important aspects of the passing game is completion rate. Whether it's to a nearby teammate in the middle of the field, a back pass to your goalkeeper or a through ball in the final third, all passes have one of two outcomes: They're either won or lost.

You could argue that defenders have it easier than forwards and attacking midfielders have it harder than holding midfielders when it comes to being pressured on the ball, but that's something we'll visit later on.

For now, here's a breakdown of the individual passing achievements this season with regards to accuracy. In order to eliminate any outliers that might skew the data, players listed in the chart below must have appeared in at least 17 games (half of the regular season) and attempted at least 750 passes.

Based on these qualifications, here are the 50 most accurate passers in MLS in 2013...

Player Team Total Passes Passes Own Half Passes Opp. Half Passing Accuracy
1. Osvaldo Alonso Seattle Sounders FC 1,498 660 838 88.58
2. Nat Borchers Real Salt Lake 1,004 732 272 87.55
3. Ned Grabavoy Real Salt Lake 1,245 497 748 86.99
4. Matteo Ferrari Montreal Impact 1,435 1,057 378 86.90
5. Matt Hedges FC Dallas 979 748 231 86.52
6. Diego Chará Portland Timbers 1,605 611 994 86.36
7. Alessandro Nesta Montreal Impact 1,099 735 364 86.35
8. James Riley D.C. United 984 439 545 86.08
9. Jun Marques Davidson Vancouver Whitecaps 891 418 473 85.75
10. Juninho Los Angeles Galaxy 1,748 612 1,136 85.70
11. Darlington Nagbe Portland Timbers 1,395 349 1,046 85.45
12. Yordany Álvarez Real Salt Lake 760 359 401 85.39
13. Jonathan Osorio Toronto FC 772 270 502 85.36
14. Rafael Baca San Jose Earthquakes 1,257 537 720 85.28
15. Nathan Sturgis Colorado Rapids 1,254 529 725 85.17
16. Dax McCarty New York Red Bulls 1,616 809 807 84.96
17. Will Johnson Portland Timbers 1,452 640 812 84.92
18. Keon Daniel Philadelphia Union 886 330 556 84.76
19. Hendry Thomas Colorado Rapids 1,319 643 676 84.46
20. Brad Davis Houston Dynamo 907 316 591 84.45
21. Oriol Rosell Sporting Kansas City 1,614 726 888 84.45
22. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado Seattle Sounders FC 827 583 244 84.40
23. Marcelo Sarvas Los Angeles Galaxy 1,790 577 1,213 83.63
24. Eric Alexander New York Red Bulls 1,015 346 669 83.35
25. Markus Holgersson New York Red Bulls 1,191 775 416 83.29
26. Nick DeLeon D.C. United 759 289 470 83.27
27. Scott Caldwell New England Revolution 980 400 580 83.27
28. Jermaine Taylor Houston Dynamo 966 630 336 83.13
29. Javier Morales Real Salt Lake 1,701 428 1,273 83.13
30. Kyle Beckerman Real Salt Lake 1,813 775 1,038 83.12
31. Daniel Woolard D.C. United 1,056 633 423 82.95
32. A.J. DeLaGarza Los Angeles Galaxy 955 532 423 82.83
33. Benny Feilhaber Sporting Kansas City 930 295 635 82.69
34. Perry Kitchen D.C. United 1,465 704 761 82.53
35. Patrice Bernier Montreal Impact 1,725 912 813 82.43
36. Boniek García Houston Dynamo 929 246 683 82.02
37. Jeff Parke Philadelphia Union 936 577 359 81.94
38. Nigel Reo-Coker Vancouver Whitecaps 1,542 505 1,037 81.91
39. Sean Franklin Los Angeles Galaxy 1,293 456 837 81.83
40. Lee Young-Pyo Vancouver Whitecaps 1,339 535 804 81.48
41. Dillon Powers Colorado Rapids 1,261 422 839 81.44
42. Gershon Koffie Vancouver Whitecaps 994 416 578 81.39
43. Davy Arnaud Montreal Impact 911 408 503 81.34
44. Chad Marshall Columbus Crew 822 527 295 81.27
45. Amobi Okugo Philadelphia Union 1,086 643 443 80.85
46. Jack Jewsbury Portland Timbers 1,079 509 570 80.82
47. Michael Harrington Portland Timbers 1,529 614 915 80.77
48. Brian Carroll Philadelphia Union 1,478 673 805 80.58
49. Robbie Keane Los Angeles Galaxy 776 124 652 80.54
50. Lee Nguyen New England Revolution 1,459 375 1084 80.40

Coming in at No. 49, Robbie Keane was the only one forward who made the list. In fact, out of the 122 players to have met both qualifiers (17 appearances, 750 pass attempts), only five players classified as forwards (according to MLSsoccer.com) made the cut along with Keane: Mike Magee (No. 87), Chris Wondolowski (No. 94), Thierry Henry (No. 113), Dominic Oduro (No. 116) and Sébastien Le Toux (No. 121)

These two players may have also been considered forwards by one person or another at some point in time: Rodney Wallace (No. 76) and Landon Donovan (No. 92).

Coming in at No. 108 was Portland Timbers playmaker Diego Valeri. Regarded by some as a potential candidate for the Volkswagen MLS MVP award, Valeri completed just 73.69 percent of his 1,144 pass attempts over 31 appearances.

If you believe that completing passes is in fact harder in the opponents' half, you'd be interested to know that 78.9 percent of Valeri's total pass attempts came on the attacking side of the field, the fifth-most of all 122 players. However, Valeri also had the second-most unsuccessful passes in that half as well (261).

Here are some other key passing statistics with regards to this select group of players:

Overall

  • Most passes attempted: Kyle Beckerman - 1,813
  • Most passes successful: Kyle Beckerman - 1,507
  • Most passes failed: Bobby Boswell - 333
  • Best passing accuracy: Osvaldo Alonso - 88.58 percent

Kyle Beckerman has completed 4,751 total passes in the last three years, leading the league in two of the last three seasons. He finished second in 2012 behind New York's Dax McCarty, who completed 1,845 passes in 33 games.

Former Sporting KC winger Kei Kamara led MLS in passes failed in 2012 with 372. That same year, Bobby Boswell finished ninth with 313. This year, Boswell gets the crown.

Osvaldo Alonso is predominantly known as a defensive juggernaut, with a knack for interceptions and tackles that disrupts the opposition's attack. But he rarely seems to get credit for the quality of his passing game.

FYI: The most accurate passer in 2012 was Real Salt Lake center back Nat Borchers, who completed 89.8 percent of his 995 pass attempts.

Own Half

  • Most passes attempted: Matteo Ferrari - 1,057
  • Most passes successful: Matteo Ferrari - 978
  • Most passes failed: Drew Moor - 90
  • Best passing accuracy: Robbie Keane - 95.16 percent

In 2012, midfielder, Dax McCarty, led all players with 1,069 pass attempts in his own half. McCarty's conversion rate on those attempts was 92 percent (34th best that season). Montreal’s Matteo Ferrari converted 92.5 percent of his 1,057 attempts (19th best this season).

Colorado defender, Drew Moor, had the second-most passes failed (92) in his own half last year. This season that number dropped ever so slightly, but he’s still No. 1 on the list regardless.

Last season, Beckerman had a conversion rate of 95.6 percent, the best in MLS (941 attempts). Meanwhile, Keane finished 26th at 92.3 percent (195 attempts).

This year, Beckerman dropped off a little, finishing seventh on the season with a conversion rate of 92.3 percent (775 attempts). Keane, however, increased his conversion rate by nearly 3 percent, although his volume of passes attempted (124) remains rather low.

FYI: Nat Borchers finished second this season with a conversion rate of 95.08 percent (732 attempts).

Opponents Half

  • Most passes attempted: Javier Morales - 1,273
  • Most passes successful: Javier Morales - 1,018
  • Most passes failed: Federico Higuain - 263
  • Best passing accuracy: Osvaldo Alonso - 85.08 percent

Javier Morales has attempted (2,327) and completed (1,857) more passes in the opponents half than any other MLS player over the last two years. LA Galaxy midfielder Juninho has completed the second-most passes in that same span (1,744).

This year's leaders in passes failed (opp half) were all key focal points of their team's attack going forward and love to distribute the final pass: Federico Higuain (263), Valeri (261) and Morales (255).

Despite the fact that Morales posts similar numbers to both Higuain and Valeri in this regard, his accuracy per attempt is undoubtedly much better: 80 percent completion rate (1,018/1,273) versus 76.7 percent for Higuain (864/1,127) and 71.1 percent for Valeri (641/902).

Although these three players performed remarkably at their position, the award for this year's most-accurate passer in the opponents' half, and most-accurate passer overall goes to Seattle's Alonso. The Honeybadger attempted 1,498 total passes; 838 in the opponents half and 660 in his own half, which was a fairly balanced ration of 55.9 percent and 44.1 percent despite the fact that people classify him as a defensive midfielder.

After seeing this year's passing data, do you think Alonso is underrated as a distributor? Are Morales and Beckerman the best central midfield combination in MLS? Could Valeri perform even better in the attacking half next season? Tell us what you think in the comments below.