Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: David Villa's greatness isn't (just) about the goals

HIGHLIGHTS | New York City FC 1-0 LA Galaxy | 4-minute Highlights

David Villa scored his 16th goal of the season on Saturday, the only goal in NYCFC's 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy at Yankee Stadium.

He now leads the league in that particular stat, as you would expect of a forward of his stature. Villa is Spain's all-time leading scorer, one of the great scorers in the history of La Liga, and he has oozed class and quality ever since he set foot on the field as a pro. At age 35 he still seems to be largely the same player he was 10 years ago, as he entered his prime and the consciousness of fans around the globe.

What Villa's not, nor has he ever been, is a "clinical finisher." Some would argue that the term "clinical finisher" shouldn't even really exist, since the art of finishing is still not well understood in terms of mechanics or repeatability. If you want to dive into some of the science of this discussion, I recommend two articles to start with, THIS from Michael Caley and THIS from Sean Steffen.

The tl;dr is as follows: Finishing is not necessarily repeatable. That is how someone as great as Lionel Messi goes from 73 goals in 2011/12 to 41 in 2013/14 despite the fact that he was playing mostly the same position with mostly the same teammates in mostly the same spots. That is how and why one-season wonders often disappear after their 15 minutes.

What is repeatable is the ability to get into great positions to score, and this is where I turn the conversation back to Villa. As I said, he leads MLS in goals now, and he also leads in shots on goal, and shots from inside the box. Plus he's second in total shots, with 131.

That means he can do this more often than folks realize:

Now think of the greatest goalscorers in league history, guys like Chris Wondolowski, Taylor Twellman or Jeff Cunningham. All of those guys were/are better at finding shots in the first place than they were/are at finishing them.

Twellman, for his career, finished about 18 percent of his chances. Wondo is slightly below, at 17.8 percent, while Cunningham is a little lower at 17.4 percent. All were/are great MLS forwards, but Villa's better, right?

Of course. Yet Villa, in his 55 games, finishes "just" 12.5 percent of his chances. This number is not horribly out of line with what he did in Spain, either for club or country.

What this means isn't that Villa is a bad finisher or player, but that he has mastered the principle operating variables of this game of ours: the search for time and space. At its heart, this is what the game is about, and because Villa is so good at that NYCFC can plan for him to be in the right spot at the right time to get a look at goal, and those kinds of looks add up over a long enough timeline. Sometimes it means you get onto the end of a deflected shot from a teammate; other times it means you may benefit from a blown offside call. Often it's just the sort of ambient pressure that leads to mental errors from the backline, which is exactly what Villa did to Columbus last week.

Mostly, though, it means that Villa's movement and ability is something for his team to build around, a focal point to the attack that his teammates can count upon to show up week after week. Finishing those chances may not be repeatable, but finding them in the first place has certainly proved to be.

I'll leave you with the conclusion from Steffen's piece linked above:

The best forwards this league has seen have not been ones that have excelled at putting the ball in the back of the net. As we have seen, evidence of such a skill of any significance within MLS is marginal at best. Instead, good forwards rely on getting good shots, and the best forwards in the league get a lot of them.