Eric Alexander - Houston Dynamo - Close up

Eric Alexander has not had the smoothest of MLS careers. The 29-year-old is on his fifth team in eight seasons after being selected 44th overall in the 2010 SuperDraft by FC Dallas.

He has been a vital piece to a Supporters' Shield-winning side in 2013, playing 2,504 minutes as the New York Red Bulls lifted the first trophy in club history. But that was one of only two seasons in his career when he played more than 1,500 minutes.

He only played 887 for the Houston Dynamo during the 2017 regular season, a team he joined in the middle of 2016. But he might just be one of their most important pieces heading into their Western Conference Championship series against the Seattle Sounders.

Head coach Wilmer Cabrera turned to the midfielder in the Dynamo's series against the Portland Timbers, starting and playing Alexander all 180 minutes as Houston advanced. He did not disappoint, proving to be a key in their second leg victory.

His calmness on the ball and ability to read the game has proven vital when available to play this season. He has completed 86.67 percent of his passes, the highest percentage of any Dynamo player to play 1,000 total minutes. He also averaged 8.53 recoveries per 90, another team-high mark.

Those kind of numbers show on the team level as well. The Dynamo went 9-2-2 in the 13 matches he started this season against 6-8-10 in the 24 he did not. They also averaged more goals scored (1.7-1.4) and fewer conceded (0.8-1.3) per 90 minutes when he was on the pitch versus when he was off it..

Correlation does not imply causation, and isolating those types of numbers and assigning them to one player is obviously a bit problematic. Even so, it seems pretty clear that Cabrera should be relying on Alexander for the rest of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs