Saturday Takes: Time to worry about attackers in Nashville and Cincinnati | Ben Baer

Jurgen Locadia - FC Cincinnati - grimmace

Saturday was a light one on the MLS schedule with just two games on the docket. Nashville SC and the Houston Dynamo drew 1-1 in one match while New York City FC trounced FC Cincinnati4-0 at home. 

Here are some key takeaways from the matches: 

Mukhtar, Leal struggles

Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal were the two major attacking pieces that Nashville brought in prior to the start of their expansion season. So far, they have just two goals and three assists combined. Of course they have put in a lot of work to help NSC be one of the top defensive teams in MLS, along with playing without a consistent presence at the No. 9 position. But fans have to be underwhelmed so far by the two imports.

Mukhtar has played both as a No. 10 and on the wing and his chance creation statistics are decent — he's among the top 15 in chances created per 90 minutes — but digging a little deeper it’s clear those chances haven’t been the most impactful. When looking at his expected assists (find the definition here), his per 90 numbers are actually below players like Daniel Lovitz and Samuel Piette.

Leal is second on the team (behind Mukhtar) in shots, but 17 of his 24 shots have come from outside the box. Among players with at least 20 shots, only five have a lower expected goals average per shot than the Costa Rican. The winger either needs to improve his finishing, have better luck or learn to be a bit more selective with his shooting. It should be noted that he did not take a shot in Saturday’s match.

Best right back in MLS: Anton Tinnerholm

With Romain Metanire dealing with injuries and the fact that he’s not playing next to Ike Opara this year, it’s clear that NYCFC’s Anton Tinnerholm is the best right back in MLS. He was No. 2 on my list last year, but with his durability and his continued excellence on both sides of the ball there’s little doubt who’s No. 1 in 2020.

The Swede added a goal and an assist to his totals on Saturday while posting career highs in chances created per 90 and duel success rate.

Zimmerman for DOTY?

One player who has been worth every penny has been Walker Zimmerman — and he should be in the running for Defender of the Year. Nashville sent around $1 million in allocation money to LAFC for the center back’s services and he’s the best player in a defense that has conceded just 14 goals in 13 games. It’s not just smoke and mirrors either — NSC’s 1.09 expected goals against per game is good for 4th in MLS. Zimmerman is maybe having his best season as a pro as his 68% duel success rate (9th in MLS) and 75% aerial success rate (5th in MLS) are career highs. If you’re not convinced by all that, just look how much LAFC's backline is struggling without him.

Life without Alberth Elis

Alberth Elis played just 377 minutes for Houston this year before transferring to Boavista in Portugal. In those minutes, the Dynamo scored 10 goals. They have scored just 11 goals in the other 883 minutes this season. Of course Tab Ramos’ team will have to play the rest of 2020 without the Honduran international so finding solutions without him on the field will be imperative if the Dynamo are to return to the playoffs.

“At the end of the day, we lost a very good player,” said Ramos after the Dynamo's draw on Saturday. “We were not necessarily reliant on Alberth, but Alberth just made plays because he’s a good player. I think we need to find more plays from the guys that we have. We need to be able to generate more finished product from the players we have on the field now."

For Ramos, it’s clear who needs to spearhead the attack going forward.

“I think [Darwin] Quintero is doing a great job. I think he’s showing that this is his team and he’s leading the way, which is really what we expect of him.”

FC Cincy can't score

The beat goes on for the Orange and Blue attack as they have scored just eight goals in 14 games. Here's what Matt Doyle wrote about the team's big attackers in his midseason grades column.

"They're not at the bottom of the barrel and it's no thanks to their big offseason imports. Signing Yuya Kubo as well as Jurgen Locadia, and then adding expensive TAM playmaker Siem de Jong to the mix never really made sense given the positional and skillset overlap.
And sure enough, the three of them have combined to produce next to nothing.

  • De Jong has 0g/0a in about 475 minutes, and has yet to go 90
  • Locadia has 1g/0a in 830 minutes, and some of the most shocking misses of the year
  • Kubo has 2g/0a in 935 minutes and has been moved from forward to central midfield

These acquisitions reeked of "let's just get some talent" without having an actual plan for how to use it. Stam has not been able to figure out the answer."

Locadia played 90 and got two shots off on Saturday night, Kubo played 19 minutes off the bench and De Jong was out injured. They have yet to score a goal when on the field together.

Locadia has just one goal despite having an expected goals total of 4.34, meaning he should have around four goals based on the quality of his chances. The -3.34 differential is the highest in the league, making him the worst finisher in MLS in 2020.