Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the recipe for winning soccer games is pretty simple: If you score more goals than the other team, then you’re going to win every single time. That’s mind-blowing stuff, I know.
Bruce Arena, who is no stranger to keeping things simple for his players and for inquiring media members, knows this very, very well. With Adam Buksa leading the line for the record-breaking New England Revolution, Arena has a player who can contribute goals like few other players in Major League Soccer. Buksa was tied for second in the league last year in open-play goals with 16.
What do the numbers say about the Polish international? And what could 2022 mean for him? Let’s get into it.
Buksa is a goalscorer: it’s referenced above, but his 16 goals in open play was one of the top tallies in MLS last season. Leading the league’s best-ever regular-season team (in terms of points) in goals is no small feat and neither is putting up some of the underlying numbers that Buksa did last season. If you peruse the data on Buksa and his peers, the pieces start to fall into place – and they explain how the 25-year-old was so effective in 2021.
A great place to start when evaluating players who are being asked to score goals is with their expected goals. Is Player X consistently taking shots and getting into places where those shots have a relatively high likelihood of finding the back of the net? With Buksa, the answer to that two-part question is “yes” and “yes”.
Among players with at least 20 shots, Buksa was second in MLS last year in open-play expected goals per 90 minutes with 0.51. If you expand the time frame to include the 2020 season, Buksa’s 0.51 open play xG per 90 minutes puts him third in the Second Spectrum dataset, just behind 2020 Tom Barlow and 2021 Miguel Berry.
What you notice, though, when you compare Barlow and Berry’s numbers with Buksa’s is Buksa took significantly more shots than either one of those players. Buksa’s 108 shots dwarf Barlow’s 39 and Berry’s 25. In fact, among players with at least 20 shots, no one took more shots on a per 90-minute basis in 2021 than Buksa (4.1). Generating an extremely high number of shots is a great way to rack up xG and increase your scoring output, especially when those shots come from close range.
Spoiler alert: Buksa’s shots come from close range.
Among players with at least 20 shots, Buksa took the eighth shortest shots in the league last season, with his average shot coming 10.8 meters away from goal. Only two players took more shots from inside the six-yard box than Buksa did in 2021 – and no other player took more shots from the six-yard box combined with the area right above that space inside the box.
While Buksa tends to take shots from close range, his 0.12 xG per open play shot puts him 68th percentile among regular shooters (players with 50 or more shots) over the last two seasons. That 0.12 doesn’t get him into the elite, Gyasi Zardes tap-in merchant group, but it illustrates he can certainly get into good shooting areas.
One thing that helps Buksa set himself up for additional goalscoring chances is his movement in the box. No regular starting striker in MLS made more runs in the box than Buksa did last year on a per 90-minute basis. He was everywhere, making quick, incisive runs and finding gaps between opposing defenders. According to American Soccer Analysis’s Goals Added metric, no player added more value with their receiving (which is tied to off-ball movement) in 2021 than Buksa. When you’re active off the ball and quick with your movement like Buksa is, things like this tend to happen:
Between his off-ball movement, shot volume and quality, and his goalscoring record, Buksa is the definition of a classic goalscorer. He doesn’t add a ton of value with his passing or pressing, but he can use his size to hold the ball up, win the ball in the air, and then put that ball into the back of the net.
According to data analyst Paul Harvey, Buksa’s data profile looks a lot like Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick and Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahaovic, who are wanted by top clubs all over Europe. That’s some pretty good company, if you ask me.
In addition to scoring 16 goals for the Supporters’ Shield-winning Revolution last season, Buksa also got his first caps with Poland’s national team, and scored five goals for Poland in World Cup Qualifying (granted, against San Marino and Albania). It won’t be easy for Buksa to earn playing time for Poland in 2022, given that he’s competing with Robert Lewandowski, Arkadiusz Milik, and a number of other strikers as well. But he will have the chance to be involved in a playoff against Russia in late March to help Poland further their World Cup qualification hopes and book a Qatar ticket.
For club, there have been reports about AS Monaco and Leicester City’s interest in Buksa. Whether it’s Leicester or another smart European club, New England will undoubtedly spend January fielding offers from teams who are interested in acquiring Buksa’s services. Goalscorers don’t grow on trees, after all.
Wherever he ends up at club level, either with the Revs or elsewhere, it will be fascinating to watch Buksa’s continued development – and to watch him put the ball in the back of the net in 2022. The Designated Player reportedly cost $4 million when New England acquired him ahead of the 2020 campaign, and they stand to make a decent profit should he be sold.