Voices: Joseph Lowery

Who could be every Western Conference team's Mr. Reliable in 2022?

Coaches and front office members value reliable effectiveness. They want to have clear ideas about what specific players can do and they want to know (or getting pretty darn close to knowing) they’ll get production from specific players.

This week, with a big assist from Second Spectrum, we’ve been using data to examine each MLS team’s Mr. Reliable heading into the 2022 season. We zoomed in on the Eastern Conference yesterday and today, it’s full steam ahead towards the Western Conference.

After looking through the numbers and film from last season, which returning players are poised to have another effective year out West? Let’s find out.

Though Austin FC’s expansion season didn’t go to plan, Ring had an unsurprisingly strong season. Ring helped Austin recover possession with timely interception attempts – which also helped Austin move the ball into high-value areas.

Among players who played at least 1,000 minutes in 2021, Ring finished in the 85th percentile in xG created via interceptions per 90 minutes.

Given Josh Wolff’s possession-heavy tactical approach, having a reliable central midfield presence like Ring will be key in 2022.

We talk about Price’s set-piece delivery quite a bit, but we probably don’t talk about his open-play passing quite enough. Few midfielders in MLS spend as much time on the ball as Price, who finished 2021 in the 94th percentile among midfielders with at least 1,000 minutes in completed passes per 90.

Price doesn’t just get on the ball and move possession laterally. No, the captain will progress play with his passing. Last year, Price landed in the 95th percentile in defenders bypassed per pass and the 78th percentile in progressive passing frequency. Things run through the Englishman in Colorado.

Entering his ninth season with FC Dallas, Hollingshead is, without a doubt, one of the best left backs in MLS. With his comfort on the ball, positional flexibility and technical skill, Hollingshead is a perfect fit for FCD’s on-field style.

Hollingshead finished 2021 in the 87th percentile in average defenders bypassed per touch, the 90th percentile in forward distance traveled per touch, and in the 84th percentile in xA per 90 minutes among left backs and left wingbacks with at least 1,000 minutes. He’s a ball progressing machine on the left side for Dallas.

Rodriguez isn’t afraid to get out and run. The homegrown midfielder pressured opponents over and over and over last season, finishing 2021 in the 90th percentile in pressures per 90 minutes among midfielders and forwards.

For a Houston Dynamo team searching for its identity under new manager Paulo Nagamura, having a willing presser (who also has some technical quality) in their attack is a solid building block.

When Chicharito was on the field for the LA Galaxy last season, he was a genuine, reliable attacking threat. The Mexican striker scored 16 open-play goals in just over 1,850 minutes for the Galaxy, which put him tied for second in the open-play Golden Boot presented by Audi race.

With his clever movement inside the box, Chicharito finished 2021 in the 94th percentile in average shot quality (0.18 xG per shot) among forwards with at least 10 shots.

Chicharito may not score at the same clip in 2022 as LA's attack evolves, but you can bet on him finding strong shooting positions inside the box again this season.

Cifuentes was everywhere last year for LAFC. Though he largely played as a central midfielder, he often pressed as a No. 9, covered a ton of ground and created a host of chances for his teammates. Among midfielders with at least 1,000 minutes in 2021, Cifuentes finished in the 91st percentile in pressures per 90 and the 96th percentile in distance covered while pressing.

With the ball at his feet, Cifuentes was a reliable ball progressor with his passing and with his ball-carrying. And last year, well, he was a phenomenal chance creator, too: Cifuentes landed in the 95th percentile of all MLS players in xA per 90. Mr. Reliable, indeed.

Reynoso is Minnesota United’s attacking hub. No player on any team in MLS touched the ball more than Reynoso did last season in the attacking half of the field – and Reynoso turned those touches into chances for his team. The Argentine attacking midfielder finished last season in fifth place in both the overall xA table and the xA per 90 minutes table. Adrian Heath knows exactly what he’s getting from Reynoso on the field.

At 6-foot-3, Zimmerman is the perfect anchor for Gary Smith’s Nashville team. In 2021, the US international finished in the 97th percentile in defensive aerial duel win percentage among players with at least 50 aerials. In the attack, Zimmerman finished in the 87th percentile among all players in headed goals per 90 minutes.

He’s a weapon on both sides of the ball and adds a ton of value for Nashville in the air.

It’s getting a little ridiculous at this point, honestly. At 35, Chara still runs games in MLS. Watching him control the field and put a stop to opposing counterattacks all by himself at MLS Cup 2021 in Portland was an incredible experience.

Last season, Chara finished in the 94th percentile in total distance covered and in the 90th percentile for distance covered while sprinting. He also ended the year in the 88th percentile for pressures per 90 and distance covered while pressing. Chara doesn’t run as much as he used to, but I’m not bold enough to discount him in central midfield for Portland this season.

Herrera is an excellent chance creator on the right side of Real Salt Lake’s attack. He finished 2021 in the 94th percentile league-wide in xA and finished fourth in MLS in xA per 90 minutes among right backs and right wingbacks.

With his crossing ability, Herrera can serve quality balls into the box on a regular basis:

Toss in Herrera’s ability to play slightly deeper and act as a third center back and RSL have their Mr. Reliable for 2022.

After joining the San Jose Earthquakes midseason, Nathan put in some really good work in his 1,700 minutes. Among center backs who played at least 1,000 minutes last season, Nathan finished 16th (90th percentile) in pressing effectiveness and regularly covered long distances while pressing. He also showed off his dribbling ability and strong right foot, ranking in the 96th percentile in average opponents bypassed per touch among center backs who played at least 1,000 minutes.

Nathan won’t be able to totally transform San Jose’s defensive prowess, but he can certainly help them improve in 2022.

Finding a reliable, regular goalscorer isn’t easy, but the Seattle Sounders have done exactly that. Ruidiaz is one of the most consistent – and best – No. 9s in MLS. He put up the third most xG in the league in 2021 and finished in the 96th percentile in xG per 90 minutes among players with at least 1,000 minutes.

Combining the last two seasons into one dataset, 2020 Ruidiaz and 2021 Ruidiaz both finished inside the top 20 in xG per 90 minutes. Though his long-range shots are often erratic (and a bit unnecessary), Ruidiaz should put in another top-tier scoring season in 2022.

Despite how good Daniel Salloi and Andreu Fontas were for SKC in 2021, I’m giving the Mr. Reliable nod to Russell. In the last two seasons, Russell finished fourth (2020) and fifth (2021) among wingers with at least 1,000 minutes in open-play xG per 90 minutes. Add that xG to his 2.8 successful dribbles per game, which put him in the 88th percentile among players with at least 1,000 minutes last season, and you have a dynamic, goal dangerous right winger. That’s exactly what Russell has been for SKC for the last four years now.

This answer is a bit of a gamble on my part, given Gauld only played around 1,300 minutes for Vancouver last year after arriving from Portugal's Farense. But still, the DP brought real power and balance to the Whitecaps’ attack. The Scottish playmaker finished 2021 in the 90th percentile in xA per 90 minutes and in the 80th percentile in xG per 90 among midfielders and forwards with at least 1,000 minutes. Gauld’s technical quality, work rate, and pressing ability make him such an important piece of Vanni Sartini’s team heading into 2022.