Marco Pappa - Opta Spotlight

Opta Spotlight: Why Marco Pappa can be Seattle Sounders' new Mauro Rosales

Over the past few seasons, Mauro Rosales has been one of the best chance creators in MLS, especially from set pieces. Earlier this offseason, the Seattle Sounders shipped him to Chivas USA, which left them with a void that needed to be filled.

In walks  Marco Pappa -- or so the Sounders hope. Pappa, a five-year veteran of MLS, will likely take over a playmaker role that Rosales made his own in three years in Seattle. In Chicago, Pappa was asked to be a goalscorer but with players like Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Kenny Cooper around him in Rave Green, his role could change to become more of a facilitator.

Pappa will not shoulder that burden alone, as Dempsey should be more acclimated to the league once it kicks off in March. However, looking at Pappa’s last two seasons in MLS can give us a hint as to how suited he is to filling Rosales' boots.

A quick, cursory look at the numbers is not immediately encouraging:

  Chances Created Per 90 Total Crosses Per 90 Crossing Accuracy
Pappa 1.8 4.4 22.7%
Rosales 3.0 9.1 30.6%

When taking a look at each of the two players' performance on set plays, the disparity becomes even more stark.

Set Plays
  Chances Created Per 90 Crosses Per 90 Crossing Accuracy
Pappa 0.5 2.7 24.1%
Rosales 1.2 4.5 37.9%

However, those numbers -- like all numbers in our game -- come with a grain of salt. When Pappa was with the Fire in 2011 and 2012 he was serving balls to the likes of Diego Chaves, Dominic Oduro, and Patrick Nyarko, not exactly your strongest aerial threats.

On the other side of the coin, Rosales has had the benefit of picking out players like Eddie Johnson, Jeff Parke and Dempsey. EJ, in particular, was one of the league's best and most dangerous players on restarts over the last two seasons.

Using the above table we can see how Rosales was able to take advantage of his teammates' strengths on set pieces. When looking strictly at open play, the numbers become much more even:

Open Play
  Chances Created Per 90 Crosses Per 90 Crossing Accuracy Passing Accuracy, Final Third
Pappa 1.3 1.8 20.5% 67.2%
Rosales 1.8 4.6 23.6% 65.9%

Pappa completed passes at a slightly higher rate in the final third, while the difference in crossing accuracy between the two players shortened significantly. Rosales attempted almost three more crosses per game from open play then Pappa, but we should expect his attempts to increase once he pulls on the rave green and plays under Sigi Schmid.

Johnson, of course, has left Seattle, but dangerous options are still present at CenturyLink. Martins and Dempsey remain as two of the best attacking threats in the league from any situation, but it's the new addition at center back that should be most helpful on set pieces. Chad Marshall was the best player in the air last season, leading the league in aerial percentage, which helped him take 21 shots off of set play situations in 2013.

He'll be the main target, which means less defensive attention for the likes of Martins, Dempsey and Cooper.

What these numbers indicate is that while Pappa was not the playmaker in Chicago that Rosales was in Seattle, the potential is there. A new role in Seattle could help Pappa become one of the best chance creators in MLS.


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