Armchair Analyst: Onfield evolution and the role of the No. 10

Welcome back to the Thursday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being playmakers – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.


I wrote a bit about last night's three games, an article which you can read HERE. On a granular level I was just trying to take a moment to appreciate Sebastian Giovinco, Mauro Diaz and Diego Valeri.

It got me thinking on a larger level, though, about the role of the No. 10 in MLS and the way it's evolved over. Back at the turn of the decade there were a few guys scattered around the league like Javier Morales, David Ferreira and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but the primary chance creators in MLS tended to be wide players. The league was fast and physical, and what we (I?) think of as "the traditional No. 10" was more exception than rule.

Things have changed. Here are the league's top dozen open play chance creators in 2011:

2011
Player Chances Created from Open Play Crosses Open
Brad Davis 55 103
Patrick Nyarko 54 51
Dwayne De Rosario 51 57
Mauro Rosales 49 106
Josh Wolff 47 28
Sebastien Le Toux 46 73
Nick LaBrocca 43 59
Joel Lindpere 39 129
Robbie Rogers 39 115
Emmanuel Ekpo 39 26
Brek Shea 37 95
Davide Chiumiento 37 53

Lots of crosses. I had to go all the way down to 12 to find a traditional No. 10 in Davide Chumiento (who I miss watching, by the way). Maybe I'd stretch the definition and throw DeRo into that bucket, but he was much more creative as a dribbler than as a passer.

Here's the list for 2015:

2015
Player Chances Created from Open Play Crosses Open
Darlington Nagbe 61 24
Sacha Kljestan 56 35
Javier Morales 53 39
Cristian Maidana 51 89
Federico Higuaín 47 45
Kaká 43 30
Ignacio Piatti 42 21
Sebastian Giovinco 40 66
Lee Nguyen 40 31
Benny Feilhaber 40 28
Fanendo Adi 39 14
Michael Bradley 39 9

This isn't a perfect metric by any stretch, and I honestly haven't had time today to dig deeper into things. But at a glance, the numbers are jarring and confirm the eye test. MLS is now a league of playmakers, guys who operate in the hole underneath forwards and try to unlock things with the final ball.

It's a big change, and it speaks to the copy-cat nature of sport. Columbus won in 2008 behind Schelotto, and RSL won in 2009 behind Morales. Ferreira led FC Dallas to within inches of their own MLS Cup in 2010.

Five years later, the league is loaded with players cut from that cloth (many of them - gratifyingly - are American, while a few Canadians like Jonathan Osorio, Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos also appear to have playmaking chops), and the final ball is more often coming from the central channel rather than via the flanks.

It's been better to watch, to be quite honest. And it paints a future where brains trump brawn in our league.


Ok folks, thanks for helping me kill another Thursday!

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