Tomorrow’s Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft provides the LA Galaxy with another opportunity to bring in players for the 2021 season. We previously discussed center forwards that may provide good value based on statistical analysis and today we’ll look at center-backs and left-backs that are available via free agency and the Re-Entry Draft.
Center-backs, along with all defensive players, are difficult to judge from a statistical perspective because defensive actions are not an isolated event as an offensive action like a shot or a goal. Understanding a defender’s role is key in identifying and weighing which defensive statistics are most important.
If the Galaxy choose to add or replace one of its center-backs, Kansas City’s Matt Besler should be their man.
While players such as LAFC’s Dejan Jakovic, San Jose’s Guram Kashia, and New England’s Antonio Delamea Mlinar will catch your attention with their defensive statistics in the table below, good defenders often play quiet games, whose names you may not remember being mentioned or making a play. In a similar fashion, Besler does his best to keep a low profile by maintaining good positioning in order to avoid having to make a statistical defensive action.
Statistically, Besler puts up solid numbers. In fact, Kansas City regained possession 33.14% of the time with Besler applying pressure on a player receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball. He’s also a very good tackler with a 76.92% win percentage, and successfully tackling dribblers 63.64% of the time. Besler is very active, recovering 11.89 loose balls per 90.
However, a more sophisticated and much more comprehensive way to analyze defenders comes from American Soccer Analysis’ (ASA) goals added (g+) model that measures a player’s total on-ball contribution in attack and defense.1 For all available center-backs, Besler tops the list with a g+ of 1.58, followed closely by Houston’s Maynor Figueroa (37) at 1.48, and significantly drops thereafter.
Besler’s real value comes in his 12 years of MLS experience, including an MLS Cup, three US Open Cups, four All-Star selections, two best XI selections, and 2012 Defender of the Year. In addition, he has 47 caps with the USMNT, two Gold Cups, and started every game at the 2014 World Cup.
The left-back situation is starting to become more clear and we may know more come January. Emiliano Insua’s time with the Galaxy seems to have come to an end. In addition, COG has independently confirmed that there is interest in Portland’s Jorge Villafaña.
Should a potential deal for Villafaña fall through, they could look to Toronto’s Justin Morrow as their starting left-back. Morrow is a disciplined tackler. He has a tackle win percentage of 72.73% and successfully tackles dribblers 57.69% of the time, all while committing just 0.28 fouls per 90. In addition, Toronto was able to regain possession 35.93% of the time when he pressured players that were either receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball.
In addition to his great defensive numbers, Morrow also had a second-best 0.49 goals added (g+). At 33, we wouldn’t expect him to sign a multi-year deal with anyone, which might make sense with Danilo Acosta (23) and Diedie Traore (21) pushing for minutes. For a Galaxy team that ranked second-to-last in goals allowed, the defense should be a priority, and Morrow’s combination of domestic player status, expected small salary next year, and experience makes him the best-valued left-back available.
Although we like Besler, it wouldn’t be surprising if San Jose’s Guram Kashia gets a long look. And if the Galaxy really just wanted to get the best available left-back, then Joevin Jones is the guy. As it stands, the Galaxy hold the seventh overall pick in tomorrow’s Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft and may currently negotiate with any free agent.
1 ASA’s g+ model measures a player’s total on-ball contribution in attack and defense by calculating how much each touch changes their team’s chances of scoring and conceding across two possessions.
2 Player Market Values are based on data prior to 12/18/20. There was an update on 12/18/20 that is not reflected in this table.
Sources: AmericanSoccerAnalysis.com, FBREF.com, MLSsoccer.com, MLSplayers.org, and Transfermarkt.com.