Barry Robson has shown hints of his effectiveness, but he still gives the ball away a lot for a central midfielder.
Clattering into opponents, attempting audacious shots on goal, and displaying the sort of body language that lets everyone know he cares are all surefire ways for the Scottish designated player to get the kids lining up around the block to get a shirt with his name on the back.
And in time that’s sure to happen – especially if he sets up a few more goals like he did for Kenny Miller’s 68th minute effort against the Colorado Rapids in the club’s 2-2 draw on Sunday.
But for as entertaining as Robson is, there must surely still be questions about his effectiveness. For a central midfielder, he loses the ball an awful lot, either through misplacing passes or simply being tackled.
In Sunday’s match, he lost the ball through tackles 20 times – more than any other Vancouver player. He also gave the ball away 17 times through unsuccessful passes.
Now it is worth saying he hit more successful passes than any other Whitecaps player with 39, but the main issue here is the ratio of successful uses of the ball in comparison to situations of wasting possession.
As with examining anything soccer related, it’s not exactly a scientific process, and stats don’t tell the full story – some midfielders are more conservative with their passing and thus create little in the way of meaningful attacking play – can a defensive midfielder who passes the ball three feet to more creative players be compared with an attacking midfielder who is constantly attempting more high-risk balls?
But having a look at some the midfield battles over this six-game winless streak will give a glimpse into why this team is struggling to keep the ball, and how that’s impacting its ability to win.
So, for this sake of this discussion, let’s call this the keep:concede ratio, where “keep” is determined by successful passes, and “concede” is the total number of situations where a player gives away the ball through getting tackled or passing to the opposition.
For Sunday’s match, Robson had a ratio of 39:37. Almost a one-for-one swap in terms of using and losing the ball. A 1.05 in decimal terms.
Gershon Koffie had a ratio of 21:11. Perhaps he isn’t quite as adventurous with his passing as Robson, and he certainly wasn’t as involved, but he managed to keep the ball much more effectively for his team throughout the match. A 1.91.
Alain Rochat? 32:24. A 1.33. (It is worth mentioning Rochat only played the first half as a central midfielder before dropping into the backline for the second period).
As for the opponents in the Rapids midfield? Jeff Larentowicz was the epitome of efficiency (barring his dire miss shortly after half-time), completing 48 passes and losing the ball just 13 times.
Hendry Thomas was quietly effective with a ratio of 38:15, for a 2.53.
Martin Rivero, who was the most advanced of Colorado’s central players, had a 30:19 ratio, for a 1.58.
Each of the Rapids’ central players was significantly better than his counterpart when it came to using the ball on Sunday.
But maybe that was just one game. So let’s look at the central players in Vancouver’s previous match, the 1-0 loss to FC Dallas on September 15.
Robson: 32:39, for a score of 0.82.
Koffie: 36:20, for a score of 1.8.
Rochat: 41:20, for a score of 2.05.
Their Dallas counterparts:
Julian de Guzman: 40:12, for a score of 3.33.
Jackson Goncalves: 21:31, for a score of 0.67.
David Ferreira: 32:39, for a score of 0.82.
This isn’t so much an in-depth season-long look as more of a “passing” observation – and Robson has been brought in to be a creative force, so naturally he will be relied upon to attempt high-risk plays in the final third that will inevitably lead to a lower success rate.
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As long as some of those plays come off these numbers are irrelevant, but if head coach Martin Rennie does opt for more 4-4-2 down the stretch, having Robson on the field in addition to two strikers could mean a major gap in midfield due to the amount of high-risk plays the midfielder attempts, and the subsequent amount of times he concedes possession.
To make this a tad more scientific (and just a tad), let’s look at one more match before signing off, the Sept. 1 game where the LA Galaxy won 2-0 at the Home Depot Center through top goals from Juninho and David Beckham.
Robson: 44:40, 1.1
Jun Marques Davidson: 60:3, for a remarkable score of 20. It is worth considering Davidson is perhaps one of the most conservative midfielders in MLS, passing the ball off to a teammate in close proximity as soon as he comes into possession).
Watson: 26:27, 0.96.
The Galaxy only played with two central midfielders:
Beckham: 54:41, 1.31.
Juninho: 52:3, 17.33.
To conclude, these numbers are pointless in comparison to the number on the scoreboard at the end of every match.
But there is something to be said about keeping the ball and using it more effectively.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for Goal.com Canada.