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Guest Post: Two Defensive Targets for Minnesota United’s Offseason

by on 30 November 2017

Earlier this month, University of Minnesota’s professor Michael Lower invited me to speak to his class “Soccer: Around the World with the Beautiful Game.” One of the projects in the class asked students to come up with a transfer target report for particular teams.

One of those groups put together two transfer targets for Minnesota United FC (that was then passed on to director of player personnel Amos Magee, so you heard it here first). They agreed to let us post their report here. From: Andrew Eggers, Morgan Johnson, Everett Oldenburg, DK Minn, Ki Yoon Bae, Chandler Elsbecker, Yazan Darwish, and Hao Liang.

To develop a valuable transfer strategy for the Loons, we decided to first look at the team’s statistics from their inaugural season in Major League Soccer. The most glaring stat was the amount of goals that the team conceded; they let in the most goals (67) in MLS.

Not only did they concede the most goals, but they also faced the most expected goals (66.3) of any team in the league. No other team in the league came within even 10 xG of the Loons. The Loons also faced the joint second highest number of shots from the center of the field of any team in the league (67%).

The Loons have the second oldest roster in the league and so we would like our big signing to be between the age of 20 and 24. Coupled with the monumental under-performance of Vadim Demidov and the Loons’ ability to sign a designated player, we have decided to focus our transfer efforts on finding a young, talented center back.

We are confident club director of player personnel Amos McGee will be ready to splash the cash on a designated player, since he was transparent about his strategy to delay the signing of a DP. He stated that he would like to see how the core group of players got on before signing a possible DP after the 2017 season.

In regards to specific players, we elected to ignore players from the large European leagues; poaching players of the desired age from these large teams is not realistic. We also want to resist the temptation of older, big-name players from these leagues. We strive to spend within our budget-especially with the new stadium on the way. Below are a pair of players we have uncovered based on their impressive stats (all courtesy of Squawka):

Jurgen Mattheij (24 years old, Dutch)

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For over two seasons, Mattheij has ranked in the top three defenders in the Eredivisie in defensive actions (combined clearances, blocks, and interceptions) per 90 minutes. This is more impressive considering the fact that he has maintained this level of performance even as his team, Excelsior, has continued to rise up the table over the years and are likely facing less defensive pressure than before.

Through 11 games of the 2017/2018 season, he also is first in the league in clearances.Though his current market value is a little high at 800,000 euros, we believe he would be a perfect DP to bring to MLS.

Adam Jackson (23 years old, English)

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In the 2016/2017 season, Jackson ranked in the top 10 defenders in the English Championship in both duels won per 90 minutes and defensive actions per 90 minutes. He was, in fact, second in defensive actions last season with Barnsley. Currently, he leads the English Championship with 3.4 interceptions per game, indicating that last season’s numbers were no joke. He represents a much cheaper option than Mattheij (only 250,000 euros according to transfermarkt). This seems to be an extraordinary value for a player with such good stats.

We believe the Loons should look to sign one of, if not both, of these players in the off season. They are young, high performers who should be looking to take the next step in their career. They will help to fill an obvious need for MNUFC in defense.


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  • Wes

    Looking at these guys, I don’t even think they would require DP slots. Jackson is tough because there’s just so much money in England, but a CB playing for a small club in Eredvisie? He’s probably not making that much.
    I hadn’t heard of either of these guys.

    • Chris RB

      Agree, and I’m glad- I don’t think we should need to use a DP slot to upgrade the defense. There are so many quality defenders out there that we can save the big money signings for the midfield or attack.

  • David Sterling

    I still think far too much focus is placed on defensive mishaps. Look, the first game we played with Calvo, Kallman and Thiesson was Colorado, then we ended up losing Calvo to Intl duty for NE, and then he came back for RSL; so essentially, the first four games are a complete wash from a statistical perspective because we played four different defensive lineups. In those four games, 18 goals were scored. In the first three games we used these three defenders at the same time, we allowed an average of 2 gpg.
    So let’s say hypothetically we would have averaged 2 gpg those four games (subtract 10 goals from our total), we end the season with 57 goals allowed. That would place us at 17th for goals allowed. Not by any means great, but better.
    Another thing with this analysis is that all defensive stats are dependent as much on MF play as D play. Many of our troubles were directly related to mishaps by our midfielders. At one point toward the end of the season, I had counted somewhere around 13 or 14 goals directly caused by errant MF passes. It doesn’t matter how good your defenders are, if your MF coughs the ball up in the wrong spot, the back line is screwed.
    While I don’t think Kallman is a permanent answer for a starter, I wouldn’t put forward too much money, and definitely not a DP, for a CB.

    • Dave Laidig

      I agree with cutting defenders some slack. I think it’s better to refer to the problems as collective or team defense. As a team, the defense should be the highest priority, whether the technical staff decides to address it via players (backline, midfield, defensive-minded forwards), tactics, or prayers to the deity of their choice.

      • David Sterling

        I think the defense starts in the MF, and believe we need to do two things; 1) bring in a new, young Cronin who can martial the field; and 2) change the formation to a 3-1-5-1. As a BPL follower, I love how Conte revolutionized the league when he joined Chelsea. The play can be much more exciting, it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces.
        In that sense, I would support a strong push for a CB (still not DP), find a new RB, move Thiesson back to the left side and allow him to push up field. Use DP money on a DMF push Nicholson inside on the left, Ibson in the middle, Molino on the right, a DP at the #10, and Ramirez/Danladi up top.

  • Aaron Tinklenberg

    First and most importantly, where the hell was this class when I was in college?

    Second, cool project. I think if we can learn anything from this it’s the fact that there really are a lot of players out there. This kind of statistical analysis seems a reasonable way try to make the pool of possibilities a little more manageable. Yeah, you aren’t going to know what these stats mean exactly until you understand the situation & see the player in action, but it’s a place to start.

  • Bruce J McGuire

    They look like good candidates alright. But I am curious if the students thought those two players would be candidates to come to MLS and Minnesota. Those 2 seem to have a pedigree that would attract larger European teams.

  • sehanson14147

    They didn’t appear to mention anything about their contract status.

  • I don’t see Farfan on this list. It is saturated with bias.

  • Scott Anthony Kerssen

    Have I been blocked from commenting here?

    • Scott Anthony Kerssen

      Apparently. I have tried to post a longer reply three times over the past three days and it still hasn’t been put up. Why?