Backpass: 2022 Player Reviews, Wingers
Rapids wingers somewhat underperformed expectation in 2022. Also if you're a very TL;DR reader, this article has a lot of cool gifs you'll want to see.
Anyone who watched the Colorado Rapids in 2022 knows that a tremendous amount of the team’s attack comes from the wings. Robin Fraser likes a club that creates overloads in wide areas; forces the opposition to confront them; and then strikes. Whoscored.com notes that the Rapids have several tendencies in this respect: they attack down the left, play a lot of long balls, attempt crosses often, and take a lot of shots. In other words, our wingers are important.
And ultimately, they are quite good at all the things wingers do, except finishing. Which means the Rapids wide men are good. But not great. And depending on how you perceive the Rapids to be, that will determine whether you think that our wingers are a huge strength for this team, or the most glaring weakness.
You’ll notice I have switched up the format of data provided. Whereas for midfielders and defenders I gave all the Goals Added numbers, now I’m giving a few key G+ numbers and a bunch of Expected Goals numbers.
Also I cut the fbref percentiles and all the specific American Soccer Analysis G+ numbers. The fbref numbers are normalized for 90 minutes, and that I think messes with their value. Additionally, once it gets to Attacking midfielders, wingers, and forwards, it becomes the case that goals and assists matter a lot more than ‘the pass before the pass’ or ‘effective high-press center forwards’. I’ve written these articles for a long time, and writing that some striker sucks at scoring goals but is great at holdup play or counter-pressing gets old and is besides the point.
Show me the money, Jerry.
2418 minutes, 5 goals, 2 assists, +1.53 Total G+, 7.16 xG, 1.59 xA, -2.16 G- xG
September 10, 2022; Rapids beat Vancouver 3-1. J-Lew adds this sick roofer in the 74th to ice it.
Key Stats, the Good Kind : +1.42 Dribbling G+, 3rd amongst all MLS wingers; his +1.53 G+ was 5th among all MLS wingers
Key Stats, the Bad Kind : His G-xG of -2.16 was 8th-worst among all MLS wingers. His Fbref Passes Attempted per 90 min of 18.99 was in the 1st percentile (very bad). His Pass completion rate of 71.9 percent was 33rd percentile (pretty bad), and his Progressive Passes rate of 1.30 was 6th percentile (very bad). Not surprisingly, his xA per 90 rate of 0.09 was also bad – in the 10th percentile.
Lewis has been with the Rapids long enough that we pretty much know his jam, although in 2022, we really saw it in full bloom. Rapids will bomb the ball upfield and let Jonathan Lewis latch onto it. Lewis will then run at defenders in the box and lash a ferocious shot. Sometimes, it’ll go in. Usually not.
Lewis is a great receiver (+0.17 Receiving G+) and a phenomenal dribbler (+1.42 Dribbling G+), and those are worthy of praise. But he’s not so forthright with a pass to his teammates, and his penchant for missing shots is frustrating. That hasn’t always been the case: Lewis had 5 goals on just 1.94 Expected Goals in 2019, and with just 16 shots too. It’s possible this year, in which he also had 5 goals but on 7.16 xG, was just an off year.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. If you’re a dribble-drive, give-me-the-rock guy, and you aren’t hitting, your team is going to suffer. Lewis shoots and shoots and shoots. He’s not great at sharing the ball. But he’s also just 25 years old and therefore beginning the prime years of his career.If he can be coaxed to share a little more, and if he can finish a little better, the Rapids have a dangerous weapon on their hands. As it stands, what they've got is a player full of potential that, in comparison to his fellow MLS wingers, hurt his team in 2022 as much as he helped them.
2087 minutes, 2 goals, 6 assists, +1.52 Total G+, 4.24 xG, 5.59 xA, -2.24 G-xG
Best Goal/Assist (it’s an assist):
April 9, 2022; in a Rapids loss to FC Dallas, 3-1. Michael Barrios effortlessly settled a 50 yard diagonal with a volley flick-on to Diego Rubio in the perfect spot between two defenders for a goal. He makes this look so easy. It’s actually the most deceptive thing about Barrios - his ability to receive a ball in open play with the softest of touches is mind-bendingly good.
Key Stats, The Good Kind: His +9.83 xG+xA is 14th amongst all MLS wingers. His Receiving G+ of +0.60 was fourth on the Rapids. His Total G+ of +1.52 was third on the Rapids. His Touches in the Attacking Penalty Area (p90) of 5.95 was in the 99th percentile in MLS at his position.
Key Stats, The Bad Kind: His Pass Completion Percentage of 63.8 percent is in the 4th percentile at his position. His 2 goals this year works out to 0.09 goals per 90 minutes played, putting him in just the 12th percentile. And, like Jonathan Lewis, he underperformed his xG significantly; his G-xG was - 2.24
Barrios had a pretty good year in 2022. He was fast. He settled long diagonals beautifully. He dribbled into dangerous spots and put pressure on the opposition time and again. He played a similar amount of minutes.
But compared with 2021, his shooting wasn’t as good, and that’s worrying. In 2021, Barrios had 8 goals in 55 Shots, putting 21 On Target. In 2022, Barrios had 2 goals on 46 shots, with only 11 falling On Target.
I really like Barrios for what he offers the team - a dribbling threat in the final third that forces the opponent to react. The thing is, when you’ve got a player who can dribble at you, but doesn’t reliably produce a final pass or a final shot that results in something, what you’ve got is a player that can convey the ball from the middle third to the final third for you, before inevitably turning it over at a higher rate than desired. A soccer team only gets so many possessions in a game; roughly 40 to 70. If they all end in a change of possession, and none of them results in a goal with an assist, then it doesn’t really matter whether the change in possession occurs in the middle third or the final third.
I am certainly being reductive. I have oversimplified. Barrios is a creator because he picks up yardage. He is a creator because he penetrates the opposing penalty box. But he wasn’t a finisher in 2022. He’s four years removed from producing double-digits assists, as he did for Dallas in 2019.
He’s a good winger, albeit a somewhat one-dimensional one. He’s a fantastic option off the bench. But in a league where his comparable opponents are Carlos Vela, Talles Magno, Gareth Bale, Luis Araujo, Jordan Morris, and Lorenzo Insigne, and in a year where he’s set to turn 32 years old, he shouldn’t be counted on in the future for more than 1000 minutes. Because if he is, he won’t produce what the team needs in a front line winger – the ability to dribble, cross, pass, and finish.
909 minutes, 1 goal, 0 assists, -0.51 Total G+, 0.87 xG, 1.69 xA
Sam’s One Shining Moment: Nicholson scored a back-post goal in the 91st minute of a 4-0 blowout against LA Galaxy on September 17 to get the Rapids to 4-1.
Key Stats, The Good Kind: Sam’s a pretty good pressing-forward, with a +0.08 Interrupting G+. His 3.14 Shot Creating Actions per 90 is in the 79th percentile.
Key Stats, The Bad Kind: Nicholson had a -0.51 Total G+, which is ok considering he was effectively a replacement player performing at the level of … a replacement level player.He had better G+ numbers than Douglas Costa, Ethan Finlay, Benji Michel, and Samuel Grandsir. Now, if you gave Nicholson a full season of minutes, he might have G+ numbers as bad as those guys … and Finley, Costa, and Grandsir had more than 1 goal to hang their hats on.
I don’t really know why Sam Nicholson was brought back to the Rapids on a contract that runs through 2024 at a salary that paid him $335,000 in 2022. I assume that the team thought they were thin on the wings - Mark-Anthony Kaye was leaving, Andre Shinyashiki was traded, Braian Galvan and Aboubakar Keita were hurt, Yaye Toure and Darren Yapi weren’t ready, Anthony Markanich and Philip Mayaka weren’t ready.
The team basically could only reliably dress 13 or 14 MLS caliber players for a matchday that needed 18. You really don’t want to be a coach that looks down the bench in the 75th minute and has a sinking feeling in his or her stomach that there aren’t any good options left. And you really, really don’t want to be the GM that has to face that head coach in a meeting the next day. All this, I surmise, led to the signing of Sam Nicholson, a flashy winger who can do a job, but has never been anything more than a very modest and occasional difference maker in his footballing career.
In 2022, as the stats above indicate, Sam didn’t do much other than eat some late minutes for the Rapids in blowouts. The team went 3-3-4 (WTL) in matches he started, but his Expected Goals and Expected Assists wasn’t great. The aforementioned Shot Created Actions per 90 is encouraging, but I’m not sure Darren Yapi or Sebastian Anderson or someone out of USL couldn’t do an equal or better job for less money.
At 28 years old, Sam’s still in the prime of his career, and his health and his pace are still good. And there are some rumors that perhaps Colorado is thinking of converting him to Left Back - which would make sense considering the roster only has ancient mariner Steven Beitashour at that spot right now.
If he doesn’t switch positions, Nicholson is best as depth, a reserve, and as a training buddy for young up-and-comers. Much like Barrios, if these Rapids are turning over lots of minutes to Nicholson in 2023, it would indicate an extreme lack of investment on the part of senior management - or that newly-signed DP Kevin Cabral is really, really performing poorly.
252 minutes, 1 goal, 0 assists, +0.23 Total G+, 0.57 xG
His Final Goal As a Rapid:
Andre Shinyashiki gave the Rapids four years, 4000 minutes, 16 goals and 6 assists in his time in Commerce City. Acquired in the 2019 MLS Superdraft at the fifth pick - one the Rapids traded up to get - he has been one of the most successful players of his draft class. Upon being traded to Charlotte FC for $400,000 after the acquisition of Gyasi Zardes made him somewhat redundant with the ‘Pids, he went on to score 6 goals in 844 minutes for the Queen City.
Should he have been sold? That’s a good question. Shinyashiki is listed as a winger, but he plays more like a striker. He’s best when already in the final third, or already in the box, and he’s a shooter much more than he is a connector. A striker has to create opportunities and finish them at a high rate - the striker position is the most critical, most expensive, and also most demanding in football. Until he left the Rapids, Shinyashiki had between 0.25 and 0.42 Goals per 90 each season, and was only slightly better at Goals + Assists per 90. By comparison, the best goal scorers in MLS had between 0.63 and 0.73 Goals per 90, and between 0.84 and 1.05 G+A per 90. His combined CLT + COL Expected Goals rate of 3.76 was 33rd out of 133 MLS wingers in 2022, so very good, but not elite. And most importantly, Dre turns 28 this year - so he’s beginning the downward phase of his athleticism and production.
Most likely, Andre Shinyashiki is a perfect example of 'selling high' – the Rapids Front Office determined that his value was never going to be higher than it was in late spring, so that’s why they moved him on May 3rd. There was a willing buyer. Pádraig pulled the trigger. Probably the right move, as long as Colorado can replace what he had to offer with someone either cheaperor more effective, or both.
Dre’s a great player - a final third threat, a good finisher, and effective off the bench. He was always a hard worker too. And after four years at Denver University and another four in burgundy, he’s a true Colorado player. We’ll all miss him. We will definitely miss all the goals he gave us.
Grade: The Thanks Of A Grateful Rapids Nation
Dantouma ‘Yaya’ Toure
70 minutes, 1 goal, 0 assists
First Goal as a Rapid: 89th minute vs NYRB on August 2 in a wild 5-4 ‘Pids win; their only road win of the season. Even wilder, he scored another a few minutes earlier (a better one), but it was waved off for offsides.
The 18-year-old Toure could be the future of this team. He led all players on MLS Next Pro’s Rapids 2 team with 8 goals in 1213 minutes. Rapids 2 was terrible, however, so it’s hard to know what to do with that data. Yaya appeared in five MLS games, none for more than 11 minutes, so we can gain no significant information about how he’ll be on the big stage as of yet.
Of course, this story has a bummer of an ending for 2022; Yaya tore his ACL and had surgery on August 23. The usual timetable for ACL surgery recovery is eight to twelve months, so the earliest date we can expect to see Toure get a full season to settle in with the Rapids Senior team is in 2024. We wish Dantouma the best in his recovery - come back stronger, kid.
It’s weird that I don’t particularly love ‘Jerry Maguire’ that much. I think it maybe it would have been great for me if it was simply the love story of an agent and his wide receiver. I could have done without the romantic story. But then I guess it’d be ‘Arli$$’ or ‘Ballers.’
He is the *only* player on the Colorado Rapids entering 2023 in his age 25, 26, or 27 year.
It’s originally a baseball concept. Take the run production of an average player earning the MLB minimum - that’s a replacement level player. Towards the lower quartile in sports, there are a slew of guys that can perform almost the same task. A good general manager wants to either find a guy at that price level and squeeze a few more points of G+ or xG out of him, or pay a little less for that average guy and spend the saved coin up the roster somewhere. Those little differences tend to matter, especially for the thrifty teams like Colorado. The Rapids have a glut of guys making $150-300K, and I would surmise that Pádraig Smith thinks you buy a bunch of those dudes and hope that 50% overperform expectation, because that’s a lot cheaper than laying out over $1 million at 6 or 8 positions knowing half of them will be busts. Pádraig can’t afford to gamble big on a few hands of poker, so he plays the nickel slots, and he bets on a lot of machines at once.
Unless he’s Chris Wondolowski, who had his best goal scoring year at the age of 29. He scored 27 goals and won MLS MVP, and San Jose won Supporters Shield.
Hard to get cheaper - Shinyashiki’s deal with the Rapids had him on $140,000 a season. He re-signed for three more years with Charlotte, and I assume when those numbers come out in May, he will likely be getting paid in the $300-500K range. Which … is another reason why perhaps he was sold. His contract was expiring, his price was going up, and the Rapids were unwilling to shell out the bucks and believed that they could replace his production at a lower cost. See the film (or read the book) ‘Moneyball.’
Great article. Keep it up