NYCFC Center Backs: How They Stack Up Against the Rest of MLS

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In a previous article, I analyzed the improved play of NYCFC’s wingers as a reason for their success this year. Another part of NYCFC’s success has been the play of their new center back pairing, Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot. Chanot joined NYCFC in last season’s summer transfer window from Kortrijk in Belgium, while Peruvian international Callens joined this off-season from Numancia in Spain. On paper, it seems like NYCFC’s pair have thrived. However, a deep dive into the numbers shows they haven’t done that well. But, NYCFC have still succeeded in defending as a team.

Since we’re two months into the MLS season, the sample size is large enough to make comparisons, but with a little bit of caution. There are several different statistics used to compare the center backs. Individually, defensive actions per 90 minutes gives a baseline to compare a player to other players. Defensive actions is the total successful tackles, interceptions, clearances, and blocked shots this season. The statistics are per 90 minutes to eliminate the bias created by not all defenders playing the same number of minutes. As a team, defensive actions per 90 (DA per 90), goals allowed (GA), and expected goals allowed (xGA) also give us a baseline of the pairings performance. All players analyzed must have played 300 minutes. This qualification left 49 center backs to be analyzed. (All raw data from WhoScored unless noted)

NYCFC Center Backs: How They Fare Against the Rest of MLS

NYCFC Center Backs: How They Fare Individually

DA per 90 ranks Chanot 30th and Callens 36th out of 49 players, not very high rankings for them. The area Callens struggles most in is clearances per 90, while Chanot struggles at blocked shots per 90. This discrepency could be due their positioning. Callens steps up more, while Chanot drops back frequently. Still, when Chanot does so he isn’t that active in the air, winning only four aerial duels per match. If they could improve their efficiency with their movement, their DA per 90 would increase. In addition, both players average one defensive action below the league average for center backs. Some players with similar DA per 90 is Eriq Zavaleta, Brent Kallman, and Gustav Svensson.

NYCFC’s Center Backs: How They Fare as a Team

(Expected Goals Allowed data from American Soccer Analysis. The lower the ranking, the stronger the team)

Out of 22 MLS teams, NYCFC rank 18th in DA per 90, sixth in goals allowed, and second in expected goals allowed. Only Orlando City SC has less xGA. Some teams with similar DA per 90 scores are the Montreal Impact and Portland Timbers. Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union have similar numbers of goals allowed. These rankings highlight NYCFC’s strong defending as a team, but not as individual center backs. Also, the data could highlight that NYCFC’s defenders face less action. However, that is not the case due to NYCFC playing it out of the back, so the defenders are under frequent pressure.

Final Thoughts

NYCFC’s center backs individual statistics don’t jump off the page, but they haven’t let in many goals. A big reason for the lack of defensive statistics is due to NYCFC’s style of play. They possess the ball a lot, and other players press, which doesn’t leave many opportunities for the center backs to complete defensive actions. NYCFC fans should not be too worried about their individual statistics because as a team NYCFC are doing very well.