EDITORIAL – Younes Namli is the highest paid player on the Colorado Rapids. He’s the only Designated Player. Diego Rubio is the starting striker and the club hasn’t signed anyone who’s an active threat to his playing time. Both have been inconsistent in the offensive output at times. Rapids Twitter can complain all they want. Head coach Robin Fraser values them. Get used to it.
Goals or not, Robin Fraser Values Rubio and Namli. Get Used to it.
Rubio’s been on a decent run of form in 2021. He has 2 goals and an assist through six games. Last season was disappointing for the Chilean international, recording 7 G+A. Many pundits and fans talking about the Rapids comment about Rubio’s production and inconsistency. He splits opinions so much, HTHL dedicated a whole podcast episode to debating his role, value, and replaceability at the club.
In the context of goals added, Rubio’s actions rarely led to Colorado giving up quality scoring chances. Regardless of position, he was key in run of play chance creation and their success on set pieces. He was the most important player offensively after Price and Kamara.
— Matt Pollard (@LWOSMattPollard) June 3, 2020
Rubio contributes in other ways that Robin Fraser values and fits the style of play:
Many center forwards on other MLS teams, most of whom cost more than Rubio, score more goals and score a higher percentage of their teams goals. Rubio contributes to the team in other ways, with his hold up play and pressing as a false No. 9. Given Robin Fraser’s system, this is something the club values in a striker.
Fraser’s thoughts on the striker are best summed up in his Decision Day postgame comments last year:
“His unselfishness, his ability to lead the press, his timing, his work rate. He’s incredibly unselfish in what he does. This is one of the strengths of this team: There are unselfish guys on the team who are willing to do work for other guys when they need to. Diego is one of the first who will do that. What he’s given us all year is so much more than just goals. What he does allows us to play the way we play.”
And what is that way the Rapids play? Pressing, fluidity between the midfield and the front line, and chance creation by committee rather than through one star player. For the amount of money it cost to acquire and re-sign the striker who fits the system, Colorado is getting great value.
Namli is using the same skills at different positions, but context matters:
Similarly, Namli has just 2 goals and 4 assists as a Rapid. He’s yet to record a goal contribution in 2021. Unlike Rubio, his position and role within the team has varied. At times, he’s played centrally as the No. 10/attacking No. 8 in a three man midfield. Other times, he’s been the right winger.
In all cases, it’s his job to get on the ball, dribble to take defenders out of the play, and in that create chances. This year, he’s played further back as a regista, helping the team break the press and get the ball forward. The skillset he’s called upon to use has been the same; it’s the where and the how that’s changed. There’s no good publicly available xGoal Chain data that might be better at quantifying his value than G+A.
Per Transfer Markt, he’s played nine games at attacking midfielder, three at center midfielder, and six at right wing. He’s expressed comfortability with various roles in the past. Robin Fraser has said he has a good understanding of the system, its various roles, and how to play in the roles he’s been in.
Fraser rates Namli’s contributions regardless of goals:
When asked about Nami’s goal contributions (or lack there of) last week, he had this to say:
“We made the playoffs last year. In getting to that point, we beat a number of good teams. Younes was an integral part of that. Since he’s been here, our team has improved and continued to improve.”
“If we’re scoring goals and winning games, it really doesn’t matter that Younes has two goals and four assists since he’s been here. It’s an interesting way people like to look at team sports and pick out individual performances. For me, if the team is functioning well, and if we’re scoring goals and winning games, then I don’t have any issue with who’s scoring the goals and who’s not scoring.”
“He hasn’t really played in the higher part of the field for awhile for us. He’s played in a deeper position and has helped construct our attacks which have led to several goals. The question would be ‘how many times has he played in a high position and not scored or not had an assist?’ Even that I don’t think is relevant. We’ve been more successful with him than without him.”
To answer the question posed by Robin Fraser: Namli has a goal and three assists in his nine games at right wing and one goal in his nine games as a No. 10. In his three central midfield games (the 2020 MLS Cup Playoff game and two games in 2021), he has yet to score or assist. Over the course of his career, he’s been about as productive at RW as AM, and slightly less productive further back in the midfield, albeit with a smaller sample size.
Last Word: Is Namli worth a DP slot out of position?
Namli was brought in to create chances and goals. He’s the highest paid player on the team. His loan will expire at the end of the season with Colorado having an option to buy him from FC Krasnodar. Namli’s primary position is currently being occupied by Michael Barrios who is not a DP and was acquired for just an international roster slot.
If Namli continues to not play at right wing, that has to indicate Barrios being preferred at that position. We’ve seen the midfield be more stable defensively with Cole Bassett in the CAM position. Namli does things no one else on this team can. It clearly has value. Is it most valuable at the No. 8 position? Is that production at that position worth a DP contract and a January transfer fee? Can he work his way back into his natural starting position(s) and be more productive once he does?
If the answers to any of those questions is no, I’m inclined to think there’s another player the Rapids can acquire and pay more than $1 million who brings better tangible production and more value to the team in 2022.
Photo Credit: Mark Shaiken, Last Word on Soccer.