CARSON, CA - JUNE 16: Jonny Steele #22 of Real Salt Lake pressures a pass by Ante Jazic #13 of Chivas USA during the MLS match at The Home Depot Center on June 16, 2012 in Carson, California. Real Salt Lake defeated Chivas USA 3-0. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
First-year RSL midfielder Jonny Steele has certainly been turning heads with his penchant for scoring the odd late goal. Goals against Portland and Toronto - the former in the 89th minute, the latter in the 93rd - have certainly gone over well with the fans. Without those goals, we'd likely be five points lower in the table.
But at times, Jonny Steele has looked a bit, say, raw. It is perhaps no surprise, given his travels through the world of American soccer. Before landing at Real Salt Lake, he played professionally in the USL First Division, NASL and even Major Indoor Soccer League. Undoubtedly his most successful run with a club was during his time at Puerto Rico Islanders in 2008 and 2009, and in his first season with the USL-1 club, he was named the league MVP.
Those levels, as well-regarded as they may be - especially following the innumerable upsets in this year's US Open Cup - are a cut below what MLS is, despite what some detractors might shout quite loudly. It's a bumpy transition at best, and some players never find themselves able to cut it at the top level in the US. Jonny Steele, then, would seem a rare success story: He's found his feet rather quickly, he's made an impact, and he's being given regular minutes with the club.
The 26-year-old, though, is sometimes derided for his passing. His on-pitch style shows ambition with a certain calmitude, and his ability to hit a player with a pinpoint pass from distance is rightly heralded. That he's brought that to this level speaks well of him. But inevitably, long, adventuresome passes are bound to go wrong sometimes. It is no surprise that Jonny Steele's passing is not perfect, and though he does put the odd short pass in the wrong spot, it will be helpful to take a view from a statistical perspective.
Looking specifically at matches since May 1, so as to avoid looking too closely at Jonny Steele's first few matches with the club, we can learn a lot about his play.
Our most recent match - that loss to the Galaxy, sad as it was - did not see him having his worst game by any means. In fact, for the time he was on the pitch, it was about what you'd expect. He sat at about 78% pass accuracy with eight unsuccessful passes. Two of those were with his head, two were crosses, and two were long balls. This leaves him with two inaccurate short passes. In our 3-0 victory at Chivas, Steele sat at about 76% pass accuracy with 13 unsuccessful passes. One was with his head, and four were long. It was not his most brilliant passing match, but it wasn't particularly bad.
For the two matches preceding that, he came off the bench, and while those numbers don't mean particularly much, it is interesting to note that he didn't do too badly, with 9/14 against FC Dallas (two unsuccessful crosses and a header) and against Seattle, he completed 3/4 passes. Against Chicago in that rather bore 0-0 draw, he completed 32/45 passes, with two headers, three crosses and two long balls unsuccessful. Finally, against New England, he completed 10/12 passes with one unsuccessful long pass.
On the season, Jonny Steele is sitting at about 75 percent passing success. He's completed 19/32 long balls, found one assist, and notched eight interceptions. His passing rate is only slightly less than Will Johnson (79 percent) but is surpassed by the other midfielders, who are hovering between 83 and 87 percent passing success.
What's more striking, though, is looking at his key pass records - attempted assists, as they are sometimes known. In 535 minutes - about half of what Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy have played - he's found 11 key passes, which is four more than Johnson and five less than Grabavoy. It's an astounding record. It's a key pass about every 48 minute - which is more often than Kyle Beckerman (56 minutes to a key pass) and unsurprisingly less than Javier Morales (who is finding a key pass every 27 minutes.)
For his first season with us and his first in MLS, a record like that isn't so bad. As he moves forward with the club, finds his feet, and adjusts tactically to the rigors of the league, those numbers will likely improve. If and when they do, we'll have quite a player on our hands.