In somewhat remarkable fashion, Sebastian Velasquez has become one of the most talked about Real Salt Lake players as we move forward in the playoffs. It is not entirely strange, as he's done well, and he's a player that, on the surface, is incredibly exciting in his play.
Few players at the club are so inclined to attempt to cheekily dribble around everyone else, which certainly doesn't hurt the infectious nature of the enthusiasm around the kid.
But we might rightly wonder what exactly it is he brings tactically to the table. His dribbling, yes, is good, and it's perhaps an important feature of our play, but it's not a tactical thing, really. Instead, we should wonder what he brings on a broader scale. The method with which a player chooses to get around a player is not to be dismissed, but it's not a tactical feature.
After all, looks are a deceiving thing: If I asked you what percentage of his passes were in the final third on average, a guess around 30 percent would be spot on - it's 32.39 percent since joining MLS. But of his passes against LA Galaxy, only 14.7 percent were in the final third - and still he was a player with immense impact.
The quick answer is to point to his position. After all, he's being played behind Javier Morales, next to Luis Gil - he's not going to always be in the final third. But playing in nominally the same position, 43.6 percent of his passes were in the final third against Portland. A feat, to be sure, but his impact came differently. Indeed, you might say that he reflected our approach in those two games: Against LA Galaxy, we were keeping our midfielders a bit deeper against resolute opposition. It was through a cross and a set piece that we were victorious, not necessarily through open play. But against Portland Timbers, it was open play that really saw us make our mark, even if two of the goals were through set pieces again.
Velasquez is a role player at Real Salt Lake. He maintains possession as well as anyone, and he does have a creative streak to him that differentiates him from the pack. When the team plays well, he tends to play well - but when the team suffers, he often does, too. He is a player whose professional career has been rooted in Jason Kreis's midfield diamond, and it shows. His understanding is growing week by week, and he is visibly better player than he was last year.
Statistically, it is difficult to measure Velasquez's growth. He's not touching the ball significantly more, and he's not making significantly more passes. Defensively, he's still making a tackle or two a game, but his interception rate has probably increased a bit.
In fact, it's almost as if his growth has been largely unquantifiable — but it's there for all to see. And the impact he's having, too - well, you need look no further than the last week to see that.