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2016 Player Profiles, #9: Demar Phillips

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RSL’s Jamaican left back adjusted to MLS and became a real attacking force.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Demar Phillips increased his playing time with Real Salt Lake in 2016 by 11 games and 801 minutes over his debut 2015 season. In those 29 games, he was able to get five ticks for himself in the assist column (second most on the team), along with 9 shots as well. For this performance, he’s earned himself #9 in the Writer’s Ratings (6.93) and #12 in the Community Ratings (6.76).

The switch from the 4-4-2 to the 4-3-3 may have been a positive one for a player like Phillips simply because he has the attributes to fit the mold of an overlapping, attacking back which is so crucial in the new formation. We all know how fast the Jamaican is, and when he’s been given license to push forward and generate more crosses and passes in the attacking third, he’s proven to be more effective.

As an example of this, we can look at a comparison between his two seasons. In 18 games his first season, Phillips managed 11 shots on goal (only one on target), as well as 17 offside calls. With 58% more minutes in 2016 than the prior year, Phillips doubled his offside calls (40), but lowered his shot attempts (three on target) all while picking up those five helpers I mentioned before.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

What this tells me is that Phillips is not only doing more going forward (as seen with the offside stat), but is actually generating measurable team benefits when it comes to creativity and points on the board. In a year where RSL’s scoring waned over some long periods, Demar’s numbers taking on the changes I’ve described can be seen as a bright spot on the roster.

Additionally, it appears Phillips was actually connected with the attacking players on the pitch in ways he wasn’t before. Overlapping on the wing can account for the increase in offside calls as already mentioned, and the decrease in shots may be indicative of this role as well, supplying more passing options instead of errant pot shots. It could also be surmised that the 11 shots in 2015 were of much less quality and from further out than those in 2016 as well. Which means we may have seen the tactical adaptability of a player that’s arguably past his prime.

Although many fans may have left 2016 with a bad taste in their mouths after that humiliating display by Phillips against Emmanuel Boateng in the wildcard playoff against the Los Angeles Galaxy, there’s plenty to be happy about with our staple left back. He has been proving himself to be more formidable in the position at the age of 33 than possibly either Chris Wingert or Abdoulie Mansally were during their tenures with the club. Providing more potency in attack than Wingert and more solidarity in defense than Mansally, Phillips could be considered one of the core players the front office and coaching staff look at to build 2017’s squad around.