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Talking Tactics: Is Jordan Allen the heir-apparent to Morales' throne?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Allen, previously known as the "Swiss Army Knife," has the talent to play nearly every position on the pitch and that is what he did. He has the talent to play along the touchline, whether it is in the attack or defense. He also has the talent to drive the attack or simply work in-between the boxes. In short, Real Salt Lake’s homegrown product has become a real asset to the club.

It was announced in preseason that Allen would be the heir apparent of Javier Morales. Symbolically given the keys to the RSL attack, head coach Jeff Cassar and the rest of the technical staff have enough faith in the youngster to link the club’s play from the back to the attack.

At least twice, being down a goal, the Claret-and-Cobalt has relied on Allen to spur a comeback. He often serves to ratchet up the RSL attack when coming off the bench. Allen stays aggressive and is mature beyond what a 21-year-old label would suggest. In his third year with the senior side, Allen has already captured three goals and three assists in 1609 minutes, not to mention the attentions of many RSL fans.

Even still, one has to wonder how he is stacking up against the legend that is Javier Morales. How similar is their style of play? Should Allen be the heir apparent, or will the future hold other opportunities for the Homegrown?

In eight appearances so far for Allen in 2016, he continues to be used as a utility player. In those said eight appearances, Allen has played as a winger (five times), an attacking midfielder (twice), and a fullback (once). Even though Cassar has promoted him as the back-up for Morales, Luke Mulholland has served more often in that role (four times) than Allen.

As it appears, even the Real technical staff is not sure of his future role. This is a troubling prospect for some fans as that is the way the club lost Luis Gil to the chopping block. Gil, once the heir apparent, lost favor with Cassar and his performance suffered for it. Playing only 67 percent as much in 2014 as the year previous, Gil’s slump began. In his two years under Cassar, the coach often played him out of position or simply failed to utilize his strengths. In 2861 minutes under Cassar, Gil only managed to score three times and create three assists which pale in comparison to the eight goals and six assists under former head coach Jason Kreis. What RSL fan do not want is a repeat of the Gil story arc with Allen.

So, how has Jordan Allen stack-up against his assumed predecessor?

Overall 2016 Jordan Allen Javier Morales
Passes per minute: 0.30 0.74
Passes per 90 min: 27.16 66.59
Average number of passes each match: 19.50 51.50
Actual/Predicted passes: 72% 77%
Passes per player chances: 39.00 27.11
Passes per club chance: 1.86 6.96
Touches per minute: 0.43 0.90
Touches per 90 min: 38.99 81.21
Average number of touches each match: 28.00 62.80
Actual/Predicted touches: 72% 77%
Touches per player chances: 56.00 33.05
Touches per club chance: 2.67 8.49

Across the board, it appears that Allen and Javier play in a very different manner. Of the above statistics only passes per player chance and actual/predicted touch ratio – determined by calculating their overall passes per 90 minutes and then dividing it by the actual average number of passes each match – showed no significant variation between the two players. A lot of factors could be responsible for this but what stands out the most is that Allen has not been playing strictly a Morales-esque role.

As alluded to before, the majority of Allen’s time in 2016 has been on the wing. In this position he has scored both goals and provided his only assist. On the wing Allen takes on more of a Joao Plata role. Like a trequartista, gets a significantly larger amount of touches and strings together more passes. So near the touchline, it also allows the youngster a little bit more time on the ball making his passing accuracy nearly perfect with 90 percent of passes completed.

Taking into account only the two times that Allen played in that attacking midfield playmaker role for the Claret-and-Cobalt, it is clear that he has the potential to step in for the aging Morales.

As a No. 10, 2016 Jordan Allen Javier Morales
Passes per minute: 0.47 0.74
Passes per 90 min: 42.19 66.59
Average number of passes each match: 22.50 51.50
Actual/Predicted passes: 53% 77%
Passes per player chances: 15.00 27.11
Passes per club chance: 2.37 6.96
Touches per minute: 0.61 0.90
Touches per 90 min: 55.31 81.21
Average number of touches each match: 29.50 62.80
Actual/Predicted touches: 53% 77%
Touches per player chances: 19.67 33.05
Touches per club chance: 3.11 8.49

Playing in the No. 10 spot Allen’s stats get more similar to the Maestro. Comparing his his overall stats to those when he played in the playmaker role, it is clear that he become more involved in the build-up play – there was a statistical difference between the both passes and touches per minute. As a result, Allen nearly doubled his passes and touches per 90 minutes as a No. 10 than as a winger. The youngster was also able to obtain the highest actual/predicted pass ratio for the entire squad (90 percent).

Playing this role it is clear that his stats become more similar to that of the veteran, but Allen still has some way to go before he can assume Morales’ role for the club.

Despite all the good and improvement that these stats depict, there are some troubling features present in the data as well.

For instance, Allen gets significantly less touches per 90 minutes (55.3) than Morales (81.2) in the No. 10 role. This is troubling because it can be an indicator that the rest of the club does not pass to him as often as they would to the Maestro. As a result, Allen gets significantly fewer chances to influence the match as his counter-part does.

More evidence of this is found in the number of touches per club chance. While Morales racks up an impressive 8.49, Allen consistently only gets less than half of that with 3.11. As a result, Allen is only able to make 2.37 passes to influence a chance, compared to Morales 4.88.

In other words, despite Allen given the symbolic keys to the RSL attack both presently and in the future, he is not afforded that luxury on the pitch. Without Allen able to get on the ball more, he will never take Morales’ role as pure No. 10.

This is not necessarily a bad thing though.

Football continues to be a work of art that requires both precise technique and imagination, but the modern game is changing. The sport has always boasted an abundance of purists, yet one sight becomes ever rarer each passing year: the classic Number 10 role.

Dependent on touch, vision, control, and speed of though, most importantly, the classic No. 10 was there to create awe-inspiring chances. Team-mates spring to life around this player, anticipating pin-point accurate passes and deft skill to peel open defenses. Without them it seems like the spark of brilliance they provide would evaporate form the game. Therefore, and with some regret, it is with apologies to the purists that I must announce that the modern game is seeing a decline in such players – for those of you who were not already aware of this fact.

The increase in match speed and greater reliance on physicality and strength is making the No. 10 role susceptible to extinction. There also has been a greater emphasis placed on the relationship between space and time which has become tighter and more integral to the overall game.

Perhaps the role has just changed. By all accounts, players in the modern game need the skill present in a No. 10 in equal measure to strength. A combination of dominate presence and technical ability affords the rest of the squad a variety of options in terms of playing the ball. For years people were enamored with the work of strict playmakers, but now the greater range of options provided by two-way players can be the sights that inspire kids to dream.

Soccer is different now. Success if often based on the ability to press high and win possession in your opponent’s half, getting a proper counter-attack. There is no long the time or space to carry the ball like in possession oriented styles of old.

The reversion of old-fashioned wingers as the creators and their success in the modern game, in addition to the inverted center forward role, has drove the classic No. 9 to extinction. While clubs will always possess those luxury player, the central figure or focal point for the attack is on the decline and the two-way player is on the rise.

The modern luxury player is increasingly a striker or winger that work harder in the defense. So much so in fact, that the defensive winger role is well established in the international game. Folding back to close the space vacated by an attacking full-back, wingers, otherwise known as proper two-way players, have incredible work ethic that has driven the modern change.

With that in mind, it is not hard to see why the majority of Allen’s time on the pitch has been on the wings. While he can provide that creative spark, he is also able to cover ground and deny space for the opposition. Allen the modern incarnation of the two-way player possesses all the technical skills needed to turn defense into attack in an instant, as well as the superb physical conditioning and appetite to work to win the ball back when the opposition is in possession.

So while Allen might not be the old fashioned No. 10 that everyone expected with the announcement that he is the heir-apparent, he can provide a lot more for the club as a two-way player. Brilliance will always be brilliance, and it will be hard to imagine an RSL without the likes of Javier Morales, but fans can take heart knowing Allen will inspire a new generation in unique ways.

What do you think? Is the Number 10 role dying out? What will RSL look like after Morales retires? Should Allen be groomed as a traditional playmaker? Or should RSL retain him as a versatile two-way player? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.