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Javier Morales has been better in 2016 than you think

MLS: New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of discussion about Javier Morales in recent weeks, and a lot of it has centered around his production — or lack thereof.

Stats always lie, but when they don’t...

Let’s do a little number-crunching with the help of Squawka. We can learn something about the season Morales is having, and that’s important — we can’t just see him as somehow having become hapless. That not only doesn’t offer any explanation, but it also ignores any positives he’s enjoying this season.

Statistic / 90 min. 2016 2015
Mins. played/match 73.3 81.7
Passes 63.07 63.19
Succ. Passes 53.63 (85%) 54.38 (86%)
Fwd. Passes 40.74 37.52
Chances created 2.61 3.52
Shots taken 1.53 2.12
Shot accuracy 21% 59%
% shots inside area 45% 40%

We can see a pretty clear dip in one or two areas — shooting and chances created — but that at least gives us some place where we can start talking. It would seem — and I think this is something we can confirm visually most matches — that Javier Morales is taking his touches deeper on the pitch. We can also see that Morales is playing less, too.

But remarkably, Morales is still the metronome in the middle. He leads the team in passes per 90 minutes, besting even Kyle Beckerman. He’s not creating as many chances, but an initial read would tell us that’s because of a shift in the way we play the 4-3-3 — with two immensely creative players on the flanks. Distribution higher up the pitch has started to actually flow through them, and that’s not an accident. That was a failed goal in 2015, and it’s helping the team now.

In fact, Morales no longer leads the team in chances created per 90 minutes. That belongs now to Joao Plata, who has created 2.8 per match. Between the two of them, they make up half of the team’s chances created.

Is RSL creating enough?

Squawka also helps us here in answering that question. From a quick view, it might seem like they’re not — especially because they’re in the bottom five in MLS in chances created per match. They’re creating only 8.6 per match — at the top of the table is Sporting KC, who create 10.27 chances per game.

But we’re middle of the pack in goals scored with 1.45 — and I’ll tell you, if half of Yura Movsisyan’s shots that hit woodwork went in instead, we’d probably be near the top of the league. Our chances created have seemed — and this is truly subjective — more clear-cut than other teams. We’re finessing the ball into the box more often and only just not finishing.

Should Jordan Allen still replace Morales?

Here’s the kicker. I don’t think we should leave Jordan Allen out of Morales’ given position. Not for long, at least. If you came here expecting a rebuttal of our earlier post, keep looking.

Javier Morales’ role has changed, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not time for the team to really make an effort to fill that role moving forward. Morales is already playing fewer minutes per match, and he’s sometimes not started in the first place, despite being fit or close to it. Those are situations where he likely would have started and perhaps risked an injury.

But there’s no reason to think that Jordan Allen can’t learn to fill that role as well as Morales — potentially better, even. For more on that, read the two linked articles above. They’ll do a good job making that argument.