A fascinating statistical battle is shaping up across the league: Who reigns supreme among the top playmakers? The usual suspects are all here: Morales, Zusi, Higuain (though only recently), Ferreira, Donovan, Rosales. The list could go on.
When we're considering playmakers from a statistical perspective, one specific metric stands above others: The key pass, a pass leading directly to a shot, is one of the few effective ways one can measure a playmaker. Simply measuring assists relies on attackers in goalscoring form - few really do serve these things on silver platters - but the key pass is different.
By measuring what are essentially potential assists, we start to catch a glimpse of the players through which their team operates. Of players who have seen at least seven full matches worth of minutes, two players are jostling for the top spot. Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales and Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi are the top, both completing a key pass slightly more frequently than every 27 minutes. Zusi, having played more minutes, sits at the numerical top - but Morales edges him in frequency.
|Team||Player||Key Passes||Minutes||Mins per KP||Pass accuracy|
|Real Salt Lake||Morales||78||2090||26.7949||83.9%|
|Sporting Kansas City||Zusi||97||2610||26.9072||77.6%|
|Los Angeles Galaxy||Donovan||75||2141||28.5467||80.7%|
|New York Red Bulls||Henry||54||1928||35.7037||73.7%|
|San Jose Earthquakes||Chavez||47||1748||37.1915||77.9%|
|Real Salt Lake||Paulo Jr.||22||848||38.5455||81.6%|
|Los Angeles Galaxy||Beckham||46||1923||41.8043||75.4%|
|San Jose Earthquakes||Salinas||23||986||42.8696||73.4%|
|New England Revolution||Feilhaber||47||2057||43.766||76.0%|
It is perhaps fascinating that no one team has more than one player in the top 10 in key pass frequency. It isn't until #11 that a team is repeated, as RSL's Paulo Jr. appears, one of the few strikers near the top of the list. Thierry Henry is the only out-and-out striker (though an argument may be made for Landon Donovan's position) ahead of him.
It's a clear illustration that most teams in MLS play with a clear playmaker - one player whose role is to dictate his side's attack, to connect the deeper midfield players with the forwards. For some sides, those players feature more on the wings; for others, they're centrally located and do their work there. Some are the final step in the build-up - Seattle Sounders' Mauro Rosales, for one, has seen 11 percent of his successful passes resulting in shots - while others are slightly more involved throughout play, as Javier Morales is with only a 7 percent key pass-to-pass rate.
It's not surprising that these players are hardly leading the top of the passing accuracy charts: The creative act is one that inevitably comes with its fair share of risk. A bit less than half of the top 18 successfully complete above 80 percent of their passes, and two stand out: Javier Morales (84%) and Brad Davis (86%), who both, on average, complete a higher degree of passes than their team as a whole.