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RSL's Javier Morales at top of playmaker battle

A fascinating statistical battle is shaping up across the league: Who reigns supreme among the top playmakers?

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

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%
FC Dallas Ferreira 46 1247 27.1087 75.7%
Columbus Crew Higuain 27 748 27.7037 79.7%
Los Angeles Galaxy Donovan 75 2141 28.5467 80.7%
Seattle Sounders Rosales 61 1786 29.2787 72.4%
Colorado Rapids Rivero 75 2417 32.2267 81.0%
New York Red Bulls Henry 54 1928 35.7037 73.7%
San Jose Earthquakes Chavez 47 1748 37.1915 77.9%
Houston Dynamo Davis 63 2410 38.254 85.8%
Real Salt Lake Paulo Jr. 22 848 38.5455 81.6%
Seattle Sounders Tiffert 18 709 39.3889 84.3%
Chicago Fire Grazzini 27 1103 40.8519 78.8%
Portland Timbers Songo'o 40 1665 41.625 77.0%
D.C. United Boskovic 24 999 41.625 81.6%
Los Angeles Galaxy Beckham 46 1923 41.8043 75.4%
San Jose Earthquakes Salinas 23 986 42.8696 73.4%
Portland Timbers Zizzo 23 994 43.2174 69.8%
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.