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Passing patterns paint Morales as key-pass king at RSL

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Few players in MLS are more accomplished in the pass than Javier Morales, but looking at passing patterns at Real Salt Lake paints a more interesting picture.

Javier Morales nearly led the league in key passes, which are passes that lead directly to a goal. Indeed, he led Real Salt Lake by a great deal -- 117 key passes to his closest teammate, Ned Grabavoy, who had 51.

In the following chart, the size of the circle is dictated by the number of key passes completed over the season; the grouping is dictated by the number of assists made, as is the color. The data includes the playoffs.

undefined 0 4 Schuler: 4 Schuler12 Sandoval: 12 Sandoval3 13 Findley: 13 Findley11 Velasquez: 11 Velasquez23 Gil: 23 Gil4 14 García: 14 García1 21 Wingert: 21 Wingert27 Beltran: 27 Beltran2 15 Saborio: 15 Saborio9 28 Plata: 28 Plata6 32 Beckerman: 32 Beckerman5 51 Grabavoy: 51 Grabavoy13 117 Morales: 117 Morales

Some interesting things emerge, too. Let's talk about those, because that's where we'll get the most interesting thoughts.

1) Javier Morales was the most goal-productive player at Real Salt Lake during 2013, and this shows why. He's constantly putting other players in a position to shoot. We should ask why his key-passes-to-goals ratio is lower than others, though. It isn't to deride his ability and influence at all, because there's no reason to doubt those. But they should give us reason to be curious about the nature of those measures.

2) Devon Sandoval holds the second spot alongside Ned Grabavoy in an interesting measure -- most key passes in a single match, with five. (Unsurprisingly, Morales leads that with eight -- a feat he achieved twice.) Interestingly, Sandoval had no assists in 2013.

3) Sebastian Velasquez has no first-time assists but has three second-pass assists -- given this is how MLS measures their assists, I've stuck with it. He had a fairly high effectiveness -- essentially, assists compared to key passes -- but that's a confounding factor.

4) Ned Grabavoy had the second-most key passes in 2013 among RSL players, but finished fourth in the assists rankings with five.

5) Joao Plata was the most effective of assisters at Real Salt Lake, with a 0.32 assists-to-key-passes ratio. Given he had nine assists, it's difficult to imagine this is a coincidence. If he had half that with the same ratio, we'd be forced to wonder whether it was down to luck, but with so many assists, that would seem to rule out luck on a very preliminary basis.

6) Crossing may not be our strong point, but both Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert had a fair few key passes through the season. Beltran, with 27, had only one assist, as did Wingert, with 21. We can question the effectiveness of our crossing, but our full backs get into the attack reasonably well -- but why are their key passes less effective than the rest of the team? Is it down to something about their positions? It must play a role, but we should also wonder about the quality of shots we're producing when our full backs are productive in this way. Is it simply the case that we're not a team geared toward the cross?

More research is clearly needed, but an early look at 2013's stats should give us a reason to be excited for 2014, shouldn't it?

Here's that in a more table-oriented view:

Player Name Single-match high Matches Total Assists
Chris Schuler 2 3 4 0
Robbie Findley 2 10 13 3
Abdoulie Mansally 2 4 5 1
Sebastian Velasquez 2 10 11 3
Olmes García 3 10 14 4
Luis Gil 3 18 23 3
Chris Wingert 3 14 21 1
Yordany Alvarez 3 3 5 0
Alvaro Saborio 3 9 15 2
Tony Beltran 3 18 27 1
Joao Plata 4 20 28 9
Kyle Beckerman 4 18 32 6
Ned Grabavoy 5 25 51 5
Devon Sandoval 5 7 12 0
Javier Morales 8 32 117 13