Thursday, July 21, 2016

Vukovic's Team of the Week

The NASL Team of the Week (TotW)was announced a couple of days ago and Indy Eleven's Nemanja Vukovic was once again on the list. This most recent selection means that he has been on the Team of the Week a total of 8 times across both seasons, 6 times in 11 weeks in the Spring (each team had a bye-week) and 2 times in 3 weeks so far in the Fall. The player who has received the next highest amount of TotW selections is Christian Ramirez of Minnesota United with 6; 4 in the Spring and 2 in the Fall. Last year's TotW star for the Indy Eleven was Erick Norales who finished with a total of 6 between the two seasons. So Vukovic is clearly in another realm for the Eleven this season.

That got me wondering what it is about Vuko's play that consistently puts him into the TotW selections. He's been a consistent factor in the backline for the Eleven, but like all players, is prone to the occasional miscue. As I've discussed here before, Vuko tends to push farther forward up the field than his counterpart on the right side of the field (particularly when it's Palmer on the field) so he's more involved in the offense, but that also has taken away from his defense at times. It could be stated that Indy Eleven's team success could be at least a contributing factor to his selections and I can't argue with that logic. So I did what I do and did some research. Maybe there were some numbers that would make it more apparent since my visual test and my gut were questioning the quantity of selections (and just the quantity, not that he shouldn't be make them).

The first thing I did was go to the NASL Individual Stats page. Then I filtered it so that only the players listed as Defenders were shown. I realize that this could potentially add or subtract some players who are playing at different positions than their official designation (and a couple examples were found of this), but it was as good a place to start as any. Then team by team, I went to the players listed as Defenders to see where they were generally playing without going through every single game lineup for every single team. Ottawa's 5-4-1 system further complicated things, but I narrowed it down as best as I could to the ones that I felt generally played Left Back (LB). Once I had those, I narrowed it again to the guys who have started at least half of the games to date. This, surprisingly, narrowed it down to less than a half dozen. Then I weeded out Kyle Porter because at least half of his starts weren't at LB. This left what I considered the most consistent, "best-of-the-best" LBs in the NASL:

  1. Nemanja Vukovic - Indy Eleven
  2. Ayoze - New York Cosmos
  3. Adam Eckersley - FC Edmonton
  4. Justin Davis - Minnesota United
Once I narrowed it down to something manageable, I evaluated each player's season statistics.

Once I did that, it becomes apparent why Vukovic is consistently the LB selection for the TotW. He's consistently producing more than his other "best-of-the-best" counterparts. 
  • He's a full three percentage points higher in Aerial Duels.
  • He recovers better.
  • He wins a tackle 10% more times than the next highest guy in his position.
  • He's tied for the most interceptions.
What sets him apart, even beyond all his defensive abilities, is his desire to go forward and get into the attack. Vuko is the only one of the four players evaluated to score a goal, he has more assists than the rest combined, he's created more chances, and he takes so many more shots on goal than the other three that it's astounding. 

On a week-to-week basis, there are going to be LB's who might have a better game than him, but the season numbers show why he's consistently selected to the TotW for his position. When the TotW is being evaluated, he makes it very difficult to keep him off when you look at his affect on the game. Defensively and offensively, he makes an impact on the game. Don't be surprised if you see his name several more times this year.

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