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How important is Kwadwo Poku to New York City? Let's look at some stats.

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We scoured the data banks of WhoScored.com to get a feel for the extent of Kwadwo Poku's contributions for the Bronx Blues. Spoiler alert: the dude can ball.

When he gets sold to England for $40 million, remember what he did for the Five Boroughs!
When he gets sold to England for $40 million, remember what he did for the Five Boroughs!
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

In the concrete jungle, a legend grows.

"You're in Poku's presence! I was saying to a mate, I want to get his shirt and get it signed for my office," writer and pundit Kris Heneage told me upon hearing that, during one of the many pre-Hudson Derby events last week, I got close enough to Kwadwo Poku to feel the young man's aura.

Heneage, an O.G. at the Guardian, FourFourTwo, CNN, the BBC, and others, has been one of the earliest, most visible proponents of Poku, a true blue fan favorite (and balls-to-the-wall gamebreaker) in the brief history of New York City FC. The repeated comparisons to Ivorian megastar Yaya Toure have phased from possible hyperbole to reasonable inference over the last few weeks following Poku's goal and assist off the bench against Montreal and his nifty brace -- the first in New York City's history across all competitions -- four days later against the New York Cosmos in the U.S. Open Cup.

When it comes to Poku, the eye don't lie-- his strength on the ball and ability to win possession from opponents are easy enough to see, and his opportunistic finishing comes with a bit of tantalizing flair. But I was determined to see if the stats could do anything to enhance the picture.

Here's what we found:

  • At 3.6, Poku leads New York City in key passes -- passes that lead to a shot on target -- per ninety minutes. Mehdi Ballouchy comes in a distant second at 2.4 per ninety.
His three goals in all competitions are tied for second on the team behind David Villa, but Poku has also produced two assists in just 276 league minutes. He leads the team by a wide margin in assists per ninety minutes (0.7 compared to 0.2 for David Villa, R.J. Allen, Patrick Mullins, and Ballouchy), suggesting the kind of vision that allows, say, the Yaya Toures of the world to play anywhere from withdrawn playmaker to second striker.
  • At 1.6, Poku is second behind David Villa (2.4) in shots on-target per ninety minutes.
Coming off the bench on Sunday, Poku immediately went on the warpath. Playing just thirty-four minutes, he was the only NYCFC player to register multiple shots on-target. His energy and initiative stood out during a stagnant second half, after which Jason Kreis bemoaned the lack of effort and focus from the bulk of the squad.
  • Poku leads the team in successful dribbles (that is, dribbles that maintain possession) per ninety minutes with 4.9. Khiry Shelton is a distant second with 1.9.
Perhaps the most striking element of the Ghanaian's game compared to the rest of the squad is his ability to (1) chase down opposing dribblers, (2) knock them off the ball, and (3) take off down the field with the ball at his feet as would-be defenders simply bounce off him. It's no secret that this is a recipe for efficient counterattacks, as well as the curation of goals seemingly from nothing:


Given the team's inconsistencies in shuttling the ball forward as a result of inefficient passing (Mix, Wingert, Saunders), veterans who are past their athletic primes (Grabavoy, Ballouchy, Alvarez), and dribblers who take too many bad touches (Shelton, Velasquez), a player with the poise, strength, and damn-the-torpedoes resolve to take it upon himself to race the ball forward and create chances is effectively priceless.

Along with Tommy McNamara, Poku's role only grows in importance once Andrea Pirlo arrives to man the base of the midfield-- the Italian legend's success at Milan and Juventus was predicated on his ability to take advantage of the cover provided to him by tough box-to-box midfielders so he could focus on the handful of things he does extremely well, like curating possession and serving up impeccable long balls to the top of the formation.

The caveat here is that Poku has played relatively limited minutes, only breaking the sixty-minute mark in the U.S. Open Cup loss to the Cosmos. In league play, he hasn't exceeded fifty-eight. Until his fitness reaches an elite level, the solution for this team cannot simply be "play the diesel-powered Ghanaian more." But his contributions are palpable even in these early stages.

So, what does the future hold for the young man? If the data serve as any indication, we aren't Ghana have to wait very long to find out.