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NYCFC DPs: How do they compare defensively against the rest of the league?

The numbers probably won’t surprise you.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC has the maximum three designated players on their roster. David Villa has been top class as always. Maxi Moralez arrived in the winter and has exceeded expectations. Andrea Pirlo has been poor, however, and is bringing his fellow DPs down.

I’m examining the DPs in a three part series, with each article focusing respectively on either offense, defense, and passing. This series will juxtapose NYCFC’s designated player trio against those of the rest of the league. Defensively, we’ll compare across five categories: Clearances per 90, Interceptions per 90, Tackles per 90, and Defensive Actions per 90.

The statistics are converted to per 90 to equalize for the fact that not all players have played the similar minutes. Defensive Actions include clearances, interceptions, tackles, and blocked shots. 49 DPs were analyzed; and goalkeepers were omitted because they don’t accrue many defensive actions. Two teams, Minnesota United and D.C. United, don’t have a designated player on their roster.

All told, the results are expected: as a unit, NYCFC’s DPs are below average defensively.

(All statistics from WhoScored. Graphs made in Tableau)

Clearances per 90

MLS DPs Clearances per 90

New York City’s designated players are in the bottom tier in MLS in terms of clearances per 90. Considering that all three of them are geared toward attacking and creating, this makes sense.

David Villa has the most clearances per 90 among the group, most of which come from corner kicks. Andrea Pirlo is in the middle, and the 5’3” Argentine, Maxi Moralez, brings up the rear. It’s not unexpected NYCFC’s DPs aren’t racking up clearances at a prolific clip.

Interceptions per 90

MLS DPs Interceptions per 90

Neither of the three have many interceptions. Pirlo has the most, which makes sense due to his role in the middle of the pitch— and that his opponents tend to run right at him. Maxi has second most interceptions, due to his high press. Surprisingly, Pirlo and Maxi are about equal, with Pirlo having 1.04 interceptions per 90 to Maxi’s 1 per 90; one would assume Pirlo would get more because of the particular space he occupies. David Villa has the least number of interceptions. As a unit, a relatively low interceptions tally is to be expected, as Alex Ring and Yangel Herrera are meant to make most of these plays in the midfield. Do you know of many forwards who live to intercept the ball? However, a low interception rate from Pirlo is one of a handful of unavoidable reasons why he continues to ride the bench.

Tackles per 90

MLS DPs Tackles per 90

Don’t tell him what he can and can’t do— Moralez is near the top in tackles per 90. The only attacking-focused player ahead of him in the league is LA Galaxy’s Romain Alessandrini, a winger. Blessed with an impressive work rate, Maxi accrues most of his tackles from pressing. Pirlo follows behind; again, one would hope that he’d be better in this category given that opposing teams bring so much action right to him. Of course, it’s no surprise that Villa brings up the rear. (He’s got other things to do.)

Defensive Actions per 90

MLS DPs Defensive Actions per 90

Frank who? Moralez, for all his attacking verve, has the most defensive actions per 90 out of all the NYCFC DPs. Given the demands of Patrick Vieira’s playing style, it is encouraging to see notable defensive contributions from the advanced midfield position.

As all manner of signals would suggest, Pirlo isn’t providing much defensively. Finally, Villa is a striker, so any defensive contribution is a bonus— we’ll take his work rate and durability and call it a day.

Overall Analysis

Moralez is a defensive upgrade over Frank Lampard, and that matters arguably as much as chance creation (New York City led the league in goals last year, and you know how that ended).

Pirlo, in contrast, is a big headache no matter how you slice it. He is signed to a DP deal through the end of the year, yet isn’t proficient enough to start in this system. He’s an unnecessary, expensive bench player, if you ask me. NYCFC need to figure a way to negotiate his exit this summer and sign a new, younger DP who can make a dynamic impact for years to come.

New York City have the luxury of solid players at basically every position, so perhaps signing a young “project” that they can flip for profit in the future, like FC Dallas did with Cristian Colman and Fabian Castillo, is a move to consider.

As for Villa, he is doing plenty defensively, is arguable the surest goal-scorer in the history of the league. Really, is there anything the Guaje can’t do?

What do you make of the numbers? Do they match the eye test? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!