Jo Inge Berget was one of the more high-profile signings that New York City FC made this past offseason and it’s easy to see why when looking at his career resume. The Norway international played at the highest level in Italy, England, Norway and most recently Sweden, where he notched a respectable 38 goals in 104 total appearances for Malmö FF. The 27-year-old has also seen success on the international stage, scoring two goals in 20 appearances for the Norwegian national team.
Highly touted for his versatility to play as a center forward and a left winger, Berget was expected to give the club much-needed depth and flexibility, and he seemed to live up to the hype in his debut against Real Salt Lake. Starting at center forward in place of a recovering David Villa, the 27-year-old made the most of his first appearance for the Cityzens, scoring his first MLS goal in what would end as a 4-0 drubbing of the Claret and Cobalt. However, Berget’s performance in the following matches has been a far cry from the way he played in his debut.
In 11 subsequent appearances for the Boys in Blue, Berget has failed to find the back of the net, display the quality he showed against Real Salt Lake, and his versatility may have been overhyped. While he’s been adequate playing in a central role, the 27-year-old has been largely ineffective as a winger. As fans can attest to, Berget has repeatedly shown that he lacks the typical speed and technical ability needed to get past outside defenders.
While his lack of an ideal winger skill set is frustrating, it’s Berget’s shortcomings in possession, no matter where he plays, that should concern the club. According to WhoScored.com, Berget has been one of the worst attackers in the league with the ball at their feet. The embattled striker averages 0.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes (7th-worst among qualified attacking players*) and averages 2.5 unsuccessful touches per match (14th-worst among qualified attackers* who played at least 900 minutes).
The Norwegian has also been a terrible distributor when given the time to pick out a pass. His 68.4 percent pass accuracy is the worst on the team and he has a tendency to cut inside rather than cross the ball when in possession on the wing. His inaccuracy is clearly a problem, but Berget’s poor decision-making in the final third has killed several promising attacks. His 1.2 key passes per 90 minutes average is 37th among qualified attackers and is barely middle of the pack among his teammates. To put it in perspective, left back Ben Sweat has a higher key passes average (1.3) than Berget.
It’s hard to understand why Patrick Vieira continued to start Berget when you consider the above. It’s clear that the 27-year-old is not an ideal fit for NYCFC’s possession-based style of play and his obvious inability to maintain possession as well as properly distribute sets the team back more often than not. Boneheaded errors, awkward giveaways in the offensive third, taking one touch too many, slowing down the pace of the attack due to indecision and picking out the wrong pass have been the norm whenever Berget’s on the ball in high-pressure situations.
The embattled striker’s shortcomings have far outweighed his contributions on the pitch and his failure to capitalize on any opportunity he’s given to make a difference has been frustrating. However, there’s no reason to think that he doesn’t have a place on this team. Is it as a starter? Definitely not, for now anyway. Yet, a super-sub role as an extra forward isn’t out of the question. Despite his shortcomings in possession, the Norwegian is strong in the air and his ability to climb the ladder would be a vital asset on set pieces late in games.
Berget’s role going forward remains to be seen now that Domènec Torrent has taken the reigns in New York, but the club’s new head coach will have the week to determine whether or not the 27-year-old can contribute. However, judging by the way things have been so far, the Norwegian needs to spend some time on the bench. The way he plays simply doesn’t fit NYCFC’s style of play.
*Qualified attackers consist of all forwards and attacking midfielders who have made at least 12 appearances in MLS