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Player Evaluations: Jo Inge Berget

All season long, there has been a stark dichotomy between the way the fans and the manager/team have viewed the Norwegian Forward. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is the truth somewhere in the middle?

MLS: New York City FC at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

As we inch closer to the midway point of the season, Jo Inge Berget is tied for 3rd on the team in games started. He is sixth on the team in minutes played. And behind the club’s three Designated Players, Berget is the highest paid player for New York City FC. And despite having started in 12 games, and having close to a thousand minutes played this season, leading up to last week’s match against Toronto FC, Berget had only scored 1 goal, and tallied zero assists. Despite the investment and time that had been given to the former Malmö FF forward, the returns had not been promising. At least, that’s how most fans felt about Berget. The coaching staff and the players, however, had a very different opinion of Berget’s play so far. They defended Berget and reaffirmed that they were confident the ball would start finding the back of the net.

In the club’s June 24th match against Toronto, their first after the World Cup break and their first match under new head coach Domènec​ Torrent, Berget seemed to reward their confidence by notching his first brace for NYCFC, scoring his 2nd and 3rd goal of the season. While the first was not the prettiest of goals , the second one was tailored made for him to bang home. Both goals came to him as a byproduct of the same thing he has done seemingly well all season: getting himself into good spaces to forge chances in front of goal.

Through 14 games this season, Berget has taken 27 shots, 10 of them on target. At first glance, that does not seem like a good rate of return. But if you break down those shots a little further, you can get a better sense of perhaps why the coaching staff and the front office have thought so highly of him:

As the chart suggests, Berget takes the majority of his shots right in front of goal in the penalty area, with 22 of his 27 total strikes from that area. No matter how you may feel about Berget’s final product, the one undeniable truth is that he is someone who’s always found himself in good opportunities to score. Now, two games into Domènec​ Torrent era, Berget has 3 goals in two games - obliterating his goal scoring rate under Patrick Vieira (1 goal in 12 games played). There could be many reasons for this — the easiest would be to say that Torrent has put him in a better position to succeed than Vieira had previously. You could also call this regression to the mean. Constantly putting himself in good positions to score, one could reason the goals were going to come eventually, and this is just coincidentally happening under a new manager. Or, if you’re still not sold on Berget, you could say even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I’ve been harsh on Berget for most of this season. I’ve felt like he’s often made hash out of what should’ve been tailor made goal scoring chances for him to finish. I didn’t understand why he kept finding his name in the Starting XI, over other players like Medina, Jonathan Lewis, etc. There were many plays where he was fed a beautiful through ball or lead pass and once he put his foot to the ball, the chance to score just withered away like a Marvel Superhero at the of Avengers Infinity War.

That being said, I think we are now seeing some combination of Torrent putting him in a better position to succeed with a regression to the mean on his ability to score goals. It’s very hard to continually put yourself in ideal places in front of goal without actually scoring goals. He is by no means clinical, but he does seem like a rather cerebral player, knowing where to find space and how to use it to his advantage. And his work rate has never been in question since the moment he started playing for NYCFC. It could be, finally, with the adjustment of having the wide forwards stay wide he’s found his comfort zone centrally. He is not an especially technical player, which perhaps led to asking too much of him when it came to combination play with David Villa and Maxi Moralez under Vieira. Taking that responsibility away, and letting him roam free to try and score on his first touch, has seen to be a much better use of Berget’s skill and ability through two games. He’s even shown off his ability to be an aerial target as well against the Chicago Fire this past weekend.

The truth is what the team saw in Berget when they signed him this winter could finally be starting to materialize — which is a big target forward who can take the scoring load off David Villa. That is a player the club has struggled to find since it’s inception. And while he initially evoked allusions to Adam Nemec, the truth is this isn’t the same type of player, and it appears he is not going to flame out the way Nemec did. It has taken some time, and it has been filled with moments of groaning and sighing, but Berget could finally be turning the corner and acclimating to playing in MLS. Evaluating players can be a very fickle endeavor. A player can look horrible until he doesn’t anymore. And it’s amazing the confidence that can blossom off seeing one goal find the back of the net.

Time will tell where Jo Inge Berget falls by the end of the season. But, as of right now, many of us have to acknowledge that we might’ve been wrong about him up to this point.