All data used in this article is retrieved from FBref.
It has been a week and a half since a blockbuster move from FC Dallas brought Sebastian Lletget to reinforce Los Toros at a well-needed position – the 8.
Early returns have been pretty fruitful as FC Dallas managed a draw in Portland and won in spectacular fashion against a San Jose team that has often frustrated Dallas in recent years – Lletget played significant minutes in both clashes.
Immediate results aside, let’s take a look at what the stats tell us Lletget may be bringing to the table. It should give us an idea as to how he may impact this team moving forward, as well as try to determine whether he significantly improves this young group of midfielders.
For purposes of this analysis, I have considered only matches in which Lletget has played a central role (CM or AM) according to FBref data from 2018-2022, excluding matches in which he may have played multiple positions throughout the match. This boils down to 4122 minutes over 54 matches across the 4.5-year stretch.
In comparison, we will be using Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, and Tsiki Ntsabekeng’s stats from the 2022 season. As they are all young players, it seems most fair to include their most recent data and how they are playing in the current season.
Keeping the Ball Moving
One of the key parts of Lletget’s game is his ability to pass efficiently at high volumes. You can see he upgrades this team in that aspect, including a higher volume of passes completed, assists, and key passes per match.
However, Tsiki Ntsabeleng has really impressed in his rookie year, with passing stats not far below Lletget and an even higher volume and distance of progressive passes (pushing it into the other team’s half of the field). Tsiki’s inability to register an assist is a head-scratcher though and highlights Lletget’s veteran ability to set up the final ball.
Overall, it’s clear Lletget brings better passing to this midfield, something that the front three of Velasco, Ferreira, and Arriola will probably look forward to for the last stretch of this season and into next year.
Holding Possession and Advancing
An important aspect of the 8 in Coach Nico Estevez’s midfield is the ability to maintain possession and dribble the ball forward when necessary to set up the front three. You can see Tsiki excels in this regard, dribbling far distances and deep into the opposing team’s side of the field.
Lletget is also a pretty tidy dribbler, seeing the highest volume of dribbling in this group, at a pretty successful rate. However, he is often dispossessed as he drives the ball forward and as he receives the ball.
Stats like Receiving %, however, can be tricky, as the quality of the pass to the player matters quite a bit.
Part of Lletget’s low Receiving % could be due to poor passes or play from the rest of the team during his time with LA Galaxy or New England Revolution. From what we have seen so far from him, I think he has pretty nice touch and will fit in well with the link-up play we typically see as FC Dallas drives the ball forward.
Setting Up Shots
Call these stats the “hockey assists” of soccer, Shot Creating Actions and Goal Creating Actions include the two offensive actions leading to a shot or a goal. This can help us measure players who assist the assister on a shot or a goal. While it is not a typical “goal contribution”, these passes, dribbles, shots, or fouls drawn are still important to a team’s success.
Here you can see Tsiki’s progressive passing is highlighted, with the highest Shot Creating Actions in this midfield quartet.
Lletget isn’t far behind, though, and he has a similar rate of Goal Creating Actions as the rest of the group as well.
Probably the biggest differentiator that Lletget brings to this team is his ability to put shots on net and past the goalkeeper. He does this at a pretty impressive rate in terms of goals per 90 and goals per shot taken, showing he is efficient when he does take shots.
For a team that has been so reliant on few players to score goals this season (Jesus and Paul account for 62% of total goals scored this season), better production from the midfield should help FC Dallas secure the second goal in matches and prevent more comebacks that have plagued them this season.
Owning the Midfield
Defensively, Lletget is not quite as active, seeing the worst rates of most of the stats in this midfield group. There are not a whole lot of positives in Lletget’s defensive work, but many of his matches have been played in box-to-box or in an attacking role.
The team didn’t go get him to play defense though – the hope is that the offensive capabilities help unlock more goals that make up for his defensive ability.
Lletget’s stats do not jump off the page in some areas and it makes me question whether it is a large enough upgrade over Tsiki/Paxton/Brandon all of whom are growing into pretty decent MLS midfielders.
I am especially unsure of the acquisition based on Tsiki’s rapid growth not only in his first year in Major League Soccer but in a central midfield role as well. The Lletget move certainly strays this club away from its “youth ethos” that many of us fans have come to love.
On the other hand, bringing in Lletget does take care of the depth issue in a midfield that is stretched quite thin at the moment, it brings in an experienced MLS competitor who can mentor these young players, and it’s someone who is quite familiar with the system that the team runs from his time with the United States Men’s National Team. His offensive prowess should also help a team that is overly reliant on its front 3 attackers to put in more multi-goal performances.
As a stats guy first and foremost, I don’t love this move at the price point he commands (potentially our 3rd DP next year). Given the lack of roster flexibility that prevented this team from making moves this summer, signing up for another large contract doesn’t seem like the best idea for a team that seems to be a year or even two years from being true MLS Cup contenders.
If Lletget is able to be bought down with TAM (we shall see in the roster shakeup this offseason) and we are able to bring in a 3rd DP as a difference maker to bolster this roster next season, you can firmly put me in the cautiously optimistic category for this deal.
Perhaps Lletget sees his game jump to new levels in his quest to make the 2022 World Cup roster. Maybe his versatility to play as a winger will play a factor down the stretch (something I admittedly did not address in this column).
We will see as the next eight matches unfold and we determine whether Sebastian Lletget can help push FC Dallas through to the 2022 MLS Playoffs and elevate them to contender status in 2023.
Let me know what you think of the big-time move and how Lletget has performed so far in red and blue in the comments below.