At the beginning of 2015, Orlando City brought in some big signings that many thought would be the key players in a successful inaugural season. Among those players were Kaká, Brek Shea, and Amobi Okugo. But names that many supporters glossed over when reading about the team might have been the most important in 2015: Darwin Cerén and Cristian Higuita.
Cerén, a player returning to the fold after joining Orlando in 2014 for the final USL season, was not a player many expected to be able to handle the rigors of MLS play. Higuita, on the other hand, seemed to be the less exciting piece of a two player move from Deportivo Cali to Orlando City.
Throughout the season, both of these defensive midfielders in Adrian Heath's 4-2-3-1 not only improved dramatically, but also showed that they may have the ability to play in some of the bigger leagues around the world.
Today, The Mane Land will take a look at some important defensive midfield statistics in order to compare Cerén and Higuita to their MLS peers. Some of the names occupying the same role in MLS are: Jermaine Jones, Matias Laba, Wil Trapp, Kyle Beckerman, Dax McCarty and Perry Kitchen. To compare these players, we have averaged each statistical category per 90 minutes. This will give us a good idea of what the league average DM looks like.
First, let's take a quick look at some offensive statistics. These may only tell part of the story, but they can provide a good gauge as to a players ability in the final third or his ability to move the ball forward with accurate passes.
We compiled three statistics for comparison: Shots per 90 minutes(SHTS per 90); Crosses per 90 minutes(CR per90); and overall pass success(PS%). We can see, across the board, Cerén is more successful than the league average player at his position. The numbers show that he not only is a better passer, but also attempts more shots, as well. His 1.16 shots per 90 minutes surpasses the .75 shots per 90 from his peers. It is also nice to see that both Orlando DM's have higher passing success rates than their counterparts; however, this may not come as a surprise as Orlando City, as a team, had the highest passing success rate overall at 81.7 percent. This bodes well for possession and ball movement, the style that Heath covets.
Digging into the defensive metrics, we chose a mostly foul-based approach, as these are a good measure of how well a player tracks back, gets into good positions, and helps to slow down the pace of play. The two statistics we looked at are Yellow Cards per 90 minutes (YC per 90), and Fouls Suffered-Fouls Committed per 90 minutes (FC-FS per 90).
Here, we find some of the areas where Cerén can be seen as lacking, as he looks to be right on par with yellow cards per 90 minutes, but clearly suffers commits more fouls than he suffers. On the other hand, Higuita's strength is highlighted, as we can see how well he covers defensively, while also controlling the pace of play in the middle third. When compared to the league average DM who commits .47 more fouls per game than he suffers, Higuita goes even further and turns this metric into a positive: he actually suffers more fouls per game than he commits. From a defensive position, this adds to any interceptions and tackles to bring more possession to his team.
Overall, it seems that we have two strong defensive midfielders in the fold for Orlando moving into 2016. One has the ability to push further up the field and add in the attack while the other, Higuita, shows the discipline and tenacity needed to sit back and break up any counters and build-ups that may be thrown his way.