Last Saturday, Whitecaps midfielder Jun Marques Davidson almost singlehandedly cost Vancouver three points and their undefeated home record by head-butting the Philadelphia Union’s Keon Daniel, earning a red card in only the 8th minute of play. Yesterday, Pucked in the Head’s newest contributor, Russell Arbuthnot, wrote a piece slamming Jun Marques Davidson and Martin Rennie’s insistence on keeping him in the Vancouver Whitecaps starting eleven. Today, I disagree with a lot of what Russell has to say. Read why after the jump.
Russell makes a number of assertions about Davidson and the Whitecaps in general in his post. I’ll see if I can summarize them:
- Vancouver’s offensive style is hampered by a purely defensive midfielder like Davidson.
- Davidson’s inclusion on the team is a sign that Martin Rennie remains uncommitted to an offensive brand of soccer.
- Davidson has been unwilling or unable to evolve offensively and lacks offensive vision.
- Davidson’s lack of discipline cost the team on Saturday.
- Davidson is representative of the worst aspects of modern soccer, and doesn’t fit into the composition of the team or the city.
I have to admit, I agree with a couple of these assertions, and I would shed few tears if Davidson found another home, but I think several of them are just plain wrong. I’ll try and address them one at a time, beginning with number 5.
Davidson is representative of the worst aspects of modern soccer, and doesn’t fit into the composition of the team or the city. Maybe I should have split this into two parts. I’m somewhat on board with the first part. Davidson’s most widely-publicized highlight was probably the ridiculous dive he took in last year’s Voyageurs’ Cup final. It made the Whitecaps a laughing stock, and I wanted him out at the time. Last weekend’s red card makes two high-profile boneheaded plays in two years, making it difficult for me not to question his judgment. At the same time, I hesitate to give a guy a label like “diver” based on one incident. I can’t recall seeing Davidson take a dive or embellish anything in the normal run of play, but please correct me if you remember something. I’m not sure what’s meant by not fitting into the composition of the city, however. It’s not like Vancouver doesn’t have a history of cheering on players that would be absolutely loathed if they played on other teams. Rob Murphy was widely considered the dirtiest player in the CFL when he starred for the BC Lions. Alex Burrows remains one of the most popular Canucks despite the finger-biting incident. Ryan Kesler and Camilo are both loved despite their reputations as divers. I’m not sure why Davidson wouldn’t fit right in.
Davidson’s lack of discipline cost the team on Saturday. Yup. Dumb. Deserves to sit for a few. Probably will sit for a few.
Davidson has been unwilling or unable to evolve offensively and lacks offensive vision. There is a nugget of truth here, but I still disagree with it. Davidson’s role doesn’t present many opportunities to display offensive vision, but he’s shown pieces here and there. Check out the perfectly weighted ball he plays to Teibert for the second Whitecaps goal against New York here. I don’t think Davidson is a good offensive option. If he were being asked to play an attacking midfield role, this would present a problem. He isn’t. He’s being asked – and that’s key – to play an almost exclusively defensive role. In professional soccer, as with most sports, you play the way the manager wants you to play, or you sit on the bench. It may be the case that Davidson has evolved offensively with the team, but remains stuck down the depth chart behind the likes of Reo-Coker, Koffie, Kobayashi, Teibert, and even Matt Watson. What none of those players can do as effectively as Davidson is play solid, positional defense. This leads into the next point.
Davidson’s inclusion on the team is a sign that Martin Rennie remain uncommitted to an offensive brand of soccer. I disagree. The inclusion of Jun Marques Davidson is not a sign that Rennie wants to play defensive soccer, it’s a sign that Rennie wants his fullbacks to get involved in the offense. YP Lee is wasted when he doesn’t attack. Just look at his heat maps on the MLS website and you’ll see how frequently Lee marauds up the right side, playing little interchanges with Teibert and leaving his side of the park vulnerable to attack. If the fullbacks don’t attack, the midfielders have to play a less compact style. They have to run more, and they leave gaps up the middle. If the fullbacks do attack, then without a midfielder hanging back the centre backs become very exposed, and the team again becomes susceptible to counter-attack styles. Add to that Davidson’s passing percentage – which is one of the highest on the team – and his interceptions – also high – and I assert that Davidson actually adds options to Vancouver’s attack. The brand of soccer Rennie employs with Davidson on the pitch is, if anything, more offensive because it frees up the left and right backs to attack.
Vancouver’s offensive style is hampered by a purely defensive midfielder like Davidson. If this is the case, we should be able to tell statistically. Maple Leaf Forever took a quick look yesterday to see if Davidson was obviously holding back the Whitecaps home offence. He didn’t appear to be. The shot differential numbers I’ve been tracking this year tell the same story. When Jun Marques Davidson is on the pitch, Vancouver directs 13.08 shots towards the net per 90 minutes. When he’s off the pitch, that number goes up to 14.86. Most of that discrepancy is from one game, a game against Dallas which Vancouver was already losing 2-0 when Davidson was subbed off. The ensuing all-out attack generated 17 shots in only 36 minutes, and I think it’s safe to say that that was an outlier. If it was repeatable, we probably would have seen it by now. You may also remember two of our worst offensive showings: at Salt Lake, and at Montreal. In both cases, the Caps were held scoreless, generating only about 10 shot attempts in each game, and were the only two games in which Davidson did not make an appearance . The vast majority of the time, the presence of Jun Marques Davidson does not notably affect the Whitecaps offense either positively or negatively.
Look, I’d like to see an upgrade on Davidson. There are very few players on the team that I wouldn’t like to see upgraded if it was doable. The facts of life in MLS, however, are that players like Davidson, who play a specific role well and on the cheap, are essential.