Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Shots Overall vs Shots on Target

Shots Overall vs Shots on Target
By Aaron Nielsen

In my last post I mention my dislike for the stat shots off target especially as a positive stat since it leads to the end of the offensive possession.  Although not keeping up with all the advance analytics in soccer I was unaware of the core of a new statistical evolution or fully aware of the stat TSR - http://grantland.com/the-triangle/what-is-total-shots-ratio-and-how-can-it-improve-your-understanding-of-soccer/

Last night I had a drink with a young and enthusiastic soccer and analytics fan who told me he had some modeling for predicting the most undervalued players in the MLS and wanted me to see his work.  Common in statistics he didn't want to show me much of his work and he basically had a list of players with rankings out of 10 including decimals. Aware of the players through seeing them play and my own work I inquired more how he came up with these evaluation. Basically he said he was a fan of the site whoscored.com but he disagreed with their rating system but used the stat "shots per 90" and "key passes per 90" without any raw data so it didn't surprise me a couple of the players on his list were players who only played a few minutes last season.

I don't use any OPTA work in my material which is the source of all whoscored statistics although since its available and OPTA is regarded as the official stat source. people have been drawn to the data and are using it in their own analysis. Although in comparing the data with my own it seems that "shots per 90" are shots on target + shots off target over 90 minutes of play well "key passes per 90" are the assist that lead to the shot (on & off) target over 90 minutes of play.

I don't calculate key passes in any of my work although I know in conservation with people in Spain that stat has been around for a number of years although there. they counted that as an assist and didn't count what we would normally regard as an assist. Personally its hard for me to get my head around awarding an assist on a failed offensive possession since it's not done in any North American sport but I can see some value if you were very specific on which play it should be counted.

Although awarding it on all shots off or on target makes no sense to me because your giving a player credit when more than half of these opportunities lead to a player missing the net and the opposing goalkeeper getting control of the ball. To further emphasize my point on how a miscue stat shots are to goals I went through the top leagues in the world and looked at the current top 20 in goals not including penalties, shots in total, and shots on target all based on the current data although the MLS is the complete 2013 regular season.

English Premier League
Players Club Goals Rank Shots (on & off) Rank Shots (on) Rank
Suarez Lvp 23 1st 118 1st 56 1st
Sturridge Lvp 16 2nd 62 11th 32 3rd
Aguero Mnc 15 3rd 70 4th 35 2nd
Remy New 11 4th 69 5th 26 7th
Hazard Chl 10 5th 53 19th 28 4th
Rodriguez Sth 10 5th 69 5th 25 9th
Coutinho Lvp 3 NA 71 3rd 23 13th
Barkley Eve 3 NA 62 11th 13 NA
Paulinho Tot 4 NA 55 17th 16 NA
German Bundesliga
Players Club Goals Rank Shots (on & off) Rank Shots (on) Rank
Aubameyang Dor 13 1st 49 14th 30 6th
Mandzukic Bay 12 2nd 46 18th 31 4th
Ramos HB 12 2nd 62 3rd 33 2nd
Losogga Hsv 10 4th 53 7th 31 4th
Lewandowski Dor 10 4th 78 1st 46 1st
Reus Dor 5 NA 71 2nd 33 2nd
Kruse Bay 5 NA 53 7th 26 8th
Hunt WB 1 NA 46 18th 19 NA
Italian Serie A
Players Club Goals Rank Shots (on & off) Rank Shots (on) Rank
Immobile Tor 13 1st 54 16th 29 7th
Tevez Juv 12 2nd 86 2nd 41 2nd
Palacio Int 11 3rd 58 13th 28 10th
Toni Ver 11 3rd 72 6th 31 5th
Llorente Juv 10 5th 39 NA 23 17th
Balotelli ACM 8 15th 101 1st 42 1st
Diamanti Bol 2 NA 82 3rd 27 12th
Candreva Laz 3 NA 74 5th 23 17th
Spanish La Liga
Players Club Goals Rank Shots (on & off) Rank Shots (on) Rank
Ronaldo RM 17 1st 160 1st 72 1st
Costa AM 17 1st 76 3rd 43 2nd
Sanchez Bar 15 3rd 46 16th 25 9th
Griezmann Soc 14 4th 69 4th 38 4th
Benzema RM 14 4th 58 6th 26 9th
Messi Bar 11 6th 83 2nd 40 3rd
Rakitic Sev 7 20th 62 5th 21 19th
Di Maria RM 3 NA 48 14th 27 7th
Dutch Eredivisie
Players Club Goals Rank Shots (on & off) Rank Shots (on) Rank
Pelle Fey 18 1st 84 2nd 50 1st
Castaignos Twe 13 2nd 66 4th 39 3rd
Finnbogason Hen 13 2nd 71 3rd 37 4th
Promes Twe 10 4th 49 10th 31 6th
Johannsson AZ 10 4th 37 NA 24 18th
Depay PSV 6 NA 95 1st 42 2nd
Tadic Twe 4 NA 61 6th 29 8th
Chery Grn 4 NA 49 10th 25 12th
Major League Soccer
Players Club Goals Rank Shots (on & off) Rank Shots (on) Rank
Di Vaio MTL 20 1st 118 2nd 53 2nd
Magee Chi 17 2nd 114 3rd 50 3rd
Camilo Van 17 2nd 123 1st 55 1st
Oduro Clm 13 4th 92 8th 36 5th
Fagundez NE 13 4th 55 NA 29 10th
Bruin Hou 8 NA 98 5th 30 7th
Higuain Clm 5 NA 86 10th 31 6th
Zardes LA 5 NA 78 12th 23 6th

From my view there is no case where shots in general equals goals better than shots on target does as well based on the examples there is many cases where players have a large amount of shots but scored very small amount of goals. And in almost every case a player in the top 20 of scoring ranked higher or equal in shots on target than he did on total shots.

This is true in team data as well as Juventus was the top shooter in the Champions League with 101 shots but only scored 9 goals, Tottenham and Newcastle have 40 more shots than Arsenal in EPL this season. Braunschweig has more shots than Schalke in the Bundesliga yet scored 26 less goals and in La Liga last place Real Betis has more shots than league leaders Atletico Madrid.

This is a trend I been seeing since I started tabulating data for soccer including the most extreme story in Japan J-League in 2001 when Brazilian Wanger Lopes played for relegated side Avispa Fukuoka and had 186 shots in only 34 game season although only 41 were on target and seeing other players with shots in the 30 but only one or two on target I decided to stop recording shots and concentrate only shots on target and in my analysis going over a number of seasons I'm confident with that choice.

In truth some of this new analytics have been around in football for many years with people involved with clubs telling me they were looking at play per 90. shooting analysis, and even expected goals since the early 2000's although I'm encouraged by the enthusiasm by people especially younger ones to look at statistics and analytics. This being said I think there is a fear of group mentality where everyone jumps on idea and that stat becomes a new trend and even in North American sports there have been ratings and other forms of data analysis that were loved at one point but lost its value when it really made no difference on the field. So I love the sharing of ideas but I feel proof of concept is where the value is.

My acquaintance and I at the end of the night agreed to disagree his view was their was a lot more work online proving his concept over my concerns and was dishearten by my initial response as he thought I could introduce the work to MLS clubs in which I told him his best option was to approach OPTA since he was using their work to produce his analysis.  

Although when I got home I felt it unfair just to dismiss a concept especially one that is popular so hopefully this sample of data shows my point and I can include many more samples if wished. Although my footballing view on the matter is - Do I want a player who is willing take a shot? The answer is no, what I want is a player who can score and taking shots in my view doesn't mean your going to score especially if a large percentage are off target or easy saves for the keeper.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Creating a Flowchart of a Goal in Soccer/Football

Creating a Flowchart of a Goal in Soccer/Football
By Aaron Nielsen

After the recent OPTA pro forum, I posted some comments including my proposed paper - Opta Pro Research Paper I got a decent amount of back and forth on my twitter account @ENBSports including links to other work. What I noticed from others is that the MCFC data released in 2011-2012 by OPTA is having an influence with writers trying to take advantage of the 211 columns of data. Personally the only thing I really looked at when it came out were free kick shot opportunities - Direct Free Kicks as data for the la liga was also available through Marca magazine so I thought it created a good comparison piece of analysis.

My main concern with the detail set is the amount of cost/time to tabulate this depth of data and what can be gained from it. So in tabulating my own data I broke down over time what I thought were the most valuable statistics so I'm now able to cover over 60 leagues of data as have been tabulating data for over 20 years. Although now with more detailed statistics becoming a bigger part of the everyday conversation including most recently Statsbomb.com - Expected Goals, I decided to reopen my MCFC excel sheet and reexamine the data from the 2011-2012 English Premier League season and see if I can find specific information from it that I think could be used in understanding the game better through statistical data.

I thought my first attempt was using the data if I could work out a proper flowchart to a goal. One reason for this is that one of my biggest issue in soccer is that most people including statistician see shots (including missed and blocked shots) as a positive stat. Its true almost all goals come from a shot via a foot or head although they also come from a shot on target (on average around 30% of all shots) well most shots off target lead to a restart from a goalkeeper and an end to the offensive possession. So in recording data of less detail I've decided to only include shots on target as shots and ignore other shot attempts as I feel shots in total gives a poor representation of the players success assumed by this stat. Although since OPTA makes it available I've decided to use it as part of this analysis in help breaking down each offensive possession.

I start in looking at the flowchart of a goal with offensive possession which can either come from Open Play, Penalty, Free-Kick (Direct or In Direct), Corner, or a Throw-In. All goals including own goals fit under each applicable category and an opponent’s defensive turnover leads to an open play on offensive possession even if the offensive position only includes a shot. OPTA doesn't record each individual offensive possession in the stats but does show 1025 goals, 10891 total shots which led to 10496 Goalkeeper Distribution and 22555 clearances that stats do not include other forms where we can assume lost of possession but one could estimate in total there were about 40,000 offensive possession or a goal in every 40 or so attempts at possessions.

OPTA does a great job in analyzing penalties, free kicks and corners so I will start there.  First in terms of free kicks OPTA judged that there were 1884 Free Kicks in a dangerous area not including penalties from these free kick opportunities there were 854 that lead to a shot including 553 direct attempts on net that led to 29 direct goals or one in every 19.1 attempts. OPTA did record shots information but in terms of a flow chart it’s difficult to analyze the play because we don't know of the play conclusion on a direct attempt that did not lead to a goal. Of the 1291 free kicks passed instead of direct shot 301 lead to shots via a key pass and 50 goals or a goal in every 25.8 attempt although again we have no information on plays that didn't lead to a goal. Meanwhile there were 100 penalties with 72 converted, 23 being saved and 5 were off target.

In terms of Corners, OPTA has a total 4321 corners that lead to 129 goals inside the box or a goal in every 33.5 attempt. Of these Corners 3496 were attempted in the box with 1163 being "successful" which I assume means lead to a shot and 377 of those shots were on target. There were 663 short corners although OPTA gives no detail on any further actions from these short corners. Meanwhile throw-ins lead to 20 goals from inside the box, 67 shots on target and 184 shots off target although we don't have information on how many throw-in were attempted in that zone or again what happen to the play on corners and throw-ins outside of ones that lead to goals and shots.

Which leads to open play opportunities, unfortunately with some of the data missing above we can't assume all the open play data. The data shows there were 725 goals not counted above so we can assume they were from open play and of these goals 577 goals were inside the box and 148 from outside. We can't breakdown the inside shots due to missing data but from the outside minus direct free kicks 1164 were on target, 1395 were blocked and 1819 missed the net. Overall there were 3522 shots in total on target, 2902 were blocked, and 4467 missed the target and we can also assume most of the shots that missed the target lead to an opposition restart.

The problem with the flow chart concept is we’re missing key stats related to creating data that OPTA does record for example of the Shots on Target we don't know how many of them were controlled by the goalkeeper to change over possession. So I would suggest that OPTA starts recording the stat rebound and save leading to corner so we have a better sense of shots on target that do not count as a goal. We also don't have any information regarding an offensive player mistake in the offensive zone for example a foul, wayward pass, or loss of possession out of bounds so we can only assume when the offensive team losses possession by looking at clearances and goalkeeper distribution which we assume the offensive possession is over since the keeper has control of the ball.

There is also an issue in my view with the stat clearances and as a defensive statistic the assumption like shots is that this is a positive play although we have no further information regarding the clearances which affect the flow chart concept and also like total shots a misleading stat. I'm assuming clearance includes kicking a ball out of bounds and giving the opponent the ball as a throw-in or corner.  If so well looking at the goal per attempt stat this could be problematic because with only the data in front of us the ratio in terms of how many attempts per goal is lower for a corner or a throw-in then in open play. So analytically a clearance could actually increase his opponent’s chance of scoring depending on the clearance.

Ultimately for a flow chart you would want the play and then the lead in to the next possession be a goal, the offense getting another offensive possession via a rebound, clearance, or set play opportunity or the defense controlling the ball and putting an end to the offensive possession. Based on this we can start looking at general views in terms of possession but also specific for example if a particular player tends to kick the ball out for a corner well under pressure a team can use that to their advantage when breaking down opposition analysis. Or alternatively if a team likes to shoot maybe allow it because you know a chance to score is poor and a shot off target leads to a loss in possession.

I'm impressed with OPTA work and with a background in most sports it amazes me the effort they put into collecting it especially when traditionally there is a long history of stats recorded for North American sports in far less in detail. Although I must say that when breaking down a sport I find much more useful, traditional North American sports data. And in doing my own soccer stats is the same because I know what I want to get out of it before I start to tabulate the data. I fight with teams and leagues all the time over the value of stats in soccer and to dismiss my work they show me huge books of animated drawings in what they believe breaks down every play in soccer. Although the reality of what breaks down every play is actually what really happens over a good number of samples which statistics can do, all we need to do now is prove it through our work.

RNO: How to Beat TFC

ESSU: How to Beat TFC
Toronto FC

Posted by Aaron Nielsen
February 10, 2014
Aaron Nielsen

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The opinion I've now formed, which surprises most who don't watch the MLS closely, is that Toronto FC should be one of the favourites this season and if they are not title contenders it should be regarded as an underwhelming campaign. Admittedly most Toronto-based sports fans follow the Blue Jays, Raptors and Maple Leafs first, where big price tag additions provide some promise, but most realistic fans know that a few additions will not guarantee success, and in the case of Toronto sports teams it usually leads to disappointment.
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When you look at the salary structure of MLS, the addition of 25 million dollars spent on transfers and salary that Toronto FC have added to their roster this off season, is equal to almost 25% of all the money spent via transfer and salaries for all the teams combined in the league for this upcoming season. Additionally, Toronto player personal costs this season will be twice as much as any other team in the league. In comparison, when Manchester City spent an enormous amount of money and won the English Premier League championship in 2012, they had overall player expenses of 273 Million US, although it only equaled a estimated 15% of money spent in the Premier League on player personal that season, and both Chelsea and Manchester United spent 2/3 of what City spent.
With the newest rumour of Julio Cesar joining the club and Matias Laba being loaned out, most likely back to Argentina, Toronto will have eight new starters with Julio Cesar in net, Bradley Orr and Justin Morrow joining Steven Caldwell and either Gale Agbossoumonde, Doneil Henry, or Nick Hagglund. The forward line will be Jermain Defoe and Gilberto, while the midfield will include Michael Bradley, Dwayne DeRosario, Jackson with returnees Jonathan Osario, Alvaro Rey, Reggie Lambe and Kyle Bekker.
Even with these amount of changes, the club should be encouraged, and in my opinion, sign other experienced MLS players who might be willing to take a pay cut for the chance of a ring. This could include recently cut players such as ex-LA Galaxy midfielder Colin Clark or Michael Stephens, ex-Red Bulls defender Heath Pearce or ex-DC United defender Brandon McDonald to name a few, as well as European based players with a background similar to Orr and Caldwell.
I will give credit to MLSE and the people in the media who anticipated these moves and agree that on paper Toronto should be one of the top teams this season. Part of the reason is using statistical modeling and analytics based on past performance. The standard of the league with projected analysis shows at least 50 goals should be expected from Defoe, Gilberto, Bradley, De Rosario and Jackson, and with contribution from others Toronto could lead the league in goals. In the back, a more experienced defender and goalkeeper should improve a defense to allowing closer to a goal a game, which would mean based on goal difference Toronto chould attain upwards and over 60 points this season, which would be more than any team achieved last season.
Perhaps a common question that will be asked in MLS this season is "How do you beat TFC?". Based on their current roster and despite the talent I still think the answer is quite simple. Give Toronto possession, defend in numbers, frustrate, press and hope to get a goal via a mistake or counter.
Through all the improvement I do have concerns, which shows up in advanced statistics, that there is a common thread throughout the Toronto FC lineup, including the new signees historical data from Europe, and that is an inability to create opportunities through possession. Defoe and Gilberto are traditionally counter attacking forwards, while De Rosario and Jackson are known for creating offense through individual play. Michael Bradley is known as a defensive midfielder, but the one season he was an offensive threat in Holland many of his offense came from working off the highly skilled play maker Danijel Pranjic, similar to the Diego Valeri and Will Johnson partnership in Portland the past season.
The reality is individual skill can lead to goals, but especially at BMO field, Toronto games could be frustrating with a lot of shots and opportunities, however, many games might turn out zero-zero or a one goal game. I wouldn't be surprised if Toronto are more successful and fun to watch on the road than they will be at home. At the end of the day when the games really count, coaching and performance analysis might have the final say in dealing with tactics and situations on the pitch. They will also be the ones to blame because at no point this season should Toronto FC be an underdog on paper, but as the sports cliché goes, championships are not won on paper.

RNO: The top 20 players overlooked by MLS

The top 20 players overlooked by MLS
Canadian Men's National Team

Posted by Aaron Nielsen
February 6, 2014
Aaron Nielsen

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A year ago, after the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, I published two articles: my Top 10 USL Pro and Top 10 NASL prospects. In analytics/scouting work I actually do these lists when the season is in progress, but last year I wrote the articles at this time of the year as I was worried about the Canadian MLS teams' depth going into the 2013 season and thought these players could help. Shortly after, Toronto FC had just signed Gale Agbossoumonde, and Vancouver signed Corey Hertzog. Meanwhile, most of the players I listed remain playing in either USL Pro or NASL in 2013, including my number one prospect in USL Pro Kevin Molino, who was recently signed by Orlando as their first ever MLS signing.
I also talked about the advantage of MLS clubs loaning younger players and where I see American soccer going. One idea being that leagues such as USL Pro not being a lower league to MLS, but a minor league, and with the LA Galaxy II in USL Pro, this season this is becoming more of a reality. I'm still not convinced if MLS are willing to use this for their advantage or is it just for show to compensate for the failed idea of a reserve league, which was another idea I predicted was never going to happen.

My main concern is that I know there are players competing in North America who are better than certain MLS players, yet are continuously being ignored. With this year’s list I've decided to include the top 20 players in my analysis who have been missed by MLS and include players who have been completely overlooked. Even though some might have been drafted, none played any MLS games. Furthermore, all of these players are 26 years of age or under and had successful 2013 campaigns, but despite this upside still none have been even offered a MLS trial this off-season.

The disappointing thing in terms of trying to improve the quality of the league is that I have had the ear of people involved in the MLS who have dismissed this type of analysis. Even in the case of Kevin Molino, if it wasn't for Orlando gaining an MLS franchise, Molino would probably have been ignored by all other MLS clubs since the people I spoke with no one knew who he was. The one good thing about making this list available is the public gains a greater awareness of the issue and hopefully over time it can be taken advantage of.

Here is my list of the top 20 prospects playing soccer in North America who should be offered an opportunity with a MLS club.

1. Daniel Barrera, Midfielder, Atlanta/San Antonio (NASL) 

Daniel Barrera is a 24 year old Colombian-born midfielder with American citizenship. Despite playing for the United States 2007 Pan American Games side, and trials with Derby County and playing professionally in Serbia, he has never been offered a tryout from an MLS club. After playing 2012 with Cal FC, Eric Wynalda brought him to the NASL Atlanta Silverbacks. Berrera quarterbacked the Silverbacks offense tallying four goals and seven assists from an attacking midfield positions and was responsible for set plays that lead to a direct free kick goal and two dead ball assists. After not getting offers from the MLS, Barrera will join San Antonio for the 2014 MLS season. 

2. Jose Cuevas, Midfielder, Charleston (USL Pro)

Jose Cuevas was listed in my top USL Pro prospects last season after leading his club Charleston Battery to the 2012 USL Pro Championship and winning Rookie of the Year. Despite this success, and being American, Cuevas was not given an MLS trial and instead rejoined the Battery in 2013. Charleston had a solid 2013 season finishing 3rd during the regular season with Cuevas being a key player in the midfield scoring four goals and three assists. He has the ability to play both centrally or on the wings. Cuevas is not under contract and could join any club on a free transfer. 

3. Gibson Bardsley, Winger, Dayton (USL Pro)

Gibson was also in my top USL Pro prospects last season and over the past two seasons has lead Dayton to two respectable seasons after being the laughing stock of the league prior. He’s compiled 14 goals, seven assists and 56 shots on target in 43 games over the last two seasons playing upfront for the Dutch Lions. I feel at the MLS level his speed would make him a very useful winger who could also provide offense. Bardsley played college for a smaller school, although you assume after two successful seasons at USL Pro he would get a chance from a MLS club.

4. Mark Anderson, Winger, Fort Lauderdale (NASL)

Mark Anderson was my top prospect in the NASL during the 2012 season as the British native showed the same success he had in college by scoring exceptional goals, especially from distance. Anderson had some issues with injuries in 2013, playing only 12 games but scored 2 goals from distance including a direct free kick, and had 11 shots on target. Still 24 years of age, Anderson grew up in the Sunderland academy and has comparison with Scottish EPL player Charlie Adam for an ability to create offense from the wing, midfield or as a secondary striker.

5. Diomar Diaz, Forward, New York Cosmos (NASL)

Diaz is a lot different than other players on my list and demonstrates the impact international scouting can have on a team and the role New York Cosmos could play on North American soccer. Diaz is on my list because he's 23, and despite being only 5'7, played professionally in his home country of Venezuela and has great skills on the ball. I think a greater example of the Cosmos influence is that Marcos Senna played for them in 2013 and the recent story surrounding Whitecaps draftee Andre Lewis. I believe a pro team can compete and do a better job at finding and developing talent than MLS, which is hampered by a single entity and salary cap.

6. Daniel Steres, Defender, Wilmington (USL Pro)

The 23 year old defender/midfielder has had a cup of coffee with MLS clubs after being drafted in the supplementary round by Chivas USA and looked at by Seattle, but was never given a chance to play. It’s an interesting comparison with Steve Birnbuam, who was drafted 2nd overall by DC United mostly due to his goal scoring ability as a defender, that no MLS team have given Steres a look this winter. Steres scored seven goals with Wilmington including 4 from headers and also had 3 assists. Steres does lack athleticism to be a star but his versatility could make him useful for a MLS club.

7. Shaun Saiko, Midfielder, Edmonton/San Antonio (NASL)

After three successful seasons, in terms of individual performance with FC Edmonton, Saiko has decided to continue his NASL career in 2014 with San Antonio. After the success of fellow Canadian Jonathan Osorio in MLS, it’s surprising that Saiko hasn't been given at least an MLS trial. Saiko played with the Middlesbrough academy in England before joining FC Edmonton where he scored 18 goals, 14 assists and 71 shots on target in 65 games. Out of the Canadian National Team picture as well, Saiko is still only 24 and could make an impact both for club and country if given the right opportunities.

8. Dane Kelly, Forward, Charleston (USL Pro)

In many ways, MLS clubs and the league can be quite perplexing and the fact that Dane Kelly has not been given an MLS trial adds to this. After a draft dominated by Jamaicans, fellow countryman Kelly was in the top four in scoring with 11 goals during the 2013 USL Pro season, but has not received any interest from MLS clubs. Kelly is also the only traditional target man in my prospect list who uses speed and athleticism to score goals, including 3 headers in 2013. The 22 year old Kelly now has 21 career goals in USL Pro while still on loan from his Jamacian club Tivoli Gardens. 

9. Pedro Mendes, Forward, Atlanta/Indy (NASL)

Mendes is another player who Eric Wynalda brought to the NASL from Cal FC and lead the Atlanta Silverbacks in goals with eight. The 23 year old Brazilian is 6 feet tall, but plays more deeper than most strikers so he could play in the midfield if asked. Mendes has been based in the United States since 2009 and played in American College, USAAA and scored three goals in only two games on trial with Rhode Island in the NPSL. Mendes has joined Indy for the 2014 season, but with all the hype surrounding Maximiliano Urruti the past season, Mendes is a player with a similar skill set and would bring the MLS a greater profit on investment. 

10. Brian Shriver, Forward, Carolina (NASL)

Like many players, including most recently Andy Lubahn and Juan Castillo from the 2014 MLS draft, Brian Shriver is an example where injury or circumstances meant he got lost in the MLS draft hype versus overall player development/awareness. Unfortunately, despite having a successful career in the NASL, including leading goal scorer and eight game winners in 2013, he’s still a forgotten man. Shriver was a highly touted college player with UNC, although was injured before the draft in 2009. He was drafted by FC Dallas, but not signed, and so he joined Miami FC in USL Pro and now has 30 goals in lower American soccer leagues despite still only 26 years of age. 

11. Brock Granger, Fullback, Dayton (USL Pro)

Brock Granger was on my MLS draft radar in college while at Louisville and played with MLS starlets Nick DeLeon and Andrew Ferrell. He also had success in the PDL and there was talk he might even join the Portland Timbers as a Homegrown player. Instead, he was only picked in the Supplemental Draft, didn't sign and instead joined the Dayton Dutch Lions in USL Pro. Granger is your typical American full back: smaller but in the same mold of 2013 draftee and GA Eric Miller, but in terms of salary a fifth of the cost and now has professional experience.

12. Walter Restrepo, Midfielder, Fort Lauderdale/San Antonio (NASL)

Of all the players in my 2013 NASL/USL pro prospects, the only true disappointment might have been Walter Restrepo. Others might have had less of an impact in 2013, but it was part of an MLS club (Hertzog/Agbossemonde for example), while Restrepo returned to the NASL in 2013. In his defense, Restrepo was returning from an ACL injury and he was more effective towards the end of the season, being a greater offensive threat especially with Mark Anderson in the line-up and Walter on the right. The 25 year old has joined San Antonio in 2014 in a bizarre story where Fort Lauderdale traded Restrepo for club expenses during their away match to San Antonio later this season.

13. JC Banks, Midfielder, Rochester (USL Pro)

The Rochester Rhinos struggled in 2013 partly due to right midfielder JC Banks missing some games through injuries. Banks was in my top 10 USL Pro prospects last season and what I like most about him is his ability to fit a role. You can argue that MLS and all of American soccer struggles tactically, although JC plays the touchline at a high soccer IQ level, allowing his club to utilize a traditional four man midfield. Although only 24, I think there is a concern he might be reaching his peak since speed plays a major role in his game.

14. Ben Newnam, Fullback, Charlotte (USL Pro)

Ben Newnam was a defensive presence throughout the 2013 USL Pro campaign leading his Charlotte Eagles all the way to the conference finals until they were humbled by USL Pro champions Orlando 7-4. The 22 year old fullback had a steady college career at Wake Forest playing 74 career games, which started out as a midfielder but was moved to full back based on his ability to cover the wing. Not blessed with size at 5'9/160, Newnam does have an engine which allowed him to be in the top 10 in terms of minutes played last season.

15. Jacob Bushue, Fullback, Indiana (NCAA)/Indy (NASL)

Jacob Bushue was my highest rated player for the 2014 draft who wasn't drafted, despite what is widely regarded as a weak position in the MLS. Bushue was penalized for being versatile and playing multiple positions, however, as an MLS player I see him at right fullback. Bushue signed for NASL expansion club Indy, and in the NASL he might be given a chance to improve his offensive potential as well. I also wouldn't be surprised after a few games in the NASL, like Mark Bloom did last season with Atlanta, Jacob could join a MLS club in 2014 or 2015.

16. Lucky Mkosana, Forward, Harrisburg (USL Pro)/Tampa Bay (NASL)

A proven goal scorer throughout his career in the United States, Lucky Mkosana actually made a move during last season between levels, although not to MLS but from USL Pro to the NASL instead. Despite his name, Lucky might argue the opposite: he scored 34 goals in college earning a number of records in the Ivy league. He then scored 20 goals in two seasons at Harrisburg in the USL Pro before joining Tampa Bay, scoring for them as well, but hasn't been given an MLS trial. On the flipside, fellow countryman Schillo Tshunma scores six goals in college last season as a forward and gets a GA contract.

17. Carl Haworth, Forward, Ottawa (PDL/NASL)

When Ottawa was granted an NASL franchise, the first thing that came to my mind was finally Carl Haworth will be given the platform he deserves to prove his value. I've been a strong supporter of Carl since his college days in Niagara, giving his profile to scouts I know throughout the football world. Like Montreal draft pick Pete Caringi, despite size and athleticism issues, Carl has performed at every opportunity he been given. And also like Caringi, Haworth had a very strong 2013 PDL season scoring 12 goals and adding 12 assists in 12 games, greatly outperforming many players with a greater pedigree. 

18. Richard Menjivar, Midfielder, Atlanta/San Antonio (NASL)

This is the third ex-CAL FC and Atlanta Silverbacks player in my list, which shows how much lost talent there is in the American system and how well players can make a jump despite myths regarding quality of league. Menjivar is 23 years old, American born, but plays for the El Salvador national team and already has 10 caps. Menjavar is on the small side and depends on his skills with the ball at his feet. Menjivar will also be joining San Antonio, which might give the Scorpians an MLS quality midfield, especially in terms of potential and should be fun to watch. 

19. Miguel Ibarra, Midfielder, Minnesota (NASL)

During his college career at UC Irvine, Miguel Ibarra’s performances and accolades made him a prospect going into the 2012 draft. After further analysis, I did have some concerns and still do, as Ibarra is small at 5'7 and much of his offense comes from delivering free kicks, but he has impressed me with the impact he has made with Minnesota. Ibarra has played 49 games scoring 4 goals and 8 assists in the NASL, has adapted well with the travel and physical play of the pro game, and hopefully is an example of how lower league experience can help in player evaluation.

20. Jason Plumhoff, Midfielder, La Salle (NCAA)

Another player ranked in my 2014 draft prospect list who wasn't drafted and like Haworth, Plumhoff has performed whenever asked, both in college and PDL. A similar style to highly rated draft pick Steve Neumann, who Jason got to play with in the PDL at Reading United, with Plumhoff having better stats than Neumann. Each year there are about 300 college players, many with talent, that never get a chance at a pro career because of lack of awareness/scouting by all pro American leagues. Plumhoff has yet to sign with a club in 2014 and it would be disappointing if he becomes one who isn't given an opportunity.