One of the more confusing things in the landscape of American sports are these end of the year awards with slightly cryptic titles and names associated with them. NCAA football is a prime example with the Maxwell Award given to the "Player of the Year" which sounds like a pretty big deal, until you realize that people care as much about that award as the participation ribbon you got in the 6th grade for placing 5th in the 100m dash. Then there's the Heisman Trophy awarded to "the most outstanding player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence and integrity". What? Both seem like pretty big awards, but it's only the Heisman and it's vague descriptor that people seem to care about.
The world of soccer is also not immune to such nonsense, especially with the MVP award which in the descriptor says "most valuable" but how does one go about even measuring that? Historically this kind of trophy has often gone to someone more resembling the team's "best" player and usually the one who scores the most goals - which is also silly given that there's an award for most goals already.
My only solutions to this is to either properly rename the MVP award, but that requires a lot of work and grassroots organizing that I have neither the time or interest in doing, or actually just giving the MVP award to the player that's actually most valuable. In this case, my measuring stick will simply be what would this team be like if he didn't play? Would this team still be able to win if this particular player wasn't out there? And then because I love data, figuring out a not too crazy way to measure it.
My vote for this year's FC Dallas MVP would be Victor Ulloa and here is why:
The CDM role is possibly the most unglamorous position in all of soccer. You don't get the heroics of scoring goals. You don't get fans' attention by breaking ankles on the wings. You don't make the crowd hold their collective breath as you thread the most inch perfect through ball to your teammate. You are not the lung busting full back that garners the fans' appreciation for your hard work and hustle. You don't make those game saving tackles or goal line clearances as a center back. And you certainly don't come up with finger tip saves, redirecting a sure goal by pushing the shot just outside your post.
No, a CDM occupies space protecting and shielding the defense by your very presence. He could make the crunching tackle, but that's not his primary responsibility of just keeping the ball away from dangerous positions. He picks off loose passes and cycles the ball to the attackers in the most efficient manner without applause or fan fare. It's a dirty job and when done well, makes the whole team click and Victor Ulloa epitomizes all of that.
So far for the 2015 campaign, Ulloa has completed a team high of 1,227 passes which is good for 9th in the league.
For context, Ulloa's successful passes account for 15% of the team's 8,452 total passes completed which is on par with two of the league's best midfielders in McCarty and Juninho.
Ulloa's completed passes per 90 minutes is 41.8, which is good for 11th in the league (minimum of 25 games played). He also sports an 83% completion rate which is second on Dallas to Matt Hedges (84%) and ranks 16th among midfielders (also minimum of 25 games played).
So we know his passing chops are on par with the best of the best, but what about his defensive duties? Ulloa doesn't have that "bite" of a destroyer, rather he uses ability to read the game to position himself where he can succeed. Positional awareness is not a measurable stat (yet) in any means and outside of just watching him, it's really hard to explain how good he is at it for this club. But there is one stat where does stand out and that's with interceptions.
|Interceptions per 90||2.93|
Only Ryan Hollingshead bests Ulloa on interceptions per 90 and is in the top five in the league among all players.
No, Victor Ulloa will not grab a lot of headlines or make many Gif of the Week appearances or sell a lot of jerseys. What he is though is a very good player and in my book, a worthy winner of the team's MVP award. Without Ulloa this team doesn't have the same defensive shape nor do the likes of Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castilo and Michael Barrios get on the ball at the same frequency. This doesn't mean he's the team's best player but I think we can all agree that this team is better with him than without.