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How has Atiba Harris' transition to right back gone?

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Statistical comparison between our two wingers converted to right back.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few months, Atiba Harris has felt the scorn of FC Dallas fans for his play at fullback. During the first handful of starts, it was pretty clear that Harris was still adjusting to his new position as he was caught either playing the wrong angle, getting in too close or just being caught flat footed against a flighty winger. Over time though, Harris has grown into the position and has appeared to have settled in quite nicely into the right back position. What has been baffling me and some of the other writers here, is why the continued wrath from several fans on Harris when truthfully, he's developed into a reliable player and more troubling is that he's been the only consistent player this season to engage with fans on social media and consistently thanks the fans (especially the Supporter's Groups) after games. If nothing else, he's been the lone player who has gone above and beyond to show his appreciation to the fans and somehow the love has not been largely returned. When the players have seemingly abandoned their relations with the fans, why single out the only player who's acknowledged the fans for their support?

The only justification for it is the tendency here for people to scapegoat. In recent years, some fans have tended towards pinning everything that went wrong to one particular player. Je-Vaughn Watson, Michel, Andrew Jacobson, Jair Benitez come to mind that have for a small season suffered the anger from its own fan base. Harris is a prime example of being this year's scapegoat and I have proof. That lone goal "scored" by DC United back on 7/18 that was actually a Matt Hedges own goal? You'd be surprised at how many people found a way to pin that one on Harris for not closing down the angle and blocking the cross. Hedges, of course, was absolve of any blame in the matter, even though he directed the cross into his own net. Not saying anyone should, but if we switched the players around and it was Harris who scored the own goal and it was Hedges out on the flanks, who do you think the general public here would blame?

Of course, some players are able to shed that scapegoat label in due time; Je-Vaughn Watson being one of them having established himself a reliable and serviceable right back in this league. He too underwent the transition from winger to right back last season, and has, for the most part, been accepted as the team's best right back. Watson's transition was not without some growing pains yet it seemed like he was afforded more patience with his transition than what's been given to Harris.

My take here is that Harris has been doing just fine at right back. Can he do better? Of course. But is he has bad as people have claimed him to be? I certainly don't think so. As I'm the resident stat nerd for this gang, and if you've been reading my nonsense for long enough, you know what's coming next: side by side stat comparison!

Player Successful Passes Unsuccessful Passes Total Passes Passing % Key Passes Assists Tackles Blocks Interceptions Clearances Recoveries
Je-Vaughn Watson 392 169 561 70% 8 1 25 2 39 49 67
Atiba Harris 429 149 578 74% 8 1 22 4 37 38 56

Above I took a look at both Watson and Harris' first 12 games that they started at fullback. Line by line, there is little to differentiate the two players in their first twelve starts, although Harris did complete more passes than Watson did.

But ultimately, it's not just how the player did but how the team did as well, so here's a quick look at that too:

Player Wins Draws Losses Goals Scored Goals Conceded
Je-Vaughn Watson 8 0 4 20 13
Atiba Harris 9 2 1 22 7

All this to say, Harris is doing fine at right back. The team picked up more points, scored more goals and conceded far fewer goals during Harris' first 12 matches than when Watson started getting looks at fullback. Harris still needs to get better with some of his angles and positioning but when you look statistically at how Watson started his defensive career, one could have optimism that under the care of Head Coach Oscar Pareja, Harris could do the same and be a good right back in this league for this club.