When USMNT regular Reggie Cannon transferred to Boavista in Portugal, it was no secret that the FCD Dallas coaching staff wanted Bryan Reynolds to be the replacement. In the games that followed, Reynolds got some substitute appearances to wet his feet, flashing his potential in the process, and he hasn’t looked back since - FCD’s new starting RB eclipsed 1,000 minutes in MLS play around halftime of the game against Sporting Kansas City. Since he’s now built that healthy sample of play up, it’s a natural time to ask how he compares to his peers statistically.
Here’s every fullback1 that has played more than 360 minutes2 in MLS games since the 2013 season, sorted high-to-low by combined xG and xA per 96 minutes.3, 4There’s way more to playing fullback than just attacking, and xG+xA only captures a piece of what fullbacks contribute to the attack, but the results may be better than you’d expect as a screen for fullback quality.
Reynolds is in rare, rare company, 4th overall in a sample of 229 players across eight years of MLS play. Who are those other eight players to produce 0.2 xG+xA/96 or more? I’d group them into two general buckets.
MLS Journeymen: Ryan Telfer spent his first two seasons after college playing at different levels of Toronto FC’s system, getting a run of games in 2018 before being loaned to a CPL team, where he plays today. Notably, Telfer is one of those oddities of the ASA data who seems to have played more as a winger than as a LB, but is classified as a FB nonetheless. Josh Gardner, from little-known Freeport, TX, bounced between the USL and MLS for about a decade before playing his last two years at SKC in ‘13/’14, earning just enough game time to meet the minutes criteria for this list. Hector Jimenez is a long-time utility-man for the Columbus Crew, filling in for injured players at LB, RB, and RW over the past seven years.
Players who at one point or another were in the conversation as being the best attacking fullback in MLS: Julian Gressel set a new standard for production from the fullback spot, taking full advantage of ATL’s three-man backline as a wingback and bombing forward to put in more and better service than anyone in MLS had seen to that point. Ruan has been one of Orlando’s few bright spots in the past few years, serving as a counter-balance to Nani before Chris Mueller’s emergence in 2020. Anton Tinnerholm, another wingback in front of a back three, regularly gets into Best XI conversations. Richie Laryea is starting to monopolize those conversations these days. And Joevin Jones has been called the best on the left before too.
Starting out, that is a much better hit rate than I expected. xG+xA/96 is a slick but limited metric, and yet more than half those on the shortlist are all-star-type players. Considering that there have maybe been 35 such guys in MLS since 2013 (and I think that’s higher than the actual number), getting five in a sample of eight is much better than random, and suggests xG+xA really does do a pretty good job of identifying great attacking fullbacks.
And then there’s Big Bad Bryan Reynolds, right in the middle of the list and the youngest on it by about six years. Does that mean he’s definitely a great attacking MLS fullback? Not necessarily – I’d say he’s got about a 5/8ths chance of that being the case…today. And that’s a whole lot better than a 35/229ths chance, which is what you’d expect if confronted by any random MLS fullback. And he’s going to get better, because he’s only played about 1,000 minutes at this level and he can obviously add more to his skillset. As an example, he can improve playing in the right halfspace, like Eddie Munjoma did for his goal for North Texas SC last weekend – you’ll note Reynolds generates very little xG for now, especially compared to Ryan Hollingshead on the other side.
So yes, revel FC Dallas fans. Revel in the fact that it’s probably true that your homegrown RB is a better attacker than your opponent’s RB. And that he’s going to get better as he continues to grow. And that, despite one important gaffe, he’s been fine on the defensive side too. And then feel bittersweet because, as many have pointed out, you don’t get to be one of the best five attacking fullbacks of the last decade in MLS at 19-years-old without becoming a serious transfer target.
- That’s fullbacks as listed in American Soccer Analysis’ MLS database, from which I got this data. It’s possible you get some tweeners in there (see Telfer, Ryan).
- “But isn’t 360 minutes a little arbitrary?” Yes, but you’ve got it cut it off somewhere, and I felt 360 minutes (roughly four games) was enough to weed out some of the 9-minute-wonders in the dataset. Little changes if you were to toggle it up to 1,000 minutes, for instance.
- What’s xG and xA? Basically, the idea is that, based on where a shot is taken, in what manner it is taken, where the defenders are in relation to the shooter, etc. every shot in soccer has a percent chance of becoming a goal. That percent chance is referred to as the xG of the shot. A player’s xG is the sum of the xGs of every shot they take. A player’s xA then is the sum of the xGs of every shot that they assist.
- Technically, it’s combined xG and xA generated from open play and counter-attacks, therefore excluding things like penalty kicks, free kicks, corner kicks, etc. I chose open play and counterattacks because Reynolds doesn’t really participate in any of the other stuff, and I wanted to compare him to others based on what he does rather than what he doesn’t.