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The Michael Barrios slander stops today

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The little Columbian deserves far better than he’s getting from this fanbase.

MLS: Cup Conference Semifinals-FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Barrios should be one of the most beloved figures in FC Dallas’ history. If he plays for more than about 1,000 minutes next year, he’s going to be third all-time in minutes played for the club, putting up the second longest consecutive appearances streak in league history along the way. He’s already second in the club’s history in combined goals and assists, and he led the entire league in assists twice (12 in 2017, tied with Albert Rusnak, and 13 in 2019). Anywhere else in MLS, a guy like that (ironman, ultra-productive, the shortest player in the league) would be celebrated, treasured, and yet, one year after comfortably leading the team in goals and assists, it seems like most of the fanbase wants to run him out of town on a rail. “Barrios can’t be a viable starter anymore.” “His decision-making has been exposed.” “He’s not good enough.” “I wish they wouldn’t have picked up his option.”

Why doesn’t Barrios get the respect he deserves?

Because he’s past it? Past it how? You see a player that had about a third as many goals and assists per game in 2020 as in 2019. I see a player that saw a modest decrease year-on-year in his shots, shot assists, xG, and xA per game (per ASA data) while playing in an offense that was overall significantly worse. The overwhelming difference was Barrios’ finishing and the finishing of the players that Barrios passed to (which is totally out of his control). As a reminder, exceptional chance creation recurs, massively underperforming your chances via finishing luck does not (eg: Barrios from 2018 to 2019).

Take a look at some of the chances Barrios was involved in last season that didn’t result in a score (skipping over the two PKs he earned, which by themselves accounted for 7% of FCD’s goals in 2020). With average luck around goal, he would have been on pace for a 10G/10A kind of season across a typical 34 game schedule.

Why doesn’t Barrios get the respect he deserves?

Because he’s slowed down? Can’t get the ball into dangerous spots anymore? What if I told you Barrios posted the highest dribble success rate of his career in 2020 (55% vs 45% in 2019 per FBRef). If he was slowing down, wouldn’t he be getting worse at taking players on? What if I told you Barrios completed 2.2 passes per 90 into the penalty box in 2020, most on the team and 13th in MLS (again, on a bad offensive team), and that he has improved on that metric each season he has been with FC Dallas? Let’s say you’re a person who thinks FCD’s #9s don’t get enough touches during games in part because the rest of the team doesn’t give them good enough service – why would you then turn around and call for the only player on the team that has consistently shown the ability to feed them to be cut? G+, ASA’s metric that measures how every touch a player takes changes his team’s chances of scoring or conceding, says Barrios has been well above average every year he’s been at FCD, and that 2020 was actually his best year yet.

Why doesn’t Barrios get the respect he deserves?

Because he’s not good enough to build a top offense around him? Remember, he was bought to be the third fiddle in the attack next to Castillo and Diaz, and he would be excellent in that role. Take a look at the third most productive attacker on the top ten highest scoring offenses in MLS last season (I got the salary data from the 2019 MLSPA release since it hasn’t been updated in 2020). Barrios gives you basically the same production for less than 60% of the cost.

Don’t blame Michael Barrios because the front office has failed abjectly to find other good attacking players. Playing a more crucial role than he ever should have, Barrios has been hands down FC Dallas’ best and most consistent attacker since Mauro Diaz left. The issue with the offense in 2020 was not Barrios.

If he starts most of FC Dallas’ games next year at RW, that’s totally fine so long as FC Dallas finds someone to make a difference on the other wing (whether Pomykal or Darth Jader or someone else) and the midfield gets more dangerous (maybe the light turns on for Ferreira). Barrios can absolutely still be the second or third best player in a great offense in MLS

After having his option picked up a few weeks ago, Barrios is in the final possible year of his 2017 contract extension, which pays him $500k annually as of 2019 (the last year such data was available). That seems like fair value for what he does for FC Dallas given how unlikely a player sale is.

Next year, however, Barrios will probably be looking for a new contract while leaving the period of his life that generally marks the peak for wide attackers(age 24-29). If you look carefully at the charts above, there is a gentle pattern of decline over the last three seasons in terms of overall chance creation. It’s small enough that it could just be randomness, and, again, FCD’s offense was worse around Barrios in 2020 than in 2019, but still, it’s there. No doubt he remains an effective attacker on a per-minute-basis, but paying him for that as he ages into his 30s probably isn’t wise.

Because he absolutely is a club legend, I’d like to see FCD re-sign him for $200-$300k per year to serve as the club’s third winger. By that point, hopefully Dante Sealy will be ready to be an impact MLS player as a starter, or maybe FCD will hit in the transfer market again. That way, Barrios can end his career in Dallas with a place in the club’s record books only matched by Matt Hedges and Jason Kreis. Maybe he’ll finally get the respect he deserves.