David Egbo showing MLS readiness on USL loan
The Vancouver Whitecaps’ top pick in the 2021 super draft is off to a good start in the USL. 22-year-old Nigerian forward David Egbo looks set to contribute to the Whitecaps first team in the 2022 season. Loaned to USL Phoenix Rising, Egbo already has four goals and an assist. He’s still a bit rough around the edges, but for now, all signs point to a future as at least one solid forward in MLS.
The title of Egbo’s game is his ability to evade defenders in the box and end high-danger scoring opportunities. Or to put it another way; He is a very efficient artist. He’s # 56 in the videos below.
Egbo averages 0.27 xG per shot. This indicates a player with good ball movement and an ability to appear in weak spots of an opposing defense. Egbo has the fourth highest xG per game of all forwards with at least 400 minutes in USL. This aspect of his game is fantastic.
Of course, an attacker cannot stay within six yards of the opponent all day. They also need to be involved in the game and take a step back. Egbo’s defensive work is pretty good. Egbo is the 15th best forward with at least 400 G + minutes per stoppage, which is good enough to be in the 78th percentile. In practice, this usually looks like one of the following two things. Either Egbo will put pressure on a defender, forcing a bad pass, or he will fall down in midfield to tackle an unsuspecting opponent. Egbo seems to have a pretty good idea of when to press down on an opponent, often using the sidelines to reduce the space available to a defender or chasing a defender who is in an awkward position due to a bad pass or pass. ‘an unfortunate rebound. He also likes to sneak up on someone and push the ball away from them, which is always fun. Defensive shots also often lead to transition chances. If Egbo plays regularly for the Caps first team, it will be in charge of Caicedo / Gauld / Dájome. Creating transition opportunities for these three can only be a good thing
Egbo’s binding game is a mixed bag. Egbo has the 2nd most assists per game of any USL forwards with at least 400 minutes and the 6th most anticipated assist. So he has some playing ability. Most of those key passes are the result of quick layoffs in the box.
He also does a good job of holding the ball. Egbo uses his strength and stature intelligently to fend off opposing defenders. This makes him a good outlet for progressive passing and frequently forces defenders to foul him as they cannot take the ball away from him.
But when Egbo tries to dive deep and make a game, things tend to go wrong.
Egbo has missed an entire year of competitive football due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the things he seems to have the most difficulty with are timing and coordination. His first contact also sometimes lets him down. Once he has the ball at his feet, he’s actually quite delicate, but he doesn’t always control the ball properly when thrown to him.
I also think he could get a little meaner on the crosses. Egbo is a big guy and he uses it to great effect to protect the ball on the ground. But so far, he hasn’t shown himself to be a huge air presence. That’s not to say he necessarily avoids contact, but doesn’t quite exhibit the same bloodlust as Lucas Cavallini. Looking at Egbo’s data and looking at him, the firing volume is a bit of a concern. That is, the shots he gets are all super dangerous chances, but he doesn’t get as many. He may be 4th in xG but he’s very low at 39th in shots. If he could brutally force his way to complete more crosses, it might help with his volume of shot.
But what does it really mean to be an effective attacker in USL? How does this translate into MLS? Well, thanks to American Soccer Analysis adding some of the lower American leagues to their database, we can get a pretty good idea. I looked at 21 forwards / forwards who have played important minutes in both USL and MLS during their careers. I found that on average players kept around 69% (good) of their non-penalty USL xG + xA when switching to MLS. Most players fell into a range of 50 to 80% of their retained production, with a handful doing better or worse. So in Egbo’s case that would mean somewhere between 0.44-0.7 xG + xA with no penalty per match, 0.60 being exactly 69% of his USL total. That would place him somewhere between the 32nd and the 9th among MLS forwards. Or in other words, somewhere between Corey Baird and Chicharito. That’s a wide margin, but anyway, he’s an MLS level attacker.
Now, there is some evidence that a player’s overall game doesn’t translate well from USL to MLS. None of the players in my sample had an above-average G + in MLS. On average, their G + dropped 0.14 per game. In Egbo’s case, that would mean a G + of -0.17 over the league average. It is still above replacement level, but obviously well below average. G + isn’t a perfect metric, it gives odd results at times, but that seems like a clear indication that Egbo’s play is a bit rough around the edges, especially when he’s not straight in front of goal. But we kind of knew that from the video.
Overall, Egbo looks set to be a first-team contributor next season. Without the injuries, the global pandemic and his international status, he likely would have made the first team this year. He’s rough around the edges and at 22 he might not be doing much better than he is now. But he looks like he could at least be a dangerous poacher in MLS. The additions of Ryan Gauld and Pedro Vite make this type of player more attractive to the Whitecaps, even if their game is limited in other respects. If he can improve his passing game, his first touch, and his aerial presence, then he can be a truly deadly attacker. So watch out for Egbo in 2022.
Post Scriptum :
You might be wondering, since I’ve been doing all of this work trying to figure out how Egbo’s production would translate, who else in USL could be good at? Well, I also asked myself this question and I think that two offensive players stand out for their production and their age.
The first is Haitian international striker Ronaldo Damus. Perhaps best known to readers of this blog for missing an open net against Canada in the Gold Cup. Despite this embarrassing moment, 21-year-old Damus has torn the US lower leagues apart for the past three seasons. His international status may put off some MLS teams, but based on my findings, you would envision somewhere between 0.41 and 0.64 xG + xA with no penalty per game on his part. If you got it from a player in his early 20s signed from a South American or European league, you’d probably be pretty happy, so I think it would be worth it for someone.
21-year-old Canadian winger / forward Adonijah Reid is perhaps more interesting from a Whitecaps perspective. The Whitecaps once let the selection of Reid go in favor of Francis De Vries (0 first team appearance, now playing in the 3rd level Sweden). Reid was drafted by FC Dallas but never played for them. He had two mediocre seasons in 2017 and 2018 with Ottowa Fury in USL. He then signed for reserves for French team Le Harve and hasn’t really heard from him for a while. This season he has signed with Miami FC and has so far recorded 0.84 xG + xA per 96 minutes. It only led to two real goals and he tends to be recruited as a substitute, but he’s just a shot-making machine. Its output, based on my survey, would most likely translate to between 0.42 and 0.67 xG + xA with no penalty in MLS. That would be pretty incredible for a player whose top playing career in North America seemed to be over around this time last year. Now I would like to urge caution on the basis of two points. First, it significantly underperforms its xG. Usually this is just a sign of bad luck, but if it persists for a long time, it may be a sign of a lack of finishing ability. Second, we have a lot more evidence that Reid is not as good at the USL level. He’s young, so it’s possible that the increase in production was just due to his improvement as a player, but it could also be a failure. I would probably wait until at least the end of the season before making any move to see if he can continue.