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Alexi’s Loan is Not Go-mez-ing Well

Alexi Gomez has been the target of scorn from Loons fans since his arrival on loan. The eye test isn’t the only thing throwing up red flags.

Alexi Gomez
Alexi Gomez tries to keep a ball in bounds during Minnesota United’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City
Tim C McLaughlin

A listen into Minnesota United FC’s Sound of the Loons podcast this week revealed something surprising: official team channels have picked up on the criticism on social media of Alexi Gomez, with a fair bit of openness to agree. The Peruvian loanee came to the team with a reasonable amount of fanfare, expected to provide a dynamic force on the wing and centrally. Hearkening back to his transfer, head coach Adrian Heath said in the official release that, “[H]e’s an incredible server of the ball on set pieces and he’s composed on the ball. He’s versatile, he’s a player who can play four different positions on the field. It’s a no-brainer for us. I know he’s excited to be here and we are all looking forward to getting to work with him.”

Well, since then he’s provided the speed and work rate, but it hasn’t been all that productive. His only potential assist of the year came on May 5 against Vancouver, when his sublime cross to Miguel Ibarra resulted in a save, with a rebound then going in. As a result, he’s notched zero goals and zero assists as both a winger and wing back in 14 appearances over 1094 minutes. The versatility has been appreciated as the Loons switched to a 3-5-2, but his sharpness defensively has been a point of contention for fans. When he left with an apparent groin injury against LAFC on Sunday, his substitute, Eric Miller, acquitted himself well, picking up an assist and a key pass while playing strong defense.

There were rumors a month ago that Gomez’s loan would end early to allow for a permanent move to Brazilian side Flamengo. While those have since died down, it’s still an open question as to whether or not Minnesota would be better served opening up a roster and international slot with him leaving the team. Angelo Rodriguez will need an international slot when his documents are fully cleared, and the price for those slots keeps going up on the trade market—just yesterday, Montreal acquired one until the end of 2018 from San Jose for $100,000 in GAM. With that in mind, it’s fair to ask whether the stats would suggest pushing Alexi Gomez out the door.

Alexi Gomez makes his MNUFC debut during Minnesota United’s 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo
Tim C McLaughlin

Offensively speaking, the short answer is yes. 98 players in the American Soccer Analysis database of 2018 MLS players have greater than 400 minutes without scoring or getting an assist. Of them, Gomez has the third most shots (18, behind Columbus’s Artur and New England’s Claude Dielna), the fifth worst variance of goals to expected goals, and the 14th worst variance of combined goals and assists to his expected number per 96 minutes. Among all 138 outside players (attacking midfielders, wing backs, and fullbacks) with qualifying minutes, Gomez comes in nineteenth-worst in GA-xGA/96. Among the 15 Minnesota players that qualify in all positions, Gomez has the worst variance of goals and assists to expected per 96, has the third fewest key passes per 96 minutes (leading only noted offensive paragons Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman), is tied for fourth worst in expected assists per 96 with Francisco Calvo and Carter Manley (ahead of Boxall, Kallman, and Collen Warner), and is taking the third most shots per 96—again, despite not scoring once.

Defensively, Gomez also has some black marks compared to his teammates. Per WhoScored (among MNUFC outfield players with 400 minutes) Gomez has the second most missed tackles on the team per 96 minutes behind Rasmus Schuller, the third-worst tackle completion percentage (58.1%, marginally behind Miguel Ibarra and ahead of Christian Ramirez and Darwin Quintero), the fourth lowest amount of intercepted balls per 96 (third if you omit Sam Nicholson), and is seventh worst in overall blocks per 96, which includes exactly zero shots blocked.

Of the players whose duties skew more defensive than offensive, he’s one of four getting fewer than team average blocks, one of four under the average amount of clearances, one of three whose tackling percentage is below average, and the only one getting fewer interceptions than average. Among nine metrics gauged at a per 96 minute basis counting total blocks; blocked shots, crosses, and passes; interceptions; tackling success; and made and missed tackles, Gomez only beats the team average in cross blocking and completed tackles—and yes, that team average is among all players of all positions and minute levels. Teams appear to have recognized this: in the last seven games where Gomez has played as a left back in a 4-2-3-1 or a left wing back in the 3-5-2, opposing offenses have targeted his side of the field with the highest share of their attacks six times, according to WhoScored’s attack zone reports.

June 29, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United defender Alexi Gomez (32) looks to make a pass during the Minnesota United vs FC Dallas match at TCF Bank Stadium. 

(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
June 29, 2018 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United defender Alexi Gomez (32) looks to make a pass during the Minnesota United vs FC Dallas match at TCF Bank Stadium. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The dynamism of his passing also leaves a lot of accuracy to be desired. Of the players at or above 400 minutes for the Loons this year according to American Soccer Analysis, Gomez’s 70.8% overall passing completion is seventh-worst on the team; of the players worse than him, only one (Ethan Finlay) averaged a passing vertical below zero, meaning their average pass was a back pass. His passing percentage in the attacking third is a paltry 53.1%, second-worst among non-goalkeepers behind Brent Kallman (two attempts, nothing completed). His midfield passing is roughly average (81.3% is just below the team’s average of 81.9%), but his defensive third percentage of 63.1% is third worst on the team. Looking at his expected passing rates—depending on where on the field the pass takes place, distance, and angle, assessing the historical probability in the league of that pass being completed—Gomez appears to be below team averages overall, as well as in the defensive and attacking thirds, meaning he’s taking lower-percentage passes to begin with and still missing a greater amount than his teammates.

In other words, nothing is looking that positive for Alexi Gomez. He’s not generating much offensively and certainly isn’t completing chances. He’s missing a number of tackles without completing enough to compensate, and is below the team’s average in nearly every counting statistic. His passing is also universally below the level of his teammates. As a result, teams are finding ways to target his side of the field offensively. There are plenty of reasons for concern about his performances, and the context of his contract and international status make his place on the roster tenuous.

Should Minnesota decide to make a change from Alexi Gomez, however, the current replacements at wing back aren’t necessarily slam dunks either. Eric Miller is defensively the most logical choice, clearing the average level for most defensive metrics and is ahead of Gomez in successful tackling percentage and shot blocking, but despite his work on Sunday against LAFC has historically been a below average passer; sure enough, this year he’s actually completed a lower percentage of his passes than Gomez, with completion percentages below team average in all three segments of the field. Carter Manley actually has better defensive statistics than either Gomez or Miller, but also rates as a poor passer and has generated an identical amount of expected assists as Gomez. As for Tyrone Mears, his defensive stats are a mixed bag: below average in tackling and blocking, above in intercepting and clearing, average in defensive third passing. There’s also Francisco Calvo, but given the success he’s had getting forward as a left center back, I’m hesitant to mess with his positioning.

Alexi Gomez fights for the ball during Minnesota United’s 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps at TCF Bank Stadium.
Tim C McLaughlin

It’s in this vein that, should the Loons continue in the 3-5-2, I’d suggest they look outside of the roster for two-way help. Thirty MLS players clear the 400 minute threshold as outside backs this year with a positive GA-xGA/96. Of them, the most logical trade candidates would seem to be New York City FC’s Ronald Matarrita (two goals, one assist, five key passes in 500 minutes), whose World Cup appearance for Panama allowed for Ben Sweat to lay a strong claim for playing time, or either member of Sporting KC’s left back platoon of Jimmy Medranda and Seth Sinovic. Medranda is the clear choice offensively, having notched the best number of key passes per 96 in that cohort at 1.6 (which would only trail Darwin Quintero among MNUFC players above 400 minutes), while his performance shutting down Miguel Ibarra in the 1-1 draw at TCF Bank Stadium shows the defensive quality that Sinovic provides. Given that SKC is notably looking for help at striker with the injury to Khiry Shelton, the Loons could be a good match.