Amongst the nationalist part of the TFC fan base, Kyle Bekker is symbolic of how the club fails them.
It's suggested that Bekker didn't get a fair look last season under Ryan Nelsen and that the club's insistence on using players -- non-Canadian players -- of lesser talent was holding back the development of Bekker.
Others countered that it isn't TFC's job to worry about developing Canadian players at the first team level and that if Bekker deserved more playing time he would have proved it in training.
Basically it came down to whether you trusted Ryan Nelsen's ability to judge if Bekker was ready to contribute. Unfortunately, he didn't play enough to give us much of a measure to look at to draw conclusions.
With the club adding Michael Bradley and DeRo into the midfield this year it seems like Bekker will be squeezed out even further. The question then is, should TFC even keep the player? On the surface, a loan to USL-Pro seems like it might make some sense, but that ignores that Bekker is 23. USL-Pro limits the amount of players it has older than 23 and a player isn't generally seen to have MLS potential if they are playing in the third tier that late in their life as an athlete.
It goes without saying that this pre-season will be vital to Bekker.
Although the numbers are small -- and, as such there is a limit to their value -- we looked at Bekker's statistical performance during his three starts to see if we can see any trends. Again, we caution that this sample is small. Anything we see is best viewed as a trend, rather than a conclusion.
To give comparisons we also looked at four other TFC midfielders -- DeRo, Lambe, Osorio and Rey. Two non-TFC midfielders were included to give a league perspective. Those were Sam Cronin and Kyle Beckerman. We looked at the numbers of the last three 2013 starts of each. All stats were pulled from the Opta generated MLSSoccer.com Chalkboard.
Again, we stress, these aren't perfect comparisons. Three of the midfielders play a slightly different role and, again, small sample size. The different roles were included to see whether Bekker had numbers that might allow his role to be tweaked to a wide midfielder, or even a more attacking mid.
The first area we looked at was passing completion. The key to any midfielder is the ability to move the ball effectively to his teammates and the pass completion rate is a simple, but solid way to look at how well a player does that.
1. Beckerman - 82.3%
1. Cronin - 82.3%
3. Osorio - 82.2%
4. Bekker - 81.5%
5. DeRo -80.2%
6. Rey - 77.6%
7. Lambe - 64.7%
So, Bekker falls in the middle of that measure and, most importantly, pushes above that 80% level. It is worth noting that the three bottom numbers are all from players that play more advanced midfield roles. They are trying more assertive passes, which have a higher risk of failure.
A common critique of passing percentage as a measure is that not all passes are created equally. Some suggest that a player could spend half the game making simple passes to his side or backwards and end up with a high completion percentage. Truthfully, there is little evidence to support the existence of such a player, but, in theory, the possibility exists.
To combat that it's important to also look at key passes--key passes basically measure how often a player creates a scoring opportunity for another player.
1. Osorio - 2 key passes per 90 min
2. Rey -1.66
3. Beckerman 1.33
4. DeRo -1
4. Cronin - 1
6. Lambe - .67
7. Bekker - 0
This is likely an issue. One of the things proponents of Bekker like to point out is the player's ability to put sweeping balls into scoring positions. That may be true -- again, small sample size -- but the bottom line is he didn't generate a single key pass last year.
Another way to measure a midfielder's abilities on the ball is to look at how often they turn it over. Turn-overs are an imperfect measure because they punish aggressive play, but you would still rather not have big numbers.
1. Rey - 17.0
1. Osorio - 17.0
3. Lambe - 17.33
4. DeRo - 19.33
5. Bekker - 20
6. Cronin - 20
7. Beckerman - 23
Beckerman's numbers illustrate how greater involvement can lead to more turn-overs, but Bekker once again falls in the middle. More importantly, Jonathon Osorio continues to come out on top of Bekker.
Maybe Bekker just got beat for his job last year by another young(er) Canadian?
The last offensive number we will look at is shots generated. The ability to get a shot off towards goal is vital in football and a great predictor of how likely a player is likely to score.
1. DeRo - 5.0
2. Bekker - 2.66
3. Cronin - 1.33
4. Osorio - 1.0
5. Rey - 1.0
6. Beckerman - .33
7. Lambe - 0
DeRo likes to shoot. In other news the sky is blue (but his ability to shoot should not be dismissed...)
More to the point, finally we see a category where Bekker stands out. Maybe the answer is to push him further up the pitch. If he had more pace, playing on the wing might even be an answer.
Of course a midfielder also has defensive responsibilities. Using a stat I call "defensive involvement" (calculates the total amount of times a player is given a defensive stat -- tackles, clearances, etc -- and divides it by 90) we attempted to quantify how much a player contributes on the defensive side of things.
1. Osorio - 13.0
2. Cronin - 12.33
3. Beckerman - 9.33
4. Bekker - 8.0
5. Rey - 7.33
5. Lambe - 7.33
7. DeRo - 4.66
The boy from Scarborough's defensive involvement aside (and DeRo is often placed in a position on the pitch without any defensive responsibility), we once again see Osorio outperforming Bekker. These numbers would tend to suggest that Bekker didn't play because Osorio pushed him down the depth chart.
(It also suggests the it was criminal that Osorio didn't receive more Rookie of the Year consideration).
When you add Michael Bradley to the mix it's hard to see where Bekker fits. It really is a waste of everyone's time to send him to Wilmington -- HE'S NOT YOUNG -- so what can you do?
Well, there was talk of there being trade interest in him last year. And, it is a bit of a waste having him on the bench...
Maybe the answer is to have a long look at him in pre-season and if you determine that Osorio is still ahead of him to then move him. You won't get much, but you'll get nothing if he rots on the bench for not her year.