In the second part of this series, I will study full backs of the Canadian Premier League. At the end of this article I hope to conclude on the highest performing full backs of the CPL 2019 season.

The analysis will be split between overall influence on the team, defensive qualities and what the full back provides in terms of attacking play. The role of a full back has changed in recent years, with Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, Marcelo, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leading the way with many attacking inputs alongside their traditional defensive responsibilities.

CPL Full Back Insights

Before starting my review, I wanted to bring attention to the fact I have never watched any of the Canadian Premier League soccer. I understand the structure of the league and know the names of the seven teams, but I do not know any results, league standings or values/wages of players. This enables my review to be purely statistical without any bias from preconception views of the players, or support/preference for a particular team.

As before, for our analysis we will only investigate players that have played over 1000 minutes in the CPL 2019 season, this provides us with a group of 15 full backs.

Initial Insights

Under the assumption that the more touches a player has per game, the more influential they are on the team, the first stat would suggest that Doner, Abzi, Awuah are heavily influential on a match whereas De Caroli and Verhoven influence is somewhat dampened.

The percentage of touches in the defending third begins to tell us the story of what type of full back the player is. With just one in every three of Franco’s touches being inside the defending third of the pitch, he seems to be the most attacking full back. It seems this is the way Forge set up tactically, since their other full back, Awuah is the second most attacking full back. HFX Wanderers seem to play with defensive minded full backs, with both Langwa and Bona having the majority of their touches in the defending third.

Defensive Insights

*A duel is an 50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides in the match.

First and foremost, a full back is a defender and must be able to defend. Sliding in and winning 50/50 balls, tackling and disposing the opposition winger and cutting out through balls are all synonymous with famous full backs over the years (Roberto Carlos, Paolo Maldini, Lilian Thuram etc.). Viewing the two metrics, duels win percentage and tackling success rate, as a pair, as representation for 1-1 defending ability, Esua, Bona, Smith and Langwa perform favourably. De Carolis appears to underperform.

Intercepting and ball recoveries can quickly turn a defending situation into an attacking phase of play. It can turn a potential goal conceded into a potential goal scored. It is the key fundamental to the World Club Champions, Liverpool’s style of play. Equivalently, being disposed is essentially the opposite, resulting in an attacking situation being turned into a defending situation. Hence a player will be aiming to have a high metric for interceptions and ball recoveries but being disposed only a few times. Smith seems to appear the most favourable from these metrics, with Abzi, Frano, Bona also reflecting well. It is interesting to note Awuah seems to complete the most inception and ball recoveries, while also being the full back who loses ball possession the most. Langwa, despite performing well in the duel and tackling metrics seems to underperform in this metric.

Bona and Smith were the two players who performed the best across the first four metrics. They are also the two full backs with the most clearances – suggesting they are the best two full backs in the league based on the defensive side of the game.

The chances created metric seems a fairer metric for full backs, as assists are so reliant on the final player’s shooting accuracy. If a full back sets up a really good opportunity to score but the striker has a poor shot, the full back should still get credit.

Attacking Insights

There was limited useful data available for the attacking aspects of full backs. For a lot of the metrics, such as average distance of pass made (which would be able to shed some light on whether the full back typically does short safe passes or Ashley Cole/Trent Alexander-Arnold-style cross pitch passes to quickly switch the phase of play), there was very little difference between each player’s value. However I have found insight in the following metrics:

Only six goals for the season came from full backs, with Verhoven being responsible for two. Hence, I combined the goal and assists figures together. Verhoven performed best in this metric, with Abzi, Awuah and Smith also performing favourably. As discussed in the first set of metrics, HFX Wanderers full back appear to be defensive minded, which would likely explain why neither of their three regularly appearing full backs recorded a goal or an assist.

The chances created metric seems a fairer metric for full backs, as assists are so reliant on the final player’s shooting accuracy. If a full back sets up a really good opportunity to score but the striker has a poor shot, the full back should still get credit. Again for this metric Verhoven performed the best, with Awuah, Abzi and Smith also performing favourably.

I wanted to look into the pass performance of the full backs in the opponents half. Obviously a higher pass success rate is best but I also included the number of passes to help give representation to the success rate. Despite having the best end product in terms of assists and goals, surprisingly Verhoven seems to only play a few successful passes in the opposition’s half per game. Awuah and Frano seem to play the most passes and have the most involvement in the opposition’s half and both have high pass success rates.

It appears Awuah and Verhoven are the two best attacking full backs in the league. Despite not being at the top of any metrics, Smith performs quite well in the attacking metrics. This, alongside his supportive defensive works makes me consider him as the league’s best full back. How do your club’s full backs perform?

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