Over the years, the Dynamo have taken several shots at a Designated Player. There was, of course, Luis Angel Landin whose own shots were few and far, far in between. Alex Lopez was signed over one of the club's largest transfer fees and spent the last season and a half languishing on the bench. Behind-the-scenes moves for Mexican Internationals Pablo Barrera, Efrain Suarez and Bolton's Kevin Davies never materialized beyond contract negotiations. Through it all, the very vocal fans let out their frustrations on president Chris Canetti and the Front Office, begging for a real DP signing - why not Ronaldinho or Chicharito or Messi?
Somewhere around the 22nd of July, just days after Manuel Neuer hoisted the Jules Rimet over the German National Team and the US were long sent back to their homes, a curious rumor emerged that the only person to have played four World Cups for the USMNT might want to come home. DaMarcus Beasley was getting out of Mexico and needed someone in MLS to foot the bill. This was the Dynamo's moment.
But there already existed a capable, young, and proven left back in Corey Ashe. Bringing in Beasley meant pushing Ashe to the bench, paying a hefty salary, and putting a lot of playoff hopes and dreams on the shoulders of a 32-year old.
We know the Dynamo didn't make the playoffs and, truthfully, they probably weren't good enough to get past Round One. There are plenty of reasons for this outcome -- many predate the summer signings -- but our focus is the difference that DaMarcus Beasley made to the Dynamo, if any. Today, we compare Beasley (who played in 9 90-minute matches) to Ashe (who featured in 21). In this comparison, we examine various statistics of both players averaged over 90 minutes.
On the face of it, Beasley carries slight edges over Ashe in several categories but diving in shows two players that are more evenly matched than one might think. Comparisons between both players can be looked at more closely by parsing the statistics into three arenas: the defense game (duels, blocks, interceptions), the pass game (average number of passes, success rate, types of passes), and the attack game (dribbles, dispossessions).
THE DEFENSE GAME
Based on our chart, we know Beasley has a higher rate of success in duels (defined by tackles, take-ons, and aerial battles). If we look closely at their components, we notice that several statistics are nearly a wash, with Beasley holding just narrow advantages. Tackles, for example, show both players averaging 1.8 successful tackles per game. Interceptions and clearances show slim margins (Beasley averages 2.2 interceptions and 2.7 clearances; Ashe pulls 1.7 and 2.3, respectively). So how is there such a significant difference in their success rate? It's in the air. Beasley, who is three inches taller than Ashe, tends to have an easier go of challenging for aerial duels. Per 90 minutes, Beasley averages 2.6 aerial challenges, winning about half of those. Conversely, Ashe attempts less than one per game (but also only wins half of those). Given Corey's stature, it's understandable. Often in the run of play, Ashe opts to get into defensive position rather than challenge for headers sent to the opposing forwards.
The other defensive metric where Beasley seems to pull away is in blocking. Both players block about the same number of shots per game, but Beasley is blocking more crosses (1.3 to Ashe's .4) and passes (1.2 to .7). Perhaps it's Beasley's height advantage that allows him to challenge aerially and stick his longer legs out to block a shot (or maybe veteran experience) that helps make up for the difference in how successful each player is when it comes to duels.
THE PASS GAME
This area is likely the biggest discrepancy between the two players. Not only is Beasley's success rate higher, but he attempts 15 more passes than Ashe per 90 minutes. He is simply a more accurate passer than Ashe and plays far more short passes than long (which might help generate plays better with our midfield corps). Both players hit around the same number of inaccurate passes but Beasley is playing more accurate long balls (2.2 to 1.4) and far more accurate short passes (41.4 to 27.9). Considering the nature of Oscar Boniek, Brad Davis, and Ricardo Clark, the short pass variety seems better tuned to allowing for these playmakers to get the ball where it needs to be rather than opting for the long ball down the sideline (as Ashe is wont to do).
THE ATTACK GAME
Defenders are not commonly known for taking many shots and neither player is an exception. That said, Dom Kinnear enjoyed having a versatile wing back that could bring the ball deep into the opposing third before handing it off to a bona fide scorer. In that sense, both Ashe and Beasley would dribble to get the ball in deep but only Ashe seems to be successful at it. Blowing out Beasley by over 65% in successful dribbles, Ashe is clearly the better option moving into the attack. With Beasley attempting more dribbles per 90 minutes (1.9 to 1.3) and being so unsuccessful at it, the strategy of bringing a left back deep into midfield is a risky one with DaMarcus. The common dispossession leaves a defense exposed and a center back scrambling to cover the space.
THE FIRST HALF PROBLEM
Clearly, each player brings different elements to the gameplan. Beasley has a height advantage and maybe a better positional awareness to stop a play from developing (in the form of crosses and passes). If you're trying to push the ball forward from the back (an increasing trend in modern football), then Ashe might be a better option with the ball at his feet.
Defenders also, however, have a responsibility to limit the opponent's possession. In Ashe's 21 matches, opponents enjoyed 53.5% possession on the ball compared to Beasley's slightly lower 50.7%. While this may not seem as dramatic, there is one metric that separates the two players in a very stark way: goals allowed in the first half.
The Dynamo allowed first half goals in 17 matches this season (or, 71% of matches in which an opponent scored). In 14 of those, Corey Ashe was on the field as it happened. For DaMarcus Beasley, the only instance was a September 6th match versus Montreal Impact in which Corey Ashe also shared a start. Further, Beasley secured shutouts in 56% of his starts compared to Ashe's 24%.
The issue of conceding first half goals is, I think, the crux of the Dynamo problem this season. Giving up early goals meant that, for the majority of a match, the Dynamo were chasing the game rather than executing the gameplan that was prepared. Perhaps due to poor coaching, the players were seldom able to regain control of the way the game played out and salvage a result.
Finally, with the help of these statistics, serious questions must be asked ahead of the December 10th Expansion Draft in which Corey Ashe seems averse to being left unprotected. Is Beasley that significant of an improvement over Ashe? At just 28, will Ashe gain experience over the coming years to equal Beasley's effectiveness (that, for now, is just slightly more than Corey's)? With a salary that allegedly towers over Ashe's by nearly $430,000, was it worth it even if fans don't seem to be as urgent to sign a DP anymore?
The Dynamo's new head coach (who should be here any day now) will need to address these issues. Beasley will remain and figuring out what to do with a valuable defender like Corey Ashe will be a storyline that will begin playing out over the next week. Heading into 2015, after a miserable defensive year, will the Dynamo finally be able to execute a gameplan as they intended or will we just be chasing our opponents up the table as usual?