This is my main report on Mauro Manotas, covering six areas of his performance: shooting/finishing, passing, tactical awareness, technical ability, physical traits, and durability. If you haven’t, I strongly encourage you to read the intro article here for more information on what exactly this is.
Without further ado, 3500 words on Mauro Manotas:
Shooting, Finishing: 15/20
This is one of Manotas’s best attributes. He is the best finisher the Dynamo have, he can shoot with either foot, and his movement in the box lends itself to scoring goals.
Starting with his finishing, he was one of two Dynamo players (Ricardo Clark and Alex were the others) to over-perform his expected-goals, finishing with 5.29 xG and 6 total goals. This means, basically, that he scored more goals than he was expected to based on the situation surrounding each shot he took, like the distance from goal, spot on the field, amount of defenders around, and weak or strong foot.
Multiple times, he scored goals on first-time shots and with his weaker left foot, which shows advanced skill for a 21-year old. He doesn’t mess around with chances like these:
While he is efficient with the shots he should score, there some instances where he will get a bit too ambitious with his shooting.
Like a lot of younger goal-scorers, Manotas’s first instinct when he gets the ball in the final third is to shoot no matter where he is. There are times when he is able to make a better decision, but too often, he will make the mistake of firing off unnecessary shots, inflating his shot totals.
Take a look at a shot map of his from an August game against Toronto FC:
As you can see, he took three errant shots from outside the box in that game. That was the first MLS game he started — so you could think he improved in the three months since — but he did this on October 16th against the Galaxy. It remains a weakness, and one that took his score down a notch or two.
The other aspect of this category is the player’s ability to find goal-scoring positions and to constantly be a scoring threat. There are different ways of doing this: the Giovinco way, which constitutes shooting and dribbling a lot; the Wondo-Dempsey way, which employs the motto “find your own luck”; and the classic Alan Gordon way, which means being a threat in the air.
Manotas isn’t good enough on the ball to be like Giovinco and he is not great in the air (which we’ll get to later), so he falls more into the Wondo-Dempsey category.
He’s definitely different from the national team stalwarts when looking at their spacing in the attack, but in terms of the types of goals that they score, Manotas is generally similar. We’ll get into the intricacies of his final third movement a little bit later.
It should be noted that while he scored ten goals in all competitions (MLS, Open Cup, Charities Cup friendly) seven of them were in three games and two of them came directly from spot-kicks. His goal numbers are certainly impressive, but we should be careful about proclaiming him an all-time great goal-scorer.
Much of any striker’s passing grade will be based on their ability to hold-up play and open up space for teammates, and that is certainly true for Manotas. His effectiveness when participating in build-up play and dragging defenders out of position hinges on how often he can play with his back-to-goal.
To measure this, it is important to look at a few statistical factors: his passing efficiency (the percentage of his passes that are completed), the spots on the field where those passes take place, the direction of those passes, and, perhaps most importantly, the number of passes he generally completes.
First, here is his passing map from the October 16th game against the Galaxy:
Looking at many of his passing maps from the last few months, I can assure you that a lot of them look fairly similar to this one (with a few exceptions). So we’ll use this as a baseline for where he completes his passes and how effective he is with them.
Manotas likes to roam, clearly, and he is willing to drop deeper and help in possession. This isn’t in a pull-players-out-and-use-brute-strength Jozy Altidore sort of way; rather, it shows his false 9-type tendencies. Not that he is a false 9, but the way he likes to connect possession all over the field like a midfielder is in the mold of that type of player.
He completed 80% of his passes in the regular season, which ranked 126th in the league according to WhoScored, right between the Chicago Fire’s Mikey Stephens and Jonathan Campbell, out of 300 eligible players (Joe Willis was that 300th player, by the way). That is very good for a lone forward, considering the places that other strikers finished.
The worst passing field player according this stat was Didier Drogba, with 60.4% passes completed. Drogba was 283rd, while Fanendo Adi (65.1%) was 281st. Of the ten players between 271st and 280th, six (Blas Perez, Quincy Amarikwa, CJ Sapong, Yura Movsisyan, Dom Dwyer, and Olmes Garcia) were strikers. All but one (Amarikwa) plays in a one-forward system.
These statistics show Manotas’s impressive ability to make sure that the Dynamo keep possession with safe, smart passing. But they also show his unwillingness to take risks in attack. That’s why a lot of attackers were near the bottom of the list: they try to push the ball forward with longer, more penetrating passes that stretch the defense and create opportunities on goal.
This is not only a No. 10’s trait; this is an attacker’s trait, and Manotas does not yet have it. His weakness in this area goes hand-in-hand with his shoot-first mentality described above.
Going back to the passing chart above, many of the passes he attempted were after an extended period of inactivity. He does well to complete passes game-to-game, but too often, he will go a long period of time having done little in that area. Part of this is the fault of Dynamo midfielders failing to get the ball to him, but some blame falls on Manotas for his unwillingness to find the ball.
Still, he is more involved than many elite forwards in this league. Look at his average completed passes compared to four prominent strikers, via Squawka:
Of the various MLS forwards I compared him to, only NYCFC’s David Villa had a higher number of average passes per game. Among the others I looked at: Adi, Maxi Urruti, Will Bruin, Patrick Mullins, Luis Solignac, Cyle Larin, Sapong, and Dwyer.
Admittedly, this doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about Manotas’s passing abilities; quality over quantity. But it does show that he is willing to get involved despite the weak players surrounding him, and that’s an important quality.
He loses points based on his struggles to make the right types of attacking passes, and on his occasional tendency to drift out of games.
Tactical awareness/soccer IQ: 11/20
This is a place where a lot of young players like Manotas struggle. It’s something that takes time and experience to master, not to mention impressive intelligence to start out as well as elite coaches like former RGVFC manager and current Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera.
Manotas, 21, is a fairly smart player for his age, but as is normal, he has plenty of room for improvement.
Let’s start with the good: Manotas’s clever movement off-the-ball in the box allows him to snuff out good opportunities around the penalty-spot. When a teammate gets to the touchline near the box, the Colombian is able to step away from defenders and find the correct spots to receive the ball.
Many of his goals came from this type of movement. He would act as the first runner as a teammate dribbled down the flank before halting his run and receiving the ball in the space that opens in front of the defenders. The first-time finishing skills he possesses then come in handy as he finishes on his right or left foot. Watch this example:
This kind of movement is his biggest positive in the tactical awareness category, but it is far from the only important element in his game. There are other points to look at: how often he plays with his back-to-goal, the effectiveness of his runs in the channels, and how often he gets into the passing lanes in front of and behind the opposing backline.
Unfortunately, this is where he trips up, and where his grade goes down a couple notches.
Tactical awareness and IQ is almost never the strong spot of a younger player — except in very unique cases — due to the complexity of it and the time it takes to learn the intricacies. I won’t delve all the way into Manotas’s tactical attributes (partly I would have to watch a lot more film and this would take even more time), but I will hit the important parts.
We’ll start with his hold-up play, which is important for any lone striker. While it is more of a prominent feature in larger, more physical center forwards like Adi, Jozy Altidore, and Alan Gordon, it does (and should) play a role in Manotas’s game. As you can see in the passing maps I included above, he makes a point of playing with his back-to-goal at certain times, a clear positive.
Where he slips in this category is how his hold-up play directly affects the Dynamo’s attack, and how well it gets his teammates into space. It’s not as if Manotas has players around him who are willing to run in behind, but if he played a bigger role in dragging defenders out, he might have more.
What exactly is wrong with his hold-up play? That goes into his physical attributes farther than we have so far. Basically, Manotas does not hold the ball long enough with his back-to-goal, and as a result, isn’t physical enough with the defender on his back. He’s obviously not as big and strong as Altidore and Adi, but he should have the patience and the technical ability to hold it longer and allow teammates to get behind him.
The other important tactical factor for strikers is runs through the channels. Manotas is relatively speedy, and he is willing to use that pace with runs in the gaps. It’s hard to accurately judge the effectiveness of those runs due to the Dynamo midfield’s inability to hit penetrating through-balls, although we can see that Manotas could use some improvement in this area.
He needs, more than anything, to be more active in the channels. With the time he spends in the half-spaces between the opposing midfield and backline, he should be making more consistent and creative runs. It’s hard to say he would have been found a whole lot — it’s not like Nicolas Lodeiro is sitting there behind him — but those runs open up defensive shapes and take the focus away from other attackers like Andrew Wenger who would normally be overwhelmed and outnumbered.
Although statistics aren’t as helpful in this area, there is one stat that helps to highlight my point: the amount of times Manotas was caught offside. Via WhoScored, the flag was raised on him just 0.4 times per game this season. Other strikers like Villa, Adi, Ola and Kei Kamara, and Sebastian Giovinco were above once per game.
Those players who get caught offside a lot are challenging defenders with runs through often. My point is that if Manotas was more consistent with his channel-running, he’d have been caught offside closer to the level of the MLS elite.
These two weaknesses combine to offset his clever movement inside the box, and his rating isn’t as high in this category. But there’s always room for improvement.
Technical ability: 13/20
For a striker, technical ability is often at the forefront of how they are perceived. First touch, the ability to go at defenders 1v1, and effectiveness on the weak foot are crucial elements of any attackers’ game.
It’s no different for Manotas, and while explaining his technical attributes, the three elements mentioned above will be the primary points we look to determine his final rating.
With this in mind, we begin with Manotas’s tendencies when going 1v1 with defenders.
In the shooting category, I talked about his unwillingness to play creator in the final third, often choosing to shoot rather than try a more high percentage. A similar characteristic is at play when thinking about his abilities to take on defenders, and how he rarely gets his head up and attempts to get around players standing in his way.
I’m not expecting him to be Mike Grella or Chris Pontius with his feet skills. But he should, to an extent, be willing to challenge defenders and attempt to either slip behind or draw a foul. Right now, he’d much rather turn and either play a simple pass or take a shot.
He may not have the pure skills on the ball like a Grella or a Pontius or a Burrito Martinez, but he does have certain skills that make him threatening, even if he’ll never earn five stars on FIFA. Manotas’s height and relative strength alone make him able to bully defenders and push forward, although these instances don’t get him on the highlight reel. He is also very shifty and quick with his body movement, often allowing him to turn defenders around and get them diving at his feet.
Since MLS Live isn’t currently available, I can’t get one of my handy little Streamable videos ready to illustrate my point. But take my word for it, there are multiple instances of him using his physical abilities to get around defenders. (48:30 from the Sep. 17 RSL game and 77:20 from the Aug. 14 TFC match are the examples that I found.)
Another place we look when we think about technical ability is first touch. First touch is sometimes tricky to evaluate, because 1) players make mistakes and not all of those mistakes are evidence of that player having bad touch in a certain situation and 2) there are many different circumstances in which players showcase their touch, and not all of them are created equal. To be grossly generalistic, though, Manotas has an average first touch. Groundbreaking, I know.
There are so many caveats to analyzing his touch that I’m not going to go into all of them; this series is long enough. But here are some short bullet points to quickly go over his ability to control the ball effectively when the ball comes to him:
- Sometimes, he takes too long of a touch when receiving the ball in an outside channel with room to run. This minor weakness compares well to one that many NFL receivers are plagued by: wideouts or (often) running backs drop incoming passes when they look upfield too early, anticipating a friendly horizon and taking their focus off the ball. Manotas, like other young attackers, forgets to take a controllable first touch when he realizes the amount of running room he possesses.
- He’s best when he receives the ball inside the box with an opportunity to look for a shot. Good with either foot, he can calm down the excitement he inevitably gets when he realizes the opportunity he has and take a small touch that allows him to fire quickly. See here and here.
- His dribbling is loose, but in the rare opportunities he received to run on the counter, effective. Manotas’s first touch is, as I said above, average. It’s good enough. And that’s actually pretty good.
The bad part in this overall category is that he is claustrophobic with the ball at his feet. In other words, he struggles in tight spaces. His loose dribbling allows defenders to converge on him and out-muscle him to steal the ball back; one example: 28:40 from the Sep. 24 Timbers game. Maybe when MLS Live comes back I’ll update this post.
His score goes down here. But it goes up when we talk about his weak foot, which is clearly above-average. He is willing to pass and shoot on either foot, and he can do so fairly effectively on both sides. Out of the 38 shots he attempted, six were with his left foot, which comes out to 15%. That’s pretty good, actually; by comparison, Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips finished with the same percentage.
All of this evens out to 13/20. Not his strong suit, but it’s respectable.
I can assure you that the final two categories of my Mauro Manotas scouting report are much shorter than the first three, given their diminishing importance and less quantitative information.
We start with physicality, which takes into account three main factors: aerial ability (or, more generally, level of threat on crosses and set pieces); strength and balance; and pace.
Manotas, before we get into heading, stands 6’0”, which is relatively tall for non-goalkeepers and center backs. Take this into account as I talk more about his physical attributes.
Aerial duels are not his strong suit by any means despite his height. Per Squawka, he won just 18% of heading battles last season, which does not compare well with others in a similar position. I compared him to 12 other starting MLS strikers who played as a lone forward in 2016 using Squawka’s handy comparison tool, and every other player finished with 27% or more. CJ Sapong, Fanendo Adi, and Luis Solignac were among those who had 40% or higher.
The reason for his abysmal success going in to heading duels comes down to his lack of aggressiveness and willingness to head the ball. He was rarely involved in these duels; WhoScored counted just 1.2 aerial duels entered per game, which ranks 30th out of 46 forwards who made 15 or more appearances in 2016.
A player’s ranking in this category will not determine their physical merits alone (Sebastian Giovinco is dead-last, with only 0.1 entered per game), but for a player as tall as Manotas, a low ranking is not something coaches will like to see. His weakness in this area will only grow more noticeable as top Dynamo set piece target David Horst departs.
For a long, lanky player like Manotas, balance on the ball can at times be a bit of problem. These types of players may not have their strength situated in the areas that allow them to stay upright when engaged in battles with defenders. This is not an issue for Manotas, whose shifty nature on the ball allows him to stave off pressure more easily.
Pure strength is something that the Colombian possesses, but not exactly in abundance. He has the ability to play with his back-to-goal and drive defenders backwards, but his skinnier figure can sometimes allow him to be muscled around by stronger center backs. He does not have the quickness and agility to overcome this obstacle.
Pace is a more favorable aspect, as he has the ability to burn slower defenders with his long legs and slender body shape. He won’t be competing with Dominic Oduro or David Accam in the 40-yard dash, but backlines certainly are forced to respect his speed.
His final score in this category, 7/10, is knocked down a notch or two by his lack of an aerial presence and by his need to improve his pure strength.
Durability, Work Rate: 10/10
This category is a lot less complicated, multi-faceted, and time-consuming than the other four. This is simply measuring Manotas’s ability to stay on the field and whether he puts in sufficient effort during games.
He does not have a history of injuries that I know of, as he did not missing any games in 2016 due to any ailments. If he has suffered injuries in the past, feel free to let me know, but I don’t see an obvious issue here.
I see no prevalent issues with his work rate, either. He is not a tenacious presser, but that can be forgiven because if he were, he would not have had any help. Simple 10/10.
I have not done something similar with any other players, so I cannot say whether this is a good grade or not. It’s just my opinion.
Manotas is only 21, remember. He has plenty of time to improve, and hopefully he gets the time in the first team that he needs and deserves to become a top-quality forward in this league. I see him as the Dynamo’s de facto starting striker for this coming season, and under Wilmer Cabrera’s leadership, I see no reason why he can’t drastically improve in the coming months and years.
Debate amongst yourselves in the comments section below, where I will either bask in glory or defend my opinions (likely the latter). I’m sure you all have different takes, and I am excited to read them.