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2017 Player Reviews: Mohammed Saeid

Mo was a string-puller par excellance. Did he need better finishers around him, or did we need a more dynamic attacking mid?

John Babiak, @Photog_JohnB

Mohammed Saeid

What Patrick Murphy of Massive Report said in April 2017 when Mo was acquired:

“You're getting a rather versatile midfielder. While in Columbus, he filled both the No. 6 and No. 8 spots in the center of the field solidly. He also can play the No. 10, which is really his preferred position, although he didn't get a lot of opportunity at that role for Crew SC. It looked like he was even playing wide at times this year with Minnesota, which is something we never saw but not surprising.”

2017 Counting Stats:

29 GP, 27 GS, 1 G, 4 A, 2269 min, 2 YC

Key Stat:

48 Key Passes; 1st on the Colorado Rapids, 21st amongst all MLS midfielders, just below Miguel Almirón (51) and just above Ignacio Piatti (46).

Season Highlight:

You always remember your first, and this one was really something special. Saeid’s first MLS career goal was a high-interception under the press, followed by a phenomenal dribble and low-corner finish that came in an August 23rd loss to Portland.

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But I have to add this play below from the match against Columbus, too. Saeid’s deep pass, run, and pass is just sublime.

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I want to add that he did that during Ramadan; he did that in minute 80, on no food or water for the previous 14 hours. Mo’s a boss.

Season Lowlight:

That’s a complicated question, in the sense that Mo played six different positions in at least four different formations, and therefore he was often asked to play different roles from game to game. Also, he didn’t have an obvious candidate for ‘worst play of the year’: no horrendous misses of the goal from 6 yards out, no hilarious biffs on a tackle to yield a goal going the other way. But in short, Mo had a lousy August as he was moved inside and he was asked to do a lot of different things alongside a lot of different midfield partners.

On August 6th against Vancouver, Saeid was asked to be the lone creative midfielder in a 4-1-3-2, with Marlon Hairston on his right, Shkelzen Gashi at his left, and Micheal Azira abaft. Mo had 1 shot (blocked) and 1 Key Pass, but also was dispossessed 4 times, had only 1 dribble, and had only 1 pass into the final third. He often found Hairston or Gashi on the wing with the nice pass, but was never there to help finish the job in the box.

In a match against DC United on August 19th, playing as creative midfielder in a 4-3-3 backed by Micheal Azira and Nana Boateng, Saeid had 1 interception and zero tackles. That makes some sense since he was tasked with serving as the midfield creator. Problem is, Mo also had zero shots, zero dribbles, and only 1 Key Pass. He had only two passes into the final third, and that lone Key Pass was a speculative 40 yard bomb from Nana Boateng.

In the Rapids disasterous away-match to RSL on August 26th, Mo played as one of the three midfielders in a 4-3-3, alongside Nana Boateng and Luis Gil. He registered zero tackles and zero interceptions, and only 18 total passes on the night, his third-lowest total of the year, as he struggled to find the game. The action in the game basically went from Mekeil Williams to Kevin Doyle playing at Left Wing, or Marlon Hairston to Shkelzen Gashi prowling the right. The middle was totally and completely ineffective in both directions. It was the last time the Rapids played the 4-3-3.

Season Review:

When Mohammed Saeid joined the Colorado Rapids from the flaming crap-pile that was the early-2017 Minnesota United team, fans were absolutely perplexed. Here was Colorado giving up their best defensive midfielder and best left back - Sam Cronin and Marc Burch - for a steady but unspectacular midfielder and a wide attacker with speed in buckets, and also three ACL surgeries - Mohammed Saeid and Joshua Gatt. Sure, Padraig Smith said that the main reason for the move was to gain ‘cap space’, but there was still hope that this would end up a smart piece of business that would help a defensively-oriented team rev up its offense. Like I’ve said before in these player reviews, it turned out that that was wrong and dumb. Boateng couldn’t be Cronin, and Mekeil Williams couldn’t be Burch, and the Rapids couldn’t win.

None of that is the fault of Mohammed Saeid. Mo was the Rapids best passer on the year, generating 48 Key Passes on the season, good enough for 21st amongst MLS midfielders. He was brought in to make passes, not to replicate the defensive abilities of Sam Cronin. And make passes he did.

The Rapids with Mo pulling the strings were not good, however. Colorado had a 7-5-15 (WTL) record when Saeid started the match for them.

That doesn’t mean that Saeid was bad, per sé. It just means that Saeid didn’t suddenly make them good.

The reason I love the Key Pass statistic so much is that it is supposed to indicate how a player contributes in the attack to the all-important ‘final ball’, that pass that turns into a shot. Theoretically, more passes leading to more shots lead to more goals. If your shots are ill-advised, low percentage shots, or if your shooters are flaming garbage, that’s not going to work, but it doesn’t speak to the liabilities of the passers, but rather the failings of his finishers. I was stuck with this question: if Mohammed Saeid made so many good passes, how is it the Rapids still scored only 31 goals? So, as I am wont to do late at night after the kids go to bed, I made this chart to try and explain it.

MLS Midfielders 2017: Top Players in A/KP

This is a list of the top 28 MLS midfielders, ranked by their total number of Key Passes. I also listed each players assists, and then divided their assists by their key passes. Top five are in dark fuchsia, next five in light fuchsia; bottom five are in dark blue, next-worst five are in lighter blue.

What these numbers tell me is kind of obvious: good passers get assists if they have good finishers on their team. The top five in A/KP are Miguel Barrios (FCD), who had Maxi Urruti and Roland Lamah pouring in double-digit goals; Gonzalo Higuain (CLB) with Ola Kamara finishing for him; Miguel Almiron and Yamil Asad (ATL) who had the great fortune of having Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba hammer home their passes; and Houston’s Alex, who created goals for the talented triad of Mauro Manotas, Romell Quioto, and Alberth Elis.

On the other end of things, the guys with the worst conversion rates of key passes to assists were Shea Salinas and Jamir Hyka (SJ), Benny Feilhaber (SKC), Cristian Roldan (SEA), and our own Mohammed Saeid.

The thing that makes a passer stand out as ‘elite’ in MLS, at least for statheads, is whether the passer creates loads of assists. That requires the strikers at the end of the pass to turn a ‘key pass’ into an assist, a thing that is almost totally out of the passers hands.

The average A/KP rate for the 28 players on this list is 0.148. Mohammed Saeid’s rate is a much lower 0.083 A/KP . That means his finishers were worse than average. If the strikers on the ends of his passes converted at just the average rate, Mo would have had 7.13 assists.

And if he had elite goal-scorers around him? Take the example of Atlanta United. Miguel Almiron had only 3 key passes more than Mohammed Saeid, but he had 10 more assists than him. It could be that Almiron’s speed and ability to dribble pulled more defenders out of space and gave him deeper penetration into the final third than Saeid, making his final passes that much more deadly. But it could also be that Atlanta’s finishers were measurably better than the Rapids finishers.

So I looked that up too, and, of course, they were. The metric G-xG, goals minus expected goals, tells you how much over the average a shooter is at scoring. Here are the numbers on Atlanta’s attacking players: Villalba: +4.05, Almiron +1.42, Martinez +6.65, and Asad +2.46. Meanwhile the Rapids top finishers were: Badji -0.36, Doyle -1.56, Gordon -1.51, Gashi -0.46, and Gatt +0.53. Big difference.

Miguel Almiron and Mohammed Saeid are similarly gifted passers. One has elite finishers surrounding him, and the other plays for the Colorado Rapids.

All of that seems to have me saying that Mo Saeid is amazing and the team around him is crap and oh woe the injustice of it all. That’s not true. Because while Saeid is a great passer, his footspeed isn’t anything extraordinary, he didn’t beat guys on the dribble often enough to be a top-flight threat, he doesn’t shoot much or with enough venom, and he’s not a strong defender. His passing probably isn’t good enough to out weigh all those other factors enough to be the guy that carries a team, and for a guy in his position at central midfield, he needs to have more tools in his belt than he does. Surround him with a bunch of really high-quality players: a top striker, a two-way midfielder, and a dribbly winger with speed, and he’d likely be an excellent sidekick. Make him the main course when he’s really better off as a quality side dish, though, and everybody goes home hungry.

It would have been great to see what the Rapids in 2018 could have done with Saeid playing on the wing, or as a late-game attacking sub to replace a d-mid or even an attacker. Unfortunately, he won’t be back, as he has decided to move on from the club. This, from Rapids Director of Communications Ryan Madden:

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Saeid couldn’t ultimately carry this team himself, but the 5’7” midfielder was the little whirring engine of this underpowered offense. When I think back on what was ultimately a lousy year for the Colorado Rapids, I will think of Mohammed Saeid as one of the bright spots.

Abbie’s 2017 Grade: B+

Rabbi’s 2017 Grade: B+