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2017 Player Reviews: Mike da Fonte

The replacement player that gave a predictably replacement-level performance.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Mike da Fonte

What Abbie said when Mike was signed on March 14th

We already have four center backs, why add another? But perhaps after Axel Sjoberg’s injury last weekend, they decided to bring in an extra reinforcement.

2017 Counting Stats:

17 GP, 14 GS, 0 G, 0 A, 1223 min, 5 YC

Key Stat:

Lead Rapids defenders in two statistical areas; Getting dribbled (0.8 per game), and Fouls (1.8 per game)

Season Highlight:

On August 13th, da Fonte had 3 tackles, 2 interception, 1 block, and 5 clearances as a Left Back, as the Rapids went to Dallas and bunkered for a 0-0 draw.

Also, he had this moment in the season finale, which he can tell his grandkids about someday. “Did grandpa ever tell you about the time he nearly got into fisticuffs with a fella with 141 caps for the US National team?”

Season Lowlight:

There are many to choose from.

Against the LA Galaxy on June 21st, da Fonte was an absolute traffic cone as Joao Pedro went around and through him to assist a goal to Jack McBean. On the night, da Fonte had 2 fouls, a yellow card, and was an awful 15 for 26 in passing, while contributing zero tackles, zero interceptions, zero blocked shots, and just 2 clearances.

Against Toronto on July 22nd, he was caught sleeping a bit at the back post for Toronto’s first goal; at the end of the half he was out of position as the Rapids nearly conceded again; and he was dribbled 3 different times, most of any Rapids defender in any game, including once by Jay Chapman in which he saved himself only by hacking Chapman down.

Against the Portland Timbers on August 23rd, da Fonte was caught in space between Vytautas Andriuškevičius and Darlington Nagbe, made no play on the ball, and gave up the go-ahead goal. Later, he pulled down Diego Valeri in the box to draw a penalty, but David Guzman mercifully missed the PK.

Season Review:

When the Rapids added Mike da Fonte to the roster on March 14th, it wasn’t because he was projected to be the future of the ballclub, or because he was expected to evolve into the next big thing. He was signed up because Axel Sjoberg had just pulled his hamstring, and because, unbeknownst to the fans, the team was about to trade veteran left back Marc Burch, and the team was going to need some depth on the backline. Still, he was expected to put in a ‘league-average’ or ‘close-to-league average’ performance, and log some quality relief minutes along the backline.

Sometimes taking a flier on a fringy lower league player can pay off. NYRB unearthed Mike Grella from an open trial in New York. RJ Allen was a youth soccer coach in Staten Island in March of 2015, and in May he was in a lineup alongside Andrea Pirlo and David Villa. And of course, there is the patron saint of guys that went from pub league to pro league: Jamie Vardy. He not only got a contract with an English Premier League club, he led the team to win the Premiership in 2016, winning the Golden Boot in the process.

At first, Mike da Fonte’s Cinderella story of the USL journeyman and Portuguese third division palooka that became an MLS starter looked like it would be a great success. Debuting for the Rapids on May 20 in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia, da Fonte was solid and steady through his 90 minutes. The same could not be said for Caleb Calvert in that match, as he picked up two yellow cards in about 90 seconds that ultimately helped undo the Rapids completely. Da Fonte had three more strong performances in a row, against SKC, Columbus, and Portland. And he did that while serving as a defensive utility man for the Rapids, playing Right Back against Philly, Center Back against Columbus, and Left Back against Portland.

And then the wheels came off against the LA Galaxy at home, as mentioned above. And although it was never again quite that bad from Mike through the remainder of the season, it wasn’t good either - da Fonte’s game performances ranged between ‘that wasn’t terrible’ and ‘for the love of all that is holy and sacred was that a terrible performance.’

Anecdotally, I and other Rapids observers thought that da Fonte was not up to the job, that he was having more bad games than good. Tackles looked panicky; fouls were frequent. On offense, his 4 completed crosses for the year and his average-to-below-average passing percentage meant that he was, at best, an offensive non-factor. I knew that I was going to be writing this review, and to be honest, that made me feel uneasy. As a moral person that genuinely cares about other human beings, it’s just not in my nature to wantonly trash another person based on just a sense or a collection of observations. If I’m gonna be harsh, I better be able to back it up. So I did the deep statistical dive to find some way of quantifying why it was that Mike da Fonte wasn’t good. Here’s what I’ve got:

GP- games played; PG- per game; C- Clearances; B- Blocks; I- interceptions; Dribbled- times an attacker executed and ‘take-on’ or a dribble and overtook the defender

Here you see all of the Rapids defenders in 2017 and some of the key defensive stats that represent their effectiveness. Defensive stats in soccer have a degree of subjectiveness to them and are highly interdependent on all of a player’s other stats, as well as other players stats and a teams tactics. For instance, a team or an individual player that sits in deep and bunkers will record tons of clearances and fewer tackles; alternatively, a high press team or player will record lots of tackles and interceptions, but might see fewer clearances. That means that you can’t just measure a defender by how much they did of a thing. You must, as often is the case in soccer, use the stats to support what your eyes are telling you.

What the eyes tell you about Mike da Fonte is that he’s essentially an un-housebroken pitbull. He has a great work rate and will runs his tail off, but he’s a bit too aggressive, knocking into things wildly and occasionally peeing on all the furniture (if by ‘peeing on furniture’ you get that I mean completely losing his man and conceding a shot or a pass , or just fouling the hell out of his man to concede a dangerous free kick). Da Fonte was sometimes prone to poor positioning, and has to resort to slide tackling or emergency defending a bit too often.

And the stats above tell you, yeah, that’s pretty much correct. As you can see up above, da Fonte’s tackling rate of 1.3 is fine; neither good nor bad. You’ll notice that the worst tackler on the team was Marc Burch, and yet he was an extremely strong left bank because he didn’t get dribbled and he didn’t commit fouls. You just couldn’t shake Burch, and that meant that an attacker going one-on-one with him was likely going to end up having to slow the attack and recycle the ball, which always opens them up to an interception or a block from another player. And while Da Fonte tackled at a fair-to-middlin’ rate that was better than Burch, all of his other defensive metrics were much weaker, meaning- there were a lot of ways to beat him.

Da Fonte fouled his opponents a lot - he lead all Rapids defenders in fouls with a total 30. That means he was giving away penalties and free kicks in bad spots more than any other Rapids player, and averaged out over a year, that means your team is going to concede goals that they otherwise wouldn’t if your defender didn’t foul but instead, uh, defended.

Meanwhile, da Fonte’s frequency of recording a clearance, block, or interception was also low; only the rates of Bobby Burling, Mekeil Williams, and Dennis Castillo were lower. These defensive actions are fairly instructive into how well a player positions himself and how good their reactions and instincts are. Balanced against his fouls, we see that da Fonte is more likely to get the man and less likely to get the ball than his backline mates.

Lastly, the smoking gun statistic for Mike da Fonte was his rate of getting dribbled: it was high. Da Fonte, as noted above, made guys like João Pedro and Jay Chapman look like Lionel Messi, as they absolutely skinned him. Compared to the Rapids best fullbacks of the season, Marc Burch* and Eric Miller, da Fonte was a sliding door on defense.

But Mekeil Williams wasn’t much better, and Dennis Castillo put the Rapids over the limit for internationals and had to be shipped to North Carolina, so the Rapids were stuck trying to get champagne performance at Left Back on a beer budget. They were hoping with da Fonte that they would fish around for the leftovers in the bottom of the the ice cooler and come up with a classy microbrew, but instead they essentially ended up with a skunked can of Natural Light.

Da Fonte, as good as he was in USL with Sacramento last year and in pre-season when the Rapids first saw him in person, wasn’t MLS quality this year, and is unlikely to return. If nothing else, he taught us how valuable Marc Burch was, and how important it is to get the Left Back position right. Winning teams have at least a decent Left Back. We weren’t a winning team. Let’s hope Padraig got the message too.

Abbie’s 2017 Grade: D-

Rabbi’s 2017 Grade: D-

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*Burch’s tackle and foul numbers are in his 3 games with the Rapids, and his CBI and dribble numbers are for his entire MLS year with both Colorado and Minnesota. It’s just how I was able to get the data. But there were not substantial differences for him; I think he fouled at a 0.3 fouls pg rate with Colorado and 0.4 rate overall.