Season Review / Union

Season review: The Striker Muffin

Photo: Paul Rudderow

 

Kacper Pryzbylko is a hot dog fan/he’s a big, tall German man

Score us a goal in any way you can/and we’ll be Kacper Pryzbylko fans

Oh Kacper Pryzbylko/Kacper Pryzbylko

Get us on a roll, score another goal, and let’s go U-nion!

 

Author’s note: Yes, “on a roll” is a hot dog pun.

Do you know Kacper?

Did you know that Kacper Pryzbylko’s twin brother is also a soccer player in Germany? Did you know his older brother is a noted German high jumper?

Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. The real question is this:

Did you even know who Kacper Pryzbylko was before his April 20th debut in Union blue? Don’t be a hero, of course you didn’t. Heck, the Union didn’t even put together a highlight video when they announced him in September of 2018.

And yet…

In Pryzbylko, the Union found their striker in 2019. The discovery was both a literal and metaphorical one, as the German rose from as far back in the proverbial pack as any Union player ever, and summarily set the bar for all attacking players heretofore.

Better than good

The Kacper Pryzbylko story is an interesting one of course.

Plucked off the scrap heap, a place he found himself because of nagging injuries, Pryzbylko was Ernst Tanner’s first player signing. That the forward was plying his trades in the German divisions shouldn’t have surprised Union fans given the Sporting Director’s pedigree. That Tanner’s first signing was a striker was certainly worth the raising of an eyebrow, as Pryzbylko joined “a crowded Union forward corp that include[d] Cory Burke, CJ Sapong, [David Accam], and Jay Simpson.”

Just six months later, Pryzbylko would be the only striker in that group left standing. Rehabilitated from his injuries and starting to score in Bethlehem, his number was finally called for the first team.

Pryzbylko answered the call.

Since that mid-season introduction, his production requires no context: 15 goals and 4 assists in just 26 matches played.

Adding context however puts his contributions to the success of the 2019 side in an even more impressive light.

  • Pryzbylko’s 15 goals were scored from an expected 11.67. That means the Union striker was not only finding the net with his shots, but he was doing so from positions on the field where most MLS strikers don’t score. He was ranked 14th in MLS on this metric, and take his goal in the Union’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United as an example.

 

Pryzbylko’s body is moving away from goal, he strikes the ball with his weaker foot, and aims his shot for the near port. By any measure, this opportunity is a half chance.

By Expected Goals (in the chart above), it’s less than that. Pryzbylko scored a goal that most other players in the league don’t score in arguably the biggest match of the season.

That’s impactful in every league in the world, as the old saying goes: “Goals change games.”

Author’s note: By contrast, Josef Martinez’s first half goal in the same match is scored nearly 20 times before the average player misses. The build up for that goal was unquestionably special, but given the location of the shot and the amount of goalmouth available, Martinez was always going to score. “Chris Wondolowski, World Cup miss” references can be submitted in the comment section.

In all-time Union lore, Pryzbylko fell just short of the team’s record for goals in a season. However, what the Union’s striker did in comparison to CJ Sapong’s record-setting 2017 campaign is different by every measure.

  • Sapong scored 16 goals in 33 matches in 2017. The knock on the former Union big man was that he only scored from close range, and the expected goal numbers from that season bear it out: he scored those 16 goals off of an expected 14.81. Those numbers suggest average production given the opportunities, but with a knack in that season for getting into good spots and scoring.

Pryzbylko had fewer goals over the course of the season than did Sapong, that is true. Adjusting for time on the field, for expected goals, or the obvious combination of the two (xG – G)/96, the data is clear.

Kacper Pryzbylko had the best striker season in Union history.

Author’s note: There is no xG data for Sebastien LeToux’s 2010 campaign, but we know that Le Toux played more matches, took more shots, and scored fewer goals in 2010 than did Pryzbylko in 2019. Le Toux’s 2013 campaign is captured though, where he scored 13 goals produced a xG – G of 1.64, while Jack McInerney’s big year in 2013 had a ratio of 1.67, and Chris Pontius’s 2016 a ratio of 3.46. Pontius is the only Union scorer in history to match Pryzbylko’s xG – G numbers while taking fewer shots, mostly from the wing.

A few favorite things

In the same way that Union fans are quick to point out Fafa Picault’s inefficiency in front of goal (xG – G of -3.1, 7th worst in MLS), they should truly savor what Pryzbylko has done in his only season yet in Union blue. Here are some of his additional accolades:

  1. Pryzbylko scored 24% of his team’s goals, tied for 4th highest in the league.
  2. He was the 4th highest rated played in WhoScored.com’s end of season aggregate average ranking.
  3. Beyond that, he was a Top 5 player in the league in these metrics in both home and away fixtures, scoring crucial goals in Vancouver and San Jose.
  4. The Union leader was the 6th ranked forward in MLS’s Audi Player Index and 12th ranked player of any position in the league.
  5. In just two thirds of a season, he earned himself at least one Best XI spot.

Author’s note: MLS’s version of this Best XI list is tactically flawed but at least visually interesting and difficult to argue on quality.

Pryzbylko scored more than a goal every two games, so his list of highlights is quite long. There are a few specific goals worth remembering, including Pryzbylko’s first and his last in 2019.

1. The one where he announced himself to Union fans, helping the team to points in Vancouver. Or, the one where they said “[h]e’s not supposed to be fast…” – JP Dellacamera

2. Mano a mano, or the one where Pryzbylko wins it for the Union over Guram Kashia, who had been chippy with the striker all night.

3. The one where he made every Union fan cringe for saying this,

…only to go out and do this to back his talk up.

Summary

Some players are unlucky when it comes to injury: Gale Sayers, Bo Jackson, Andrew Luck, Greg Oden, Taylor Twellman. Maybe Pryzbylko will end up on that list one day too, with another nagging “something” that keeps him on the sideline.

His injury this fall was certainly unlucky for the Union.

Given he’s spent a total of 14 months in the United States and nearly set a team record in the process, it’s hard to argue against his value to the franchise or that he didn’t earn his recent contract extension.

2020’s campaign will be the one that determines if he’s a player the team can build around, one they can eventually sell (he last trained with Sunderland after all), or one they can simply remember fondly for his single truly great season.

#Striker Muffin

Author’s note: The terrible nickname of “Striker Muffin” was selected by Philly Soccer Page editor Peter Andrews during this exchange.

10 Comments

  1. Kacper has been an absolute joy to watch this year. His movement and positioning off the ball has been on the level of Wandolowski (more on that in a bit, and if you don’t recognize Wando’s skill off the ball you haven’t been watching the game closely enough). His instinct for the goal and desire to get it there is something the Union haven’t seen for a long time.
    .
    Very much looking forward (pun intended) to seeing him next season! Get your foot healthy Kacper!! We’re going to need it next year!!!
    .
    “He’s not supposed to be that fast!!!”

    • In defense of Wandolowski
      .
      Start with the basics. That play had a 0.63xG. He saw a lot of net and was relatively unchallenged. He only had the keeper to beat.
      .
      Counterpoint. That was an over the shoulder ball attempting a volley off the bounce with the ball rising and the keeper’s foot blocking the easy shot forcing him high. Nobody reading this could have made that goal.
      .
      Before making any comments on Wondo, read this:
      https://www.americansocceranalysis.com/home/2019/7/1/theres-something-a-miss-in-wondos-legacy
      ASA does a great job at objectively looking at games and this article is no different.
      .
      Anyway, Blame Wondo always makes a little sad. Sure that could have been an incredible moment for the US to win that game, literally against all odds – after 90 min we only had a 13% chance to pull out a victory (e.g. Howard’s 16 saves). But Wondo had worked his butt off in that game and especially leading up to that chance and it’s absolutely too bad that became the narrative.

      • Side point: I love Taylor Twellman, loved him as a player (sad that he missed his NT chance), loved him as a Union announcer, and I like most of the stuff he does now. But he fueled the Wando fire, like he’s fueling the Berhalter bonfire now (I had to switch to Univision to watch the last game because I couldn’t handle his neg comments after EVERY play). Yes bad things happen to the MNT but tone down the rhetoric. And yes, I fully recognize that Gregg is not handling this transition period well at all, but I have this thing called patience and realize there is a larger arc in play.
        .
        Sorry, I just needed to get that all off my chest.

      • ps – none of this was directed at your comment in the article Chris

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        We’re good 🙂

  2. I really liked Przbylko’s game this season. He’s the first striker with the team that can really create his own space from which to score. He’s very good on the ball, too, for a man his size and position. Just all around a well above average MLS player.

    He’s gotta stay healthy, though. If he comes back with a 15+ goal scoring season and if Santos can get going, the Union might be in pretty good shape up front. I think both men are really good footballers. Santos has already put everything together except for the goal scoring part. Perhaps a preseason with the team and full fitness will help him find his form.

    Looking forward to more from the big man.

  3. He has been fantastic this year! It’s been a lot of fun to see him play! Most likely the best pickup in years! Maybe ever!

  4. I think all the talk of how effective he was in front of goal overlooks the amount of work he puts in on the press.

  5. He was absolutely critical to the Union’s best season. And personally I love his attitude. He’s a perfect Philly guy. Excited to have him back next season.

    However, strikers are extremely streaky beasts. Remember what happened after Sapong’s great season? I’m worried that could happen to Kacper. Time will tell. In any case, the Union need to have plenty of other options — Santos, Wooten, and maybe somebody else too, especially if they are playing 2 up top.

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