MLS Castrol Rankings Overlook Importance of Midfield

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MLS Castrol Rankings Overlook Importance of Midfield
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images

Major League Soccer trotted out its Castrol Index Ratings for the month of June today, and a glance at the top 10 is revealing in regards to the formula's weaknesses.

Of the 10 listed, eight are either forwards or centerbacks, with Alvaro Fernandez (MF) and Donovan Ricketts (GK) the exceptions (arguments could be made regarding Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski, who often line up in wide positions, but both are, generally, forwards).

What this indicates is that the Index heavily favors players who ply their trade near the goal mouth. In fact, if you watch the video explaining the Castrol Index system (available at www.mlssoccer.com/castrolindex), you'll see the system weights points in favor of players who make (or don't make) plays nearer to goal. 

While I'll agree that successful football is dependent on performing well in dangerous zones nearer to goal, players whose work is done farther from goal (i.e, the midfield) are overlooked and underrated by this system.

Take New York's Teemu Tainio, for example. Since his arrival from Ajax, he has stepped into the deep-lying midfield role in Hans Backe's midfield and taken the reigns of the team from former Barcelona maestro Rafa Marquez, who has pushed back to center back. 

In that role, Tainio has been spectacular, showing off his cool composure, dynamic range of passing, and keen vision in helping New York remain thick in the battle for the Eastern Conference title.

Take a look at his Chalkboard from New York's 5-0 dominant victory over Toronto FC this past weekend. 

In 80 minutes of play, Tainio completed 53 of 60 passes, but only four of those attempts came in the final third of the field (he completed three of those four). He was the key reason New York enjoyed 65 percent of the game's posssesion.

And mind you, that's with the addition of newly signed Dax McCarty, another holding mid who joins Tainio in a double-pivot deep in the midfield previously handled by Tainio all by himself.

Despite less space, Tainio still managed to leave his imprint on the game. 

But that imprint doesn't translate into Castrol points. Because Tainio rarely strays into advanced positions, and  simultaneously rarely makes last ditch tackles or diving headed clearances in the box, he manages to play the puppeteer in every game he features, all while coming in at 79th in the Index.

Perhaps Tainio's play has been negatively Indexed for other reasons. After all, Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso, a similar type of player, is up to No. 16. Houston's Geoff Cameron also make an appearance in the top 25.

But Alonso is more of a tackler (at last count, Alonso was MLS's leading tackler) than Tainio,scoring additional Index points, while Cameron has split his time at centerback—a high-ranking position.

Meanwhile, other key holding midfielders—Los Angeles' Juninho (44, but splits time as holding and attacking mid), F.C. Dallas' Daniel Hernandez (56) and Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman (67)—come in behind such MLS stalwarts as Portland's Mamadou Danso (starting centerback for the Western Conference's leakiest back line) and three defenders from the seventh place in the East Chicago Fire.

That's not so much to bash Danso or the Fire as it is to show the discrepancies in the system.

Now, don't get me wrong. This is not to say the Index isn't valuable. It is, as, if nothing else, a point of a discussion for debates such as this.

But it seems unfair to me to reward play so heavily in front of either net, while leaving out consideration for those midfielders who provide the very heart beat of the game.

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