*All statistics referenced were compiled using 2013 data provided by Opta
** Statistics include defenders who have played a minimum of 900 minutes this season
GAITHERSBURG, Md. – It can be difficult to quantify statistics for defenders. When it comes to voting for the MLS All-Star game, far too often they’re judged on their offensive capabilities instead of their defensive prowess, simply because offensive statistics are the easiest to comprehend.
How many goals did that defender score? Well, he must be good, right?
But a defender’s job, first and foremost, is to defend. So it stands to reason that we should be judging defenders primarily based on their team’s overall defensive record and not the occasional foray into the attacking third.
In that sense, Jose Goncalves can make an All-Star case better than pretty much any other defender in MLS.
Goncalves – who wears the captain’s armband in his first season with the New England Revolution – is the physical and emotional leader of the top backline in the league. The Revs boast MLS-best marks in goals against average (0.87), shutouts (nine), save percentage (77.3) and goals allowed (13). Goncalves is widely regarded as the best defender on the best defensive team in the league. That should be worth something to All-Star voters.
But there are too many variables in team defensive statistics to simply judge a single defender based on those. Obviously the Revolution’s defensive record has also had plenty to do with Goncalves’ fellow defenders, All-Star caliber goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and the rest of New England’s lineup.
In the case of Goncalves, individual statistics back up his case, too.
Watch any Revolution game and it becomes instantly clear that Goncalves is a beast going into a 50-50 challenge. The statistical proof? The 27-year-old center back ranks third in the league in duel winning percentage (65.9 percent) and is one of only three defenders in MLS – along with Chad Marshall and Alain Rochat – to crack the top 10 in both aerial duel winning percentage and ground duel winning percentage. Whether it’s in the air or on the ground, Goncalves is one of the best in the league at winning the ball for his side.
How about when Goncalves goes in for a tackle? His successful tackle percentage is 88.9 percent, good for eighth in the league. The stats say he’s making smart decisions on when to go in for tackles, and when he does, he’s coming away with the ball nine out of 10 times.
Still not convinced of Goncalves’ credentials? We can go another route and delve into one of the most popular methods of judging players in today’s sports landscape – fantasy statistics.
Goncalves has been one of MLS’ top fantasy defenders this season, ranking second in total points among defenders. With 95 totals points, he trails only Sporting Kansas City center back Aurelien Collin (99 points), whose stats are boosted by two goals and one assist. So based on pure defensive statistics, Goncalves is tops.
Among Goncalves’ most notable fantasy statistics are his 112 recoveries (tied for first), his 169 clearances/blocks/interceptions (third) and his nine clean sheets (first). And he’s done it all without picking up a yellow card, or making an error which has led to a goal. He’s a fantasy owner’s dream.
If you’re looking to pick up a defender for your fantasy team and don’t already have Goncalves in your lineup, there’s no question he’s your best bet. If you’re looking for a center back to represent the MLS All-Star team against Italian giant AS Roma next month, I’d argue Goncalves is also a worthy choice.
Fantasy or not, the proof is in the numbers.