NYCFC Center Backs: How They Stack Up Against the Rest of MLS

In a previous article, I analyzed the improved play of NYCFC’s wingers as a reason for their success this year. Another part of NYCFC’s success has been the play of their new center back pairing, Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot. Chanot joined NYCFC in last season’s summer transfer window from Kortrijk in Belgium, while Peruvian international Callens joined this off-season from Numancia in Spain. On paper, it seems like NYCFC’s pair have thrived. However, a deep dive into the numbers shows they haven’t done that well. But, NYCFC have still succeeded in defending as a team.

Since we’re two months into the MLS season, the sample size is large enough to make comparisons, but with a little bit of caution. There are several different statistics used to compare the center backs. Individually, defensive actions per 90 minutes gives a baseline to compare a player to other players. Defensive actions is the total successful tackles, interceptions, clearances, and blocked shots this season. The statistics are per 90 minutes to eliminate the bias created by not all defenders playing the same number of minutes. As a team, defensive actions per 90 (DA per 90), goals allowed (GA), and expected goals allowed (xGA) also give us a baseline of the pairings performance. All players analyzed must have played 300 minutes. This qualification left 49 center backs to be analyzed. (All raw data from WhoScored unless noted)

NYCFC Center Backs: How They Fare Against the Rest of MLS

NYCFC Center Backs: How They Fare Individually

DA per 90 ranks Chanot 30th and Callens 36th out of 49 players, not very high rankings for them. The area Callens struggles most in is clearances per 90, while Chanot struggles at blocked shots per 90. This discrepency could be due their positioning. Callens steps up more, while Chanot drops back frequently. Still, when Chanot does so he isn’t that active in the air, winning only four aerial duels per match. If they could improve their efficiency with their movement, their DA per 90 would increase. In addition, both players average one defensive action below the league average for center backs. Some players with similar DA per 90 is Eriq Zavaleta, Brent Kallman, and Gustav Svensson.

NYCFC’s Center Backs: How They Fare as a Team

(Expected Goals Allowed data from American Soccer Analysis. The lower the ranking, the stronger the team)

Out of 22 MLS teams, NYCFC rank 18th in DA per 90, sixth in goals allowed, and second in expected goals allowed. Only Orlando City SC has less xGA. Some teams with similar DA per 90 scores are the Montreal Impact and Portland Timbers. Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union have similar numbers of goals allowed. These rankings highlight NYCFC’s strong defending as a team, but not as individual center backs. Also, the data could highlight that NYCFC’s defenders face less action. However, that is not the case due to NYCFC playing it out of the back, so the defenders are under frequent pressure.

Final Thoughts

NYCFC’s center backs individual statistics don’t jump off the page, but they haven’t let in many goals. A big reason for the lack of defensive statistics is due to NYCFC’s style of play. They possess the ball a lot, and other players press, which doesn’t leave many opportunities for the center backs to complete defensive actions. NYCFC fans should not be too worried about their individual statistics because as a team NYCFC are doing very well.


  1. I think DA per 90 probably isn’t the best indicator for team or individual defensive prowess. NYC FC leads the league (57.8%; SEA is 2nd at 55.7%) in possession so the team as well as their centerbacks have less opportunities for defensive actions. It’s the equivalent of labeling the goalie who makes the most saves as the best in the league (wasn’t this Josh Saunders in 2015 btw?) while great goalies on good defensive teams probably don’t have nearly as many saves due to a lack of opportunities as one with a leaky defense (NYC FC in 2015) would. Save percentage or the saving of shots with a high expected goal number would almost certainly be a better indicator.

    For team defense, it looks like expected goals given up would be the best indicator, which we have performed much better (2nd in the league) than DA per 90 (18th). Now, I’m not sure if this is a statistic, but, for individuals, I think it would be more relevant to look at expected goals given up or responsible for rather than defensive actions. Like Chanot allowing Larin to beat him to a cross for the 1st goal in NYC and Callens terrible pass against Columbus would be prime examples of this. For example, Mena probably racked up DAs during games he played in last year, but that was almost always attributable to him getting beat or being out of position and, therefore, having to rely on last ditch tackles. That’s not a good defender. I good defender is positioned well so that the offense may not even attempt a pass his way (similar to a shutdown corner limiting the number of targets thrown his way; vs just interceptions).

    For me, Chanot has been a top 10 centerback this year in terms of defense with Callens probably in the top 20 before his egregious error against Columbus (now maybe top 30). With NYC FC ranked 2nd in the league in expected goals given up, it wouldn’t make sense to not have either of our centerbacks near the top 10 in the league (especially considering having Pirlo in front of them in all but one game).

  2. “Also, the data could highlight that NYCFC’s defenders face less action. However, that is not the case due to NYCFC playing it out of the back, so the defenders are under frequent pressure.”

    Well, the new/added team style this year is “defend from the front”. That should hell explain why City’s defenders face less action.

    • Yes, they play out of the back, but that “frequent pressure” on the defenders is when they have the possession of the ball so that shouldn’t have a significant impact on defensive actions or the opportunity to make them. That would, however, influence their passing accuracy or make them more prone to defensive errors (Callens against Columbus), which could & should be factored into a potential “expected-goals-given-up or responsible-for” individual stat that would more accurately portray how good a centerback is.

      Their improvement as a team defensively has definitely been influenced by the defend from the front philosophy as well as the introduction of Rodney Wallace, improvement of Harrison’s defense & work rate, replacement of Lampard with Maxi (Maxi’s a much better defender), and replacement of Iraola with Ring (Ring’s probably a better defender, but definitely has a better work rate). However, the replacement of Brillant with Callens, his chemistry with Chanot, and that allowing Chanot to switch to right centerback has also contributed to NYC FC’s defensive prowess this year.

      No way Chanot is only the 30th best centerback in the league so far.

      • Just checked out the “Audi” MLS Player Index, which apparently logs all players scores this year, and turns out my man, Maxime Chanot, is currently has the 4th highest “Audi” Player Index of eligible defenders (Axel Sjoberg of the Rapids and Dylan Remick of the Dynamo are higher, but have only played in 2 & 3 games, respectively, so far this season).

        Is the Player Index perfect? No (although it’s certainly more detailed and complicated than DAs), but based on watching all the NYC FC games (whether live or on TV), I’d say it’s more accurate to rank Chanot in the top 10 so far this year than at 30th.

  3. I think that is a good idea with xG per defender, it would just be tough to decide who is at fault for the shot. like if Pirlo gets beat, and Chanot steps up, but the attacker gets a shot off, whose fault is it?

    As for Chanot ranking 30th, the eye test doesn’t agree with that.

    • Yea, in that scenario, I would think that it would be comparable to someone assisting on a goal, right? Like if a player does all the work to beat two defenders and then crosses it to someone for a tap-in, they should get more credit for that goal than the actual goal scorer. So, if Pirlo is out of position, lazily gets beat, and Chanot steps up but not in time, then Pirlo should bare more of the responsible for the goal than Chanot. However, Chanot still should bare some of it if he could’ve recognized the play develop faster, ect. just like the goal scorer deserves some credit for the goal for making the run and finishing (however easy it may be).

      Definitely wouldn’t be easy, but if someone were to do it (won’t be me; haha), I think it would be a more accurate representation of who the best defenders in the league are than just, say, defensive actions.


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