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Should Toronto FC keep or release Robert Earnshaw?

His loan period is almost up. A couple of months ago the obvious answer would have been yes, maybe it still is, but it's definitely a question worth asking now. Should TFC sign Earnshaw up to a permanent deal? I compare him to others in MLS, and also to the ghosts of Earnshaw past.

If Earnshaw does get re-signed, how much more of this can we expect.
If Earnshaw does get re-signed, how much more of this can we expect.

Just before the season started, with an alarmingly thin roster, a bunch of players were brought in on loan. Better than bringing in some academy kids ahead of their time to make up the numbers for sure, and with the benefit of an easy out if things didn't work out, it bolstered the squad numbers without taking away any flexibility for the long term building that was hopefully the main priority of Kevin Payne and Ryan Nelsen. If they had to be released, well no harm no foul, try again in the summer transfer window.

That is of course how it played out with Hogan Ephhraim and John Bostock, both waived, recalled by their clubs, however you want to dress it up, they didn't show enough to warrant a long term deal, thanks for trying, bye bye. The next loanee triallists to arrive were Jeremy Brockie and Steven Caldwell, while Tal Ben Haim said thanks but no thanks. Mixed results then, as was always going to be the case, bringing in new players is always a hit and miss proposition.

One player that seemed like a definite hit though is Robert Earnshaw, who carried the team in the early going to a decent March results wise, perhaps hiding just how bad the team was, and setting expectations of competitiveness that the Reds have failed to live up to since. With a reasonable salary of $138,000 base and $155,150 guaranteed compensation, here was one unqualified success story, and most TFC supporters would be hoping he gets a new deal. That will be decided by the end of this month when the original loan deal ends, with talks already taking place, but given how things have gone recently, the question has to be asked, should TFC sign him up to a longer deal?

The first few games of the season screamed yes. Opportunistic when it comes to creating chances, lethal when it came to finishing them, it was easy to see how he'd risen to Premier league level. In the first 6 games of the season, he scored on 5 of the 19 shots he took, a more than respectable 26.3% of his shots.

That hot streak did of course end, shots started hitting the goalie, or the post as was the case at the start of the game in Montreal, or weren't quite hit right. That really showed in the game in Colorado where he got 3 very good chances and missed them all in one way or another. That wasn't too much cause for alarm, the chances were coming, surely the goals would soon enough follow and start flowing again.

These last few games have been more worrying though. Earnshaw seems frustrated at being used effectively as a target man, having to chase long balls and battle Centre Backs for headers he's very rarely going to win. When he does get the ball, he seems very reluctant to pass, as if desperate to create a chance for a shot on goal, often dribbling into defenders or taking ambitious shots from far out when a pass to keep the move going and wait for a better opportunity would be the best option. It's now 2 straight games that Earnshaw has been subbed off between the 60th and 70th minutes, in games where TFC need a goal. This is form that makes it easy to see just how he'd ended up at Maccabi Tel Aviv before finding his way to Toronto.

In those 7 games since TFC played in Philadelphia, he has taken 22 shots without scoring, which brings his season record down to 5 for 41, and a very pedestrian 12.2 percentage. To give that number a bit of context, here's the 25 top goalscorers so far this season in MLS, here showing just the goals, shots and their scoring percentage.

Jack McInerney 10 49 20.4
Marco Di Vaio 9 40 22.5
Claudio Bieler 7 45 15.6
Mike Magee 7 41 17.1
Thierry Henry 6 49 12.2
Dominic Oduro 6 34 17.6
Robbie Keane 5 18 27.8
Chris Wondolowski 5 57 8.8
Diego Fagundez 5 18 27.8
Will Johnson 5 29 17.2
Blas Perez 5 20 25.0
Robert Earnshaw 5 41 12.2
Ryan Johnson 4 18 22.2
Will Bruin 4 38 10.5
Tim Cahil 4 28 14.3
Federico Higuain 4 47 8.5
Rodney Wallace 4 20 20.0
Giles Barnes 4 34 11.8
Darlington Nagbe 4 30 13.3
Alvaro Saborio 4 26 15.4
Juan Agudelo 4 12 33.3
Eddie Johnson 4 22 18.2
Atiba Harris 4 34 11.8
Obafemi Martins 4 9 44.4
Adam Jahn 4 20 20.0

Out of those 25, only Chris Wondolowski, Will Bruin, Federico Higuain, Giles Barnes and Atiba Harris have a worse scoring percentage.

If you filter things by those who take a lot of shots, again the top 25 in MLS, he fares better, coming in at 11th.

Filter by scoring percentage, without worrying about sample size and he comes in at 93rd in the league. Pretty average stuff.

Now as with any stats, if you think hard enough you can easily come up with a 'yeah, but...'. Obviously playing for TFC probably has a lot to do with the quality of chance you have, there's not many sitters that are getting served up for him, and the more desperate shots he's reverted to lately really can't help his numbers. Put him in a better team and he'd no doubt look better, and vice versa, put those with a good percentage into TFC's squad and see their numbers plummet.

For some TFC context, well this year it's tough to compare as only one other player has managed double digits in shots, Luis Silva (with a small sample size Jonathan Osorio is 3 for 6, 50%, not too shabby at all), but let's go back over previous seasons. In 2012, Danny Koevermans ended with 23.1%, over 39 shots so a comparable sample, while Ryan Johnson, who I don't think anyone remembers as a goal machine, led the team in shots with 67 and ended at 10.4%

In 2011 it was Koevermans again leading the way with 26.7%, while of those with more shots than Earnshaw currently has, Maicon Santos (who was a very frustrating forward to watch) was at 11.5 and Joao Plata got a mere 6.5%, saving his best for the cup games apparently.

Back to 2010, and which frustrating 'couldn't score in a brothel' etc etc forward was Toronto's most lethal? That's right, Chad Barrett, with 7 goals on 32 shots, for 21.9%, though Dwayne de Rosario's 20.8% on 15 goals in 72 shots is more impressive given the sample size, someone sign that man a cheque.

Anyway, what the stats show is that Earnshaw's having a very average season. Add the hot streak and the cold streak and you get a decent if unspectacular MLS level striker. The question is, is that what we can expect for the rest of his time here, is he likely to get hot again at some point to justify a new deal, or was that early season run just a blip and his form of the last 2 months is the real Earnshaw? There were two penalties in there and two other goals were gifted to him by the opposition, so that doesn't exactly scream reliable and likely to be repeated.

Let's look back at his history to get an idea. In 2000/2001, when he scored 25 goals in 41 games for Cardiff City, he had goalless streaks of 3, 4, 5 and 8 games, while at one point scoring 13 goals in 10 games. In 2002/03 he scored 36 goals in 58 games, which included streaks of 6 games, and 3 games without a goal, and a season ending run of 1 goal in 11 games. He ended the 03/04 season goalless in 9, and in 05/06 when he scored 11 goals in 36 games, 6 of those came in the last 8. The 09/10 season saw him score 17 in 40, 9 of those came in one ten game streak. So yeah, the only consistent thing is his inconsistency.

At some point, he might well go on another scoring streak, having Danny Koevermans alongside him to give defenders someone else to worry about should certainly help in that regard, that will be a dangerous partnership with a very high chance that at least one of them will be in goalscoring form at any given time.

In conclusion, I'd say what we've seen so far from Earnshaw is about what we can expect going forward. He's not as good as he looked in March (though briefly he might be), he's not as bad as he looked in May/June (though briefly he might be), add it all up and he'll end up with some very average stats. His current rate of 5 in 13 games is about right really, if he stays for the season and remains fit, that rate would work out to 13 goals in 34 games, which is roughly what I would have predicted at the start of the season.

So sure, sign him up, there's a lot more pressing concerns for TFC's squad right now and any stability we can get is a good thing. But let's not expect him to be one of the key parts of the team going forward, mainly due to his age, but also because of his inconsistency. He's a decent stop gap solution, very much an average MLS striker. As long as he continues to be paid that way, and isn't given too long of a deal, (I'd be wary of anything beyond the 2014 season) then it would be a good bit of business, just not the unqualified success it seemed a couple of months back.