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The WTR Top 20, No. 15: Ricketts started more, scored less often

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The super-sub definitely had his moments though

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tosaint Ricketts ranked 10th on last year’s WTR Top 20 list. This year’s drop to number 15 reflects the fact that he met expectations in 2017, rather than exceeded them.

Ricketts joined the club in mid-July 2016 and played 433 minutes during that season (including playoffs). Put another way, he remained on the bench for 77% of his time with the club. But he made the most of his on-field opportunities, scoring five goals and notching one assist. He made our top 10 last year because he was such a pleasant surprise - our ‘super-sub’, if you will.

In 2017, his role changed. With injuries to Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, Ricketts occasionally assumed more of a starting role. He played a total of 1,093 minutes (including playoffs), and his output slowed relative to his first year as a Red. Given the natural drop off in stats-per-minute between super-subs and starters, this was definitely expected.

Ricketts’ year-over-year statistics (including playoffs)

His seven goals placed him among players of similar ilk (like Teal Bunbury and Romell Quioto), but behind players that he may have been expected to match or exceed (like Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Will Bruin). Again, not bad, but not great.

TFC’s balanced attack definitely impacted the number of goals that Ricketts was required to score. Still, it was a little disappointing that he only scored in four of his 23 MLS appearances. He recorded braces against the Columbus Crew, Los Angeles Galaxy and Montreal Impact. He complemented those performances with the game-winning tally against Minnesota. That’s it. His remaining 19 appearances yielded only 17 shots and one assist.

With the exception of the Columbus game, he only scored when he took the field as a starter. If anything defied expectations in 2017, it was the fact that Ricketts was no longer TFC’s most explosive bench player.

That may change in 2018, though. If Giovinco and Altidore remain healthy, Ricketts’ starts should be spaced throughout the season, not clustered as they were this past year. By spacing out the starts, and having more matches clustered as a bench player, Ricketts’ mental game may return to that of a super-sub.

as Toronto FC fall to the Montreal Impact 5-3 Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

A fair expectation in 2018 is for Ricketts to play between 850 and 1,000 minutes, while notching nine or so goals and a couple of assists. This is based on nothing more than an extrapolation of his past two seasons, with a slight adjustment for playing more as a substitute rather than a starter. In short, I made it up. But it does seem reasonable, especially with the addition of a couple of assumptions.

The first assumption is that the signing of 17-year-old Ayo Akinola will not impact Ricketts’ playing time. TFC’s inflated schedule, and the need to preserve the starters, should ensure that his 2018 playing time rivals that of 2017. Akinola may eat into Ben Spencer and Jordan Hamilton’s opportunities but, based on the current depth chart, Ricketts should still be the third choice up front. If anything, he may help mentor Akinola as the youngster tries to establish an identity coming off the bench.

Barring an injury to Ricketts himself, what may reduce his time on the field is the signing of another striker – a striker of comparable ability. There has been some speculation that the Reds are in the market for another forward. This could just be silly-season speak. But, if there is truth to the gossip, then Ricketts will be the most affected. This is particularly true if “Jozivinco” remain healthy. (Yup, I just planted my flag on the best couple’s name in sports history.) Naturally, the two assumptions here are that TFC does not sign such a player and that Ricketts remains healthy.

Returning to our reflection on the year that was, the one definite improvement in Tosaint’s game was the use of his head. In 2016, Ricketts scored all of his goals with his feet. By contrast, in 2017, four of his seven goals bounced off his head before hitting the back of the net. But, as revealed in the above chart, this increased prowess didn’t result in more aerials won per appearance. Therefore, it can be reasonably deduced that Ricketts picked his spots in 2017 and, in so doing, he became more effective (and more efficient) in the air.

To further enhance his effectiveness, Ricketts needs to develop a shot from greater than fifteen yards out. This was a development point from 2016 as well. If Tosaint can learn to strike the ball with a little more venom, while still using his head to bulge the twine, then he should improve upon his goal scoring total and, hopefully, exceed expectations in 2018.