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Can Jonathan Osorio live up to his new TAM contract?

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The Canadian has earned his new deal, but Toronto FC need him to sustain his dramatic improvement.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Osorio is probably now Toronto FC’s fifth-highest-paid player:

TFC used targeted allocation money to sign Osorio, meaning his deal is more than the league’s maximum salary budget charge of $504,375. He is not quite at the million-dollar mark but has the potential to get there, according to a source.

Source: The Canadian Press

And who would argue he doesn’t deserve it?

Osorio’s rise has been a feel-good story in a Toronto season that has lacked them since the CONCACAF Champions League ended. Unusually, TFC president Bill Manning joined Osorio, Tim Bezbatchenko and Greg Vanney at Thursday’s press conference; Manning was probably happy to have something to talk about other than his teams’ long championship hangovers and fanbase problems.

The Reds’ brain trust waxed lyrical about Osorio, who is one goal away from matching his career total prior to the 2018 season in a single campaign. Vanney said the Canadian has earned “every cent” he will be paid.

That much is beyond doubt. But the more pertinent question is this: will Osorio continue to be worth it for the duration of his multi-year contract?

There was a convincing case to be made for selling Osorio in the summer transfer window. Though his expiring contract reduced his value there was, by all accounts, multiple clubs interested in buying him. Up to $750,000 of any transfer fee received could have been converted into general allocation money, which would have handed Bezbatchenko a hugely flexible cap situation going into 2019.

In that sense, the most revealing line at the press conference came from Manning:

“Week after week, as Jonathan performed this season, Tim and I kept looking at each other and said, ‘We can’t let this guy go.’”

The implication seemed to be that they were leaning towards letting this guy go before the way he has been able to sustain his Champions League form persuaded them otherwise.

It’s certainly starting to feel like this isn’t just a hot streak. But let’s dive into a few numbers to get a better idea.

Jonathan Osorio career stats

Season Minutes Goals Shots Blocked Shots Shots on Target Touches in Opp Box
Season Minutes Goals Shots Blocked Shots Shots on Target Touches in Opp Box
2018 1982 0.41 1.27 0.18 0.77 3.63
2017 1365 0.13 1.19 0.2 0.53 2.31
2016 2845 0.13 0.95 0.19 0.35 2.31
2015 2305 0.04 0.82 0.27 0.27 0.16
2014 2039 0.13 0.75 0.4 0.26 0
2013 1697 0.27 1.48 0.53 0.42 0
Stats are per 90 minutes of play. Source: Opta

That’s a good start: everything that intuitively corresponds to an increase in goalscoring — shots, shots on target, touches in the opposition box — is at or near a career high. There’s also evidence of how unlikely, in some ways, this sudden breakout is in that Osorio had scored at exactly the same (much lower) rate in three of his five seasons prior to this one. He wasn’t a player blowing hot and cold; he just didn’t score much.

There’s a reason I included blocked shots in that table, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Before that, let’s look at expected goals. This is an excellent way to project how sustainable a player’s goalscoring is likely to be, because rather than simply counting what ends up in the back of the net it measures the actual quality of the chances he is getting.

Osorio’s expected goals

Season Goals xG Goals-xG
Season Goals xG Goals-xG
2018 9 5.64 3.36
2017 2 1.36 0.64
2016 2 2.36 -0.36
2015 1 2.14 -1.14
2014 3 2.69 0.31
2013 5 2.56 2.44
Source: American Soccer Analysis

(These stats do not include the playoffs, which is why they differ to the table above.)

Again, it’s obvious here that Osorio is getting more good looks this year than he ever has before. That’s very positive.

But there’s also a red flag: Osorio is outperforming his expected goals by a significant margin. That usually doesn’t last and while five or six goals from midfield with a couple of months of the season still to play is nothing to be sniffed at, it may not represent superb value in the $1 million-a-year salary range.

So, should we be concerned?

There’s one flaw, in my opinion, of many expected goals models: in calculating the probability of a chance resulting in a goal, they do not account for traffic in between the shooter and the net.

There is some evidence suggesting that matters; it usually tends to even itself out over time, but has accounted for a few outliers. There is a case to be made that Osorio might be one of them, because pretty much every goal he has scored this season has come under very little defensive pressure or none at all. He has two typical methods of scoring:

1. Runs to one of the posts to convert low crosses from close range

2. Runs behind the defensive line for one-on-ones with the goalkeeper

Unfortunately, no one has created an Osorio goals compilation complete with a Deep House Hits 2018 soundtrack, but if you watch them all back individually they almost exclusively fit into these two categories.

There’s more evidence in the aforementioned blocked-shot rates. Osorio is shooting more frequently than he has in any season since his first, in 2013. Logic suggests he should have seen more shots blocked than in previous years as a result.

But he hasn’t — in fact, his rate of blocked shots per 90 minutes is the lowest it has ever been. That would seem to back up the idea that Osorio isn’t often shooting into crowds or when under pressure, and getting lucky with balls finding their way through.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that Osorio’s output this year is fully sustainable; he could touch 20 goals in all competitions by the end of the year, which is a remarkable tally for a player who is not even a true attacking midfielder or No. 10. Anyone who has watched him this season will not need advanced stats to appreciate that everything he touches is turning to gold at the moment, and that won’t last forever.

But might expected goals be underselling him a little bit? I think it’s possible, and that he has a good chance of continuing to threaten double digits in the coming years.

It’s also important to note that goalscoring is not the only area of Osorio’s game that has improved.

Osorio in possession

Season Minutes Chances Created Chances Created (Open Play) Passes Pass Accuracy (%)
Season Minutes Chances Created Chances Created (Open Play) Passes Pass Accuracy (%)
2016 2845 1.36 1.36 41.6 86.62
2015 2305 1.56 1.52 43.77 88.31
2014 2039 1.37 1.28 45.95 86.74
2018 1982 1.91 1.86 51.81 90.97
2013 1697 1.22 1.06 40.94 85.36
2017 1365 0.86 0.86 52.88 89.78
Stats are per 90 minutes of play. Source: Opta

The 26-year-old is creating more chances for his teammates than ever before, and he leads the team in chances created from open play per 90 minutes — ahead of even Victor Vazquez. It is particularly impressive that he has become more penetrative in the final third while also giving the ball away less, given the generally riskier nature of passes that open up defences.

Add in Osorio’s age, his versatility, his exemplary character and work ethic, his special bond with the city and the club and the lower risk he carries compared to a signing and you can see why Manning and Bezbatchenko came to the conclusion they did. New doesn’t always mean better.