#TheTrialist represented by this image is not the one we need. Nor is it the one we deserve right now. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Mauro Rosales is a great player. He deserves his salary. He is easily one of the most talented midfielders in the league. He would start on almost any team in MLS. He is key to the Sounders' success. But the man Seattle brought to a training match in Florida in early 2011 as a trialist, who became #TheTrialist, is playing like just a trialist (that may be a bit harsh, but work with me here). If Seattle is to get its groove back in MLS play, they need #TheTrialist back.
Rosales has been less than half as effective this year as he was last year. The numbers really are not pretty for his 857 minutes. Is that a small sample size? Perhaps. It is slightly less than EJ7's 918 this year and Zach Scott's 864 last year. It is less than Wahl's 893 in '09, more than Vagenas's 740 that year, and more than Hurtado's 810 in '10. I am thinking it is quite enough to judge how he has been performing.
Keep in mind this is including Ianni's wonderstrike as an assist (which would not have been a goal on any ordinary day), and is only for league play.
Prior statistical studies here at this site suggested that Shots is the most relevant factor in terms of predicting how a player will do, and that conversion from S-->SOG-->G is more random than closely tied to skill. If that is the case, then the Sounders should have little to worry about regarding Rosales's goal-scoring capabilities over the long term. But Rosales is here to provide assists--his 13 assists in 2011 were likely far more valuable overall than his 5 goals. This year he has 3 assists to 1 goal. And that 1 goal came off of one of his two SOG. Rosales has consistently been in a position to take a shot a little less than once per game. Last year that shot was on goal half the time; this year it is one in four, meaning he is putting a shot on frame once every 5 games. This might be a regression to the mean but it further underscores that Rosales is here to provide assists, which he is also doing at about half the rate. That is a problem.
I am not a tactics guy, so I can't say whether Sigi or the team construction is a problem. I don't know if playing with rookies in the midfield has caused him issues, or if having EJ7 as a target is undesirable, or if he has had to help out Scott more than he did Riley. I don't know if playing in the center of the diamond is what will unlock his pent-up creativity or if it is a formation that stifles his ability to find space.
I don't know if he's just been unlucky so far.
I do know that Rosales has not looked good to me. He has looked slower than he did last year, I think he has found it more difficult to beat defenders on the dribble, and his crosses have seemed a bit more erratic. These are subjective eyeball judgments, and I am not about to pass judgment based on that (*AHEM*). I am not sure if it is simply a lingering injury that will go away with proper rest. But I do know what the numbers say: Rosales has been less than half as effective as he was last year.
Right now Rosales is playing closer to Nyassi of '10 (.51 PPM), rookie Zakuani (.54 PPM), or (dare I say it) '11 league-play Fucito (.52 PPM). To reach the same numbers as last year, Rosales will need 4 goals and 10 assists over the next 1000 minutes or so. That would be a PPM of 1.62 over that span. I would like to see that run. I would like to see #TheTrialist again.