SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 08: Christian Tiffert #13 of the Seattle Sounders FC dribbles against Nick LaBrocca #10, and Shalrie Joseph #18 of Chivas USA at CenturyLink Field on September 8, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. The Sounders defeated Chivas 2-1. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
It's getting to be about that time where we start to look at the Seattle Sounders' decision to sign Christian Tiffert and trade away Alvaro Fernandez. The Sounders and Chicago Fire have each played eight games since the trade and appear to be locked in a pretty tight race to see who finishes higher up the regular-season table.
I know it's tempting to look at Fernandez's week and start to wonder if the Sounders may have made a mistake. Fernandez has scored a pair of goals and chipped in an assist in a pair of Fire wins. What makes it all the more frustrating is that the pregame graphic before the Fire's win over the Montreal Impact indicated that Fernandez was playing as a center mid.
Let me first assure you of one thing: I've gone through all of Fernandez's heat maps since the trade and, despite what pregame graphics may tell us, he's only played as a center mid once and that was back on Aug. 12 against the Philadelphia Union.
That's not to say that Fernandez has not been good. In fact, he's been just about the player many of us thought he was when he was with the Sounders: a solid left winger, who was probably miscast as a Designated Player. The Fire have gone 6-1-1 with a 18-11 goal difference. Obviously, those are very good numbers.
As he was with the Sounders, he's been a bit prone to giving the ball away too easily. In all but one match, he's been dispossessed at least 11 times. He's also not the most accurate passer, completing at least 75 percent of his passes in 3 of 7 appearances. His two goals and one assist have come in 482 minutes of playing time, which equates to a solid .93 PP90.
The Sounders haven't exactly struggled without Fernandez, though. They have gone 5-1-2 with a 19-8 goal difference in league play since the trade.
More relevantly, Tiffert has been everything we could have expected. Sure, his two assists in 442 minutes don't jump of the page, and equate to a modest .40 PP90. But you have to look a little deeper to really find his value. Luckily, that's exactly what this week's "Central Winger" did over at MLSsoccer.com.
Using all kinds of fancy graphs and charts that you really should just go check out, Devin Pleuler illustrates just how good Tiffert has been and what kind of effect he's had on the Sounders' attack. In the six games Tiffert has played, for instance, the Sounders are 4-1-1 with a +10 goal-difference.
While it's tempting to question just how much of that Tiffert is responsible for, the numbers suggest it's a significant chunk. With Tiffert doing a lot of the work in the middle of the park, the Sounders have gone from a decent passing team in the offensive third to a very good one. The sheer number of balls that they are pumping into the goal box has increased dramatically and the number of passes they've completed just outside of the penalty area has also gone up sharply.
When cross-referenced with Tiffert's own passing numbers, it's pretty clear that he's the one doing a lot of that passing and completing. No, he's not racking up assists and it's entirely possible that will continue to be the case. But what Tiffert is doing is the kind of stuff that allows guys like Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero to be even more aggressive as they no longer need to worry about picking the ball up near midfield.
It's hard to argue that the Sounders wouldn't be better off if Fernandez was still with the team, but it's even harder to argue that they aren't better off now than they were before the trade.