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Micheal Azira Can't Replace Osvaldo Alonso

Saturday's 0-0 draw with FC Dallas marked Micheal Azira's 9th start for Seattle Sounders FC, and his 3rd straight appearance in place of the injured Osvaldo Alonso to start the 2015 season. Azira has adapted well to the pace of the Seattle offense, but has struggled to remain defensively active in the last two games.

You'll be alright... please?
You'll be alright... please?

Micheal Azira has logged 816 minutes in central midfield (9 starts) for Seattle Sounders FC since joining the team in 2014 - a sample size large enough to begin to place his performance within the broader context of MLS midfielders. In the role chart above, Azira's combined 2014/2015 numbers are compared to 84 MLS starting midfielder performances from 2014 (data assembled from The high passing volume of Seattle's central midfield reflects the team's high-pace offense - and Azira has managed to (mostly) play up to speed with the strategy. At 85%, his passing accuracy ranks well above average (bearing in mind that the Sounders midfield emphasizes a great deal of low-risk possession). Unfortunately, his more-than-respectable mark of 10.81 defensive actions per 90' belies recent troubles. Excluding recoveries, Azira recorded 1 defensive action on Saturday - a 40th minute tackle. This marks his second straight game of becoming defensively invisible for long stretches of play. It wasn't for lack of trying - Azira was called for 5 fouls, all within the defensive half and 4 within the defensive third.

We shouldn't think that Osvaldo Alonso never suffers a poor defensive performance, but those are extremely rare. Azira's second such game in his 4 tries at directly replacing the Sounders midfield DP should prompt some concern. Seattle may never have enough depth, in this generation of MLS, to account for missing its 5 best players for a tough road game - but the team has never found a way to consistently make up for 1 specific player. Alonso has started 142 games for the Sounders since the beginning of the 2010 season (garnering 1.80 points per game, and a goal difference of +66). 6 different players have filled his role in the 27 games he missed or started on the bench:

Carrasco 9 -3 1.56
Ianni 6 -4 0.50
Evans 5 -1 1.40
Azira 4 1 1.00
Sturgis 2 1 2.00
Moffat 1 -2 0.00

If Seattle can't be a playoff-competitive team in its present style without Osvaldo Alonso, it may need to come up with different approach to account for his absence in key games.

Edit: Due to some popular demand, here's a version of the chart above with a few more named data points for the sake of context. On a cautionary note, remember that this plot is heavily determined by role and team style.

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