Underrated? Comparing Sean Davis’ 2018 to Three MLS All-Stars

Sean Davis isn’t your typical “veteran”. Maybe it’s his youthful appearance, or the fact he’s only 25-years-old. Yet he’s actually the fifth most tenured player on the New York Red Bulls roster with nearly 5,000 MLS minutes in 81 games played.

Now in his 4th year on the Red Bulls, Sean Davis is undoubtedly in the middle of his best season yet. Out of nine homegrown signings on the Red Bulls roster, arguably none have had a bigger impact on the Red Bulls starting eleven like Davis and Tyler Adams.

Underrated? Comparing Sean Davis’ 2018 to Three MLS All-Stars

Davis is an irreplaceable cog in the starting lineup, logging the most minutes of any Red Bulls midfielder in 2018 while chipping in 8 assists.

His partner in the double pivot, Adams, is having a breakout year of his own. Adams rightfully earned a 2018 MLS All-Star call up after David Villa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulled out.

Unlike Adams, Davis is farther along in his playing career and a move overseas is not in the cards for the time being. Davis was recognized as a long-term asset by the club prior to the 2018 season when they extended Davis’ contract until 2021 with a one-year option. Considering the Red Bulls’ frequent tendency to reinvent themselves, the decision to commit to Davis speaks volumes of his potential.

Vocal on the field, Davis appears to be a growing leader and it’s conceivable to think he may don the captain’s armband one day. If Davis plays out this season and the next three on his contract, he could very well etch his name in the franchise’s top 5 in all-time appearances.

And while his dirty work in the midfield often goes unnoticed, Davis has the stats to prove he’s been one of the most talented midfielders in MLS this year. Just how underrated is he?

Davis vs Three 2018 MLS All-Stars

It’s not easy to compare to Red Bulls players to others around the league, simply because nobody plays with the same defensive tenacity as New York. Thankfully American Soccer Analysis did a brilliant case study that analyzed pressing and defensive lines in relation to expected goals.

From their analysis, teams like Sporting KC and the New England Revolution press high, albeit not Red Bulls high. On the other hand, New York City FC don’t press as high as RBNY, SKC, or the Revolution, but they do win a high percentage of balls back in the midfield.

From each of those 3 teams, one of their defensive midfielders made the 2018 MLS All-Star team. New England’s Wilfried Zahibo, Sporting KC’s Ilie Sanchez and Alexander Ring from NYCFC.

Davis vs Zahibo

Looking at the team that attempts to play most like the Red Bulls is the New England Revolution. Head Coach Brad Friedel consistently rolls out a 4-2-3-1 formation and utilizes Wilfried Zahibo solely in the center of the midfield. Zahibo was a surprise pick from Atlanta United Coach, Tata Martino, simply because Zahibo’s stats alone don’t validate his selection. Sean Davis’ 2018 surpasses Zahibo’s in nearly all defensive and offensive categories.


Passing Accuracy 79% 75.6%
Key Passes 1.8 0.6
Tackles 2.1 2.5
Interceptions 2 0.7
Dribbled past pg 1.1 1.3
Direct assists/ MLS assists 4(8) 2(4)
Goals 0 3
Passes pg 53 35.9


Davis v Ilie

Next up is Ilie Sanchez, and for all intensive purposes Ilie is one of the league’s best #6’s, good defensively and a great distributor from the back.

Even though SKC does utilize the press, their 4-3-3 requires Ilie to sit deep to cover for surging outside backs while the other two central midfielders provide a second line of defense behind the pressing front three.

In less dangerous positions to pass the ball, Ilie boasts a higher passing percentage (85.6%-79%) and pass total per game (71-53) compared to Davis. Though on the other side of the ball, Davis’ defensive stats exceed Illie’s even while being in more precarious areas of the field.


Tackles 2.1 1.9
Interceptions 2 1.9
Dribbled past pg 1.1 1.6
Clearances 1.6 1.1


Davis v Ring

Like Sporting Kansas City, New York City expect Alexander Ring to do a very similar job. The deepest lying midfielder of all four players, Ring’s passing statistics are expectedly pretty impressive. On the defensive side of the ball, Ring is also very active beating out Davis, Zahibo and Ilie in many categories.

What pads those stats though is Ring’s lack of forward movement, which is not entirely his fault, likely a result of the NYCFC system. Nonetheless in 2018, Alexander Ring’s offensive contributions have been absent, just 1 goal and no assists. Davis on the other hand has been involved in 19% of the 42 goals the New York Red Bulls have scored in MLS this year.

In conclusion, Davis’ game is very under appreciated and certainly competes with the league’s best defensive midfielders. The one area Davis must improve on is his willingness to shoot. In 1603 MLS minutes, Davis has just four recorded shots and only 1 on goal.

Not to discredit Zahibo’s, Ilie’s, or Ring’s selections, they all deserve their moments. But from looking at numbers, Sean Davis’ progression is impressive and in the coming seasons he too might receive an All-Star call up. For now, the Holmdel, NJ native will just continue to do his job making the center of the field a no-man’s land for his opponents.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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