How do you rate the effectiveness of a player?
There is no single answer to this question. Often, the easiest measure is statistical, and especially what happens on the ball. It is easy to point to Bradley Wright-Phillips as the greatest striker in New York Red Bulls history thanks to his prolific ability in front of the net.
Kaku’s greatness doesn’t always manifest in the scoresheet, but his ability on the ball is unparalleled on the Red Bulls roster. He wows the crowd with his silky control in tight spaces more frequently than he contributes directly to goals, though he dazzles in front of the net too. You only need to look at his first goal of the season in the Red Bulls home opener to see it.
Kaku completes his run, strikes the ball precisely in stride, and it is beautiful. Credit Florian Valot as well, picking out an inch perfect pass to set the table. But there are two other players that deserve their share of credit in the move leading up to the goal. Daniel Royer, and Brian White.
White took over for BWP last season, and saw a decent return on goals, 9 in total. More impressive? White managed just 12 shots on goal last season, 29 in total (1.2 shots per game average). It is possible that number goes up last season if not for an injury last summer against the New England Revolution.
Brian White’s story is tied to the idea that he can finish when he finds opportunities, but he struggles to find opportunities consistently. He had a mere 24 total touches on Sunday, and zero shots. That can be tough for a striker, and it is reasonable to question his inclusion in the lineup under those conditions alone. However, White provides much more to the game, and most of the work goes unnoticed, especially when it is off the ball.
Let’s breakdown the second goal again, but this time, look at White and Royer during the run up.
In the first image, take note of White’s position. He makes the run into the box, but instead of running into space, he bodies up the center back. In the frame, you can see that it gives Valot two options. Royer is now unmarked near the penalty spot, and Kaku is making the late run. Valot judged in the moment to play a pass with a greater chance of success, Kaku on the ground.
In the second image, Royer now reacts to the ball dropping deep. He recognizes Kaku’s position, and sets his body to act as a shield, allowing Kaku to strike. When Kaku meets the ball, he is a bubble of space created by both strikers, neither of whom are directly involved in the goal, but create a higher percentage opportunity for Kaku to strike.
In the second half, the Red Bulls needed another goal and White played an important part again. Sims and White made excellent diagonal runs pulling the center backs out of position as Kyle Duncan drove up the field. Duncan waited for the center backs to be out of position before playing the ball into Royer. White continues his run into the box, and watch what he does below.
Once again, he uses his body to create space. Kendall Waston cannot transition to follow Royer’s run immediately because White keeps his body on him. White peels off at the end, perhaps looking for Royer to pass, or just leaving a lane for the shot. Either way, the play results in a goal.
Both of these moments are just small moments in the play, and they mostly go unnoticed. When you compare White to Barlow or Jørgensen, this is the biggest difference between the three at this point in their careers.
But wait, there’s more
I call out these two examples, because they are easily digested with obvious benefit to the result, but White contributes in countless ways on and off the ball. His pressing, ability to win long balls in the air, movement off the runners, and poacher’s tendencies are all major benefits of his game.
White’s biggest sin as a player is his selflessness. Strikers often need a more ruthless, selfish streak to put up the double digit goal numbers Red Bull fans truly crave. He can get there, but it will take time. While we wait to see him fully blossom, enjoy the little things he does to help the team.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography