2012 Olympics, Featured

Olympics 2012: Window Shopping the Moneyball Talent

Stateside, we knew Andy Najar was good. Now the world, and more importantly, European scouts, have high-caliber competition to confirm that belief.

Jon Levy

We humble writers here at The Yanks Are Coming have always been proponents of infusing the soccer world with both logic and reason, less common elements within the game than you might think. So it should come as no surprise that we’re big fans of the book Soccernomics. Written by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, a couple dudes that share our ideals but possess a far greater talent for statistical regressions, Soccernomics is something like a plot-less version of baseball’s market-changing Moneyball.

Soccernomics presents findings on almost every aspect of the game, some of them surprising, some of them predictable. Among these findings, the book sheds some light on the best (statistical proof is offered in full) practices within the transfer market. For instance, it’s not surprising that players who have breakout performances in international tournaments tend to be overpriced due to a small sample size in games played, and a ridiculous number of eyeballs on them across the world. Meanwhile, Kuper and Szymanski posit that it’s most efficient to spend transfer dollars on players within the 20-23 year old range, because they tend to be known quantities at the front end of their primes.

So what about spending on a player who’s performing well in an Under-23 tournament that doesn’t get as many viewers as it deserves (on account of the rest of the Olympics going on)? Obviously no one’s getting a deal on a megastar like Neymar, or a player like Scott Sinclair that’s already showing promise in a major European league. Below we’ve listed some slightly under-the-radar players who are kicking ass at the Olympic tourney, and who, based on age and current location, could be game-changing bargains for your favorite European club.

Shuichi Gonda celebrates with Daisuke Sazuki in the wake of Japan's Olympic upset of Spain at Hampden Park. Gonda conceded zero goals in the group stages.

Shuichi Gonda: Japan’s 23 year old goalkeeper stands six foot two and plays his club ball for FC Tokyo. He started the Olympic tournament with a statement game, putting on a show and shutting out Spain. That clean sheet was rendered not quite as impressive in light of the fact that the young Spaniards didn’t score any goals at the Olympics, but they definitely made Gonda work in the Japan match, even after they went down a man. What’s more, after the Spain victory Gonda decided he wasn’t going to concede at all in group play.

European teams have traditionally been biased towards creative offensive players when they look to the Orient (who’s the defensive equivalent to JS Park or Shinji Kagawa? I’ll wait.), so Gonda represents a relatively inexpensive signing that could help smash stereotypes along with this particular European glass ceiling for Asian defenders and keepers.

Kensuke Nagai: And now it’s time to play on that bias. Because of the European affinity for Asian attackers over defenders, it’s probably more likely that a club swoops for Nagai. He plays for Nagoya Grampus in Japan, and his partners in attack have already been snapped up by Bundesliga teams. Yuki Otsu plays for Borussia Monchengladbach and Kiyotake plies his trade with American/not-American(?) Timothy Chandler at Nuremburg. The 23 year old Nagai chipped Morocco’s keeper to notch the win for Japan in their second match, and skill like that in combination with his speed and agility will make him a likely target for European clubs.

Pape Moussa Konate will look to parlay a great Olympiad to a big European contract, with the promise of being the next great African striker.

Pape Moussa Konaté: Aside from Brazil’s Neymar, Konaté is debatably the star of this Olympic tournament thus far. He’s got all four Senegal goals in the three group play matches. These goals have led to an upset win and two draws at some of soccer’s most iconic grounds. He’s a lightning-fast beast with the ball at his feet, he scores off of set pieces, and he doesn’t need many touches to get the job done. Sounds like a pedigreed donk striker huh? Nope, just a nineteen year old kid that plays in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Probably not for long.

Andy Nájar: Many of us saw this one coming a mile away. The former MLS Rookie of the Year, DC United’s star right winger Andy Najar broke American hearts when he chose to represent Honduras over the US last year. And now he’s taking his first big step within the Honduran national setup. Najar is serving as the midfield engine for Honduras; he’s even more active than he usually is with DC. Granted, he doesn’t have to front for the ball as often or defend as much when Dwayne De Rosario and Kitchen/Boskovic are on the field for United, but Andy’s all around display through three Olympic matches has been damn impressive. So what if a European club actually did want to take the talented winger away from our nation’s capital? It’s generally been a giant pain in the butt for clubs to negotiate with both team and league when dealing with MLS transfer targets, but choosing Honduras over his league’s home nation might have dropped the asking price for Najar. If only a little bit.

Jon Levy is Co-Editor and Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. E-mail him at jon.f.levy@gmail.com and find him and follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.

Jon Levy