There's been a debate going on among Sporting KC fans for much of the last 6-9 months or so. That debate is who should be starting up top for Sporting KC in the center forward position. Since Dom Dwyer returned from his loan to Orlando City in June of last year he's started to get more and more of the game action. He started Sporting KC's stretch run in league play last year and started over KC's designated player, Claudio Bieler at MLS Cup. It was Bieler though that was on the field when KC scored against Salt Lake and who scored his PK in the shootout that helped KC win.
This year the two have split time so far in the four games. While Dwyer has gotten the starts in all three of KC's league games, Bieler has gotten the two starts in the two Champions League games against Cruz Azul. But really who has been a better starter for KC? I took a look at some of KC's stats when Bieler and Dwyer are on the field.
I started by looking at the main stat that forwards are judged on, goals. Bieler obviously scored more goals, but I decided to look further and see how many goals KC scored when both Bieler and Dwyer were on the field.
The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that the two have never been on the field at the same time in a competitive game. The two spent time on the field together during preseason, but that hasn't carried over competitive play yet. One or the other has been on the field for all but 277 minutes of the 3,060 that KC played in league play last year. One of the two were on the field for 45 of KC's 47 league goals. The two they weren't on the field for was Graham Zusi against Colorado, and Lawrence Olum against Philadelphia.
Second, Bieler played over three times the minutes that Dwyer did during the 2013 season (2,109 vs 674). When looking at the goals per game, there isn't a huge difference, when Bieler was on the field, KC averaged 1.54 goals per 90 minutes, while for Dwyer the team averaged 1.2. In all competitions, the gap closes, Bieler's goals per 90 minutes fell to 1.49 while Dwyer's rose to 1.42.
When looking at the 2014 numbers included there's a large difference. Dwyer's numbers fall to under a goal every 90 minutes to .97, mainly due to the fact that KC has scored just one goal in his 257 minutes this season. Bieler's meanwhile increased to 1.57 as KC scored one goal in his 13 minutes of league play so far this season. In all competitions, Bieler still remains higher with 1.5 goals per 90 minutes while Dwyer is at 1.17 goals per 90 minutes.
When I was sharing this information on Twitter the other day, I had someone ask about Kei Kamara's effect on the goals. The Sierra Leone international was Sporting's second leading scorer last season with seven goals, while only playing a third of the games. So it's a fair assumption to ask how his presence affected both player's goal scoring.
Dwyer never started a game with Kamara, he only played 42 minutes with him. During that time though KC scored three goals in those limited minutes. Close to 50% of Bieler's minutes came with Kamara on the field, but so did half of the goals scored (18 of the 36 scored with him on the field). Without Kamara's minutes on the field, Dwyer's goals per 90 minutes dropped below one, to .85 per 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the scoring rate with Bieler stayed relatively the same, with 1.51 per 90 minutes.
The next thing that I looked at was the scoring statistics home and away. When it came to home goals, I was quite surprised at the difference. With Bieler on the field for 1,144 minutes in league play last year and this year, KC is averaging 1.97 goals per 90 minutes. Meanwhile for Dwyer, KC is averaging over a goal less per 90 minutes, at .96. Away from home the stats were much closer, but Bieler still held the lead, with 1.1 goals per 90 minutes while Dwyer was at .98 per 90 minutes.
Since we are Sporting KC though and we now that a key part of Peter Vermes' style is his high pressure and defending from the front I also took a look at KC's defensive record when the two forwards were on the field. The stats here most definitely favor Dwyer over Bieler. In league play last year, only four goals were scored while Dwyer was on the field, an average of .53 goals per 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Bieler's was quite a bit higher, at .94 per 90 minutes. Combine this year's league play, and the difference increases as Dwyer has fallen to .48 while Bieler is up to .98.
In all competitions in 2013, both players numbers dropped further from last year with Dwyer at .47 and Bieler at .89. Factor in 2014, which includes the big loss in Mexico City and both player's numbers rise. Bieler goes to 1.01 goals per 90 minutes while Dwyer goes up to .51.
Like above, I also took a look at KC's record home and away with the two. The difference between the two is comparable to the numbers for goals scored. While KC is scoring more at home (1.97 goals per 90 minutes) and away (1.1 goals per 90 minutes) with Bieler, their defensive record is worse (1.1 goals per 90 minutes at home, .82 goals per 90 minutes on the road). For Dwyer, his offense at home was worse (.96 goals per 90 minutes), his defensive record was excellent (.19 goals per 90 minutes). And on the road is difference was comparable to Bieler's (.97 for while .78 against).
In the end it's a matter of what Vermes wants. KC seems to score more when Bieler is on the field, but with Dwyer on, KC's defense appears to be much more stout. With the way Vermes has liked to play I'm not totally surprised that as of late last year and early this year, Dwyer has gotten the majority of the minutes. But throughout preseason, and against Cruz Azul in KC, Bieler showed a lot more defensive bite and a better work rate that would seem to fall more in line with what Vermes wants out of his forwards.
There are obviously a number of other factors that can be split out here, but I thought the break down for the two players was interesting. It'll be interesting to see how the minutes get divided up as the season goes, and if Vermes does end up trying to put them on the field together with Bieler playing behind Dwyer.