Reyna’s Redemption: Why Yordy Reyna has the potential to be the Vancouver Whitecaps wild card in 2020

Heading into the start of the 2020 MLS season, we take a deeper look at one of Vancouver’s longest-tenured players, Yordy Reyna, and why he can be a wild card on this Whitecaps team looking to improve offensively. 

These past few years, his presence in Vancouver has remained consistent, while his performances have both entertained and frustrated.

Many faces have come and gone this offseason for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but one name still around as the season approaches is the enigmatic Yordy Reyna, with the Peruvian International preparing to embark on his 4th season in MLS. 

Despite there being some off-season chatter that he could very well return to Peru, with less than 3 weeks until first kick, he still remains part of the squad, making him a pretty safe bet to at least stick around for the considerable future. 

For a Vancouver team looking to improve on its 2019 offensive totals, a season in which they scored a paltry 37 goals, good for 2nd-worse in MLS behind FC Cincinnati, keeping Reyna will help them in their quest to fill more goals next sesaon. Last year, he was 2nd on the team in goals, with 7, but more importantly, he led the team in non-penalty goals, with all of those 7 tallies coming via open play or free kicks. 

Yet at the same time, it felt like there was still more to be unearthed from him last season, as he only contributed 1 primary assist, a far cry from the 9 he put up in 2018. You throw in his slow start to the year, as he struggled to adjust to the new winger role bestowed upon him by Marc Dos Santos, along with the May ankle injury that derailed one of his best periods of form, and it seems that there is more to be had there going forward, which is exciting to imagine for Vancouver. 

But for all of the offensive excitement he could potentially bring to this Whitecaps side, another big question looms: where does he exactly fit in this team? His natural position is as a second striker, one who can also play as a #10 and as a #9, but on a Whitecaps side already locked in at the #9 with the arrival of DP Lucas Cavallini, it seems likely that he may play a bit out of position once again. 

With the ‘Caps shifting to a 4-2-3-1 so far this preseason, a spot does open up for him at the #10 spot, a position he filled in that 2018 season, but if not, a move back out to the wing seems the likeliest option. 

Wherever he does slot in, however, the team will be hoping for big things from him, as he looks to push back into the Peruvian National Team conversation with some big performances. 

What can he contribute offensively?

Statistically, Reyna remains a very intriguing player, as he’s had to adjust to many different roles over his time in MLS. He started out as a winger during the 2017 preseason, before an injury robbed him of his regular season debut until the summer, which allowed a then 16-year-old Alphonso Davies to cement a starting spot he pretty much ran away with for the next 2 years.

From there, once he made his first appearance, Reyna was deployed mostly as a #10, first developing good chemistry with Fredy Montero in the second half of 2017, before linking up well with Davies and Kei Kamara in 2018. 

Then with Dos Santos’s arrival last year, it was back out to the wing to start the campaign, then shifting to the #9 after a few weeks, before finishing the season mostly as a hybrid wide player/second striker in Dos Santos’s 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree. 

Despite these shifts in positions, he’s kept mostly consistent numbers, improving his dribbling and shooting statistics since coming to MLS, while experiencing a drop-off in xG, xA and Key Passes, which is mostly consistent with the trajectory of the Whitecaps, who went from 3rd in the West in 2017 to last in 2019. 

To get an idea of how he’s progressed, here is a chart and graphic showing his numbers year-over-year. 

PlayerExpected Goals/90 (XG)Expected Assists/90 (XA)Key Pass/90Succ Dribbles/90Shots/90
Yordy Reyna (2019)0.170.091.011.52.52
Yordy Reyna (2018)0.260.31.611.21.93
Yordy Reyna (2017)0.350.21.730.92.05

To get an idea of what that translates to over the course of a full season, his best xG/90 (0.35) and xA/90 (0.30) season translates to around 9 goals and 8 assists (over 26 games, to give 8 games/720 minutes leeway for rest and substitutions), while his worst (0.17xG+0.09) translates to around 4 goals and 2 assists. 

The former is quite impressive, as flirting with 10+ goals and assists in a season is usually only done by high-end offensive players (only 4 players in 2019 pulled off the vaunted 10+10), whereas the latter does leave a fair bit to be desired, especially as a #10. While his lowest xG and xA numbers both came from last year, where he was played as a winger and striker on a team that noticeably struggled at getting the ball up the pitch, it still does leave some room to be worried. 

Yet at the same time, when surrounded by better offensive players, he did flourish, so with this edition of the ‘Caps adding noted offensive producers Lucas Cavallini and Cristian Dajome, you’d figure that Reyna could return to his 2017 and 2018  numbers. He did attempt significantly more dribbles and shots last year, which came as a result of him often having to do things on his own offensively, which does help explain the significant decline in both key passes and xA. 

And, luckily for him, it appears that Vancouver will either play a 4-3-3 with a very fluid concept of wingers, or in the 4-2-3-1 that they’ve recently tested out, both of which will benefit Reyna massively. With Dajome looking likely to play on the right in both of those formations, that leaves room for Reyna to slot in as the left winger in the 4-3-3 or as a left midfielder or #10 in the 4-2-3-1, with the wide players in both cases playing rather narrow. 

Given that the Whitecaps have Ali Adnan at left back, with the Iraqi international being expected to fly forward at every opportunity, it would allow Reyna to pretty much operate centrally from his wide position anyways, putting him in a more favourable position to succeed. 

From either of those two roles, that could allow him to return to his 2017 and 2018 offensive output, which would give a big boost to this Whitecaps offence. His key pass numbers from those years would have placed him in the top 30 in MLS last season, while his xG and xA totals would have had him similarly ranked.

There’s a reason that many had so much hope for him to carry the mail for the Whitecaps last year, as his 2017 and 2018 numbers had lots of reason to be excited about, as he compared favourably amongst his peers. Even against someone like Miguel Almiron, who scored 12 goals and 14 assists en route to an MLS Cup win and MLS-record outbound transfer to Newcastle United at the end of 2018, Reyna wasn’t that far off, as we can see below. 

PlayerXG/90XA/90Key Pass/90Succ Dribbles/90Shots/90
Yordy Reyna (2019)0.170.091.011.52.52
Yordy Reyna (2018)0.260.31.611.21.93
Yordy Reyna (2017)0.350.21.730.92.05
Miguel Almiron (2018)0.460.32.282.24

While Reyna isn’t quite close in some of these stats, he did stack up pretty well for the most part, especially in xA and key passes. Even if he’s only 70% of Almiron, that’s still a player most teams would love to have in their squad, even if he’s not necessarily bringing the unrelentless defensive work rate and other attributes that made the Atlanta United star so special. 

Fit

Reyna celebrates scoring a late free-kick against Colorado in 2019 (Keveren Guillou)

Part of what makes Reyna such an interesting player is his style of play, part of which why Dos Santos deployed him further forward, as he’s a unique kind of #10. Defensively, he does have the speed and work rate to make a difference, but he can often find himself disengaged without the ball, which can be frustrating to watch when the team loses possession. 

Offensively, he does have the creativity to put his teammates into good offensive positions, but he’s not a traditional line-breaking kind of creator, as he often prefers to create layoffs and short passes into space for others. Thanks to his dribbling, one of his strengths, he can suck in defenders into tight spaces, opening up room for others, provided that he can find them. 

Yet despite his strong dribbling, it’s also the thing that can frustrate most, as he can push himself too far into trouble, allowing opponents time to close down passing lanes, which can force turnovers or nullify good scoring threats. He’s gotten a lot better at toeing that line, but it’s still something he’s still working on, as he can sometimes revert to his old habits at certain moments. 

When looking at those attributes, it’s crazy to think that he didn’t really pan out as a winger, but that’s just a testaement to his unique style of play, as he prefers the freedom of the middle of the pitch, instead of the closed-off nature of the wide areas. 

On this Whitecaps side, they’ll need him to be at his creative best, be it as a winger or as a #10, as they look to play an up-tempo brand of high-pressing and possession-based football. He’ll have to not only press, but be able to play quickly in certain areas. He should still have the freedom to dribble at certain moments, but be also able to find a way to keep the lengthy dribbles to a minimum, especially when the team has numbers forward in the middle third. 

So far this preseason, he’s so far played as a winger, striker and number #10 in their 3 games, in that order, so where he’ll end up is anyone’s guess, but the latter 2 positions are what he’s played since the shift to the 4-2-3-1, which is important to note. Obviously where he lines up come the start of the season will depend on how he plays in the Portland preseason tournament, as well as how the other players around him play, but what’s clear is that it’s all still very much up in the air. 

Avoiding the slow start

But no matter where he plays, one thing he’ll want to avoid this year is a slow start, something that’s plagued him in all 3 of his MLS seasons. The first year it was an injury, the second was off-the-field woes, while last year was just an all-around combination of shifting into a new position, adjusting to a new coach and the team’s overall struggles. 

This year, with most of the ‘Caps squad getting a chance to work together for a good chunk of the preseason, it’s expected that it leads to a much stronger start as a whole. For Reyna, who’s kept a low-profile this offseason besides those early-January rumours, along with the improvements around him, it’s hoped that he can come out of the gates running this year. 

So in that regard, it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in this upcoming Portland preseason tournament, with Vancouver playing 3 games over their week or so down in the Rose City. 

With all of the matches being broadcast, unlike the 3 matches the Whitecaps played down in San Diego, it’ll give people a first look into how the offseason rebuild and training camp have so far gone, while also giving an idea of how match-ready the likes of Reyna will be come February 29th. 

As it has been clear throughout his 3 years in MLS, when he’s on, he can bring the magic, the key will being to make sure he’s in a position to bring that game-in and game-out for this squad, starting with first kick. 

Looking Forward

It’ll be interesting to see how Reyna fares in his 4th MLS season, provided he’s still around come February 29th, as a possible move always does loom. He has the talent to help improve the ‘Caps offence, as he’s shown over the years, but it’s unclear yet if he’s got a defined role in this squad, especially not one that fits his style of play. 

But with the ‘Caps bringing in some new faces, such as Cristian Dajome, Lucas Cavallini, David Milinkovic and Ryan Raposo, without mentioning the already present Fredy Montero, Tosaint Ricketts and Theo Bair, if he is unable to match the standard of play required, there are plenty of others ready to replace him. 

Early indications suggest that a spot is defeinitely there for him, now it’s just time for him to step up and grab it. If he can find a way to do that, while also reaching the standard of play he’s shown capable of meeting in the past, watch out. 

Heading into a 2020 season filled with all sorts of intriguing storylines, from new arrivals to the return of others, and everything between, he’s yet another one worth keeping an eye on. 

And as he’s shown in the past, at the very least, there won’t be a boring outcome. 

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