Despite not always getting the recognition that he deserves from around MLS, Vancouver Whitecaps winger Cristian Dajome has quietly been one of the league’s best forwards this year. Here’s a look at why his strong play has made him a potential league all-star candidate, even if those around MLS aren’t talking about it quite yet.
In just his 2nd season, he’s taken a big step forward.
After a pretty solid start to his MLS career in the 2020 season, Cristian Dajome has stepped up in a big way for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2021, becoming a key offensive contributor under head coach Marc Dos Santos.
Having scored 4 goals and 3 assists in 23 games last year, he’s already scored 6 goals and added 2 assists in just 15 matches this year, stepping up as the main guy for this ‘Caps offence.
Plus, if MLS’s assist tracking was more consistent, he could arguably have twice the number of helpers, as his involvement in his team’s offence might be even bigger than what the stats suggest, too, highlighting how big his contribution to this side has been.
Coming off of a debut season where he dealt with nightmarish conditions, he’s seemed much more settled this year, and the ‘Caps are reaping the benefits.
In 2020, he arrived at the club in time for the regular season, but his family, consisting of his wife and 3 kids, did not, as they worked through a visa issue that was supposed to be resolved quickly enough to see them rejoin Dajome sometime in March or April.
That may or may not have proven to be eventually true, but no one will ever know how much truth there was to that claim, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic then made it impossible for them to pick up that visa, leaving them stranded in their native Colombia.
Because of that, he was only reunited with his family in September of 2020, over 8 months after he first left for training camp, leaving him to play for much of the year without the support of his loved ones.
Then, almost ironically, right around that time, the ‘Caps then went down to the United States to play the 2nd part of their abbreviated MLS season, setting up base camp in Portland, once again splitting Dajome from his family, aside from small visits here and there.
So to say that 2020 was a tough one for him would be an understatement.
But thankfully for him, that’s all changed in 2021, as despite the ‘Caps relocation to their new base camp in Utah, he and his teammates have been able to bring their families down with them, making their ‘home-away-from-home’ feel a little more like, well, home.
Seeing that, it maybe shouldn’t be a surprise to see Dajome shine as he has, but either way, it couldn’t have come at a better time for a ‘Caps team in need of someone to step up and shoulder the load offensively.
Thanks to that, it’s put Dajome in some pretty good territory among MLS peers, helping put him in a discussion that some might not have ever expected him to be in when they first saw him play last year.
Stats spark an interesting discussion:
And make no mistake, with his play as of late, Dajome has started to put himself in pretty good territory with his offensive output.
As of writing, he sits tied for 12th in MLS scoring with his 6 goals, and is tied for 11th in terms of goals+assists (G+A) with 8, quietly becoming one of the league’s prime performers this year, despite playing mostly as an out-and-out winger.
For a ‘Caps team that has had their fair share of offensive struggles this season, they certainly can’t complain about that sort of output from him, especially considering that just 2 of his goals have come via penalties, too.
Otherwise, he also sits top 30 in MLS in dribbles per game, while finding himself 20th in Expected Goals (xG) and 45th in non-penalty xG, which are pretty solid numbers for a player on a ‘Caps team that is a bottom 5 team at generating xG.
To get an idea of how relatively solid he’s been, just look at how he stacks up compared to his peers via his percentile chart, provided by football reference, which takes his numbers on a per-90 minutes basis and compares him to other players at his position over that same time span.
As seen here, he’s in or around the top half of players at his position for non-penalty goals, assists, progressive carries and expected assists offensively, and in the top half of players in tackles, interceptions and aerials won defensively.
And even more importantly, these numbers are also made up of a good chunk of his 2020 numbers, which means that they don’t tell the full story of how good he’s been in 2021.
When looking at his 2021 numbers in isolation, a lot of his numbers go from average to elite, as he then sits in the 86th percentile in goals (up from 65th), 72nd percentile in non-penalty goals (up from 53rd), 83rd percentile in xG (up from 54th) and 66th percentile in non-penalty xG (up from 39th).
Basically, to understand what that means, it shows that if you include both his numbers between the end of July of 2020 and now, he was a slightly above average winger/attacking midfielder in MLS in terms of generating and scoring goals.
If you just look at his 2021 numbers, though, he is now in the top quarter among his peers in those same statistical categories, showing the step up that he’s taken this year.
That’s backed up by SofaScore’s radar tool, which takes a player’s stats in a given season and does the same sort of comparison to other players at their position.
As seen here, on Dajome’s SofaScore radar, he comes out pretty well (the green radar is Dajome’s, the yellow one is that of an average MLS player.)
When compared to other players at his position, Dajome is above average in attacking stats and technical stats, and is average in creation stats, which is pretty good.
For a player that has to cover a lot of ground, he’s found a way to be pretty effective at popping up in the box and creating (and finishing chances) for himself, helping him explain his production.
And what’s most impressive about all of these numbers?
This discussion has hardly shifted to his defensive stats, which are arguably his bread and butter, as he’s one of the best forwards in terms of pressuring opponents high up the field and winning the ball back, as seen in the percentile charts.
Purely based on offensive numbers, Dajome’s been among the best in MLS at his position, so when you factor in his defensive ability, it only increases his value to this ‘Caps team.
Cristian Dajome … MLS all-star?
So because of that, the question has to be asked – does Dajome get the due praise he deserves?
In Whitecaps land, the answer is yes, as he’s an early-favourite for the team’s MVP award among fans, but seeing that both his counting and advanced stats have been pretty good, is he talked about enough around MLS?
The answer there is probably no, as despite being just outside the top 10 in the whole league for goals and G+A, talk about him in MLS circles has been limited.
And that’s too bad, because he’s quietly emerged as a decent MLS all-star candidate.
It might be outlandish to imagine, but yes, Dajome could very well be a good all-star candidate as it stands.
The fan voting for the all-star game is now closed, so he’ll be unlikely to get in via that route, but he could certainly have a claim to get in via another avenue, such as the commissioner’s pick, and here’s why.
So far this season, Dajome has been involved in a staggering 50% of the ‘Caps goals, which is a number that only bested by Inter Miami’s Gonzalo Higuain, who has been involved in 70% of Inter Miami’s goals (which to be fair, is a league-worst 10).
For reference, Dajome has as many goals as the ‘Caps next two best goalscorers (Lucas Cavallini and Deiber Caicedo) do combined, showing how vital he’s been to Vancouver’s offensive efforts.
On a ‘Caps team that has scored the 5th-fewest goals in all of MLS, and sits 21st out of 27 teams in MLS, for him to then be even within sniffing the top 10 in the league in terms of goals and G+A is quite impressive, especially considering how poor they’ve been offensively.
There’s a reason why in the 5 games in which Dajome has scored a goal, his team has a record of 2W-0L-3D (9 PTS), which is an impressive haul of 64% of the 14 points they’ve picked up over the course of the season.
Plus, when factoring in some intangibles, such as the fact that all of those numbers have come on a ‘Caps team yet to play in Vancouver in 2021, Dajome’s strong play also makes for a great story, which can always help one pick up all-star recognition.
Considering all of that, though, it starts to add up, so the question looms – what’s holding him back?
Unfortunately, he’s hindered by the fact that he plays on one of MLS’s non-marquee franchises, making it harder for him to get noticed unless he’s blowing away observers with eye-popping hot streaks.
That’s not the worst thing in the world, as actually playing in the all-star game can be more of a curse than a blessing, just adding another game to an already busy summer schedule, but it is nice to see players get their due recognition.
So all of this to say, although the ‘Caps will be thankful that he’s very unlikely to actually make the all-star team, he’s got every reason to at least be in the discussion to be there, showing how good he’s been for this Vancouver team.
Can he sustain this form?
But all-star or not, another important question looms – can he sustain this offensive level?
And the answer is, surprisingly, yes, because as seen above, his xG and actual goal numbers are pretty similar to one another, showing that his current offensive pace is quite sustainable.
With 0.35 xG per 90 minutes, compared to 0.42 actual goals/90, he’s just slightly overperforming his xG, but that’s not a completely unreasonable discrepancy for a player to have.
Along with his split of 0.25 non-penalty xG/90 to 0.28 to non-penalty goals, it shows that when it comes to scoring from open play, the math also adds up.
So considering that, it’s quite exciting to imagine what his production might end up looking like over the course of the full season.
Sitting just shy of the halfway point of this campaign, if you translate his numbers over the course of the full 34-game slate, he’s projected to finish with around 13 goals and 4-5 assists, which is pretty darn good, especially for a winger.
Just for context, that’d be the 4th-most proficient goal-scoring season by a Whitecap, coming from a wide player, to boot.
Obviously, that’ll be easier said than done, but with the impending arrival of #10 Ryan Gauld, service should improve over the next few months, not decrease, so it’s not as if he won’t have the opportunity to keep scoring goals.
Either way, he’s already provided excellent value for the ‘Caps, and still only 27, he isn’t due for a decline, so you just have to feel that more good things are coming for Dajome.
Now, Dajome will look to continue his strong 2021 season into this weekend, as he and his ‘Caps teammates approach the halfway mark of this MLS campaign.
Along with the impending arrival of Gauld, the team has also finally started training in Vancouver once again, ahead of their official return back to BC Place to play home games later in August, showing that better days are indeed ahead of them.
Because of that, it’ll be interesting to see the sort of impact that has both on Dajome on his teammates, as they’ll certainly benefit from the boost of returning home.
Despite that, though, it clearly hasn’t affected Dajome as hard, as seen by his numbers, so one can only imagine what he can do when back in town.
But even without that, he’s proven to be a key defensive and emotional leader on this team, even wearing the armband in their most recent game against LAFC, so even if he isn’t scoring, Dajome knows how to make a positive impact on games.
So while his production may or may not fall off as the season progresses, his value to this team will still remain high, but if he does keep scoring, it’ll be interesting to see if he finally starts to get the recognition that he deserves around the league as a potential all-star level winger.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Minnesota United, Saturday, July 31st, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)