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Breakdown: The Enigma of Willy Agada

At a time when Sporting Kansas City needs him to have a killer instinct in front of goal, Willy Agada has not been Mickey Knox on the pitch. Nor has he been Captain John Miller, learning from his mistakes and refining his game and saving his side from death.

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A breath of fresh air. A packet of athleticism with a brimming smile attached. And goals for Sporting Kansas City.

Goals like these:

v Seattle Sounders, October 2, 2022

v Portland Timbers, August 21, 2022

v Minnesota United, September 17, 2022

Sporting Kansas City’s addition of striker Willy Agada in June of 2022 not only helped propel a downtrodden side to an 8-5-2 finish after a 3-11-5 start, but it inspired headlines such as “Sporting Kansas City Livin’ Willy Style: Agada smile” (you’re welcome, lol) and provided hope for a new 2023. Agada was lightning in a 5’9”, 165 lbs bottle, scoring eight goals in 918 minutes.

The Bauchi, Nigeria, native had scored 37 goals plying his trade in the Israeli second division and Premier League for four seasons, beginning as an 18-year-old, before flying to the Midwest and Major League Soccer.

And even after his injury-plagued 2023 (four goals in 16 appearances), as lately as April of this season Agada has been proposed as Sporting’s best #9 – despite the presence of Mexican striker Alan Pulido – and called “inevitable” no matter his continual habit of wasting chances.

Related:  2.0 Breakdown of the Match: Sporting Kansas City v Toronto FC – KC Soccer Journal

A unique brand of frustrating – Sporting KC (kcsoccerjournal.com)

Agada’s three goals and two assists in 769 minutes this season are far from celebratory. Yet, they teeter on the edge of… ‘You know, that’s not too bad.” …except when one realizes all five goal contributions came in a string of five starts from March 23 through April 20, more than a month and half ago.

But that is the enigma of Willy Agada: He still gets in good positions. And it seems like he is effective on the field. Most of his stats are in the upper percentile when compared to his MLS peers per fbref.com. However, his latest performances (like his squad’s, to be fair) have been exasperating. The damning comes more clear in two 2024 statistics: shots on target (31.43%) and goals minus expected goals (-3.12).

Why? Why is Agada an enigma? Let’s get to the breakdown.

(The following in-match examples are not definitive, just suggestive of what has been seen from Agada this season and in seasons past.)

When Agada arrived in 2022 and went on a hot streak to eventually tie for Sporting’s Golden Boot that season, he lived on good service and strong positioning enabled by the naivety and unfamiliarity of opposing defenses (see the above examples). Two years on, defenses are aware of Agada’s danger. Yet, two years on, Agada has mostly failed to sharpen the finer points of his game. It is not a positive combination.

In Sporting Kansas City’s 3-1 loss at Minnesota United last Saturday night, Agada was assigned an xG of 0.25. The 36th minute, however, provided a moment that should have been a strong chance.

Credit: AppleTV

Having gotten in behind the Minnesota backline, Agada has midfielder Kervin Arriaga retreating towards him as Agada attempts to take down a flighted pass from Kansas City center back Dany Rosero. It is not an easy play. Agada turns his body such that his touch – no matter poor or strong – will put the ball in danger of the other United defender who is square to Agada. Instead, Agada – who is some 20 yards out – should angle his body so his “no matter” touch is forward and towards goal. The result would have been more goal dangerous and not a foregone loss of possession and may have required penalty-worthy intervention by Arriaga.

In the 45th minute, Agada twice attempts to head the ball in Minnesota’s box with a host of four United defenders entrapping him. One of those defenders, Michael Boxall, gets a foot touch on the ball sending it into Agada’s path. Agada, as is his solid instinct, touches to space. But his touch is dirty, loose, as it often is. Boxall brushes off Agada and initiates a counter.

A striker playing (and often starting) in MLS should have certain skills. He must in order to succeed in what is a tight, more physical league with more athletically gifted defenders than lower leagues. Agada’s unrefined framing of his body and his touch played well in the Israeli league, but he must be more direct, quicker, and tighter with the ball.

There are moments, though, when Agada’s touch is clean and advantageous.

Here in the 59th minute, the Nigerian is laser-focused on getting a shot off from his deft touch. So laser-focused that he never takes a peak at where the defender is. Perhaps the easily-blocked shot attempt is a symptom of someone who is pressing, is desperate to at least get off a shot that might fly past the ‘keeper. A feint, a jig, a quick touch for space. The understanding of the need for subtlety: One or all are necessary here for a high-percentage chance. Come on, Willy, deke the guy!

Agada knocked down a good ball for Pulido in the 70th minute, and he was fearless on two attempted headers in the loss. Thus, there are still strong moments. Most frustrating and definitely confusing about Agada has been his performance in the biggest moments.

Although his penalty kick miss v Portland Timbers on Sunday, April 7, 2024, was not the cause of Kansas City’s collapse and subsequent draw after being up 3-0 (two of the three from Agada), it certainly did not help. The impact is even greater being that the draw was the beginning of Sporting’s current 10-match winless streak. If Agada’s attempt had been a strong strike saved by a valiant goalkeeper, the sting would possibly be less. As it is, the slow roller that went wide of the frame is a stain on Agada’s performance.

Then came Saturday night, minute eighty-seven. Agada is on the break, having received freely just into Minnesota’s half. As he steams towards the goal with a chance to bring KC within one, he is chased and then mildly touched or pulled on the shoulder by Boxall as Agada nears United’s box. With no other contact, Agada clatters to the ground trying to gain a penalty kick call by feigning a trip. A clear shot to the near post of United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair is there. A professional player should bury that opportunity nine times out of ten.

WATCH: Minnesota United roll over reeling Sporting KC | MLSSoccer.com

Get the job done. Be bold, not falsely clever. Dutifully execute. And give your side, a side navigating a trying stretch, a chance. Show the side what desire is.

Agada has a contract with Sporting Kansas City through 2024 with a team option for 2025. His underlying numbers are mostly strong. He still gets in good positions. He is an effective attacking piece.

But at a time when his club needs him to have a killer instinct in front of goal, Willy Agada has not been Mickey Knox on the pitch, neither pure nor industrial. Nor has he been Captain John Miller, learning from his mistakes and refining his game and saving his side from death.

At the least, Sporting (and the young guns who have been sharing the pitch with Agada lately) need the striker to be the veteran who has the guile and the grit to kill when the situation calls for it, a William Munny dragging around the locker room saying, “It’s a hell of a thing killin’ [off a team]. Take away all [they] got, and all [they] ever gonna have.” Unforgiving.

Only then will Willy be the Agada of 2022, raising up everyone around him: “Bro, It’s crazy. These guys, they’re just making me to be a star, bro. They’re cooking always. I’m just eating, you know.”

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skcfanipromise

There’s no enigma. The difference between 2022 and now is time spent in Vermes’ system.

kcrews123

Yup. We used to be a lot more penetrating with runs, now everyone is muted out to endlessly passing around the box. We used to string together passes that – even when they were outside the box – resulted in a well put together sequence finished by a purposeful pass and subsequent shot, not a ball falling to someone outside the box who gets lucky with a wonderstrike.

Now it’s doing the same thing over and over, hoping the ball falls just right or taking too many touches in hopes of that perfect touch, etc.

Thommy is the only one who still seems to play his own way, and I think theres a correlation between that and him being the best player on the team right now

A&W

I see these “we used to” posts that lay all the blame on Peter like Peter wasn’t the coach when we used to do those things last year and in 21 and in 20 and in 18. Peter has a ton of faults. Poor rotation, can’t develop youth consistently, values workrate more than skill, plays favorites etc but the tactical system is fine when the players actually execute it. It’s not his fault that Brian Bliss and the scouting network can’t find guys who want to come here who can execute that system.

ar_jhawk

Then Director of Soccer Operations Peter Vermes should fire Brian Bliss and hire someone that Coach Vermes can work with. Preferably not someone who has covered up rape and domestic violence.

KCSpurs1996

If Brian Bliss is truly the problem, he should have been gone by now. They had the opportunity to replace him and fumbled it completely with hiring wilkinson. They paid a consulting firm to find them candidates and took no action on those recommendations. Bad moves by club leadership, among which Vermes is a part of and shares the accountability.

A&W

What these guys are doing out there week in and week out is NOT what Vermes’s system is all about. His whole mantra is that you put the ball on frame and good things happen. When this team has been at it’s best since they fully migrated to the press-and-possess system in 2018 they have relentlessly peppered keepers with shots from all over the attacking third. The long shots are obviously lower percentage but they also force teams to come out of their box-packing tendencies that they almost always fall into when SKC is flying.

These guys taking extra touches and failing to shoot is NOT what Vermes is trying to get them to do. They’re gunshy offensively and snake-bitten defensively. Trying to do everything 100% perfectly to get out of the rut they’re in instead of just freakin playing and trusting the instincts that the coaching staff is trying to drill into them.

KCOutsider

Then he’s utterly failing as a coach and should be fired. Because rarely have I seen a team described as being utterly unable or unwilling to follow the messaging a coach is providing. And if the players suck too bad to follow the coach’s directions, then the director of soccer operations should be fired for overseeing crappy roster building. Either way it’s on Vermes, Mr. Accountability, who is now (sadly) the biggest failure in this franchise.

The long shots are obviously lower percentage but they also force teams to come out of their box-packing tendencies

The only way I’ve seen an SKC opponent come out of their box-packing tendency is when they recover possession after a pointless long shot and get what hockey fans call an odd-man rush going the other way.

skcfanipromsie

What you describe sounds like a coaching problem to me, really. And I think Vermes is a big reason they try to do “everything 100% perfectly.”

Joe Pacheco

I’ll take Agada over poorlido any day. Alan is absolutely worthless in evey way on the pitch. A waste of millions….

A&W

I honestly think Alan’s biggest problem is that he hasn’t learned how to consistently operate his new knee. That might sound stupid to folks with both of their original knees being healthy but as someone who’s had multiple knee injuries and surgeries I can attest: it just kinda works differently afterward. I was a runner and a jumper in high school and college track teams and, no matter how much I fell away from that fitness as I got older, the natural and trained mechanics were still always there. I could still dunk at 5’8″ and run a decent mile even when out of shape. Until I tore my ACL and had it repaired. It took a LONG time to get back to some athletic ability but it never felt the same. Then some years later I ruptured the patellar tendon in that same knee and now I can’t do any of that same stuff no matter how hard I train.

If you read interviews with people who have had serious knee problems, even professional athletes like Alan, they’ll all talk about how much of an adjustment it is. And that adjustment can very well take years. He was able to find ways to be effective in spurts with it last year, I think he can find it again if he just trusts his body and his training and focuses on execution instead of being in his head like all these dudes seem to be.

Eric Vidoni

This is a really interesting point. I hadn’t actually thought about this, despite writing my dissertation on the contributions of joint sensors to motor learning and relearning. Go figure! Your point is also well taken that some (many?) never fully regain that same level of control and body awareness that would be needed at the professional level. A lot probably depends on the damage, the long term inflammation process that he had, and the surgery.

Eric Vidoni

I commented on this way back at the beginning of the season and I’ll say it again. I think many people underestimated the Gadi’s value to this team. Yes, he was a chaos merchant as the H&A guys call it, but he was also reasonably creative as a passer, was direct but not selfishly direct, and he’s actions created opportunity for Salloi and Alan especially. This could be seen all the way back to when he first joined. Alan’s best performances were almost always when Gadi was on the field.

Losing him (and I certainly don’t blame him for wanting to go home) and not being able to replace his skills and style has been one of many self-inflicted injuries for this organization.

GV dude

I agree. Logan being out has killed any attack from the left side. Without him we play through the right. No one even wants to play leibold the ball, he’s a huge liability.

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