Ranking the Top 5 MLS midfielders by PFF tackle resistance grade

2R7M8R8 Seattle Sounders midfielder Joao Paulo (6) controls the ball during an MLS soccer match against the Charlotte FC, Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Westerholt)

Tackle resistance is a key trait to consider with midfielders in terms of a player’s ability to carry out their role in-possession in their team’s build-up, while also protecting the ball against an opposition press or a tackle itself that could lead to a counter-attack

PFF’s grading system allows us to assess the performance of a carrier and defender, determining whether either did their job to expectation or performed above scale or below it on ball carry and distribution events.

The table below shows the Top 10-graded midfielders in the MLS this season to have been involved in at least 50 carry events, and extracting the top five to dig deeper into their performance.

Name Club Total tackle resistance events PFF ball carrying grade PFF tackle resistance grade
Cristian Cásseres Jr. NYRB (Toulouse) 111 83.4 85.7
Cesar Araujo Orlando City SC 89 79.1 85.1
Braian Ojeda Real Salt Lake 82 87.8 84.8
Timothy Tillman LAFC 59 82.2 83.7
João Paulo Seattle Sounders 86 79.7 83.6
Derrick Jones Charlotte FC 93 77.7 83.5
Franco Ibarra Atlanta United 67 78.7 83.4
Gastón Brugman LA Galaxy 88 86.6 83.3
Bryce Duke CF Montreal 115 70.5 82.7
Keaton Parks New York City FC 110 82.1 82.0

1. Cristian Cásseres Jr., New York Red Bulls (transferred to Toulouse)

PFF tackle resistance grade: 85.7

On Jul.7, Red Bulls announced the transfer of midfielder Cristian Cásseres to Ligue 1 side Toulouse after six seasons in New York.

Head coach Troy Lesesne will lean on Peter Stroud, Frankie Amaya and Dru Yearwood to fill the void and partner Daniel Edelman for the remainder of the MLS season, as Cásseres held the top grade at the position for tackle resistance at 85.7.

Red Bulls were able to receive a fee for the Venezuelan, whose contract was set to expire this winter, and of the three options to choose from as a replacement only Yearwood (68.0) holds a tackle resistance grade lower than 70.0.

However, only LA Galaxy’s Riqui Puig has received more positively graded events than Cásseres Jr down largely to a high volume of 179 events compared to the latter’s 111.

Tackle resistance is just one sub-facet that contributes towards an overall ball carrying grade, which Cásseres ranked seventh overall with a grade of 83.4 – the second-highest of the players on this list.

2. Cesar Araujo, Orlando City SC

PFF tackle resistance grade: 85.1

Only two players on this list give as good as they can take with grades over 80.0 in tackle resistance and on the other side of the ball as a ball carry defender; João Paulo is one, Cesar Araujo is the other.

The Orlando City midfielder’s tackle resistance grade of 85.1 is a marked improvement on an impressive 2022 debut season grade of 80.4. A carry defending grade of 83.3 ranks top 10 among midfielders and is a touch below Paulo’s 84.1.

As the MLS season takes a pause and resumes in late August, Orlando sit fifth in the Eastern Conference on 37 points. The significance of Araujo, at just 22, is obvious not only through his grades but also in his top-15 pressure metric of 513 attempts – the most among players on this list.

3. Braian Ojeda, Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake midfielder Braian Ojeda
2PNX8YW FRISCO, TX – APRIL 15: Real Salt Lake midfielder Braian Ojeda (6) dribbles up field during the MLS soccer game between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake on April 15, 2023 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
PFF tackle resistance grade: 84.8

Braian Ojeda shined for Real Salt Lake this past weekend in their 3-1 victory over New York Red Bulls, as they continue to make in-roads on St Louis’ lead atop the Western Conference.

That win at America First Field extended the team’s unbeaten run to nine which has seen them ascend to third in the Western Conference.

Until this week, Ojeda was one of two Nottingham Forest midfielders enjoying loan spells in the MLS with Lewis O’Brien returning to England after the expiration of his deal at DC United. O’Brien had impressed but Ojeda perhaps more so with an 84.8 tackle resistance grade.

Ojeda has turned that ball retention into high progression carries with his PFF dribbling grade of 83.5 ranking fourth among all midfielders from a total of 46 dribble events.

He has also been active off the ball as a pressing midfielder, ranking 25th out of 71 qualifying midfielders (min. 1,000 minutes played) with 27.5 pressure attempts per-90.

4. Timothy Tillman, Los Angeles FC

PFF tackle resistance grade: 83.7

Germany-born Timothy Tillman ranks fourth on the list after arriving at LAFC in February as a signing from Bundesliga 2 club Greuther Fürth.

Tillman’s move to the MLS triggered a FIFA-approved switch to being eligible for the USMNT, having previously represented Germany at youth international levels, and could become an option as Gregg Berhalter seeks to strengthen the depth in midfield.

A tackle resistance grade of 83.7 highlights Tillman’s qualities as a player tied-tenth overall among MLS players.

5. João Paulo, Seattle Sounders

PFF tackle resistance grade: 83.6

João Paulo has rebounded from an ACL injury that wrecked his 2022 season to be a contender amongst most metrics key to a midfielder.

With a tackle resistance grade of 83.6, João Paulo has been able to escape defenders and produce as a distributor for the Sounders with an elite league-leading pass grade of 93.9.

Whether under pressure or not, the Brazilian has excelled as a passer with a passing grade while under pressure of 91.2. This is higher than his unpressured passing grade of 84.8.

This all poses a question over João Paulo’s contract situation in Seattle as the glue of the Sounders, with his contract deal set to expire at the end of 2023.

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