Earlier today mlssoccer.com posted this (link) commentary on Landon Donovan and how the second assist does not cheapen his assist record. In comparison to other all-time MLS assist getters, Donovan actually spent less time under the old rule making the second assist automatic as it is in hockey. Most of his second assists were only given when judged crucial to the goal.
That point is driven home with a series of charts, organized by various data points, but the one order were aren't given in the article is 2014 MLS assist leaders by primary assist only. Certainly there are some arguments to be found in looking at that.
|Players||Primary Assists||Open Play Assist||Set Piece Assist||Evil second assists|
First, Landon Donovan is still tops in assists in MLS even if you take away his secondary assists. The chart is organized such that I let secondary assists be the tiebreaker, the more evil secondary assists a player had the lower they fell. The biggest riser after removing second assists was Javier Morales, who has five assists as the set piece taker for Real Salt Lake but no secondary assists.
I took a look at last year's assist figures for the English Premier League, as they haven't been seduced by the temptress that is the second assist. Donovan's 14 primary assists is more than the 13 recorded by 2013-14 EPL leader Steven Gerrard, in far fewer games. Gerrard also took free kicks for Liverpool along with Luis Suarez, who happened to finish second in the assist column.
Taking that in tandem with Javier Morales rising when secondary assists are taken out, I'd make the argument that primary assists give a distinct advantage to those who take set pieces. While that's not the worst thing to honor, that does make Donovan's 11 assists from the run of play all the more remarkable.
There are elements to set piece goals which are beyond the control of the set piece taker, but are not recognized as those who take them earn assists. There's the player who earns the foul in the final third, there's the player with the good play on the end line to earn a corner kick. These plays don't happen in a vacuum.
Neither do primary assists. That first touch cross from A.J. DeLaGarza only happens with a perfectly placed pass from Landon Donovan. That's the reason why hockey started giving secondary assists in the first place. It was a way to recognize defensemen who rarely made the pass which resulted in a goal, but were still instrumental in the offense.
If you look at the players who get inflated by secondary assists in the mlssoccer articles and you'll see central midfielders like Marcelo Sarvas, Diego Valeri, and Michael Bradley. In the case of Bradley, he only has secondary assists this MLS season. Instrumental to the offense, but playing at a level which puts them a bit too deep to rack up final passes.
Three cheers, my friends, for the misunderstood secondary assist.