It's no secret that South America is a gold mine of talent, and, depending on the country, the allure of a steady paycheck and prospect of living in America can be quite enticing. Throughout the years, several MLS teams have gone into South America and found some incredible stars like Javier Morales, Diego Valeri and Mauro Diaz, for a fraction of the cost of big name signings like Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos.
With transfer season approaching, one can't help but look to South America and wonder who the next impact signing from the region will be.
Over the past few weeks, I've been scouting the continent using data and video in order to see if I can figure it out for myself and have compiled a list of players who I think MLS teams would do well to target. To be clear, this is not a list of the best players in South America. I'm fully aware of who Giovanni Augusto is, as is the rest of the world, which is why his transfer fee would be unreachable to most MLS teams. This list, which I will reveal player by player over the next couple of weeks, is all about moneyball. Paying a little to get a lot. With that in mind, let's begin with our first player
League: Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (Brazil)
Club: Ponte Preta (on loan from Fluminense)
What the eyes tell us:
Since scouting videos are nothing more than cherry picked moments, there are certain player traits which can be made to look more polished than they actually are, and some traits which are more immune to such deception. It's important to distinguish the two when evaluating.
Biro Biro has electric pace, and that's not something you can alter. In the video, we see Biro Biro use his pace to blow past defenders on the wing and cause havoc when cutting inside. How often the player utilizes his pace in such a dynamic fashion, however, is not something we can rely on the video to tell us. The same can be said for his general control of the ball at such speeds, which presents itself as strong in the video.
The video also seems to make a case that this is a player with a high defensive work rate in addition to one with vision and a smooth passing touch, as displayed by the various tenacious tackles and deft through balls, displayed.
Again, these are traits which can not be reliably scouted via such a video, however, they are traits which can be scouted using analytics.
What the numbers tell us:
With 7 goals and 5 assists, Biro Biro has a Goals + Assists per 90 minutes tally of 0.44. That's almost half a goal a game. Of course, goal and assist numbers can often be misleading and are highly subject to variability. Luckily, Whoscored.com has full passing stats for the Brazilian League, allowing for deeper analysis.
Biro Biro created an average of 2.3 chances per 90 minutes in 2015, which tied him for best in the league among attacking wingers with 1500 minutes or more. While the numbers are a bit misleading since 40% of those chances came from dead ball situations, the video's emphasis on Biro's ability to play through balls was not unwarranted.
Biro's 5:1 cross to through ball ratio is exceptionally good for his position, with 6.6% of the chances he creates coming from through balls. From an analytics standpoint, this jumps out because shots from through balls are finished at a much higher rate than most passes, while shots from crosses are finished at a much lower rate. In the absence of xG data to judge shot quality of these chances, this is the next best indicator.
The numbers also seem to corroborate Biro's dribbling skills which are displayed in the video. While his 4.4 dribbles per 90 is no where near as high as some of MLS's standout performers in this category, Fabian Castillo (7.6) and Kekuta Manneh (5.1), it lands nicely among a group of attackers who possess a much more diverse skill set such as Sebastian Giovinco (4.7), Giles Barnes (4.2), and Darlington Nagbe (3.9). Combine this with the cross to through ball ratio, and it's pretty clear that Biro Biro isn't a one trick pony. While his his 43% success rate on dribbles could use some improvement, it's important to remember Biro Biro's age and project 4 or 5 years into the future.
Most importantly, as a wing forward, Biro Biro's shooting numbers show exceptional promise. He averages 2.2 shots per 90 from open play and 0.4 from set pieces. He gets about 1.3 shots per 90 from outside the box, which further supports his affinity for cutting inside. At the same time, his 1.3 shots from the penalty area shows that he gets into good scoring positions. As a wing forward, goal scoring is incredibly an incredibly important trait, and Biro Biro's underlying numbers seem to suggest that it's something he can do sustainably.
When it comes to defensive actions, however, the stats debunk a bit of the video's narrative. With 2.2 defensive actions per 90, that puts Biro on the lower end of average for advanced attacking players.
Putting it all together:
Biro Biro is a young wing forward who can play on either side. He has electric pace and likes to use it to take people on, blending north south runs to get to the end line and cross, with inside runs to play through balls, work combinations or shoot. All of these traits can be seen on tape and in the numbers.
Biro Biro is also quite the dead ball specialist, setting up 14 shots from set-pieces and getting 12 shots of his own from them. While his chance creation numbers are most likely subject to the number of and quality of set-piece targets on the team he lands on (see the ever fluctuating assist numbers of Brad Davis), there is underlying stability in his through ball numbers, which is really just a cherry on top given the underlying shot data that anchors his 0.26 goals per 90 rate.
Most importantly, Biro Biro is 20 years old, which means he will most likely grow tremendously within the next four to five years, if nurtured properly.
Projected Transfer fee: 2 -3.5 million
Projected Salary: 500k-800k
With Biro Biro coming out of his first truly great season, the time is now for an MLS team to capitalize before his stock rises outside of MLS spending range which is what has happened with most young talent in Brazil (easily the most overscouted league in South America).
Biro's transfer fee would automatically make him a designated player his first year, but his age would allow him to come in as a young dp, which lessens the cap hit. After the first year, Biro's salary would still put him in DP territory, however, it would be low enough to buy down with allocation money or TAM, should a team choose to do so.
While on the pricier end of the "hidden gem" spectrum, his age and learning curve makes his purchase more of an investment, as it's quite possible he could sell in the 10-15 million range when it's all said and done.
What do you think of Biro Biro? What MLS teams do you think he'd be a good fit for? Got a player you want me to scout? Sound off below and be on the look out as I unveil more players in the coming days and weeks ahead.