50 Matches In: Sean Davis

Here at Broadway Sports Media, we recently introduced a new series on our feed. 

Each time a Nashville SC player reaches a milestone in appearances for the club (10, 25, 50, 100, 150, 200, and so on…), we will take a snapshot look at their history for the Boys in Gold. 

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Last Saturday in Charlotte, Sean Davis hit a milestone by making his 50th appearance for the club. 

Overview

Sean Davis is in his second season with Nashville SC, having signed as a free agent prior to the 2022 campaign. 

Before arriving in Music City, Davis spent his entire professional career in the Big Apple – well, right across the river from it – with the New York Red Bulls. He made his senior debut in 2015 and was made team captain in 2020. 

Davis’ signing with Nashville represented the changing winds of MLS free agency which had just expanded eligibility to a greater number of players. Never in league history had an in-prime team captain been able to freely switch clubs. While league rules still prevented how much Nashville could offer Davis, club ownership pulled out all the stops to entice Davis to Tennessee. 

As discussed last week in my piece regarding the MLSPA Salary Guide release, Davis received a hefty salary bump this offseason taking him from $612,500 to $900,000 annually. How Nashville was able to offer this raise under league rules still confounds. Although one thing is clear, the club certainly values Sean Davis’ contributions.  

What the number say

Before we dive into the on-field numbers, I have to quickly acknowledge the most impressive statistic in the Davis family. 

His mother has amassed a massive online following of 15.3 million TikTok followers, 6.98 million YouTube subscribers, and 1.3 million Instagram followers. Sean may be a professional athlete, but Mom reigns supreme on the internet. 

Back to the soccer….

As I often preach, the best ability is availability. Sean Davis has kept himself available and logged 4,107 of the 4,857 league minutes that Nashville has played the last two seasons. Davis trails only Hany Mukhtar and Daniel Lovitz in that category.

Modern soccer analytics have improved by leaps and bounds. However, they still don’t quite capture the impact of a ball-destroying midfielder, at least as far as publicly available measures go. With that precursor aside, let’s dive into Sean Davis.

In the last two seasons combined, Davis has produced 0.11 goals added (g+) per 96 minutes. Among central and defensive midfielders, that ranks Davis 95th among 115 qualifiers. That sounds terrible, but should not be all that surprising.

American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added (G+) metric is the first real attempt to holistically measure a player’s contributions to scoring and preventing goals. However, defensive-first midfielders that rarely make incisive passes and do not venture forward in attack simply do not have the means to rack up their g+ tally. It is one of the key shortcomings of the g+ as an all-around analytical tool.  

American Soccer Analysis’ figures do provide evidence that Sean Davis is an exceptionally safe passer rarely misplacing the ball. He completes 2.03 passes over expected per 100 passes

He is much less likely than his midfield mates to make a riskier pass that attempts to break lines. At 2.70 vertical yards traveled, Davis’ average pass is often played more side to side than down the pitch. Since joining Nashville, he averages only around four progressive passes per match

While publicly available statistics tend to focus on offensive contributions, there are still a few measures that reflect Davis’ defensive intellect. 

Currently, Davis has the ninth most interceptions (20) among midfielders this season. Last year, he finished fourth overall among all players – the most of any midfielder. 

Unlike some defensively-minded midfielders, Davis quietly goes about his business. This season, he has committed only 6 fouls in MLS play to date. The ability to play the position without resorting to fouls and yellow cards is a testament to Davis’ ability to read the game and put him in a position to deal with the danger.  

In an area vital to Nashville’s game model, Davis dominates the air turning 50/50 headers into 70/30 propositions. In 2023, he is 10th overall, among all players, in aerial duel win rate (73.3%)

This trait has gained importance this season. As Gary Smith has dialed up more high pressure, winning control of long passes and clearances that seek to play over top of the press further fuels Nashville’s success. 

The eye test

Along with Alex Muyl, who we profiled earlier this week following his 100th appearance, Sean Davis requires careful viewing to gain an appreciation for the subtle ways he impacts Nashville SC. 

Davis seemingly always places himself in the proper position and almost never makes a mistake. However, proving a negative on the eye test is an impossible task.

Luckily for us, Davis’ involvement in both of Nashville’s goals last weekend against Charlotte FC perfectly highlight his under-the-radar contributions. 

Nashville’s first goal against the Crown will be remembered for Hany Mukhtar’s deflected shot that wrong-footed Kristijan Kahlina. However, it was Davis’ defensive and offensive contributions that created the moment. 

The sequence begins with Sean Davis pressing Derrick Jones and eventually blocking his pass in Charlotte’s own half. The deflected ball travels backward and is played back to the keeper. Kahlina plays long quickly resulting in a change in possession. Davis chests down a ping-ponged ball and lofts it over the defense right into Hany Mukhtar’s feet. It was Sean Davis’ first assist on the season, and boy was it a dandy. Beyond the pass itself, Davis’ defensive work set in motion the entire series of events. 

While not as intimately involved in the second goal, Davis still contributed to the build-up. He positions himself between the lines to receive Aníbal Godoy’s pass. With his second touch, Davis taps the ball back to Godoy who picks out Hany Mukhtar’s run. In a lot of ways, it is a simple pass, but it is one that puts Godoy in a prime position to see the field and unleash the killer ball. 

It does not always have to be flashy to be effective. 

Looking forward

In a lot of ways, Sean Davis has made a career out of following in Dax McCarty’s footsteps. It was the emergence of Sean Davis and Tyler Adams that precipitated McCarty’s trade to Chicago. Similarly, it was Sean Davis’ signing with Nashville that has seen the midfield torch pass from McCarty to Davis. 

Davis, 30, is no spring chicken himself. However, Mike Jacobs and Gary Smith seem to always value having a steady, veteran presence in the midfield. It is the building block that ensures the ‘Yotes will never become the type of MLS team that gets overrun in the middle. 

For the next few seasons, Davis should continue to feature heavily as one of the preferred starters in Gary Smith’s midfield. Once his legs do start to bear the brunt of years of high-distance running, it is fair to question what type of role he can maintain. However, barring a significant injury, he should have a few seasons left before father time begins to catch up. Until that day, Davis will continue his quiet but effective role for Nashville SC. 

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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