By Brian Maurer
Photo Courtesy of CJ Hellner
Joao Pedro (Age: 20) - CB - Crown Legacy FC
Pedro was awarded with MLS NEXT Pro Best XI honors for his work in 2023. Now he has an opportunity to carve himself a role with the first team. Here is a report of what he can bring to Charlotte FC.
Defensive processing speed
Pedro’s ability to process the game quickly allows him to make sound decisions, especially when it comes to picking out his marking assignments.
Pedro does an excellent job when the opposition is in their attacking phase of scanning the ball and the runners to ensure he doesn’t lose track of any attackers on his back shoulder. His constant scanning helps him stay close to forwards making runs in and around the box so he can position himself well to prevent any dangerous moments.
His strong positioning in these situations makes it difficult to analyze his game using stats as he is in a below-average percentile among most center backs in MLS NEXT Pro. A big reason for this is likely because he marks attackers well which prevents opportunities for defensive actions to occur since the ball is not passed to his marked man frequently.
Radar courtesy of Ben Griffis
When defending counterattacks Pedro does a good job of keeping his body between his marker and the ball (below). He also puts himself in a good position to make sure that he can cover the space behind him to reduce the likelihood of a through ball. This positioning is key to a defensive backline but does not show up on the stat sheet.
His marking on the counterattack example below prevents the forward pass from being able to occur. But since his marker was not open, the passer took a low-percentage shot instead and missed. On the stat sheet, Pedro does not get any of the credit for that defending, but he played a key role in the action of a missed low-percentage shot.
Pedro's off-ball man marking on a counterattack
Pedro also demonstrates his ability to process the game quickly with how he reacts and covers for his teammates. He can mark his man while also recognizing the danger in other areas and making quick decisions on what the correct defensive action is. In the example below Pedro is marking his man inside the box but notices that there is space for a near post run on the other side of the box and a runner ready to make that run. Noticing the danger he switches from covering his man and shifts to cover the run and he puts the ball out for a corner instead of allowing what would have been a very dangerous attacking opportunity.
Pedro providing defensive cover
Pedro does a great job of keeping the game in front of him and can prepare for nearly every attack that is thrown his way. He calmly steps towards attacking dribblers and makes good standing tackles with seeming ease at the NEXT Pro level. Whether it's with his tackling or his positioning his processing speed helps him keep the game in front of him and he rarely misses an assignment or allows attackers in behind him.
Pedro is capable of making many different passes. He is willing to make the short safe pass, long line-breaking ground passes, and send accurate diagonal long balls over the top. His skill with the ball also made him one of the primary corner-kick takers, even though he is a taller center back who could have been used in the box. His crossing skills made him preferable on corners. Several of his passing stats show that he was one of the best progressive passing center backs at the MLS NEXT Pro level.
Part of his strong xAssist and assist stats could be due to the corner kicks and free kicks he took, but his progressive pass volume and long pass percentage wouldn’t be impacted as much by this. Based on both the eye test and his passing stats, he stands out as a high-level distributor from the backline.
Pedro making the line-breaking pass through a press
Pedro hits a teammate in a tight space in the attacking half
Pedro hits a teammate with a long ball over the top
Pedro is also a capable dribbler. If given time and space he is more than willing to attack it with the ball and push play forward into the midfield and even into the attacking third. His ball-carrying ability provides a change of pace that defenses have to cope with as he becomes an additional attacker (example below) that needs to be defended who is usually not in that space.
He is a strong ball carrier for the NEXT Pro level as he averaged at least one progressive carry forward per game. His 100% success rate highlights that he is smart when picking his spots to dribble, reducing the likelihood of failure.
Pedro attacked space with his dribble and then finished the attack with a run into the box
He is willing to jump forward and put pressure on the ball. The advantage of this type of mentality from a center back is that when he times his pressuring action well he can stop the ball and reduce the likelihood of the attack progressing to the backline. However, this aggression can also lead to poor positioning leaving space for the opposition to attack if he doesn’t stop the ball. As Pedro continues to develop his defensive processing and decision-making will be key for him to maintain his aggression while also not costing his team by creating unnecessary gaps.
Areas of improvement
Aggressive decision making
One of the few times Pedro made a defensive mistake during a Crown Legacy FC match versus New England Revolution II was when he jumped out of his backline to pressure the ball but he missed the tackle which put him out of position (below). It is always a risk to put that additional pressure on the ball because when it goes wrong the backline’s positioning becomes a bit out of sync. Pedro’s aggression is also a good quality so he will just need to work on keeping those decisions tidier and make sure when he makes the aggressive jump forward that he knows he will be able to make the play so he doesn’t leave his backline vulnerable.
Pedro missed the tackle in midfield -> leading to the backline shifting over to cover him being out of position -> leaving their right flank exposed