Reviewing Ercan Kara's debut season by the numbers
Orlando City striker Ercan Kara finished his first regular season in Major League Soccer. It was a somewhat tumultuous campaign for the Austrian Designated Player, dealing with minor injuries, long stretches of inconsistency and occasional struggles for playing time.
Through all the dialogue about Orlando's No. 9, we now have a full season of information about Kara and that's something we can look at and gain a lot more from than individual games or stretch runs through the year.
In the 34-game MLS regular season, Kara played in 29 matches and logged 1,776 minutes of action per FBRef.com. In that time, he bagged 11 goals and added three assists. On a per 90 level, that's 0.56 goals and 0.71 combined goals & assists.
For context, that's similar to the 0.62 goals and 0.68 combined goals & assists per 90 produced by Inter Miami striker Leo Campana who was seen as a massive acquisition by the Herons. It's also comparable to the per 90 rate of Josef Martinez for Atlanta United.
It's by no means an elite season, but it's fair to say Kara produced at the level of a starting caliber No. 9 in Major League Soccer. He wasn't fantastic, but this is the minimum level of production needed to qualify as a good season.
Peeking under the hood, Kara's stats get a bit concerning.
His 2.43 shots per 90 minutes were the lowest of his career by some distance and only in the 39th percentile for forwards in MLS. His non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes of 0.4 was only in the 58th percentile.
Kara's a good finisher, but he doesn't get nearly enough chances. A part of that is system issues, but he had a tendency to be a complete non-factor in games, especially down the stretch.
At times in the late summer and fall matches, Kara was invisible. He hasn't played 80+ minutes in a match since July. To his credit, the Austrian has four goals in his last eight matches, a respectable if somewhat unspectacular figure for a starting striker, but his overall impact in games is far too low for a Designated Player.
Kara is also a complete non-starter in possession or creatively. That's perfectly fine, he's not asked to drop deep in possession or create, but when that lack of overall game impact is combined with a lack of touches and shots in and around the penalty box, that's troublesome.
He has the technical ability and physical prowess to be a more impactful possession player, especially in hold up play, but there wasn't enough of that shown by Kara or Orlando as a whole.
Moving forward, it's important to note that this was just the first season for Kara. First seasons in MLS can be difficult and it can take time to adjust to a new country, new league and all the intricacies of that.
Several players have thrived after mediocre first seasons, including Nashville's Hany Mukhtar -- who just won the league's golden boot -- former New England striker Adam Buksa and Los Angeles Galaxy captain Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.
There's no guarantee Kara improves from year one, but his overall statistical profile was a bit worse than it had been over the last three seasons in Austria. With a full offseason to rest and recover plus a season of institutional knowledge, Kara could have a much better 2023 campaign.
It's also possible that Kara gets hotter than a supernova and becomes a superstar in the MLS Cup Playoffs, because Orlando City still has games to play and an opportunity to make more of the 2022 season before fully diving into what's next.