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Sporting KC’s New Playmaking Winger? A Strengths Analysis of Newcomer Grayson Barber

Plus clips of his time tearing up the NCAA with the Clemson Tigers.

MLS: Preseason-Portland Timbers at Sporting KC
Portland Timbers defender Claudio Bravo (R) defends against a Sporting Kansas City’s Grayson Barber during an MLS scrimmage game at Kino Sports Complex. 
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This article was written by SKCenthusiast (not me, I just edited it!!) as a Fan Post but due to the limitations of the system, it was converted into a traditional article to be allow the embed of videos. Enjoy!

Since Graham Zusi’s move to right back, Sporting KC have lacked a winger with elite playmaking ability. Of course, there’s the newly elected captain Johnny Russell, but he is most dangerous running at defenders and scoring goals. Outside of Russell, one candidate who could fill this void is newcomer Grayson Barber.

Taking the unconventional path to Sporting Kansas City’s first team, Barber starred at Clemson for three years, during which time he led the nation in assists (7) and set an ACC tournament record with four assists in three games. Barber’s two goals and seven assists also contributed 37 percent of Clemson’s offense, second on the team to striker Kimarni Smith. During the shortened college season Barber put his entire playmaking repertoire on display with great through balls, crosses, and give-and-go’s.

Although there is still much too prove and plenty of time to prove it, Barber certainly has the potential to be a great playmaking winger for Sporting KC.

Clemson’s Play Style

To better understand Grayson Barber, you must understand the playstyle of the Clemson Tigers. In the games I watched (vs Wake Forest, Notre Dame, UAB, UNC, Pitt) Clemson played in a 4-3-3 with a lone striker and two inverted wingers who regularly switched sides (sound familiar?). They also utilize overlapping fullbacks in attacks particularly to maintain possession and make runs down the wing when the wingers cut inside.

Clemson also regularly controls the flow of their games with high pressure and possession in the opposition’s half. The Tigers playstyle bears a striking resemblance to manager Peter Vermes’ long-standing high possession 4-3-3. Additionally, it helps to have talent on your team as Clemson boasts three MLS draft picks in Philip Mayaka (#3), Kimarni Smith (#4), and Justin Malou (#27).

It’s very likely when Vermes and Director of Player Personnel Brian Bliss scouted Barber, they saw a fairly seamless fit into their system. Of course, it also helps that Barber spent extensive time in Sporting KC’s youth academy with the U16s and U17s. Now that we’ve established Clemson’s play style, next we’ll take a look at Barber’s game in the offense.

Examining Grayson Barber’s Play Style

Grayson Barber plays a central role in Clemson Tigers offense by consistently keeping opposing backs off balance by making direct runs on the wing and getting in crosses or alternatively cutting inside and picking out passes for runners in behind.

Barber is not devoid of speed as he was a terror for backs using his speed and aggression to get down the wing. Speaking of aggression, it should also be noted that Barber displayed some underrated controlled aggression and strength during his time at Clemson. For instance, as you will see below, he uses his body very well to shield the ball (ala Khiry Shelton) and tends to fight through contact from defenders.

Of all of his talents, his most MLS-ready skill is his passing. In the games I watched, nearly every cross he put into the box was a dangerous one, even if his teammates didn’t turn them into goals. Also, Barber did a remarkable job breaking down backlines with pinpoint through balls and playing give and go with the striker or midfielder. Though it could stand to improve, his vision was very solid, and his passing decisions were almost always spot on. Barber seemed to always play the game at his own pace, never really being hurried by pressure. Below, I’ll break down some clips from his games against Pittsburg, UNC, Wake Forest, and UAB.

The Clips — Possession

These next few clips will highlight how Grayson Barber does with keeping possession in the attack. In this first clip, Barber checks to the ball on the throw in, gets it, gives it up and then does a really good job of keeping the defender off balance to help his team keep possession.

Next we see Barber take a bump and continue on to get a pass to the striker.

Here we see Barber do a great job of shielding the ball and then plays a give and go with the midfielder before sending it off to the striker.

Though a limited sample size, Grayson Barber shows off some neat ability to keep possession that could translate to the MLS. What I’m most impressed by is his ability to use his body to keep defenders away. He isn’t the tallest (standing at 5’9) but he does display a stocky build which should hold up in the MLS.

The Clips — Crossing

In the next set of clips, we will look at Barbers crossing ability. In the first clip Barber does a great job of getting down the sideline and whips in a beautiful cross in between the center backs for an easy header.

Again, Barber gets loose on a through ball and whips in a cross in a dangerous area for the striker.

Barbers crossing ability should be a great addition and value to Sporting KC given some of the head-scratching crosses from Gerso (though he was amazing in so many other areas) in the past years. I would be curious to see how well this skill translates as player like Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido, and Ilie Sanchez would be salivating over consistently on-target crosses in the box. Last, we will take a look at some of Barbers key passes and highlight some of his great playmaking potential.

The Clips — Playmaking

In this clip, Barber does an amazing job of breaking the lines and sending a through ball to a teammate, who sends it right into the hands of the goalkeeper.

After cutting inside, Barber sends another pinpoint through ball to an overlapping left back who sent in a cross.

Last, while being pressured, Barber puts in a solid lob to the striker making a run.

Barber’s playmaking is almost assuredly going to be his bread and butter in the MLS. If he can continue to develop these skills in the preseason and through the season, he could be pushing for a starting position soon.

Areas for Improvement

I would be remiss if I didn’t include some areas that I think Barber can develop his game.

First, as it was an omission of his play-style analysis, Barber should really develop his goal scoring ability. Barber’s shots rarely looked too threatening and many times got sent right into the defender or past the goal. As MLS defenders find out his tendencies, it could be easy to play him for the pass once he gets closer to the goal.

Second, Barber also has to work on his first touch. Though it is solid, as the quality of MLS defending improves, so too must the technical abilities of playmakers. If Barber can develop a deadly first touch, he could prove to mainstay in Sporting KC and the MLS for some time to come.

Last, we have to question the competition in college soccer. Most games Clemson seemed to overwhelm competition with possession and quick passes. Can Barber adjust to an uptick in speed of play at the MLS level?

2021 Predictions

Right now, I don’t think Barber is unseating a healthy Khiry Shelton from the left wing. However, I do see Barber getting some spot starts and off the bench minutes. Assuming players will be allowed to move back and forth between the first and second team, I could see Barber starting some games for Sporting KC II and playing really well.

Predicted Starts for first team: 3

Predicted Substitutes for first team: 12

Predicted goals: 0

Predicted assists: 2

Let me know your thoughts on this analysis and please give your own take on Grayson Barber for the upcoming season!