Anchoring a defense that conceded only 35 goals during the regular season (the fourth fewest in the league), Jack Elliott was an indispensable part of the Philadelphia Union back line in 2021.
He started every regular season match but one, using his size to dominate in the air and his situational awareness to put out fires before they could start. He even bombed forward on occasion, surprising opposing midfielders with his speed and dribbling ability.
While his center back partner, Jakob Glesnes, made highlight reels around the world with incredible, long-range goals, Elliott quietly put up similar attacking numbers (two goals and two assists compared to Glesnes’s four goals and two assists), though in less spectacular fashion.
In fact, it’s Elliott’s steady, all-around competence that might explain why he isn’t often given the credit he deserves. It’s rare to see him make a mistake (he seemed to confine most of his miscues to a single away game against Minnesota United), but he also doesn’t tend to make the kind of dramatic plays that get shared on Twitter and YouTube.
American Soccer Analysis uses a statistic called goals added (G+) to measure a player’s total on-ball contribution in defense and attack. It calculates how much each touch changes the team’s chances of scoring and conceding over the next two possessions and takes into account shooting, receiving, passing, dribbling, interrupting (tackles, interceptions, contested headers, etc.), and fouling.
The metric is particularly illuminating when it comes to Jack Elliott. According to the G+, Elliott isn’t just one of the best defenders in MLS—he’s one of the best players in the league. With a G+ of 3.62, Elliott ranks third overall, just above Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman (3.50) and MLS MVP Carles Gil (3.48).
It’s easy to see why Elliott is such a high-level performer when you look at his G+ in its component parts. He has the sixth highest interrupting G+ in the league at 1.88, the highest dribbling G+ for a center back at 0.85, and a positive G+ in passing, receiving, and shooting. He’s an elite defender, and he brings a full set of other tools to the pitch as well.
With Elliott and Glesnes in front of Andre Blake, the Union should continue to make it very difficult for opponents to score in 2022. Perhaps the main danger to the defense is that a smart European club will notice the quality of Elliott’s play and make Ernst Tanner an offer he can’t refuse.
Philadelphia Union Co-Defensive Player of the Year
MLS Team of the Week: Week 7, Week 9, Week 13
MLS Defender of the Year Nominee
Fotmob Man of the Match: New York Red Bulls, Nov. 20 (7.9); Portland Timbers, May 31 (8.9)
Brotherly Game Community Player Ratings Player of the Match: Portland Timbers, May 31; Nashville SC, Oct. 23