Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Attacking Midfielders

On October 29, 2022, a historic season inside the CPL officially came to a close, with Forge FC claiming the Playoff title for a third time in four seasons. The season witnessed a host of top tier players making that next step in their careers – including Victor Loturi‘s move to Ross County, Diyaeddine Abzi‘s transfer to Pau FC in Ligue 2, and Alejandro Diaz moving on to Sogndal IK in Norway. But the hidden gems don’t stop there. The Canadian Premier League is littered with top quality talents that can be purchased for little to no money, with many players on short-term contracts that expire at the end of each season. With that, we’ve developed a comprehensive CPL Scouting Database for you to use for any purpose you want – from gaining recruitment insights to celebrating the league.

Today we breakdown the very best attacking midfielders in Canada’s top-flight, as part of this long-haul series. Here is our analysis.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. General Information
  2. Player Introductions & Brief Information
  3. Statistical Comparisons & General Player Stats
  4. Conclusions

GENERAL INFORMATION

After a data search for attacking midfielders in the Canadian Premier League under the age of 30, we narrowed our scope down to five standout performers. Before presenting their information, we first must outline what we constituted as an ‘attacking midfielder’. Very few teams play with an out-and-out ‘number 10’, particularly one that operates exclusively in central channels. Due to limitations of the role, many end up switching to a deeper position in central midfield, or operate on the left and right where they can then cut and drift inside.

A typical Marco Bustos pass map in 2022.

Only two of our ‘attacking midfielders’ played the highest percentage of their matches through the middle in that ’10’ role (Babouli and Musse). The others had tendencies to operate like a ’10’ even when deployed out wide, and frequently played down the middle throughout the duration of the season. We did not include any centre-forwards that occasionally played in the ’10’ slot (e.g. Moses Dyer), and we did not incorporate any wingers with less than 10% of their minutes through central corridors, even if they tended to operate like an ‘Inverted Winger’, such as David Choinière. This discrepancy is important to note, as is the fact that all of the players we’ve presented would probably play best in the ’10’ slot, even if they already dominate the wing.

With that in mind, here are five strongest candidates worthy of attention.

RankPlayerTeamAgeRoleRating
1Marco BustosPacific FC26Inverted Winger7.33
2Tristan BorgesForge FC24Inverted Winger7.41
3Mo BabouliYork United29Creative Ten7.53
4Sean ReaValour FC20Creative Ten7.48
5Ali MusseCavalry FC26Creative Ten7.10

We will delve into these ranks and the reasons behind our Player Ratings throughout, but it’s important to note the relative age of our performers. Sean Rea is perhaps the most promising given his tender age of 20, while Mo Babouli is now entering the twilight of his career, turning 30 this coming January. It’s also important to reiterate why we incorporated Bustos & Borges into this cohort. They play more like ’10’s’ even when operating on the wing, and frequently played in that ’10’ slot this season, despite sharing more minutes out wide.

RankPlayerTeamEligibilityContract Exp.FootAlt. Pos.
1Marco BustosPacific FCCanada2022-11-30LeftRW
2Tristan BorgesForge FCCanada, Portugal2022-11-30LeftLW
3Mo BabouliYork UnitedSyria, Canada2024-12-31RightLW
4Sean ReaValour FCCanada2022-12-31RightLW/RW
5Ali MusseCavalry FCCanada2022-11-30RightCF/RW

Contracts in the CPL are relatively short-term and constantly re-assessed at the end of the season, which means that the likes of Musse, Rea, Borges and Bustos could be up for grabs depending on contract negotiations and their own aspirations.

PLAYER INTRODUCTIONS

In this first section, we bring you context into who these players are, including their strengths, weaknesses and any key attributes.

1. MARCO BUSTOS

Even if he didn’t end the season on the creative highs and goal numbers we all would have expected, Marco Bustos remains one of the most exciting players to watch in the league. His left-foot close control is simply outrageous, and he’s one of the best in dribbling his way through tight spaces, creating in closed off corridors of space, and making magic happen anywhere on the pitch. Bustos wants to do the extravagant and the fancy, as opposed to the slightly more refined and cultured approach of Borges. But that manifests in some incredibly fun moments, such as his outside-of-the-boot assist for Manny Aparicio at the beginning of the season.

Importantly for Pacific’s purposes, Bustos had an incredible understanding with the players around him, and immediately slowed down in numbers after the departure of Alejandro Diaz. Clubs like Toronto FC should pay attention to this when studying his decline in numbers, and not necessarily take his low tally (2 goals + 6 assists) as an indication of his abilities as a footballer. His xG + xA still nicely stack up against the others, and the 26-year-old remains an incredibly dynamic footballer that would cause fear into any opposition defense, at just about any level.

2. TRISTAN BORGES

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After his 2019 MVP winning season, many expected Tristan Borges to be a Team Canada regular at this point, tearing it up in Belgium. It hasn’t worked out that way, and the Canadian has now spent the last two seasons back in Hamilton, where he’s now firmly settled once more, and playing some of his very best football. But still, at the age of 24, Borges would have plenty to offer a higher-level club. He’s the key creative force in the most dominant side in the league, and the man they often point to when in need of a moment of magic.

A master of exploiting the half-spaces, Borges spent the bulk of his time this season playing on the left wing of Forge’s 4-3-3, but excels through the middle, where he’s able to get on the ball and create from central channels. Nevertheless, as an incredibly efficient space seeker and dribbler, Borges makes the wing his own by shifting inside and allowing his fullback to overlap.

6 goals and 8 assists in 26 appearances far surpasses the man we’ve ranked ahead of him, and his 1.87 key passes per 90 stacks up well against the best in the league on 10+ appearances (4th). When you watch him play, he’s just a highly efficient player capable of producing something in every single game. He’s not wasteful in possession nor is he selfish, and his tactical IQ always allows him to receive in positions that are optimal to the situation. How he’s still playing in the CPL is a bit of a mystery, and perhaps he’d be ready for that OH Leuven move had it come at the end of this season, rather than when he was just 21.

3. MO BABOULI

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On the pitch, Mo Babouli‘s quality is evident. He might even be the most technically gifted player in the league, and he’s certainly one of a few who plays international football. The Syrian international made a name for himself in the league last season at Forge FC, and then was promptly released at the end of the season to Muaither SC in Qatar. That spell was short-lived, and now Babouli’s back in the CPL tearing it up once more. Despite only featuring in eight matches, he even earned himself an appearance on the Players’ Player of the Season shortlist. Completely transforming the dynamics of York’s attack, Babouli contributed to 7 goals (5 goals, 2 assists) in his 8 matches. As if he needed to be more impressive, the former TFC attacker also completed 74% of his dribbles (3.58 completed), and created 2.06 chances per 90. But we must also remember that Babouli’s been let go of several clubs in the past, and that statistics are not the only thing that should contribute to a recruitment situation.

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In the nicest way possible, Babouli is rogue, off the walls, and can be completely individualistic in his approach. At the same time, he’s a complete and utter maverick that is difficult to stop, capable of creating and dribbling his way past any opposition defender. I would be highly cautious about recommending the 29-year-old to a club outside the CPL. He’s bounced around to seven different clubs since making his debut for Toronto FC in 2016, and there’s reasonable cause to suggest that what you see on the matchday isn’t always what you see on the training pitch. This would be a high risk signing for any club to make. Yet as York United found out, when Babouli’s in full flow, there are few better at what he can offer a CPL club.

4. SEAN REA

After a decent first season at Valour, many would have expected Sean Rea to come into his second loan spell a more mature, cultured creator. Rea not only accomplished that rise, but led the league in assists, and completely spearheaded the beating heart of everything good to Valour’s attack. After his incredible 2022 campaign with the Winnipeg team, he should now be on the radar of every MLS club. Destined to be the case study of several opposition reports next season when he inevitably returns to Montreal, Rea is a gifted footballer who dominates his moments on the ball. Highly creative in the final third, the 20-year-old midfielder scored 5 goals with 9 assists in his 27 appearances, creating nearly 3 chances (2.77) per 90. For context, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé ranked second on that list at 2.25 key passes (players with 10+ appearances), with even the echelon of attacking midfielders unable to compete.

Simply brilliant on the ball, Rea has a natural knack for ghosting and dancing his way around the opposition. He can even be used as a severe dribbling/carrying threat on the break, and a constant force for injecting variety into the team. That level of incisiveness in the final third is a constant nuisance for the opposition as they’re drawn toward him, allowing more room for his teammates to sprint into space. But Rea is also astutely aware of his role, which is not to try and beat every player at every turn in a 1v1. He combines well with his teammates and actively looks to take on an unselfish approach to his attacking play, before fully committing to his shift going the other way in defense. He’s a proactive presser and wins a high percentage of his tackles, ensuring Valour can win back possession at the front of the pitch and go again.

After such a strong showing in 2022, CF Montreal would be foolish not to bring him back into the fold, even despite how well they’ve gotten on without him in their historic MLS season. If Montreal remain unnwilling to take the punt on the 20-year-old, Rea must be on the radar of every other MLS club, and possibly even well within John Herdman‘s plans for the future of Canada.

5. ALI MUSSE

Starting the season as a ‘Dynamic Dribbler’ down the wing, Ali Musse quickly became an efficient creator from the central channels in the ’10’ slot after Cavalry’s change in formation, where he looked like a natural threat through the middle. Musse scored 7 goals with 3 assists in his 29 matches, acting as one of Cavalry’s key creative outlets. An active and intentional presser, Musse’s defensive numbers also boast well for a future at a higher level, and you could easily see his playmaking improve with more of a goal-scoring presence up top.

Unfortunately for Musse, I think he suffers from the fact that everything he does well, there’s always someone doing it slightly better. He’s highly comparable to Atletico’s Ballou Tabla, but less pacey, dynamic and rambunctious than the 23-year-old. As a creative or goal-scoring threat, you have the likes of Borges and Rea capable of posting better numbers. But Ali Musse is still a standout footballer in his own right, and he’d be one of my first suggestions should Forge lose someone like David Choinière. Especially when you consider his versatility and dynamism through the phases of the game, Musse would be an asset for any CPL club. But now being 26-years-old (27 by 2023), Musse may never realize the dream of playing outside Canada again. We’ll be happy to keep him in Calgary, especially considering his numbers only get better by the season.

HEATMAP COMPARISONS

As you can see from the presented heatmaps, Ali Musse and Mo Babouli played as the truest of ’10’s’ this season, operating in a free role that allowed them to venture from left to right. Sean Rea played all over the field, only aiding his case for a club coming after his signature; whilst Tristan Borges and Marco Bustos played that creative role from a wider starting position. This is again an important distinction to make in the scouting process, as some have been more tried and tested in the ’10’ slot than others – even if that may be their best position.

All heatmaps are courtesy of SofaScore – our favourite platform for CPL stats.

statistical comparisons

The following sections break down who I would personally recommend on various categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each feature. We recognize the need to find a player who fits your team’s style of play and the role in need, so we endeavour to break the game down into different elements that could help guide your scouting process.

DEFENDING

The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various defensive categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each element.

1v1 DuelingDef. AwarenessPressingAerial AbilityDiscipline
T. BorgesT. BorgesA. MusseA. MusseS. Rea

Despite all his brilliance in attack, this is where Mo Babouli falls short, as a relatively inactive member of the York defense. He’s used as an instant outlet in transition and not meant to do all that much defending, yet he still managed to find himself dribbled past more than any of our players.

RankPlayerTkl + Int.Def. Act.Duel %Aerial %Drb. PastFouls
1A. Musse1.975.7961.047.20.930.95
2T. Borges2.265.6466.422.21.001.22
3M. Bustos1.794.6456.737.00.410.93
4S. Rea1.274.3259.321.40.670.74
5M. Babouli1.104.0959.425.01.510.00

Attacking midfielders like Babouli are often thought of to be one-dimensional in their approach to life in football, but our stats show that this may not be the case for the likes of Ali Musse and Tristan Borges. In fact, whoever said Tristan Borges can’t defend may need to look again. His defensive dueling rate surpasses most of his Forge teammates (66.4%), and he made over 2 tackles + interceptions in a high-possession team – quite decent for a ‘number 10’.

Beyond just his excellence in Cavalry’s energy and mobility from the front, Ali Musse is also significantly stronger in the air than his competitors, and decently disciplined. He wins our defensive section despite only winning one of the six individual categories, which showcases a nice range of skillsets that may warrant attention in the market.

ATTACKING

The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various attacking categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each.

Goal ContributionChance CreationAtt. DuelingDribblingSpatial Awareness
M. BabouliS. ReaM. Babouli M. BabouliT. Borges

Mo Babouli is simply unstoppable when you give him the ball, posting up severely impressive numbers across his eight York United appearances. It would have been interesting to see what kinds of records he might have been able to break had he been available from the jump. But for our purposes, Babouli wins five of our chosen categories, and finishes second on the other.

RankPlayerG + AxG + xADuel %DrblKey PPPA
1M. Babouli0.770.5950.43.582.063.70
2S. Rea0.410.4438.11.502.772.53
3M. Bustos0.240.3240.81.421.272.88
4T. Borges0.520.3934.61.391.872.39
5A. Musse0.360.4336.01.771.221.35

Sean Rea also impresses with his xA of 0.32 per 90, and posted up the most “shot-assists” this season at a wicked 2.49 per 90. Highly influential in the final third, Rea compares well to his peers in every category despite his young age, making him one of the top assets within our scope. As part of Forge’s proverbial possession, Tristan Borges also stood out for his ability to receive progressive passes in space, and play under pressurized situations. But even Ali Musse stacks up against the rest, with a combined xG + xA of 0.43 per 90.

POSSESSION

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The following table breaks down who I would personally recommend on various on-the-ball categories, using statistical comparisons as a basis for each feature.

Forward PassingCarryingOff. AwarenessBuild-UpBall Control
M. BabouliS. ReaT. BorgesM. BustosM. Bustos

Anyone reading this article for scouting purposes will be happy to hear that each of our players have their own standout set of attributes in possession of the ball. Marco Bustos is the most active in dropping into build-up phases and enacting his brilliance lower on the pitch, but the space seeking of Tristan Borges in the final third is truly unrivalled.

RankPlayerPass C.Pass %Prog. PP. Def. 1/3P. Lost / TchDis.
1M. Bustos32.784.35.3510.50.271.35
2M. Babouli31.981.56.648.530.333.58
3T. Borges22.877.23.987.450.372.00
4S. Rea21.578.83.876.340.381.54
5A. Musse17.178.43.014.970.392.19

Ali Musse is the least involved throughout phases of possession, and in trying to pull off the risky and dangerous moves, loses possession more than any of our other stars. Molham Babouli’s stats are a bit skewed given that he only featured in eight matches across the campaign, but in that time he demonstrated himself to be an excellent progressor of the ball, and someone that York wanted to have in possession at every opportunity. Marco Bustos tops the list, having boasted the best passing percentages, and staying cool as a cucumber in possession.

CONCLUSIONS

Even despite all this analysis, you’re probably somewhat perplexed as to what player would fit best into your team’s style of play. If you’re still wondering, give me a shout via the links at the end of this article and I can help make references toward your team that will help in your cause.

Encouragingly, all five of our performers would fit in well at possession-based sides, and the defensive stats suggest that even the likes of Borges and Bustos would perform fine with less of the ball.

RankPlayerTeamRatingDEF.ATT.POS.
1M. BustosPacific FC7.36331
2T. BorgesForge FC7.42243
3M. BabouliYork United7.53512
4S. ReaValour FC7.49424
5A. MusseCavalry FC7.10155

Nevertheless, we tracked every single CPL game over the course of the season to come up with our unique rating system. We compile that information alongside their defensive, attacking and possession rankings and a few other factors to produce this list. Even despite Mo Babouli’s age and the warning signs we illustrated earlier, it’s still abundantly clear that he’d make for an excellent signing should another CPL club want to take the punt. The same could be said for Ali Musse, who witnessed a rapid development in his progress from 2021 to now. The others are more than ready for that next step, whether that be playing in the MLS or somewhere in Europe, and if rumours have it, Marco Bustos may already be on his way. So with that, we close out this article by reminding you that everything must work in harmony and bring balance to your side in any recruitment scenario, but we’d be happy to promote any of these candidates into your team in 2022.


So there it is! Our complete scouting database of defensive midfielders inside the #CANPL. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, and follow on social media @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite. For any further information on the players above, feel free to reach out! Thanks for reading and see you soon! 👊⚽

-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Right-Backs
-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Centre-Backs
-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Defensive Midfielders
-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Central Midfielders

Not convinced? Check out these CPL players who have already made the move across the pond…

-> Why Victor Loturi caught the eye of Ross County – Player Analysis
-> Diyaeddine Abzi – Player Analysis
-> Why Alejandro Diaz caught the eye of Sogndal Fotball
-> Aribim Pepple – Player Analysis
-> Why William Akio caught the eye of Ross County – Player Analysis

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