With a goal and an assist, plenty of praise is being heaped on Gyasi Zardes. While there’s no doubt Gyasi had an improved outing, rating his performance as “good” is harder than one might think. For starters, both the goal and the assist were the result of moments of brilliance by Robbie Keane. Yes Zardes provided Keane with the pass that led to the opening goal, and kudos to Zardes for making the smart play of conservatively passing the ball inside to Keane instead of calling his own number, as he has been prone to do in the past. But the fact stands: it was a very simple pass, and by no means put Keane in on goal. Keane created his own chance by juking several defenders and getting off a spectacular shot. On one hand, I applaud Zardes for breaking some bad habits — but his actual contribution to the goal was minimal.
Gyasi’s goal was also largely the result of a moment of individual brilliance by Robbie Keane, which is something I would like to break down in detail for several reasons. For the past few weeks I have been harping on the importance of positional fluidity in the LA Galaxy attack, and have been using heat maps to praise certain players for their movement and criticize certain formations for not allowing enough movement.
This week, instead of talking about the general importance of movement, I thought I would provide a concrete example. On Wednesday night against FC Dallas there was no clearer case than Gyasi Zardes’ game-winning goal, and the masterful movement of Robbie Keane which facilitated it.
The play starts out from a set piece which brings Zardes into the box. After playing it down the left hand side, the ball eventually gets centered to Ishizaki, and this is where Keane’s movement becomes key. Note where Robbie Keane is at the beginning of this play. Also note that in the box, Samuel is being marked by Matt Hedges. Meanwhile Zardes is being marked by both Stephen Keel and Dallas forward Akindele.
As the ball makes its way to Ishizaki, Keane makes a diagonal run from the midfield which splits the Dallas center backs, Keel and Hedges.
When Ishizaki receives the ball, Keane has already pulled Keel into pursuit and away from Zardes.
Keane continues his run, forcing Hedges to pursue.
Since Hedges was marking Samuel, Stephen Keel is forced to take over the mark. At this point Robbie Keane has successfully shifted both Dallas center backs to the left one position. Dallas’ best centerback is now essentially playing right back, covering Keane’s movement outside, and Dallas’ left center back is now playing right center back. This leaves FC Dallas forward, Akindele, stuck playing the unfamiliar role of left center back, covering Zardes. Unsurprisingly, the Dallas forward was not up to the task.
When Keane resets the ball back to Juninho for a cross, Akindele steps towards Samuel and leaves Zardes completely open. The rest is history. Robbie Keane may not get an assist on this goal, but make no mistake about it — Robbie Keane created this goal.
All credit to Zardes for the finish, although I highly doubt his aim was to knock the ball off his shoulder and into goal. I give far more credit to the spectacular movement of Robbie Keane and perfect ball played in by Juninho.
Instead of judging Zardes’ performance by the goal and the assist, Gyasi’s performance should be judged by 2 criteria: passing and shots.
Since the LA Galaxy have transitioned into playing a more possession-style game, it has become increasingly important that our midfielders are good passers. Here, Gyasi’s numbers aren’t so hot. He completed a dismal 68% of his passes. In comparison, Stefan Ishizaki completed 76% of his passes, which, for Ishizaki, is actually kind of a bad night. However! Gyasi did manage four key passes.
Now, a key pass is defined as a pass that leads to a teammate taking a shot on goal that is not converted. Last week I criticized Baggio for being too conservative in his passing, as evidenced by only making a single key pass, when Ishizaki was able to manage five. While this stat is often over-valued, as it can be effected by the relative shooting timidness of the players around a player, it is not entirely unimportant. The fact that Zardes was able to create so many should not be ignored — it means he was creating chances.
Of course some might argue that a low passing percentage is a worthy tradeoff for a higher chance creation rate, however, this is a bit of a false dichotomy. In the same game Stefan Ishizaki completed 76% of his passes and managed 3 key passes, and the week before managed to complete 77% of his passes and had 5 key passes. In other words, Gyasi isn’t off the hook for his dismal pass rate.
If there is one thing that Gyasi Zardes is known for, it’s taking far too many unnecessary shots. Last year, Gyasi took 78 shots, and only scored 4 times. That’s a five percent conversion rate, folks. And it’s not like Gyasi was unlucky either. He simply wasn’t putting shots on frame. Last year, a mere 29% of his shots were on frame. We saw this trait rear its ugly head last week, against Houston, when Gyasi took an absolutely ridiculous shot from 30 yards out which sailed well over the goal, while he had a wide-open man making a dangerous run on his right hand side.
Against Dallas Gyasi overcorrected and only took one shot all game, not counting the goal he scored off his shoulder. While this was a bit of a welcome change, the solution for Gyasi should not be to stop taking shots. The solution should be to only take smart shots. There were a handful of opportunities in the game on Saturday where Gyasi found himself with a good look on net, but failed to take the shot.
Did Gyasi Zardes have a good game? It’s a tough question to answer, and the usually-united cadre of opta stat loving nerds like myself seem divided on the subject. Whoscored.com awarded Gyasi man of the match, for instance, using the same batch of opta stats that squawka.com used to give him him a player effectiveness score dramatically under that of Keane and Juninho.
For now I’m still of the opinion that Gyasi’s inability to maintain possession makes him a liability. That said, if he continues to improve his passing and judgment when it comes to shooting, I may just have to change my mind — and quite happily, I might add. This midfield needs to produce more goals, and Gyasi might just be the man to do it.