Is Robbie Keane getting enough chances? Or is the 35 year old forward showing signs of slowing?

Carson, CA – After the LA Galaxy’s 3-1 win over rivals San Jose on Saturday night, Robbie Keane expressed his disappointment at the team’s play:

“We weren’t good enough at creating chances and we were just a bit slow at times.”

And he had something to say regarding what needs to change about the team’s offense:

“Create more chances. Keep the ball. That’s two games that I haven’t touched the ball very often…so changing the system or something because when you play the front on your own, naturally you don’t get many touches as a number nine. But what you should be doing is getting some chances in and I haven’t gotten any chances in the last few games so that’s a bit disappointing. So hopefully that will change in the next few weeks.”

Several questions arise from these statements. Is Robbie Keane getting enough chances? Are LA creating enough? Is the Galaxy Captain showing signs of his age? Is he still the goal-scoring threat we’ve all become accustomed to since he joined the team in 2011? Does any of this matter if the Galaxy is winning (at least at home) and getting their three points in whatever manner it takes?

The second-to-last question might be the easiest to answer. Reviewing Keane’s stats over the four complete seasons he’s had in LA, he’s averaged a goal about every 100 minutes. This season, if the stats on the LA Galaxy website are correct, he’s scored 2 goals in 270 minutes on the field, just 75% of his average over time. The caveat to this is that those two goals are a result of penalty kicks, which in some circles don’t ‘count’ as much as a goal scored in the run of play. An analysis of his Shots and Shots on Goal per 100 Minutes reveal career averages of 3.75 and 1.77, respectively, per 100 minutes of on-field time. With five total shots and three on goal, Keane is well behind the curve to start the season, producing less than half his expected amount of shots and 62% of his expected shots on goal. But ultimately, with just three games as a sample size, it’s probably too soon to even draw those conclusions.

However, this leads us to the next question: Is Robbie Keane beginning to show signs of his age? At 35 years old, that is a reasonable question to ask. His production is less than what we normally expect from him. However, it is early in the season and he may still be working on getting up to 100% match fitness, so I’m not convinced that it’s time to put him out to pasture.

It does look like he has changed his game, and that may be the contributing factor in his lack of touches and his resulting shortage of chances. We are used to seeing Keane trailing his younger, faster partners to meet the late cross, coming back into the midfield to pick up the ball and shepherd the Galaxy attack, acting as the linchpin to set up the fast break, or cutting defenses to shreds with his movement off the ball during set pieces and in front of the goal. During the recent games against San Jose and DC United, Keane did let the younger players – Magee, Zardes, and Lletget – act as the leading edges of the offense while he trailed behind them to act as an outlet or pick up any loose balls from the youngsters’ attacks.

Something was missing though. His runs at the goal to receive crosses found him waiting at the far post instead of him rushing headlong to the near post or right at the keeper. More than once he was unable to shake his man on corners and find space enough to get at the ball. A few times, instead of being the hub around which the rest of the offense rotated, he was pressed higher up the field than is usual, alone and unsupported. Keane has lacked that aura of being one step ahead of everyone else on the field.

LA Galaxy vs DC United. Photo by Steve Carrillo

LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane takes on DC United at StubHub Center on March 6th, 2016. Photo by Steve Carrillo

Keane looks to be a man caught between two worlds. On the one hand is the place where he is most comfortable and effective – the withdrawn striker role – a position that allows him to see and read the game and respond with the intelligence and incisiveness that we’ve come to know and love. On the other hand is the space where he is beginning to find himself – the Pointy End of the Spear.

Whether by accident or design, the Galaxy Captain is finding himself pushed forward. Why, we must ask, is this happening? Science tells us that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Keane’s normal area of operations is inhabited by another player who loves that same chunk of real estate as much as he does. Giovanni Dos Santos’s addition to the team last year has put two men in competition for the same feeding grounds. There will be some issues as they resolve their respective territorial claim. Their on-field behavior indicates that no animosity lies between them, but they are similar players with similar visions of the game, and as a result find themselves trying to occupy the same space at the same time. Instead of opening up the field and creating opportunities for each other and for the rest of the team, they are inadvertently stepping on each other’s toes.

What we are seeing now is Keane’s attempt, as a consummate professional, to find a solution that will make the Galaxy better and more effective in the attacking third. Even though the pair has only shared the field for a single half of one game this season, Dos Santos has been with the squad long enough that his presence in Arena’s system is affecting Keane’s play. It almost looks like Keane is relearning the game, or at least his own offensive game, in response to the changes in the squad around him. Other than Gyasi Zardes, Baggio Husidic, and Robbie Rogers, no other player on the field with Robbie Keane against San Jose last Saturday was on the team at the beginning of the 2015 season. No one on the team has had a perfect game, as for all practical purposes this is an entirely new team, and every player is learning their place in the squad and the system. Even Robbie Rogers has things to work out since he switched from left to right back.

On the surface, Keane is right. Neither he nor the rest of the team are creating enough chances. That observation looks at only the surface situation. Foundationally, the team has all the pieces in place to be successful. The players need time to settle in and adjust to their new environment. The beautiful wins will come. If there are a few ugly wins along the way, all of us, including Robbie Keane, will just have to learn to live with them.

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