Robbie Keane has been rightly recognized for his quality performance in April, but behind every great forward is a midfielder setting them up. With Bruce Arena's formation shift last month, behind Keane and Donovan has been central attacking midfielder Stefan Ishizaki.
The man first known to us as Foreign Wide Midfielder contributed the assist on Robbie Keane's goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps in LA, and marched in two goals himself in April. Bruce Arena moving Foreign Wide Midfielder to a central attacking position, as well as Landon "will be used exclusively as a midfielder" Donovan moving up top, shows how quickly the manager has had to shift his player priorities.
Ishizaki has done well in the role, so the shift is paying off. The Castrol Index has him ranked no. 32 overall in MLS, and the fourth best midfielder in the league. On the team he's ranked the fourth best player, and the second best ranked midfielder behind Baggio Husidic. That's right, Husidic is currently ranked seventeenth on the Castrol Index. Jaime Penedo is the other player ranked higher than Ishizaki.
Because he's an attacking midfielder, most of his ranking comes from shooting and passing. It's his goals that have him highly ranked, both were close to the goal giving him credit for converting high-percentage chances. He also gets credit for getting long range shots on target against Real Salt Lake in his Galaxy debut.
Ishizaki is currently averaging just better than one key pass per match, but his passing is actually hurting him on the Index. He's lost 18% of his shooting credit because of below average passing in the final third. He's completed 38 of 63 passes in the final third for a success rate of 60%. The league average is 67%. His overall pass accuracy is 72% with the league average 75%.
Goals are tough to come by for midfielders this year. Outside of Clint Dempsey's outlier eight goal performance as the best central attacking midfielder in the league, the next best midfielder is Mauro Diaz (ranked no. 27 on the index) at three goals.
Other three goal midfielders are ranked much further down the list, showing just how significant pass accuracy is while we're still dealing with such small sample sizes. The notoriously curt Bruce Arena's one complaint when the Galaxy aren't playing well is that their passing wasn't sharp.
If Stefan Ishizaki can tighten up his passing, he and Husidic will overshadow the contributions of fan favorites Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas this year. The solid play from those attacking midfielders will mean goals for Robbie Keane, and hopefully Landon Donovan getting back on his groove.