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Why is Gyasi Zardes such a good finisher?

Why is Gyasi Zardes such a good finisher? The answer will surprise you.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, I made a big to do about the unsustainable way in which Gyasi Zardes was outpacing his expected goals margins in this article for Corner of the Galaxy.  Not to toot my own horn, but my analysis in that article, which was published in September, predicted a major regression in his goal scoring numbers by season's end, and that's exactly what we saw. Gyasi Zardes finished the season going goalless in his last 7 games and continued that streak until MLS cup where the streak ended at 11.

Despite this regression, Gyasi still finished the season 4.68 goals above his expected goals total, and his finishing was well above league averages. But why? Certainly many players have outperformed their expected goals totals over the years, and most have not been able to do it sustainably, however, thanks to two recent articles by American Soccer Analysis- One by Jared Young and one by Matthias Kullowatz, I have developed a theory about Gyasi Zardes which could explain how he was able to outperform his expected goals by so many goals and may also point to how a certain style of Galaxy soccer, if maintained next season, could see Gyasi putting up similar numbers.

This article can also be considered the prologue to the Tiki-Taco Genome Project-- a future article or, perhaps articles, which will thoroughly analyze the passing patterns of the famed style, and deal with the question of whether or not it can be sustained without Landon Donovan. As you will soon read, this question is very relevant to the question of whether or not Gyasi can maintain his goal scoring form next year.

But first, let's dive into my theory! In the two ASA articles linked above, Jared and Matthias explore why counter attacking teams have been able to consistently outperform the American Soccer Analyses Expected Goals model. To make a lot of math short, the reason has to do with the number of defenders in-between the shooter and goal. This is a variable that the model does not take into account, therefore teams with more shots against fewer defenders tend to outperform it.

It makes total stylistic sense why counter attacking teams take shots against fewer defenders, but this article is about Gyasi Zardes who happens to play on a very possession oriented team. While this may be so, I believe that what Jared and Mathias are observing at the macro level of team numbers, can be applied to the micro level of player numbers when dealing with players that have a very defined role within a system. Gyasi Zardes is one such player.

The Galaxy attack got a reputation for a style of play known as Tiki-Taco. In this article, I will define said style as getting a player in behind a defense by means of quick one to two touch passes in and around the box. In a coming article I will fully break down the passing statistics of who exactly is involved in this style of buildup, but of the Galaxy's 10 Tiki-Taco goals that I have isolated, 5 of them were finished by Gyasi Zardes.

Out of Gyasi's 12 goals not scored by headers, five were without a single defender around him, and three were taken with just one defender. As it turns out, the average number of defenders on Gyasi per non-header goal is a mere 1.1.

Gyasi is finishing above the league average in the box thanks to a playing style that is putting him in behind the defense and therefore against fewer defenders
. Check out his goals from last season and this becomes readily apparent.

The conclusion we can draw from this is simple. If the Galaxy can continue this style of play, Gyasi's numbers can be sustained next year, which bodes well for the Galaxy. The problem with this conclusion however, is that it raises a much larger question. With the loss of Landon Donovan, can the Galaxy maintain this style of soccer?

In order to find the answer to this, we spent the weekend logging the passing sequences on Galaxy goals in an effort we are dubbing the Tiki-Taco Genome Project. In the process, we learned a great deal about this team, and in the coming days, we will share with you those findings. Hopefully, we'll have our answer to the Gyasi Zardes question as well as how the team's build up play might stylistically change this year.