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Can Baggio Husidic be Sarvas 2.0 for the LA Galaxy in 2015?

A study of playing styles to determine if Baggio Husidic can truly replace Marcelo Sarvas.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Let's all be honest.  When the starting line up was announced for the game against the Chicago Fire, how many of you had Kenney Walker starting?  Not me.

After fan favorite Marcelo Sarvas departed the Stub Hub, many Galaxy fans asked - who is his replacement until Steven Gerrard gets here?  Not many answered Walker.  A lot of fans did answer Baggio Husidic to pair with Juninho in the center of the park.  If Baggio is the likely answer, how does he pair with Juninho?  Does he get forward enough to replace Sarvas' 11 assists?  Is that Juninho's job now?  Can he be as fluid as Sarvas?  What does he bring to the table?  (Note:  I will miss Sarvas' iron lungs.  The man was the Energizer Bunny personified.  Well, an Energizer Bunny that earned lots of yellow cards).

Let's try and find some answers by taking a look at how Baggio and Sarvas played last year and analyze their similarities and differences.  For the sake of this deep dive, I only looked at the games where they were both starters to ensure they played a decent amount of minutes in each game.

LIMITED TIME IN THE CENTER

I didn't realize Husidic started as many games for the Galaxy as he did - for some reason I considered him a role player.  I also didn't realize Bruce moved him halfway through the season after Ishizaki got injured.  His versatility is a plus.

Husidic ended up starting 26 out of the 34 games in the 2014 Galaxy season.  He played with Sarvas for 19 of those games.  He started out on the left, and then when Ishizaki got injured, was shifted right.  Though there were a few instances where he could have been paired with Juninho due to rest or injury for Sarvas, it just didn't happen:

  • 15 games primarily on the left
  • 7 games primarily on the right
  • 4 games primarily in the center
    • 2 starting with Sarvas (no Juni)
    • 1 game where he, Sarvas, Juni and LD all occupied the middle of the park
    • 1 game where he played centrally with Juninho - 10/12 against FCD (2-1 loss)
  • In early May when Sarvas was injured, Landon Donovan was Juni's partner in the middle (watching Landon pick up the ball in the defensive third was misery)

One may say that Baggio drifts centrally - he does.  But his movement is still nothing like Sarvas'.

Sarvas's passing heat map in a typical game looks like this (8/27 LA 4 - DC United 1):

He clogs up the center and provides an outlet up the middle.

Contrast that with Husidic's passing map from the same game:

Sarvas roams all over the center of the park - pressuring, intercepting, and basically being a public nuisance.  Husidic is disciplined - though he does drift centrally, he also sticks to the touchline as the situation demands.  His play on the left side mirrors what is seen above on the right.  That positional discipline let the two men in the center of the park do their thing without causing positional drama.

In 2014, this confirms the Galaxy didn't play Juninho and Baggio Husidic together in the center except once, and Sarvas and Baggio played very different roles.

BAGGIO DOES GET FORWARD...REALLY

When Baggio Husidic was first signed I remember thinking, "who?"  Promptly after that, after watching his first few games, I transitioned to:  "oh God, the guy that never seems to get forward."

Right or not, there was a perception in the fan-base that whenever Baggio played, the LA offense would lose out.  Baggio was a great worker, but couldn't make a forward pass to save his life.

Then he scored...

By the end of the season I was pretty sure my initial impression was wrong.  Can he replace the 11 assists that Marcelo brought to the table?  Or continue his late runs to score?  In 2014:

  • Baggio had 5 goals compared to Sarvas's 3
  • Baggio had 4 assists compared to Sarvas's 11

So yes, Husidic scored more, but Sarvas assisted more often.  Both valuable.  Here's what is interesting:  Husidic had 1.1 key passes on average per game, and Marcelo had 0.8.  Let's dig deeper.

After taking a look at all shooting plays that Husidic and Sarvas were involved in, this might be a surprise:

That key pass stat is no coincidence.  Baggio Husidic was involved in more scoring opportunities than Sarvas and had virtually the same shooting to passing ratio.  The difference is in conversion.  Baggio's late runs were rewarded with scoring, but Sarvas was much better about that final pass leading to a goal.  Baggio DOES get forward and will contribute to the offense, but he may not be as clinical as Sarvas was with the final pass.

Where each players' shots were coming from and who they were passing to were also different.  Sarvas tended to operate with a cluster of players, whereas Baggio took shots from anyone and everyone, plus created a bunch for himself.  Sarvas liked to feed Husidic and Zardes. Baggio liked to feed Juninho and Keane.

Both players got forward, but once again, they did it a little differently.  The Keane/Husidic connection is something that should be repeated in 2015.  It was already exhibited in game 1.

Finally, both players are tidy on the ball - Sarvas with an 86% successful passing rate and Husidic with an 83% rate.  That will be appreciated by Bruce Arena as he looks to find someone who is tidy in the center of the park.  That said, Sarvas had many more attempted passes on average compared to Husidic - 59 versus 35.  If Baggio plays in the center, he needs to show for the ball more often, and be just as tidy with it there as he was on the wings.

Overall, Baggio does create key chances - something Galaxy fans saw already in the opening game of 2015.  But he needs to work on being more clinical with the assist (in particular to Robbie Keane AND Zardes), while continuing to make his late runs to match the impact that Sarvas had in 2014.

WHAT ABOUT ON D?

We all know that Sarvas can be a walking yellow card.  On average, when he started, he had a -0.5 fouls won to lost ratio.  Meaning he commits more fouls than he wins.  Baggio is safer with a foul won to lost ratio of over 0.

But where Sarvas did have some benefit versus Baggio is in his pressure in the center of the park.  The man would appear to be everywhere. You can see that in their defensive stat comparison:


Tackles

Def Blocks

Intercep

Clear

Recoveries

Tackled/Pos Lost

FWvFL

Husidic

2.1

0.2

1.0

0.9

4.8

0.4

0.2

Sarvas

1.8

0.2

1.7

1.1

7.3

0.2

-0.5

The key differences (other than fouls) are areas that Sarvas was famous for:  pressure, pressure, pressure.  In the center of the park he has more interceptions and recoveries than Baggio.  He knew when to cut off the pass, and he got the ball back.  If Baggio is to partner with Juninho, he has to be as much of a pest as Marcelo was in the center of the park.

IN SUMMARY

If nothing else, this work should show how much the Galaxy lost when Marcelo Sarvas left LA.  He was a workman in the middle that also contributed to beautiful tiki taco play.

Baggio looks to have the capability to be an able replacement for Sarvas until Gerrard arrives:  he's tidy on the ball, moves well off the ball, gets forward, shoots and creates key chances.  He also works hard on the defensive side.  Galaxy fans should now understand why Bruce had him play so many games in 2014.

BUT if he moves...

He also needs to be more open for the pass in the center, be more clinical in attack (one of the reasons why Ishizaki likely started throughout the playoffs), and survive 90 minutes in the center while placing pressure on the opposing offense.  That's a ton of work, though he seems fit enough to try.

Based on these numbers, he deserves a shot.  Success?  TBD.