After the departure of Landon Donovan, the common wisdom was that Stefan Ishizaki was going to step up in 2015 and shoulder more of the chance creation load. In fact, it was one of the biggest narratives in the Galaxy's preseason. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
What this narrative failed to take into account was the nature in which Stefan Ishizaki creates chances vs. the nature of the Galaxy personnel. In short, despite his skill and vision, Stefan Ishizaki is pretty much a one dimensional chance creator, and it's not a dimension that fits the Galaxy well.
Despite creating 2.32 chances per 90, Stefan Ishizaki only creates 0.19 expected goals per 90. In short, the chances he creates are not dangerous ones. Why is this? 60% of the shots he creates and 66% of his expected assists come from low conversion crosses.
This in itself wouldn't be terribly limiting if the team was built around him in the same way that Houston has built around Brad Davis for so many years. For instance, when Alan Gordon is on the field, Stefan Ishizaki instantly becomes extremely dangerous. In fact 26% of the chances Stefan Ishizaki has created for the Galaxy this season have been for Alan Gordon. Gordon headers account 35% of Ishizaki's total expected assists and 50% of his actual assists.
They were quite the power couple in the first third of the season, leading me to dub them Gorshizakon, however Bruce Arena rather strangely started limiting their minutes together. If Gordon came in as a sub it would be for Ishizaki and Gyasi Zardes would be moved out wide. If Gordon got the start, guess who would get the rare rest?
Like a soap writer, it seemed like Bruce was constantly teasing us with "just missed each-other" moments, and we, the fans now hooked on the thrill of Alan Gordon late game winners, were desperate for a Gorshizakon reunion that simply never materialized. While it made for great drama, it also limited Ishizaki's effectiveness as a chance creator, and now, halfway through the season, he has still yet to live up to those preseason expectations.
Stefan Ishizaki is by no means a bad player. He just happens to play for a team that doesn't possess the tools he needs to succeed. He doesn't have enough aerial targets to be a dependable threat. While Ishi's start of the season has been tepid, constant roster turnover caused by injuries and international selection has provided a platform for a handful of young players to not only step up to the plate in terms of midfield creativity, but also show a level of dynamism both in their central and outside runs, in addition to their combination play, that better fits the team's goal scoring personnel.
Ignacio Maganto has tallied 1 goal and 3 assists in all competitions. While the sample size is still small, Sebastian Lletget has started two games for the Galaxy and already has two goals and two assists. Finally, Jose Villarreal has a goal and 4 assists for the Galaxy. Not only are they providing a spark on the field, but at 23, 22 and 21, respectively, their development benefits the future of the Galaxy. The same can not be said for the 33 year old Ishizaki.
With the imminent arrival of Steven Gerrard, the Galaxy can only afford to give one of these kids regular minutes if Stefan Ishizaki doesn't find his way to the bench, and while I have no idea how likely this is to happen, last night, after seeing a Galaxy midfield with Ignacio Maganto playing on the right, I had wonderful dreams of an LA Galaxy team without Stefan Ishizaki.
Don't get me wrong-- I woke feeling completely guilty. How could I dream of such a thing? I freaking love Stefan Ishizaki. He's a great guy, great player and played a crucial role in what was, for my money, the greatest MLS team of all time.
But I did dream it, and, as guilty as it makes me feel, the Ishi-less lineups I saw in my dreams had me down right giddy. I'd like to share a few of them with you.
Nacho had two assists against PSA Elite playing on the right side. Granted, it was against amateurs, but I think he proved he is by no means limited to the left side. This opens the door for Villarreal reclaiming his left mid position and Nacho replacing Ishizaki. With Villarreal, Keane, Gerrard and Maganto all combining in the final third, this should create the type of chances that Gyasi Zardes is so good at burying, by the bushel. In other words, the goal scoring Gyasi Zardes of 2014 will be back.
This leaves Alan Gordon and Sebastian Lletget on the bench as super subs. Can you say luxury?
Of course, Sebastian Lletget may very well end up being an equally strong option outside and could end up replacing Villarreal or Maganto.The wings aren't clear, but the depth and dynamism of this 4-4-2 is. Let's bring back Tiki-Taco!
It's been said quite often that Keane is not a very good lone striker and while this may or may not be true, it's certainly fun to toy with the ideas as it opens up a ton of cool possibilities like this 4-3-3 . At left mid this year, Villarreal has been extremely dangerous going outside as well as cutting in, and has further shown with his time playing as a center forward how dynamic he can be from central positions. This flexibility makes him ideal for this formation.
While isn't as strong a passer or creator, there is something to be said for his physicality, and his increasing development holding the ball. Keane isn't that kind of player and at times in the game, someone will have to do this. That someone can be Gyasi, drifting inside as needed. If you pair that with his ability to be serviceable winger, he's a perfect fit. This brings us to the true beauty of this formation—it's fluidity.
While not quite the same as Barca playing Messi in this position as a false 9, Keane is going to drift around a lot providing the same effect. Centerbacks will be unsure who to track and who to follow. If Keane pulls out wide, will Villarreal move into that space? Will Zardes, Lletget or even Gerrard? There is no way of knowing if the Galaxy play it right.
From a defensive standpoint, Villarreal's speed and hustle when tracking back would allow this formation to defend as a 4-4-2 with Villarreal, Lletget, Juninho and Gerrard as your middle block. This eliminates, to some degree, the biggest risk of switching to such a formation.
I'm known as a bit of a Zardes hater, and I'm sure readers will be somewhat surprised that I have included him in lineups up to this point. No, I haven't changed my mind about him, and have always believed in his ability to score goals when given short range chance creation. I maintain that he has several weaknesses that severely limit his ability to be a consistent goal scorer for any given team, however, all the lineups thus far have played directly to his strengths and are thus the better for his inclusion as he would rack up goals.
That being said, you can create a couple fun lineups by removing Zardes as well.
Who doesn't love a good 4-2-3-1? In theory it gives adequate cover for the backline, a numerical advantage in the midfield and three attacking midfielders with a solid foundation for possession with the two mids backstopping and circulating. If you want to see Lletget, Maganto and Villarreal on the field at the same time, this is the most practical route.
But practicality is boring. Let's get really wild and do what the hip Europeans are doing. Let's fire Bruce, hire Pep Guardiola and go full on 4-1-4-1.
I have a love hate relationship with the 4-1-4-1 as I think it's a poorly understood fad. Basically, unless played in exactly the right way, it's just flat out defensively flawed. That being said, when played properly, it's God's gift to man.
In short, the 4-1-4-1 simply allows too much space between the lines for offenses to work with in transition and I've never seen a team truly succeed with it without some form of gegenpressing to compensate, and even then, it's done by large teams in financially unbalanced leagues.
But gosh darn it, I believe in Pep, and in my dream I saw visions of the false 9ish Keane pulling defenders every which way from the box, while a salivating line of Villarreal Lletget, Gerrard and Maganto fluidly danced around combining with the ball with dizzying skill and positional interchange until finally one of them darts into the space created by Keane while simultaneously another one of them plays it to him in stride. The goal is scored and it's the Galaxy's 10th of the night (cue fireworks).
Ok, that last one was kind of silly, but you're telling me your dreams are completely logical? The point is, the LA Galaxy are currently experiencing a wellspring of youth talent and these kids aren't just prospects to be looked at down line. These kids are ready now and they are proving that on the field. Stefan Ishizaki was a fantastic pickup for the Galaxy heading into the 2014 season but given recent developments and his current production, benching the 33 year old Swede may simply be for the best.
In closing, I will leave you with the wise words of Whitney Houston
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gvPYXHM94DQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>