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LA Galaxy 2020 player postmortem: Ethan Zubak

Homegrown made use of playing time.

Portland Timbers v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

After a cup of coffee with the LA Galaxy first team in 2019, Ethan Zubak returned for his second season in 2020, and became a surprise of sorts during a difficult season.

Zubak had eased into the professional game and the tall striker was a regular scorer for Los Dos in the USL Championship. But with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2019 and Chicharito in 2020, would the Homegrown product get any real playing time?

In 2020, he sure did, becoming a surprise regular in Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s lineup, and notching a couple goals along the way.

Here are Zubak’s stats in 2020:

Ethan Zubak 2020 Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 15 11 787 2 0 19 7 2 0

So why did Zubak become a starter in 2020? Was he a dominant forward who could not be held out of the lineup?

Not exactly. There were two pure central strikers on the roster, Zubak and Chicharito. While the Galaxy had other forwards, players like Cristian Pavón and Gordon Wild and Cameron Dunbar who were “tweeners” in terms of their role, only Chicha and Zubak were meant to lead the line in the middle for LA. And while Chicharito — who was expected to play as much as possible, obviously — was in and out of the lineup all season, that gave Zubak a golden opportunity to get real minutes.

The result was that during a difficult season, I think it was a decent campaign for the 22-year-old.

Zubak showed, first and foremost, that his attacking weapon at this point in his MLS career is his head.

And because of the fixture congestion and Chicharito’s struggles and time unavailable, Zubak was basically the only option to play center forward, so he got a good run of games, which is what players generally need.

It’s interesting because I think just about everyone thinks Efrain Alvarez’s ceiling is far higher than Zubak’s, but because Zubak played in a position of need, he got the time. Because Alvarez was in a spot with more options, he had to bide his time and didn’t get an extended run. That’s how it goes sometimes.

So what does the future hold for Zubak? I think that’s an interesting question. If Chicharito can regroup and play and start scoring regularly, he’ll obviously get the lion’s share of minutes, and while Zubak got a regular run and yes, did show improvement on the field over the course of the season, he didn’t score at will. I think you can give him some credit for being the one player on the roster, maybe besides Daniel Steres, who could get his head on a cross and actually score goals that way, which was Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s top option.

Of course, Schelotto is no longer Galaxy coach, and the next head coach is likely going to want at least one more striker on the roster unless he thinks Zubak is the real deal and ready to make a jump up. So will Zubak be able to keep his place in the lineup? Sounds like it will be pretty tough, but he’s done it already so you never know.

And honestly, I’m not sure what his ceiling is at this point. Zubak has a big frame, he’s got some promise, but I’m not sure he’s going to become a double-digit scorer in MLS at this point. Could he? Sure. Will he? Not sure.

So we’ll see what the future holds. I think if Zubak stays on the radar, if he doesn’t get regular time in 2021, he could be a decent trade chip for the Galaxy, and I could see a few teams in MLS be interested in the still-raw potential he has. But after a 2020 season where he exceeded expectations, there could be more growth ahead in Zubak’s game, and given the playing time he got last season, it could help springboard him to more improvement in 2021. Time will tell.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.