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LA Galaxy 2021 Player Postmortem: Ethan Zubak

Classic support striker finds his role on new-look team.

Austin FC v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Ethan Zubak came off a 2020 season that was a bit of a “breakout” campaign for him, because while he didn’t score a ton of goals, he got way more playing time than most expected and seemed to be one of the only LA Galaxy players to show some growth that year.

So heading into 2021, it was a true unknown. Was Zubak merely a player to eat up minutes in a weeks-long emergency? Could he build on his 2020 season? Would new head coach Greg Vanney give him the chance?

In hindsight, the answers to those questions were no, yes and yes. Ultimately, the homegrown forward slotted in as a support striker, mostly coming off the bench but primarily aiming to help occupy space and assist in the buildup of goals, mostly for teammate Chicharito.

Here were Zubak’s stats with the first team in 2021:

Ethan Zubak 2021 LA Galaxy Statistics

2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS 18 6 669 1 1 15 4 0 0

Zubak was given a decent amount of playing time by Vanney across the season, with just two games spent on loan with LA Galaxy II in the USL Championship this season.

What impressed me this season was that Zubak appeared to have taken a step up with his ability to link up with teammates in attack. Previously with Los Dos and the seemingly systemless setup on the first team under Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Zubak’s job was to score goals. In the lower division, he can do it, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be a volume scorer at MLS level. Instead, he can lean into being a good set piece option and support striker, which seems to fit his skill set quite well, and do the dirty work that is often necessary for forwards to do but which is not sexy and doesn’t get headlines.

The issue, however, is that most teams, including in MLS, no longer really have space in the lineup regularly for support strikers. In systems where two forwards are being used, a support striker can often be a valuable player on the team for doing the aforementioned dirty work, but these days, one-striker set-ups tend to be preferred and when they aren’t used, coaches will use wingers as auxiliary forwards and generally they’re expected to score their share of goals, not just whip in crosses. So in effect, if this were 2007, I think Zubak’s current skillset being tailored to being a support striker would be perfect. In 2021? Not as much.

It may be safe to say that Zubak is not going to join the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Chicharito as volume scorers in the Galaxy pantheon, but nevertheless, I have been pleased with his ability to make the most of the opportunities he gets on the field. On a given team, you need grinders who can chip in with goals occasionally, even up top, and Zubak can do that. Plus, the 23-year-old has already shown new elements to his game, so what’s to say he won’t be able to work on his wide forward game in the offseason and look the part next season? It could happen.

Zubak is out of contract but the Galaxy noted in their initial roster moves release that they are in discussions with him to return for 2022. It’s possible he gets re-signed and continues his journey in LA, it’s possible he goes to another MLS team, and it’s possible he heads to the USL and takes a chance there. In USL, he could probably find an independent team to sign him and make him a key player pretty easily, but the spotlight will be different. In MLS, his game will likely remain one of sacrifice for the greater good, instead of banging in goals in the lower division. In that way, this is a potential turning point in his career, and only he’ll know which path is best. But we’ll see what happens for a player who’s found a way to contribute to the Galaxy first team the last two years, despite not really looking like he would have a role at all.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.