Opta Spotlight: Keane was MLS' best forward ... after Euros
MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 16-12-6 (54 points); 59 GF / 47 GA (+12 GD)
2012 LA Galaxy Average Position
Is there any doubt anymore? Landon Donovan's (10) best position is as a second striker, and he's probably never had a better partner in that regard than Robbie Keane (7). Not only did Donovan rack up nine goals – incredibly, his seventh-best goal total in 12 MLS seasons – but his 14 assists made 2012 his second-best season all time as a set-up man, behind only the 16 he dished out in 2010.
As you can see from the diagram above, LA didn't play with tremendous width. They didn't need to, in all honesty. David Beckham (23) ran the right right channel, drifting wide to send in service and combine with Sean Franklin (5), while Mike Magee did roughly the same on the left, playing a bit higher up the field to support Keane and Donovan. And despite the fact that they didn't hug the sidelines, the Galaxy still scored the second-most goals in MLS (59).
The other noticeable aspect of this graphic? Omar Gonzalez (4) and A.J. DeLaGarza (20) remain together in the center of defense, despite the big man beginning the season on the shelf. How long will that remain the same?
2012 LA Galaxy Passing Matrix (Download HERE)
Opposing defenses knew where service was coming from, and they could still do nothing about it. Of course, we're talking about Beckham, whose 64 successful crosses were 36 more than Donovan behind him. Not to mention the 230 that didn't find a teammate, a number that outpaced the next closest by 169 attempts. Read that again: 169 attempts.
And LA aren't just losing a right foot able to curl a ball with pin-point accuracy. They're losing their second-most prolific passes as well (1,255 completed attempts, second to Juninho's 1,661). That's a big blow, and one that will certainly have to be lessened in the offseason with an addition of some kind (paging Kaká and Frank Lampard).
And what if the Galaxy lose both Beckham and Juninho? Well, that's the kind of disaster most MLS sides simply can't come back from, not immediately at least. The duo fed Keane and Donovan more than anyone else on the side – 136 and 146 passes for Becks and 179 and 152 for his Brazilian counterpart – except Keane and Donovan themselves.
1) Scoring wasn't a problem for LA
but shot efficiency sure was
Editor's note: I sorted the spreadsheet storing LA's 2012 shooting data incorrectly. So if you were surprised by the Galaxy's "inefficiency" with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan in the fold, you're skepticism was justified. That was actually Chivas' goal-to-shot ratio, which isn't surprising in the least.
You read the note above. You see the strikethroughs below. Now, here's the real deal when it comes to the LA attack: They were good, second best in MLS good.
And while their goal-to-shots ratio was off in the previous write-up, the rest of the numbers were spot on. LA were fourth in the league in shots attempted (381). They were second second in shots on target (179) and goals (59) behind San Jose. Their actual chance of scoring each time they uncorked a shot? Just under 15.5 percent. Good for third in MLS behind the Quakes and Red Bulls.
As you can see below in their shot chart, including only shots on goal, LA managed to test opposing 'keepers from all over the field and finished from just about everywhere as well.
If you asked for pundits' best guesses in regards to the least-efficient shooting team in MLS, you'd probably get a spread of Toronto FC, Vancouver, Portland and a few other clubs hovering around the bottom of the table. But it was LA, and by quite a large margin. In fact, the Galaxy were the only team in the league that scored less than 10 percent of the time they took a shot (8.25 percent). Now, part of the reason for that shocking number is that Bruce Arena's men were fourth in the league in shots attempted (381). That's plenty of opportunities to miss. On the flip side, though, it's plenty of opportunities to score, and the Galaxy were also second in shots on target (179) behind San Jose. So what's the deal? That's a bit hard to pin down, but check out the chart below plotting LA's 2012 shots on goal and give your take in the comments section below. My opinion? Long-distance efforts watered down their ratio.
2) MLS' best forward during the 2012 season was ... Robbie Keane
Hold your horses, Quakes fans. Over the course of the entire year, Chris Wondolowski is the choice as the league's top striker. He rightfully took home the MVP trophy, after all.
But the playoffs matter, and so does the fact that Keane was one of MLS' best forwards at setting up his teammates. So let's add a caveat to the above: MLS' best forward from June until MLS Cup was ... Robbie Keane.
The Irishman tied Thierry Henry for chances created among pure strikers (57) and nearly hit double digits in assists (9) to go along with his 16 goals. And that was without doing much at all until returning from the Euros in mid-June – 13 goals and seven assists from June 23 forward to Wondo's 15 and four, totals which were bolstered by multi-goal games for San Jose vs. Colorado (3) and Portland (2).
Keane was also second in the league to Wondo in big chance opportunities (25). And although the San Jose hitman had a slightly better conversion rate (51.5 vs. 48 percent), Keane was more likely to put his chances on target. So let's call it a wash. Wondo is the deserved owner of the MVP award. Keane? He'll have to settle for MLS Cup and some kind words here.
3) No player was as integral to LA's success than Omar Gonzalez
Gonzalez played in just 14 regular-season games during the 2012 season. LA's record in those matches? Eight wins, three losses and three draws. And one of those defeats was a 45-minute cameo against Philly that was more stunt than indication of 100 percent fitness.
And somehow, despite his small sample size, Gonzalez came just 57 CBI (combined clearances, blocks and interceptions) from leading LA in that category. To boot, he only attempted 12 tackles on the year, an indication of his ever-growing ability to read the game and react accordingly.
And then there was MLS Cup, a dominant performance from one of the league's most dominant players. The Maryland alum, who only has one year remaining on his contract, compiled 20 clearances and eight interceptions in the title game. None of his teammates (or opponents) was even close to approaching either number.
Random nugget: After collecting 17 clean sheets during the 2011 regular season, LA finished with just nine in 2012.