Like many Designated Players who come from overseas, Steven Gerrard had a rough first season in MLS. His production has drastically improved this year, but not just because he's more used to his new surroundings.
Gerrard has shown his quality in 2016, helping the LA Galaxy to their current position of third place in the cutthroat Western Conference. The 36-year-old midfielder has done so primarily with his ability to set up teammates for goals, as he has a team-high 11 assists this season.
That total is second-best in the league behind only Sacha Kljestan of the New York Red Bulls, and a drastic improvement from the two-goal, three-assist year Gerrard had after arriving mid-season in 2015.
The reason for that spike in production? Gerrard chalks it up to playing in a more advanced position.
"I think the numbers in terms of assists-wise has been [head coach Bruce Arena] playing me a bit further forward, closer to [Giovani] dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, and Robbie Keane," Gerrard told the Men in Blazers podcast. "Whereas when I first come, I think because of my age, I think Bruce seen me as more maybe a defensive midfielder. But I've been playing and enjoying that role and I'm getting closer to goal and I think that's why my assists numbers are really good and now I've got to get some goals to add to those numbers."
Gerrard, who has found the back of the net three times this year, will have his next chance to get himself on the scoresheet again this weekend. In a star-studded affair, Gerrard and the Galaxy visit New York City FC on Saturday afternoon (3 pm ET, ESPN in the US and MLS LIVE in Canada).
The match will pit Gerrard against his former international teammate and long-time English Premier League rival Frank Lampard, who has also rebounded from a disappointing first season in 2015 by posting nine goals and one assist this year. The battle between the two midfielders is something most observers across the league are looking forward, and Gerrard is no different in that regard.
"He's a top player, one of the best attacking midfielders in the world when he was in his [prime], and he's still scoring goals today," said Gerrard. "I expect exactly the same: him trying to get on the scoresheet and give everything he can for New York City. But the message from my end was we're coming into town to try and burst that bubble. We want the three points, we need them to try and close the gap on Dallas and Colorado.
"This game has all the makings to be a classic."
Gerrard touched on a number of other topics during his interview on Men in Blazers, including the potential Zardes has and the Englishman's first experience having In-N-Out Burger. Give the full interview a listen here.