Van Halst: Alessandrini is just what the doctor ordered for LA

Romain Alessandrini - in action for Olympique Marseille

It’s one of the MLS debuts many will be looking forward to on Saturday: Frenchman Romain Alessandrini, the LA Galaxy’s newest Designated Player. He may not be as famous as Steven Gerrard or Robbie Keane (who both departed at the end of the 2016 season), but there’s an argument to be made that he could be just as important in 2017.

The offensive style built by former Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena over last nine seasons has been based on open play in the opponent’s half. Over the years that attack has developed into a very efficient system, with crosses proving the Galaxy’s most lethal weapon.

New coach Curt Onalfo will most probably continue to build on this, and Alessandrini should bring a worthwhile contribution. A versatile winger, the Frenchman can play on both left and right sides, with a preference for the right flank where his left foot can wreak havoc, creating opportunities as well as finishing them.

Soccer analysts Eye of the Game, a group that mines matches for specific observations, revealed that more than half of Alessandrini's assists in France's Ligue 1 led to headed goals. In the Galaxy’s system, having a player who can accurately find his teammates in the air should prove a tremendous asset. The question is who will be on the end of those opportunities, especially after Keane and target man Alan Gordon left the club this winter and with striker Gyasi Zardes currently sidelined due to injury.

Alessandrini is just as clinical on set pieces, particularly on his inswinging corner kicks from the right side (watch video below). This is good news for the Galaxy: After having lost some power on set pieces last season, the team should be back to being effective in that aspect of the game.

As far as build-up play, the Marseille native has technical abilities which allow him to deliver fantastic curling balls (again, see the video below). In addition to delivering balls in the air, he can also send lower crosses, something his new Galaxy teammates are accustomed to receiving.

Another startling fact from Alessandrini's stats: 60 percent of his assists in French Ligue 1 were delivered to a teammate located in the six-yard box. Goalkeepers are forewarned.

When healthy again, Gyasi Zardes, one of the most effective MLS strikers in that goalmouth area, should be able to take full advantage. But Alessandrini is not only a set-up artist. He has finishing qualities which allow him to unlock his opponents, mainly thanks to his firepower from distance. More than a third of his goals in four-and-a-half years have been scored from outside the penalty box. Last season, the LA Galaxy had one of the five worst MLS records from distance.

With his combination of technique and power, you can probably guess by now that Alessandrini can convert direct free kicks, something that the Galaxy haven’t done in MLS action since June 24, 2015, when Jose Villarreal scored in a 5-0 win against Portland.

An attack-minded player, Alessandrini is typically seen close to the touchline when his team is in building mode. But he’s quick to take advantage of any fast break situation, especially when his team is sitting back and spaces open up in the opponent’s half. In those situations, he typically makes runs into a more central position and uses other qualities: focus and fighting spirit. It’s that battling spirit that has Alessandrini following plays and chasing balls that would seem to be lost causes. His goal below against Bastia is a prime example.

When you make the kind of investment that the Galaxy did in Alessandrini, it’s usually because he addresses immediate needs (many of which were evident by the end of 2016) and his qualities fit well into the Galaxy’s style which has taken shape over nearly a decade. If he can stay healthy, he has all the keys to justify his billing as a big-money Designated Player.