Armchair Analyst: Sun Tzu, Tiki-Taco and the other big problem for LA Galaxy

This is the 19th in a series of 20 short columns focused on the things I'm thinking about as we approach the 20th season of Major League Soccer. I'm going to dig into mostly non-obvious questions here – the tertiary stuff that can become bigger over time – rather than the giant storylines (e.g., How do the Red Bulls replace Henry? What if Ozzie's injury lingers? Is this THE year for TFC?).

You can find previous installments in my story archive HEREFor this latest entry, we're off to Carson...

Before you read this, go read Greg Lalas' piece on replacing Landon Donovan HERE, and remind yourself that soccer players aren't robots programmed to kick the ball around for our entertainment. They are living, breathing human beings who work incredibly hard, spend far too many hours together, and form bonds the likes of which most of us, in our professions, have no way of replicating.

Thus, replacing Landon Donovan in the locker room will be as big a story as replacing him on the field. How the Galaxy respond to that is a huge story.

Ok, now that you're done reading that, go read THIS by Sean Steffen over at LAGConfidential. Sean is clearly very lonely and I feel bad for him, but it's really, really excellent work aggregating and breaking down the types of goals LA scored last season. You'll see, by the numbers, both how valuable and flexible Donovan was.

And No. 2 on the flexibility charts – as well as usage and centrality, and No. 3 in assists – was Marcelo Sarvas. Whether LA were bombing up the wings or tapping it around the penalty box, Sarvas was there to play a role as integral as it was underappreciated.

Watch this goal here:

Sean focused on Alan Gordon's exquisite touch (newsflash, everyone: Alan Gordon has a genius-level soccer IQ), the dummy run from Gyasi Zardes (classic Tiki-Taco) and the smooth finish from Baggio Husidic. He's right to focus on that, because it was all pretty awesome.

But make sure to notice who put the one-time, third-line pass right onto Gordon's foot before the defense could come out and pressure the ball? It was Sarvas. Few in the league are better at playing the early ball in. Beyond that is that there's always a purpose to it: get the ball to the difference-makers before the defense can organize their line.

It's basic "Art of War" stuff: Attack the enemy where he is unprepared, and appear where you are not expected. I'm not going to say Sarvas helped the Galaxy do that as much as Donovan did, but he sure helped a lot more than the average fan understood. And now he's in Colorado.

I just have one more point to make:

Player Passing Accuracy in Opp Half Passing Accuracy, Final Third Passes, Into Final Third Passes, Successful Opp Half Chances Created from Open Play
Juninho 85.35 80.69 297 1049 25
Sarvas, Marcelo 82.1 74.89 208 789 29
Donovan, Landon 79.31 73.06 147 824 84
Husidic, Baggio 79.23 73.03 115 515 34
Ishizaki, Stefan 76.66 70.74 133 450 36
Keane, Robbie 76.49 70.33 134 592 51
Gargan, Dan 76.25 70.68 240 517 26
Zardes, Gyasi 73.98 70.3 68 415 28

Donovan, Robbie Keane and Juninho all had godly seasons in different ways. Sarvas was not far off their level (I him in my Best XXXIII).

Replacing him in the center of that midfield is not the big story of the year for LA. But it's a big story. And nobody should expect the answers to come easy.


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