Why Aleksandar Katai could be a steal for the LA Galaxy | Ben Baer

The LA Galaxy snuck it in just before the end of the year, but the signing of Aleksandar Katai should not be taken lightly.

The 28-year-old winger joined the Galaxy earlier this week, with general manager Dennis te Kloese using Targeted Allocation Money to add him to LA's roster for the 2020 season.

Katai was on the market for anyone to sign after the Fire chose to decline his option following the season. His 2019 guaranteed compensation was $1.38 million according to the MLS Players Association and the best guess is that he got somewhere in the high six figures or low seven figures given his box score stats, age (he will be 29 in a month) and the fact that he's never been on a winning MLS team. The Galaxy had plenty of salary cap space with the departures Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Diego Polenta, Favio Alvarez and Uriel Antuna, while Romain Alessandrini's future remains unclear after the expiration of his contract.

Nominally, the Serbian will be replacing Antuna on the roster and on the wing — with Argentinian superstar Cristian Pavon occupying the other side — after the Mexican's loan with the Galaxy expired. Katai moves to Southern California off the back of a somewhat disappointing season with Chicago Fire FC, seeing his total output of goals and assists drop from 17 in 2018 (12g, 5a) to 13 in 2019 (6g, 7a) despite playing just 300 fewer minutes.

Goalscoring

The dip in goals he saw year-over-year largely comes from the fact that he scored a number of highlight-reel bangers in 2018. Over the course of the entire season, he outperformed his expected goals figure by 5.71 (12 goals, 6.29 xG). In 2019 he actually underperformed his xG by 1.25 goals (6 goals, 7.25 xG). Finishing is tough to replicate year-to-year unless you're a world-class player, so his goal total could jump anywhere in 2020. What Galaxy fans should expect is to see him sit somewhere in the 6-8 xG range, meaning he is likely to produce a goal tally in that range.

Chance Creation

While his assist total actually jumped from five to seven in 2019, Katai could have seen that total rise even higher had it not been for some paltry finishing from his teammates. His 7.41 expected assists — which measures the likelihood that a given pass will become an assist based on several factors including the type of pass, pass end-point and length of pass — was good for 15th in MLS. Among the top 20 players in the category, his seven assists were the lowest. Maxi Moralez, who led MLS with 20 assists, had an xA figure lower than Katai's (7.12).

While his actual chance creation figures are relatively low — the quality of the chances he did create were exceptionally high. Fifteen of the 35 chances he created in 2019 were big chances. Among players with at least 30 chances created no one saw a higher percentage of those chances be big ones (43%).

One way he was able to create all those quality chances was by beating defenders in 1v1 situations. His 2.6 dribbles completed per 90 minutes over the last two seasons puts him fifth in MLS. That number is double what Antuna put up in 2019 despite the fact that the Mexican is known for his exceptional speed.

Outlook

It remains unclear who will be finishing chances for the Galaxy in 2020, with the club yet to sign a striker to replace Zlatan. What we do know is that, given his credentials and the ability he showed toward the end of the season, Pavon will be in the minds of every defender the Galaxy line up against. With that in mind, there should be plenty of room for Katai to operate on the other side. If he's able to beat one man, which is clearly within his skill set, he could be in a great position to put some goals in the back of the net either by scoring or assisting.

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