By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)
This week’s Little Things include: the LA Galaxy’s impressive ceiling, Ryan Telfer’s debut, and the importance of confidence for a goalkeeper.
The Correct Way to Use Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Much of Monday’s 1-0 LA Galaxy win in Montreal was rendered irrelevant for the purposes of evaluating the Galaxy’s attack due to Zlatan’s 41st minute sending off. Before the red, though, they very occasionally looked competent — with no help from their horrendous and well-publicized defensive awfulness, of course, and only when Romain Alessandrini was trying things.
But competence is a positive for the Galaxy, who have too often looked congested and lacking ideas in attack. They have just 11.3 shots per game and are passing at a 68 percent clip in the attacking third, an easily below-average mark.
At times against the Impact they proved the worthiness again of what has been one of their few successful offensive actions: dropping Zlatan deep and getting Ola Kamara and Alessandrini running hard into the result space. Case in point:
Ibra is amazing at finding passes into space, particularly with his back to goal. That vision is what has made him one of the world’s best players over the last 10 years. Having him drop gives him the opportunity to play creator and connect the Galaxy’s attack. It frees space for Alessandrini and Kamara to run in behind.
The combination of Zlatan’s passing, the attention he draws when he steps out and the further disorienting benefits of wingers making these types of runs should be unstoppable. LA’s next task is attacking the space between the backline and the Ibra’s deeper location, another exploitable spot.
A Place Where Even the Best Have Trouble
Darlington Nagbe is MLS’s best possession player. His passing percentage in the attacking third is 90.7 percent, the best among players with at least 50 passes in that area of the field (he has 140) and while his xPassPct indicates that he is underperforming, he similarly underperformed in 2016 and 2017. Nagbe makes passes that others don’t and at an impressively high rate. The ball is glued to his foot.
When he was faced with back-to-goal possession in a congested box, though, Nagbe had plenty of trouble, as is to be expected:
That pass along the goal-line was a dangerous one, and it gave the New York Red Bulls a chance to put the ball in the box.
This was not meant as a criticism of Nagbe, only as a way of highlighting how difficult some situations can be for players on the ball, especially when they came from a turnover like this instead of a regular possession sequence.
Ryan Telfer, Making Plays
In his fourth career MLS start, Telfer scored the winner for Toronto FC on a nice, clean volley at the back-post. It was his first goal or assist in 400 minutes of league play. He was productive in that game against Orlando City, showing that he’s capable of doing good stuff on the ball.
Telfer has one specific quality that makes him likely to stick around in MLS: he has a way of dribbling on the ball and holding off defenders that allows him to create something positive from a lot of his possessions.
He is opportunistic like this; with strength situated in the upper body and talent at using it to shield the ball, he makes up for an often messy touch by breaking through defenders and either drawing fouls or creating space. Telfer is not Giovinco, but he serves a valuable purpose to a team that more often values vision, passing and individual skill in attack. Telfer is direct to goal and always willing to do the dirty work.
His xG+xA total is 1.6 in those 400 minutes, 1.2 of which comes from xA. That is not a bad haul, especially considering his extended minutes with TFC’s C- teams, but Toronto do need more on-goal production from him. As long as he keeps showing confidence on the ball and developing that physicality, though, there is a definite future for him in MLS.
Confidence and Goalkeeping Mentality
As cliché as it might sound, Tyler Miller was certainly influenced by a lack of confidence and a long memory in LAFC’s 2-1 loss to Portland on Saturday. He gave up a bad goal to Cristhian Paredes, mishandling a Diego Valeri free-kick and leaving it on the doorstep for Paredes:
Not long after, now facing a 1-0 deficit, Miller struggled to handle a cross. It was likely going over him and harmlessly out of play, but sensing bodies on the back-post (there were, but given the flight of the ball, they were not dangerous), he unnecessarily touched the ball out for a corner. Notice Dejan Jakovic’s exasperated reaction.
Stu Holden pointed it out immediately on the FOX broadcast. “That’s a reflection of that last chance he gave up and giving up the goal. His confidence is low at the moment. He didn’t want to take any chances, and he gets a shout from Jakovic who had an eye on [Sebastian] Blanco (at the back-post). There’s no need to touch that ball.”
Miller had looked bad on the goal and was trying to do as much as he could to get his mental “game score,” so to speak, back up from negative to positive. He did too much on this occasion.