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No, Marc, Gyasi Zardes is not “The Exact Type of #9 You Want”

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Following the Vancouver Whitecaps dispiriting 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew Marc Dos Santos had this to say about Columbus’ Gyasi Zardes:

Now, in what sense he meant this is unclear (A big guy? Someone who scores goals consistently?) but most people are pretty checked out on the season and I need to get content from somewhere. So for the sake of argument I'll choose to take the most literal possible interpretation, that MDS feels Zardes or somebody very similar to him would help the Whitecaps get better and score more goals.

Part 1: What Type of Player is Zardes Exactly?

Zardes is a player who gets quite a lot of flack. In particular from fans of the US national team who are frustrated that he continues to get call ups despite his below average technical ability and the availability of younger strikers who are perceived as being superior. It may be the case that Zardes is not the most technically gifted but he has reached double digit goal totals two seasons in a row so clearly he can be an effective player in MLS. My gripe with the idea of getting someone like him is not that he’s a bad player. In the right context he’s a very good player. But that’s the key, he needs the right context. Zardes is very good at one thing and one thing only. Getting into scoring positions and finishing when the ball comes to him (a valuable skill for a striker, to be sure). If you need someone to just get in the box and finish off moves then Gyasi Zardes is the man for you. But if you need someone who can do literally anything else...

Compare this statistical profile with that of Vancouver as a whole.

Here are the most common pass clusters the Whitecaps play:

Here is what percentage of the time Vancouver spends in each zone of the pitch:

And we all know about the heat maps! (Credit to @AmanLoodu on twitter)

Quickly you will come to the conclusion that if Zardes were on the team in 2019 that it would not have made a lick of difference. The dysfunction of the Whitecaps is such that no striker is really being put in a position to reach their full potential. But players of Zardes’ profile are being uniquely set up to fail.

But regardless of what type of striker the Whitecaps bring there will need to be serious improvements to the midfield or else no progress will be made. So perhaps Dos Santos is after a striker who fits Zardes’ profile after he’s improved the players who will be giving him service (N.B that this sort of striker is probably not well suited to a pressing system. Is that still a thing they’re trying to do?). But even then pursuing this type of striker would be foolish because...

We’ve Got Food at Home

The Whitecaps already have Gyasi Zardes. Two of him in fact.

We’re Not So Different You And I

Player xG/96 (open play) xG/shot (open play) Key Passes/96 xA/96 Dribbles Attempted/96 Dribble Success% Tackles Attempted/96 Aerial Win %
Player xG/96 (open play) xG/shot (open play) Key Passes/96 xA/96 Dribbles Attempted/96 Dribble Success% Tackles Attempted/96 Aerial Win %
Zardes 0.36 0.2 0.97 0.07 1.5 35 0.7 32
Montero 0.19 0.09 0.8 0.08 2 59 3 31
Bair 0.27 0.21 0.84 0.05 1.4 50 1.4 45

Bair and Montero lag behind a bit in xG partly because of Vancouver’s inability to get the ball to their strikers and partly because Montero frequently tries low percentage long range shots (I would argue this is also a function of Vancouver not having the ball as frequently as these shots usually seem to happen when Montero is frustrated about not getting the ball in good positions). Beyond that, these three players are pretty much the same guy. Bair in particular matches up with Zardes almost perfectly (but with better dribbling, aerial ability, and more attempted tackles) and at 20 still has a big margin to improve. So, if the Whitecaps are looking for a Zardes type striker there is no reason whatsoever to spend a huge amount of money trying to find one. It would just take away resources from the areas of the pitch that would allow that type of striker to succeed.

I’ve argued that MDS has not been given the proper support to find the players he needs. But I've also pointed out that his infatuation with players like Andy Rose raise concerns about what sort of things he and his staff value when evaluating a player. This sort of comment only fuels those concerns for me.