Growing up in a southern suburb of Stockholm, Stefan Ishizaki started a career in soccer with a struggling Djurgårdens IF. The once first division mainstay found itself relegated and Ishizaki found his way to the neighboring Swedish giant AIK. The midfielder became the youngest person in Sweden to win Svenska Cupen (the Swedish Cup) at only 16 years and 364 days old. He then made several moves to Italy, Norway and then back to Sweden before coming to Major League Soccer.
Playing everywhere in the midfield and at striker, Ishizaki has used his experience to become a difference maker on the pitch. He has become the playmaker for an LA side that only recently lost American legend Landon Donovan. While the Swede may not be able to bend the ball like certain previous members of the LA Galaxy, Ishizaki is definitely a strong midfielder that the Galaxy have come to rely on.
It is the opponent you underestimate that beats you.
Ishizaki, who primarily plays on the right flank, was brought in to help transform the Galaxy's attack. Historically the Galaxy relied on service from the left flank with Donovan streaking up the touchline but since his retirement the Galaxy have switched focus. With Ishizaki on the right side, he is matched up against the opposing left backs who consequently are much weaker in MLS than their right sided partners.
Ishizaki specializes in creating space in order to create scoring opportunities. Playing along the sideline, he is able to pull the opposing full back out of position because of his skills on the ball. The full back knows that while he has to stay defensively organized, Ishizaki has a powerful foot that can whip dangerous crosses into the 18 yard box. Therefore, the full backs will often pressure Ishizaki who in turn - more often than not - dribbles past his marker into open space. This causes the central defense to act opening up space in the box.
As a result, the space that Ishizaki opens up on the right flank has been known to cause havoc, just take a look:
Juninho plays the ball to an onrushing Ishizaki who pulls both Joevin Jones and Eric Gehrig into pressuring him in the 18 yard box. Ishizaki is still, however, able to cross the ball and nearly finds Gyasi Zardes open on the far post. In a single play Ishizaki was able to neutralize the entire backline of Chicago and give his team a clear scoring chance.
Ishizaki has an eye for finding the indirect threat off a cross or a corner kick. Look at his stats, all three of his assists have come from crosses or corners. Moreover, his secondary assists are also telling in that they also find the feet of a runner or a target man who is able to play it off to yet another player.
Ishizaki is not Beckham or Donovan but his composure and experience gives the LA Galaxy something different in the midfield than they have had in the past. Reminiscent of the first time Ishizaki took the field against the Vancouver Whitecap's as their fans taunted him with "Who are you? Who are you?" chants, sometimes it not about who you are but what you can do. Like the LA Galaxy of old, RSL often have a lot of players that move all over the field with good intentions, but nothing has been happening out of that play. What Ishizaki brings is that final pass; that finishing technique if you will.
On his right he is a tremendous passer and crosser, on his left he weaves intricate webs of plays together. Whether it is the quick one-two or a series of combination plays, Ishizaki knows what is expected when it comes to feeding the men in the box - an area RSL has struggled in.
Against a new style LA side, RSL will need to be aware of Ishizaki's habits and perhaps pick some of them up. With either winger creating space for his fellow attackers, RSL could finally capture of allusive final piece to the new 4-3-3 system.
In all chaos there is disorder, but in the disorder a secret stability.
As a creative winger, Ishizaki is strong both on the ball and off. Not only can he out maneuver his opponents, but he can also make the right runs for his teammates. These traits have allowed the winger to be the most dangerous player with the Galaxy. So far Ishizaki has created 22 scoring opportunities for his team. To put that into perspective, Javier Morales has only managed to create 13.
On the wing Ishizaki has managed to maintain a 70 percent passing accuracy and a 33 percent shot accuracy - both of which are surpassed by RSL's wingers Olmes Garcia, Jordan Allen, and Sebastian Jaime. Similarly, both Garica and Allen have been better at taking on their opponents maintaining a three to one possession retention to turnover ratio to Ishizaki's two to one ratio.
Where RSL's wide-men have been better at possession, Ishizaki has been a more creative mind for his team. Like Joao Plata, Ishizaki has maintained better offensive awareness with his side. He appears where his team needs him and makes fantastic cutting runs. His ability to pull apart the opponents defense is awe-inspiring leaving men open in the box.
Since playing with wingers, RSL has been unable to really pull apart their opponent's defense. Whereas Ishizaki's movements leave a man open in the box, RSL wingers almost constantly play balls into players being heavily marked. Better offensive awareness is something that will come in time but for RSL's sake let's hope it is sooner rather than later.
While possession is important in a match, RSL will have to learn when possession is important and when it is not in their new formation. Being ok to give the opponent the opportunity to intercept the ball is better than creating no chances at all.
Ishizaki is one of the best wide attackers in the league and it is easy to see why - he creates chances. Being confident in taking the long shot just to create havoc is something he excels at. Low percentage chances are still chances and losing the battle for possession does not necessary mean you will lose the match. When it comes down to it, Ishizaki is there to create something from nothing, some chaos if you will - a trait RSL wingers could learn to improve their game.
While Ishizaki does not fill the hole left by Donovan, he does give the Galaxy a new look in the attack. It is not that the Galaxy needed Donovan to carry the club - a midfielder that could provide some assists and goals in the campaign - but they needed the creative mind.
The calm composure and veteran savvy that Ishizaki brings to LA is something that RSL is lacking. That's not to say that veteran savvy is needed in the Claret-and-Cobalt's ranks - they certainly have that - but composure on the ball is definitely needed. Often a trait that comes with experience, composure on and off the ball is where RSL has been falling short in the attack. The youngsters that make up RSL when under pressure give the ball up easily and cannot create space needed for the indirect threats on set pieces or during the run of play.
The return of Joao Plata will likely cure this aliment but depth is needed for RSL to succeed in this regard. Players like Olmes Garica and Jordan Allen are not needed to "bend it like Beckham," to the contrary, they are needed to provide service in getting forward.
Big name players are not something that RSL needs. In fact it is quite simple what RSL require: a wide player capable of delivering the final pass. Going forward, do not be surprised if Jeff Cassar takes a page from Stefan Ishizaki in order to create some great assets for his side. In the meantime, however, RSL's wide-men must provide better service while waiting for the Caesar-esque triumph that Plata will most certain bring to the club.
We would like to know what you think. What do you think Ishizaki's style of play could teach RSL's wingers? Would it be beneficial to the system or hinder it? Are there other options? How can RSL defend against this style of attack? How will RSL do against Los Angeles? Share your opinions in the comments section below.