Robbie Keane and the Mystery of the Disappearing MVP

Sunday night’s match between the Seattle Sounders and the Los Angeles Galaxy painted a dichotomy of teams. L.A. seemed lazy and, at times, complacent, while Seattle played with piss and vinegar. Seattle was ready for a rumble. L.A. thought they could stroll in for a coronation. The Sounders were committed to fight and scratch for a result, as both Brad Evans and Clint Dempsey credited their willingness to commit tactical fouls in the midfield as key to their game plan. This savvy gamesmanship in the midfield helped Seattle stop the Galaxy from igniting their quick transition game. Which in turn shut down Robbie Keane.

The most surprising aspect of the game wasn’t the come from behind result ( though L.A. hadn’t stumbled holding a two-goal lead at home since May 2012), Seattle’s been doing that for months, but rather the Sounders’ ability to take Keane and Donovan out of the attack. So other than the professional fouls, how did they do that effectively?

Too often focusing all your energy on an opponent’s stars merely frees up chances for the third or fourth attacking option. As Sounders fans we see this all the time. When teams try to shut down Clint and Oba, Neagle or Barrett pop up and bury one. I assumed Gyasi Zardes would’ve been a large factor in Carson, but instead it was Baggio Husidic and Marcelo Sarvas (scoring only his third this season- sheesh). I’d need to rewatch the game, and hell that sounds like a lovely distraction, to do this justice but my first inclination was to take a peek at Keane’s heat map:

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 11.45.13 PMWeak sauce. A little action at the corners of the box, but most of it at the midfield stripe. Keane continually dropped into midfield to find the game. Seattle was sure doing something right forcing the aging striker to fall back to help cycle the ball. This despite L.A.’s vaunted supremacy in the midfielder. Seattle effectively pushed back the danger man and forced him work out of his comfort zone.

For a quick comparison, here’s Keane’s heatmap from L.A.’s last home against TFC.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 11.45.24 PM

Keane has always been about economy of movement, he floats and strikes. Here you can see him working more centrally and 15-20 yards farther upfield than he did Sunday (for the record he had two goals against TFC). Ever picture tells a story, and Sunday’s draw is exemplified by the sheer afterthought Keane (he of the 19 goals and 14 assists) became.

For a quick comparison, compare Dempsey’s heat map next to Keane’s. Deuce set himself up right in his wheelhouse, up the spine of the defense. He could dictate the attack from the sweetspot behind the midfield and in front of the backline, just what he wants to do.


Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 11.46.39 PMIn postgame interviews after the result, The Galaxy seemed content to chalk this game up to what they didn’t do. A classic tactic from an egotist unable to acknowledge his opponent’s quality. Sunday’s result had less to do with L.A. being complacent and more with Seattle fighting and winning. I guess when you live in a town where it’s 75 and sunny dammed near every day; maybe you learn to take things for granted. In Seattle, we work when it’s gray. We work when its cold. In Seattle we get the job done. Ninety more minutes boys, ninety more. And I hope it’s raining.

  • Friar Tuck

    I would’ve liked to see you put Oba’s heat map up for the comparison.
    I admittedly haven’t check it to see if it would help support your point, I just figure it would after watching the game, and since Oba is essentially Keane’s main competition for the MVP (my west coast bias has me omitting Lee Nguyen) I think it would’ve been a cool comparison.

    • Tuck let me grant you backstage access to the Raving Green Studios. I had every intention of comparing Keane’s map to Oba’s, as they are the two legitimate MVP candidates (there’s an Eastern Conference?). Oba’s map was less than impressive in a visual sense compared to Deuce’s. Oba was all over the attacking third, but lacked the sheer focused energy that Dempsey did. Thus for visual reasons, I scuttled the MVP comparison paragraph.

      However, it is interesting that Clint doesn’t have the games-played or that either MVP aspirant has, but turned in the best performance in the game. SOmetimes it is easy to overlook how much Dempsey affects the game.

      For what it’s worth here are Keane and Oba together (Keane left, Oba right).

      • Friar Tuck

        I can definitely see why you made the choice contrast Keane’s heat map against Deuce’s, but I do dig the comparison with Oba’s. While not as striking as Deuce’s, you can still see the concentrated areas of Martins’ map striking through the center of the attacking half, while Keane’s concentrated areas seem to be breaking around around the 18 yard box, like water breaks around the prow of a boat.

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