The classic striker argument starts like this: “All he does is score goals.”
The nuts and bolts behind this little ditty of a debate is about whether a striker should do more than bury his share of chances? Should he hold up balls to help get teammates forward? Should he be creating as well as burying? Should be harass defenders and work the passing lanes dutifully when not in possession? Should he fight for second balls?
So, yeah, that kind of stuff. How much of all that should a striker do while he reliably finishes at reasonable rates?
The classic center piece of this debate was once Gerd Muller, the German hitman who poached and poked his way into the record book in the 1970s.
Closer to home (and more present day) it’s Alvaro Saborio, who has struck 43 goals in 83 matches for Real Salt Lake. Any rate above .5 goals a game is pretty much All-Star stuff. And yet, there are lots of fans around Rio Tinto who don’t like his game. Because, you know, “all he does is score goals.”
But what if we turn the striker argument around? We hear less of this argument than maybe we should – mostly because the guys don’t tend to stick around.
“What about the strikers who bust their bust their goal-getting keesters, who chase, harass, hold up and set up, doing it all at inspirational levels – but who just don’t freakin’ score enough?”
Yes, what about them?
Here are two great MLS examples. (Stop me if you’ve heard all this before. Because if you read this blog, you darn sure have heard me rant about these two. Fine gentlemen, I’m sure. But …)
D.C. United has its Lionard Pajoy problem. Pajoy is a striker with nine goals in 37 MLS matches. If that is your starting striker, don’t blame me when you only score just twice in five games. That’s where D.C. United is today.
Yes, playmaker and offensive engine Dwayne De Rosario has appeared in just two matches this year, and Chris Pontius cannot get the hand brake released. Still … nine goals in 37 MLS matches? That’s less than one goal every four matches. At some point, that big work rate just isn’t enough.
Then there’s Chicago’s Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald (pictured above). He would love to have Pajoy’s “high scoring rate,” darn near prodigious by comparison. Chicago’s starting striker has four goals in 19 MLS matches, just a little better than a goal every fifth match. The only possible argument in MacDonald favor here is that the sample of matches (yukky as the numbers look) isn’t big just yet. Said another way, MacDonald hasn’t stunk for as long as Pajoy.
Clubs need to be strong all over the field. They need to be strong in goal and at center back. They need something creative or something big on the wings through which to funnel the attack. But they also require a man with a nose for goal and the skill to do something about it.
Chicago and United are in 8th and 9th places in the East. That’s nowhere close to where anyone believed these two clubs – both picked to contend for the Eastern Conference crown – would be. Their inability to identify a starting striker in the off-season, and their ongoing stubbornness is sticking with these guys is a big reason.