The Rajko Lekic transfer saga was sort of the launching pad for this blog. As I was feverishly sifting through badly-translated Danish transfer rumors and posting hour-by-hour updates on his trial and the ensuing negotiations, I reached some of the greatest peaks in visitors and views that I've yet experienced in the short time I have been running The Bent Musket. After all of that work, the feeling of vindication that washed over me when he suited up for the first time ranks up there as one of the greatest in my blogging career.
Thus, eight starts, 711 minutes and one goal later, I feel it is my duty to try and understand why the Psycho Rajko era has gotten off to such a miserable start.
The stats speak for themselves. In addition to the lack of production, he's taken just 14 shots in those eight matches and put only six of them on goal. That's not a bad accuracy ratio, but it's a terrible total for a goal-hawking forward who was brought in to tally double-digit goals this season. That means he's had matches where he hasn't even put a ball on frame in his entire time spent on the field. How can a goalscorer score goals if he's not testing the keeper?
Granted, he doesn't play for the most shot-happy team in the league. In fact, Lekic is tied for second on the team in total shots (with the man whose job he took, Zack Schilawski) and behind only Shalrie Joseph, who has 19. His 42.9% on-goal percentage is good for fifth on the team, and six shots on goal is second only to Shalrie's nine. Compare all of that to this season's MLS leaders: 42 shots (Fredy Montero) and 17 SOG (Montero and Chris Wondolowski). The Revolution don't have a player who even cracks the top 25 in shots, and only Shalrie reaches that mark in SOG.
So basically, we've established that Rajko Lekic isn't getting opportunities and isn't finishing them, but that it's also a chronic squad-wide problem. Therefore, there is a larger problem with generating chances and getting the forwards in positions to take shots that can't be wholly blamed on Rajko.
On the other hand, further criticisms are often leveled at the Dane. For one, it appears that he is perpetually in an offside position. Prior to last weekend's match against Dallas, Lekic was the far-and-away team leader in offside calls with ten in seven games. His nearest competitor? Ilija Stolica with four. Few things can stop a breakaway or an excellent passing move with such immediacy as an offside call, and it is here that Lekic's game seems to be "flagging" most (see what I did there? I'll be here all week.)
One of the other things that can stop a scoring chance dead in its tracks? Giveaways. Lekic excels in these as well. Complaints in the press box at Gillette often abound when a pass is played to Rajko and his touch lets him down, gifting the ball back to the Revs' opponents. For a player that was brought in to be a big presence, hold up the ball and create as well as score, this is unacceptable.
Honestly, though, I refuse to blame Lekic for that. I refuse because I think everyone who tried to say that Rajko was a target-type forward (the Revolution television announcers come to mind) didn't do their homework. Lekic is a fox in the box and always has been; in Denmark, he scored a lot, but was wholly dependent on service and wasn't known for being generous with the ball. When he made his move stateside, it appeared to me that people took a quick look at his bio, noted his 6'1" 165-pound frame, and said "oh look, a target forward." I, on the other hand, have seen his highlights and talked to people who knew him from the Danish league - he is nothing of the sort.
Rajko's first touch has been awful in the last eight matches because he's being forced to play his back to goal. In reality, he should be facing the goal at all times, where his first touch is tailor-made to put himself in the best position to score; indeed, that first touch will often be his scoring touch.
To make this happen, Rajko really does need more support up top. The fact that the Revs run the 4-3-3 in a totally backwards manner is a conversation for a later date; right now, I can simplify things by saying that without a second striker to play off of, Lekic's effectiveness to this team will continue to be minimal. Lekic is not the type that is going to take down a ball, settle it, and then create his shot. He is a forward who will get on the end of crosses, make dangerous runs, finish rebounds and put that final polish on a great pass.
The curious case of Rajko Lekic can be explained by a combination of poor anticipation (offsides calls), lack of creative play from teammates (shots/SOG), and gross misuse. As long as the New England Revolution continue to struggle with scoring goals, Lekic will continue to face heavy criticism for his play, but until Steve Nicol and company figure out a system that maximizes his talents, he will be nothing but an unfortunate scapegoat for several much larger problems.