Cristian "Chicho" Arango: A Striker's Return and Impact in MLS with Real Salt Lake
Cristian "Chicho" Arango faced a challenging task ahead. Shortly before the 28-year-old was set to make his debut for Real Salt Lake, his own son, a remarkable scorer, had already achieved an impressive feat by netting five goals against the opposing goalkeeper. As Arango observed from the sidelines, his son effortlessly dominated the game.
Although Arango himself didn't replicate his son's five-goal performance upon returning to Major League Soccer, he did contribute one goal and immediately bolstered Pablo Mastroeni's starting lineup in a commanding 4-0 victory over Orlando City SC on Saturday. The Colombian international striker, who recently joined RSL for a reported club-record fee during the Secondary Transfer Window, has seamlessly resumed his success in MLS.
After making his debut for LAFC in the middle of 2021, Arango swiftly earned a reputation as an elite goal scorer in the league. According to FBref, he scored 14 goals in 1400 minutes in 2021, ranking in the 94th percentile for non-penalty goals per 90 minutes and the 88th percentile for non-penalty xG per 90 among MLS forwards. In 2022, he added another 16 goals in just over 2,300 minutes, placing in the 82nd percentile for non-penalty goals per 90 and the 95th percentile for non-penalty xG per 90 among MLS forwards.
After a brief stint with Pachuca in Liga MX, the MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield winner has returned to MLS, this time with RSL. Let's delve into what sets this Designated Player apart and how he will influence his new team in the Western Conference.
As Pablo Ruiz lines up to take a free kick from the right side of the field, Arango keeps his head up, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to initiate his run. Just before Ruiz strikes the ball, Chicho starts his move, curving towards the edge of the six-yard box, cleverly evading a pair of Orlando defenders to find open space. Propelling himself with his left foot, he surges forward and meets the ball in mid-air, powering a header beyond Pedro Gallese's reach, granting RSL a 1-0 advantage.
The aforementioned goal showcases Arango's key attributes: impeccable timing, intelligent movement, and a strong finishing ability. At this stage of his career, the veteran striker possesses a well-rounded skill set. He combines strength and skill to contribute effectively in all phases of the game, whether it's fending off defenders, participating in team plays to create opportunities in the attacking third, or positioning himself inside the box to unleash shots.
During his time with LAFC, Arango wasn't extensively involved in building up play or controlling possession in deeper areas of the field. According to FBref, he ranked in the 29th percentile or lower for passes attempted among MLS forwards in both 2021 and 2022. However, this aspect aligns well with RSL's preferred style of reaching the final third through direct passes. Nevertheless, Arango concluded those seasons with higher metrics in categories like key passes and passes into the final third, indicating his involvement in advanced attacking sequences.
On occasion, Arango can become overly engrossed in these sequences, shooting at goal before the play fully develops. In 2021, his average shot distance was 18.5 yards, surpassing the most selective striker in MLS that year (Brian White) by over seven yards. Although this number reduced to 18 yards in 2022, it still lagged behind the leaders (Gyasi Zardes and Adam Buksa) by more than seven yards. Mastreoni will need to monitor this lack of discipline in Salt Lake.
However, it's worth noting that Arango doesn't solely rely on hopeful strikes; he also produces numerous exceptional shots. His relentlessness inside the box, constantly seeking even the smallest opportunity to connect with the ball and fire it into the back of the net, places him among a select few top-notch strikers in MLS.
When witnessing Arango's swift response and clever finish against his current team, it's difficult not to be reminded of the peak performances of players like Josef Martínez or Raúl Ruidíaz.