A Gaulden Start: How Ryan Gauld's play has added creative dynamism to the 'Caps attack

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Since signing with the club on July 31st, Vancouver Whitecaps FC attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld has enjoyed a fruitful start to life in Major League Soccer.

From line-breaking passes in the final third to pin-point deliveries off set pieces, the 25-year-old Scotsman has brought a new sense of creative dynamism to the ‘Caps attack and will be hoping to continue his fine form this Sunday, October 17 on Pride Night at BC Place against Sporting Kansas City.

“[I'm] really enjoying playing in [the attacking midfielder] position, we’ve been looking good even in the last game. It was a tough game against a good team, but we still managed to create a lot of chances”, said Gauld during mid-week media availability.

“We’re hoping on Sunday there’s a lot more of it.”

Gauld has tallied two goals and four assists through 12 appearances and seven starts, while also registering 2.8 key passes per game, which ranks him third in the league in the category.

According to fbref.com, Gauld is one of the most active attacking midfielders in the league, sitting in the top 98 percentile in key passes, top 97 percentile in non-penalty expected goals, top 97 percentile in goal-creating actions and top 94 percentile in expected assists amongst players in his position.

Much of Gauld’s success has come operating in spaces between opposing team’s midfield and defence, as well as the space between the fullbacks and centre backs.

It’s a combination of being aware of the space around you as well as knowing when the right time is to go forward and make the run to ensure you get the ball from your teammates.

As seen in the highlight package of the ‘Caps 3-0 win against San Jose (timestamp 0:12), Gauld starts his run in between San Jose’s midfield and defence, then drifts into the space lift in the middle of the San Jose defence and is able to get a shot on target.

Even against Seattle Sounders FC last weekend (timestamp 5:34), Gauld was still able to find plenty of space to operate in, which led to the ‘Caps creating some good chances.

Another example with some more end product is the game against Austin FC at Q2 Stadium (timestamp 5:12), where the ‘Caps find themselves on the break and Gauld is able to take advantage of the space left in front of him by the Austin defence.

All these actions add up to the stats mentioned above from fbref.com, showing how effective Gauld can be on the pitch when he finds pockets of space in the final third.

It may seem simple, but it’s a difficult skill for players to develop over time and if used in the right manner, can drive opposing defenders nuts.

For Gauld, he credits his teammates for being able to find him in those spaces in order for him to create chances in the final third.

“Whenever I’m in that space, whenever anyone’s in those spaces, we’ve got good players in defence and midfield that can find us in there”, added Gauld.

As seen with the assist against Austin FC, once Gauld gets into those positions with time to find the right pass and his teammates make line-breaking runs, it usually leads to the ‘Caps getting good looks at goal.

“It makes my job a lot easier, having players in front of you that you know are going to put themselves in good positions, make good runs and if I can get the ball to them, then happy days”, said Gauld.

Gauld has also been dangerous when taking shots at goal, with his stinging attempts at goal oftentimes leading to shot opportunities for his teammates, putting him in the top 98 percentile in that category amongst players in his position according to fbref.com.

Take these two examples below from matches at BC Place against Austin FC (timestamp 6:14) and San Jose Earthquakes (timestamp 1:46, scroll up for highlights).

In both examples, Gauld is able to get dangerous attempts on goal, which forces the opposing goalkeeper to react quickly and make a save while onrushing ‘Caps players make late runs into the box to score on the rebound.

Another impressive contribution from Gauld so far has been his delivery off set pieces, with his service leading to 2.2 shot attempts per 90 minutes.

In fact, two of the Scotsman’s assists have come from set pieces so far this season, the first coming against Real Salt Lake on Florian Jungwirth’s goal (timestamp 6:00) and the second against San Jose on Brian White’s hat-trick goal (timestamp 5:46, scroll up for highlights).

Lastly, Gauld has not only been able to contribute on the offensive side of the game but also defensively, as he’s been heavily involved in pressuring the opponent to create turnovers.

Gauld has tallied 1.16 tackles and 1.39 interceptions per 90 minutes so far this season, making him one of the best pressuring attacking midfielders in the league.

“It’s not just the defenders that defend, it’s the whole team and everyone’s got to play our part”, said Gauld.

“If everyone continues to do their part defensively then we know that we’re going to create chances and we’re going to put one away.”

Gauld will be hoping to continue his fine form this Sunday, as he faces his former Dundee United teammate and fellow Scotsman Johnny Russell for the first time.

“I spoke to him for a little bit before coming over, it’ll be good to play against him, he’s been flying for them and just signed a new contract as well, I’m happy for him but hope he’s not too happy after Sunday”, said Gauld.

Catch the Gauldfather and the ‘Caps this Sunday, October 17 on Pride Night at BC Place against Sporting Kansas City in what is sure to be an exciting Western Conference clash. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. PT. You can catch the match live on TSN1 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 6 p.m. PT. Tickets are still available at www.whitecapsfc.com/tickets.