Jesús Jiménez came to Toronto FC with very little fanfare. Arriving from Gornik Zabrze of Poland’s top division, he made the move to MLS this past February on a two and a half year deal with an additional club option for another year. Fan expectations and league-wide recognition were relatively low even though he was highlighted on MLS Soccer’s official site prior to the start of the season as one of the top five under the radar signings of 2022.
Five games into the 2022 MLS season, Jiménez has completely changed the narrative. He has been absolute class and one of the most consistent performers for the team so far.
Jiménez has played 443 minutes of a possible 450, scoring three goals and assisting on one more. Those four goal contributions represent more than half of the seven goals TFC has scored this entire season. Goal scoring is always a striker’s primary responsibility, but Jiménez has shown that he has the attributes of a complete forward.
The following three attributes have really stood out from Jiménez’s game so far this season:
- Composure, ball control and combination play
Jiménez’s intelligence and maturity are on full display when he receives the ball in the attacking third. He understands when to drop deeper to link play and he has immediately formed chemistry on give and go passes with Petrasso, Pozuelo and Osorio. He also times his runs exceptionally well to receive passes in dangerous scoring areas. Once he receives the ball in the opposition’s box, he shows his composure by almost always making the right play. His goal against New York Red Bull provides the clearest example of this:
As he saw Petrasso advancing with the ball, he recognized that the defense was running at full speed and scrambling to get back into position. Instead of immediately charging forward, he delayed his run to provide Petrasso with a cut back option. By receiving the ball at the top of the box, Jiménez gave himself more options to assess the defense opposed to a direct shot from a less desirable area of the field. Once he received the ball, his outstanding ball control in tight spaces and composure to outwait the goalkeeper to shoot at an empty net was on full display.
2. Predatory goal scoring instincts
Jiménez is currently tied for eighth in MLS’ goal scoring table with three goals. Among all scorers with three goals or more, he has taken the second least shots (eight) and the least shots on target (three). This means that Jiménez currently has a 100% conversion rate for shots on target. Unfortunately, this is unsustainable, so it will be important for TFC to generate more scoring opportunities for Jiménez as the season goes on.
Every goal Jiménez has scored this season has displayed a different aspect of his game. The goal against NYRB demonstrated his composure and ball control in tight spaces. The goal against Columbus FC highlighted his ability to lose his defender in the box and score with his head. While the NYRB goal was certainly highlight reel worthy, his latest goal against NYCFC best showed his predatory goal scoring instincts:
Jiménez received a beautiful through ball from Osorio to his left foot, immediately tapped it to his right foot and shot the ball into the bottom right corner of the net all in stride. The speed he converted that play into a goal made it basically impossible for the opposing keeper to save and is the sort of goal that the top strikers in the world are able to score. As the youth gets more accustomed to the league and their teammates, injured players return to the lineup and new additions come this summer, it will be vital for Bob Bradley to consistently put Jiménez in positions where his predatory goal scoring instincts can be capitalized on.
3. Pressures and defensive work rate
The striker position, much like other attacking positions, has evolved in the modern game to be more than just scoring output. Now, attackers are expected to contribute defensively and lead the team’s pressing to win the ball back. Jiménez perfectly embodies the modern striker. He is not only able to score goals and provide scoring opportunities for others, but he has a good motor, works hard defensively and knows when to press intensely.
Before getting into Jiménez’s pressing statistics so far this season, it is important to recognize that possession, a team’s style of play and their general defending principles can all impact pressing stats. Still, Jiménez’s pressing stats are as equally impressive as his attacking stats. He averages 17 pressures per 90 minutes and has a pressure success of 29.4% (25 successes out of 85 attempts). To put that into context, the strikers in Europe’s top five leagues with the most pressures per 90 are around 14-15 per game and have a pressure success rate of around 30-32% (all stats courtesy of FBref.com).
For a TFC team with so many young and inexperienced MLS defensive players, Jiménez’s work rate and ability to win the ball back high up the pitch reduces some of the defensive burden on them. Having a veteran attacking player who works as hard as Jiménez is ideal for Bob Bradley. If your striker is willing to run hard all game with or without the ball, Bob can use him as a prime tempo setter for the rest of the team to follow.
Looking ahead, the arrival of Lorenzo Insigne in July should only further help Jiménez. It’s clear from his shots taken through five games that he’s been very isolated up top and is lacking consistent chance creation support. His intelligence, movement and combination play will perfectly mesh with a player of Insigne’s caliber. Despite being an under the radar signing, Jiménez has quickly become a name that every TFC supporter knows. It’s only a matter of time until he puts the rest of the league on notice.