When Benji Kikanović was signed by the Quakes in 2021, he was an afterthought. A backup forward who had yet to prove himself anywhere. Now, Benji has become what the Quakes have been missing for years, a winning player.
In the span of three seasons, Benji has gone from a player trying to break through in the USL to a key part of the Quakes’ rotation. A lot of it has to be due to how naturally his play has fit in MLS.
What makes Kikanović so unique is his play style, as it’s an interesting blend of old and new school. His physical attributes mesh perfectly with his technical abilities which have shades of Mario Mandžukić. Operating as both a striker and winger, Kikanović’s versatility gives the Quakes an interesting option in the attack.
Kikanović’s role with the Quakes gives the team a good headache. While he is not the exciting talent that Cowell is, Benji is much more MLS ready and can contribute to winning. It seems like the moment he made his debut in MLS, he has been ready to contribute.
As Luchi begins to mold the roster into his own image, Benji will surely play a larger role. His talent and ability to contribute to a winning team demand it.
The Mandžukić comparison could serve as an interesting medium to analyze Kikanović with. Both players have immense physical tools that serve their technical prowess.
When playing on the wing, Benji’s role is to widen the field and give space for the striker to operate in. Meaning that he has to be a proficient dribbler, and he is, being well above average in terms of dribbles completed per game. This combined with his speed, gives the Quakes a solid alternative to the speedy Cowell.
At the same time, playing on the wing requires players to be able to play make as well. While not on the same level as Espinoza, he chipped in three assists last season. In addition to those assists, Benji’s progressive passes and assists per 90 finished at an elite level.
As a more out and out striker, he has proven to be able to score against MLS defenses. His brace against the Fire remains his finest moment in his career so far. In his second goal, one can see the grace of a truly elite poacher.
Playing as a striker allows for Kikanović to really tap into those physical attributes that make him unique. Similar to how Mandžukić was able to bully around defenders while also killing them on the dribble, Benji has that ability as well. If he can continue to develop as a striker, he could form a deadly duo with Ebobisse.
By combining physicality with elite skills, Kikanović has made himself into a great piece of the Quakes’ rotation. Either up top or on the wing, Benji will surely find a way to contribute next year.
Kikanović will likely give Luchi a headache, as the new manager begins to shape the future of the side. This headache may involve dealing with the future of Cade as well.
Cade Cowell is the most talented player that the Quakes have ever had. He is an electrifying player whose raw skillset will entice any club. However, he is still very raw and needs to be given the chances to develop.
On the other hand, Kikanović is much more polished and ready to contribute now. Much like former Quakes Danny Musovski, Benji could help any side looking to compete. Both Benji and Musovski are players who are built to contribute now, but lack the upside of Cade.
For years, the Quakes have lacked a player who can contribute to winning at any level, not counting Wondo. This doesn’t discredit any current Quake, but highlights how Benji could be a glue player on a contending team.
Think of a winning player as someone like a P.J. Tucker, a jack of all trade player who is built to be on contenders. These players are not meant to be the superstar that a team is built around. Rather, these are the players that create the cohesion for a title team.
That type of player is Benji’s upside, someone who can tie everything together for a contender. If the Quakes want to be playoff contenders, then they must give Benji the Tucker role.. Should Cade be considered the Quakes’ superstar, then Benji will be the piece that pushes them to contention.
Benji’s unique skillset makes him a player who is ready to help push a team over the line and contend. Any team should want him, but it’s up to Luchi to properly utilize the talented forward.
From being a developmental player in the USL to a rotation player in MLS, Benji’s career has been one of triumph. As the Quakes enter into a new era, Kikanović will have a chance to stamp his own legacy into the club’s history. Luchi will definitely have quite the decision to make going into next season.
Featured image: San Jose Earthquakes