Last year we witnessed arguably the biggest collapse in MLS history with a perfect storm that took down FC Dallas. After the season we broke down the trouble spots that created such a disaster and how to build the team back up.
So why not now take a look at the problem we wrote about and see if we think things have been fixed.
Offense and Defense Both Got Worse
Comparing the two halves of the 2017 FC Dallas season, I documented how both the offense and defense fell off last year. Has FC Dallas fixed these issues? Honestly, it is too early to tell as it’s only been one CCL game on the road.
Defensively, FC Dallas has three new starters in the back. That’s a lot of change and it will need some time to gel. The one goal FCD allowed at Tauro didn’t come from the run of play. The first team defense held Portland scoreless in the final tune-up game of their Tucson camp. And while they did allow two against the Revolution, that was without Matt Hedges and in a 3-5-2 to start.
So that all seems positive.
Offensively, one of the biggest 2017 concerns I talked about was how many shots by FC Dallas were coming from deep positions and deep field players. Has that improved? I think there are positive signs.
Let’s look at two charts. The left one below is from the second to last game of 2017, the 4-0 stomping by Seattle. The one on the right is against Tauro, CCL Leg 1.
You can see against Seattle, when FCD had 14 shots (the same amount as Seattle in that game), that 8 of the shots come from outside the box, that’s more than half. Against Tauro, only 3 of FCD’s 12 shots came from outside the box. That’s progress.
Remember too, that against Portland in Tucson both of Maxi Urruti’s goals came inside the box from Barrios assists. And against the Revs, Mosquera had that long run that ended with an in-the-box finish by Urruti, as did Diaz’s goal which came off an Urruti shot and rebound.
So again, positive signs.
The second problem, as we saw it, was FCD’s attempt to build with veterans, both in the lineup and in depth, for the CONCACAF Champions League. But that idea went against what had been successful the last few years for Dallas, bringing in young’ish players and building with them.
Granted FCD had a solid CCL run with vets Hernan Grana, Javier Morales, Maynor Figueroa, Roland Lamah, and Atiba Harris. But as the season went on some of those vets started to lose steam and didn’t produce down the stretch.
The mid-season veteran acquisition, 27-year-old Luis Gonzalez, failed to help any either.
The other half of this problem for FCD was the loss of playing time for young foreign signings, academy kids, and draft picks. "Play the kids" had been a hallmark of FC Dallas for a couple seasons.
The two young DPs, Cristian Colman and Anibal Chala, were a bust and a third young foreign player, Carols Cermeno, brought in for depth, didn’t have much of an impact.
On top of that, the young domestic kids and prospects didn’t get any time. Paxton Pomykal got 2 games; Jesus Ferreira, Coy Craft and Reggie Cannon 1 each; Bryan Reynolds and Adonijah Reid (loan) none.
So far this spring, the recovery from this failure looks good and "play the kids" is back in play for the franchise. Reggie Cannon is your starter at right back. New signing 23-year-old Santiago Mosquera, in the vein of Diaz and Barrios, is getting the first shot at the left wing spot and 24-year-old Anton Nedyalkov is your left back. While neither of the latter two is a "kid," both are on the younger side of their career like Barrios, Diaz, and Fabian Castillo were.
Plus Paxton Pomykal is now backing up Diaz, removing the need for a vet in that role, and Jacori Hayes is challenging for a starting midfield spot. Jesus Ferreira saw a lot of game time this spring. And through both HomeGrowns and SuperDraft the Huntsmen have added multiple young backups and pieces for the future: Brandon Servania, Jordan Cano, Francis Atuahene, Ema Twumasi, and Kris Reaves.
So, as both Head Coach Oscar Pareja and President Dan Hunt have said, FCD seems to be back on their own track.
Last season the Toros really struggled to field a consistent XI. Due to internationals, performance, and injuries we almost never saw a lineup repeat itself, even down the collapsing stretch run.
So is it better this year? Well… maybe. It seems better. But we’re just one game into the season after all. We did see the same XI repeat itself for the last two pre-season games and now the CCL opener. So maybe we’ll see less chaos in 2018.
No World Cup for the USA, Honduras, Bulgaria, and Ecuador will help keep players in town more as well. Obviously, Ziegler could get called for the Swiss team, but I’d think he’s a long shot at 32.
This is the hardest failure from 2017 to judge on its repair. Does everyone on this team want to be here?
FCD has been talking contract extension for Urruti, that has to be positive. Hedges seems focused and dialed in. Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo here both here and while Acosta is struggling with injury, Gruezo looks determined and on form.
I’m also hearing good things about Reto Ziegler’s impact on the locker room. Hedges is a good leader but he’s quiet. So is Diaz. Ziegler, who apparently speaks something like 5 languages, is quite vocal and is already making a difference.
A twofold problem: fans in the stands and the senior team feeling like it’s an afterthought. How to judge?
Without being inside the locker room it’s really hard to know. It may take some time to see how things are around the team, see if the vibe in camp stays positive. I can’t answer this one yet.
And we’ll see about the crowds in the stands when the home games get here.
How to Rebuild
After tearing the team down I wrote about how to build it back up. To rebuild this team three big questions needed to be answered.
1. Does FCD stick with Mauro Diaz?
2. Can FCD fix the midfield tilt?
3. Who wants to be here?
Let’s start with the first and third questions. I talked about this above in this post, but for the most part, we just have to hope the players FCD kept are the ones who want to be here. Walker Zimmerman, who Pareja clearly lost faith in, was traded to LAFC. Quite a few other players, mainly on defense, were jettisoned for age/performance reasons.
Yet FC Dallas doubled down on Michael Barrios, Maxi Urriti, Mauro Diaz, Kelly Acosta, Matt Hedges, and Carlos Gruezo. All six of those players at one time or another talked about potential moves. Let’s hope their heads and hearts are set on FC Dallas in 2018.
The second of the above questions is really the important one and a tactical analysis I think will show that FCD has indeed fixed this issue with the acquisition of Santiago Mosquera.
First, here’s two passing charts for Mauro Diaz. The left one is from the end of last year, the 5-1 win over LA Galaxy to close the season. Diaz, Roland Lamah, and Michael Barrios all played the full 90. The game on the right is the CCL Leg 1 versus Tauro. It only covers the 69 minutes Mosquera was on the field with Diaz and Barrios. I’ve turned off most of the corners from both games, I can’t eliminate the corners that were assists or key passes without turning off all assists or key passes.
Against LA Galaxy (left), look at how all Diaz’ actions on the left side of the pitch are going away from goal. All the penetration and advancement is down the right side. Compare that to the Tauro match (right), much more balanced. A touch more play to the right, Diaz by nature does go that way more, but also much more forward play and penetration from the left. Overall, more balanced and the tilt is greatly reduced.
Now Barrios, A 1-1 draw against Colorado (left) where FCD had 65% possession and the game this week against Tauro (right).
About the same right? The only real difference is the few times Barrios pops up on the left side when he and Mosquera were swapping against Tauro. Frontline positional swapping is a positive when your teammates are on the same page and responsive, that wasn’t happening last year.
Now let’s look at Lamah compared to Mosquera. The left image is Lamah in the same 1-1 draw with the Rapids and Mosquera on the right again versus Tauro.
Lamah’s completed passes are almost all backward and his forward attempts, even if they are failures, all are left edge of the box or wider, probably to a checking forward or overlapping back.
Mosquera versus Tauro, on the other hand, has multiple completed passes going forward and even cross-field switches to alter the side of attack. You can see his penetrating passes into the box, probably to the high striker on a cut or back to goal. Like Barrios, you see Mosquera pop up on the right, rotating and swapping with Barrios and Diaz.
So early returns show the problem is solved.
So is FC Dallas Better in 2018?
Better than last year? I think so.
On paper, they appear to have addressed a lot of issues and gotten back to their core values. But I’m not going to call them 100% cured yet. The season needs to play out to know for sure.
I also see a couple of problems that, while not new, weren’t part of the collapse last year. These problems I think will keep FCD form chasing the supporters shield this year. Yet they are solvable and with time I think this team can be a playoff contender. This season should set FC Dallas up for further growth and a bright future.
I’ll explain that early next week.
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