It's been discussed already here about how Oscar Pareja really rolled the dice and took a gamble with starting Mauro Diaz for this playoff match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but what we saw was 45 minutes of magic from the FC Dallas attacking midfielder. He faded much in the second half, largely due to the Vancouver Whitcaps' Matias Laba doing a better job of shadowing but for one glorious half we saw just how good this Argentinian can be for this team.
Mauro Diaz, hands down, has the best touch on this team. It's not just the carefully weighted through balls that he manages to get off his foot that are so incredible to watch, but it's also the way he shimmies his way around, through and away from defenders that are so breathtaking to watch. We were treated to that touch in the run up to the first goal:
It happened so quickly and so casually, but that touch around Kendall Waston was, in the words of Ray Hudson, "like toilet paper on a roll". (If someone can explain that one to me, please do.)
Diaz didn't get to pull the strings like he normally does in this one, but he did cause a lot of problems for the Caps defense. They either were unable to regain possession because Diaz was able to touch the ball out of pressure or he served up an inviting through ball into the Caps defense.
He was only 13 for 26, 50% passing for the evening but as you can see from the chart above that Diaz's passes were sent with purpose and venom to get Blas Perez, Fabian Castillo and Tesho Akindele into goal scoring positions. Perhaps most disappointing was not seeing that long switch of attack pass in the 34th minute to the right flank for Je-Vaughn Watson that fell just out of his reach. I had a flashback to this celestial pass:
But How Fit Is He?
Like I said, for the first 45 Diaz was magical. The second half? He was also magical but instead put on a disappearing act. Just compare the touches between the first and second half:
Obviously Diaz only played 34 minutes in the second half, but still, his lack of touches on the ball was noticeable and he clearly was fading by the 55th minute mark. But I will happily take 45 minutes of Mauro at his best any day and twice on Sunday, especially this Sunday. That is if he wasn't suspended by the league for coming onto the field after he'd be subbed off.
And finally, there wasn't a natural place to put this but Mauro Diaz was fouled five times in the first half. I'm sure many here would agree that we would like to see the league take some kind of action towards persistent infringement. Maybe even putting a hard rule that after three fouls on one player within a half warrants a yellow on the player committing the third foul, regardless of how many fouls the offending player has committed at that point. This league can have beautiful soccer too, but MLS will really need to protect the creative players from being hacked down this often.