This team is certainly a very streaky bunch. 5-1-1 (16 points) to start the season, followed by a horrendous eight game winless streak, and now riding high on a 10 game unbeaten run that has FC Dallas in a race for the Supporter's Shield. The turn around has been credited to a number of factors that included the team returning to health and seeing more key players back on the field. But it's also been a time where we've also seen the emergence of younger players step up and fill key holes for the team (Victor Ulloa for Hendry Thomas, Tesho Akindele sort of for Blas Perez, and Moises Hernandez for Jair Benitez).
However, from my perspective the biggest contribution to this unprecedented run has been the slow and steady improvement of the team's defense as the season has gone on. The defense was hemorrhaging goals and didn't record their first clean sheet until the 14th game of the season, which coincidentally was against Real Salt Lake on the road. This past Friday's performance was the perfect opportunity, if you can even call it that, to showcase the team's growing confidence on defense in front of a national audience. Here's how they did:
Keep Everything In Front
"Things are going right for us. [Salt Lake] had a lot of possession tonight but they weren't dangerous. We tried, when possible, to keep the ball in their half."
Victor Ulloa's quote pretty much summed up how the second half went against RSL. Despite having the man advantage, having most of the possession, there wasn't much of a threat coming from RSL's attacks. It was an impressive performance of learning how to control the game even when you don't have possession of the ball. The stats was a staggering 80% possession in favor of RSL in the second half.
And what did RSL do with all that possession? Not much from the Chalkboard:
Here's what I'm seeing from this. 13 shots attempts, 2 on goal, 1 goal and 1 post. Credit to Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, Kellyn Acosta, Jair Benitez, Ryan Hollingshead and Je-Vaughn Watson for clogging the middle of the field. (Yes, Hollingshead was technically the left midfielder but he dropped deep to make a 5 man back line for most of his shift.)
Outside of that Robbie Findley header that hit the crossbar in the 55th minute, RSL didn't register a shot in any of the "danger zones" which I credit with Zones 1 and 2 where most goals are scored from.
RSL did manage to get shots away inside the penalty box, but they were mostly in Zone 3, which is a more difficult angle to score from. Then of course, RSL was forced into shooting mostly (7/13 shots) from distance (Zones 4 and 5) that ended up either being blocked or missing the target entirely. This happens either because the attacking team lacks the offensive talent and patience or the defending side has loaded up the middle and there's nothing else you can do. RSL certainly is not lacking in talent, so the credit has to go to Dallas' defense for getting the job done and protecting Raul Fernandez.
Fewer Goals Against
Soccer is pretty simple. Score a goal and you'll have a chance to win. Allow the opposition to score and your chances of a win decrease. The recent ride of streaks that Dallas has taken their fans on has seen both sides of that. The losing streak was marred by bad defending and even poorer offense. This unbeaten run has done the opposite with the offense firing and the defense locking things down.
Obviously there are a lot of variables and contributing factors to this but having fewer goals against certainly helps in terms of the wins department.