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Scratching the Chalkboard: Masterful Oscar Pareja

'Papi' has his team deliver a clinical performance to secure another three points

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

He won't make the headlines, but I would definitely give all the accolades to Oscar "Papi" Pareja for this important road win against the Philadelphia Union last night. It wasn't just the Ryan Hollingshead sub that gives Pareja the all the praise, but his ability to get his team to adapt quickly when things are not working that's making his snub as Coach of the Year for the past two seasons far more comical. Yes, 2014 Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele had a Man of the Match type performance and Ryan Hollingshead had an immediate impact and probably the game of his career, but credit just has to go to Pareja for getting this team to play like one that looks like they've been together for a decade. Whatever amount the Hunts paid to get Pareja back sure looks worth every penny at this point.

Tactical Adjustments

The match started with the Philadelphia Union splitting and threading the FC Dallas back line apart. It almost felt like Mauro Diaz was playing for the Union the way they got the ball behind the Dallas defense. Thankfully, Oscar Pareja got some instructions into Victor Ulloa who then began to methodically shut down the passing lanes which allowed Dallas to regain some control over the game.

Here's the passing chart from the Union in the first 20 minutes:

Union 20

That's an impressive 35/48 passing (73%) inside the Dallas half with 1 key pass. The shocking aspect is the sheer volume of possession and passes that the Union were able to obtain from the get go that was concerning. Around the 20th minute mark, there was a break in the action and Pareja was able to call Ulloa over and gave him some instructions on securing the middle of the field better and the next 20 minutes looked like this:

Union 40

The Union were limited to 17/28 passing and although they did get two key passes in there as well, the game wasn't played on the Union's terms and Dallas was able to start dictating play as well.

The Red

I can't do any of these chalkboard writings without mentioning a game changing red card. Up until that point, the Union had enjoyed 58% of the possession and were out shooting Dallas 5-2. After Zach Pfeffer's vicious and foolish elbow into Mauro Diaz's head in the 42nd minute, Dallas and Pareja began to carefully and methodically take three points out of this one.

The biggest improvement was in the chance creation department where this chart below showed off all of Dallas' shots in the first 42 minutes:

Shots 40

That's just two wasted opportunities for Mauro Diaz who you would expect from a player of his quality would bury more often than not. Contrast that two measly shots with the rest of the match:

Shots 90

Obviously the two goals were vital in securing the win, but just bumping the shots and the chance creation from 2 in the first 42 to 9 in the final 48 is a huge boost in your upping the chances for winning any given game.

Winning Zone 14

Prior to the red, Dallas had only attempted 6 passes inside Zone 14 (that space in front of goal, just outside of the penalty box) and were outplayed in that area by the Union by a large margin. It has been shown that the team that wins the Zone 14 battle, typically ends up winning the game. It's where teams like Barcelona absolutely thrive and dominate the opposition. I'm not saying Dallas has to be at those levels to win at this level, but they do need do at least put on a good show in that area.

Before Zone 14
After Zone 14

It's a pretty stark contrast between the two for Dallas. The first graphic shows Dallas' mediocre showing before the red (3/6 passing) and then after the red (11/14 passing, 2 through balls, 3 key passes, 2 goals). What's kind of amazing is who's number you see the most in the second graphic. It's Ryan Hollingshead who if you were to judge based on this chart alone would think he was the central playmaker on the team having his number pop up just about everywhere. Which brings me to my last point.

Ryan Hollingshead for CM?

When Hollingshead was subbed in for Michel at the half, I thought he was going to man the right flank and try to generate some more offense on the right and move Tesho Akindele up top with Perez. Instead, Hollingshead was actually paired with Victor Ulloa in the middle of the pitch causing havoc on both sides of the ball. Just look at all his touches in his 45 minutes of work:


He was everywhere either clogging down passing lanes, harrying the ball carrier, being the ball carrier to start a break or doing the dirty work of chasing down balls down the channels. His substitution was brilliant from Pareja and changed the game as much as the red card did.

Now there will be calls for Hollingshead to start and while I do believe he's earned it, I'm cautious about it given the success he's had in limited minutes this season. Hollingshead's best attributes at the moment is his soccer brain and his ability to read the game and make the right decisions at the right time. Combine that intellectual decision making with dogged determination and iron lunged workhouse mentality, there's no doubt he's a go to for Pareja in any situation. But I am curious if the reason why he's so successful off the bench is because he's been given time to observe the game and come in having already read the situation and knows exactly what he needs to do to disrupt the opposition. The other part of me just wonders if he has the stamina to do that kind of running for a full 90. That kind of commitment to both sides of the ball isn't easy on the legs and is much more sustainable at that level for 30-40 minutes than a full 90. Either way, Pareja has a hidden gem in Hollingshead and he's used him perfectly to start the season.

It's hard not to be excited about going perfect to start the season after three games and the players have deserved the attention, the praise and all the accolades that come with it. But let's not overlook the man who helped assemble this team and the one who has figured out a way to get the very best from all his players. In Papi We Trust.