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Scratching the Chalkboard: Pragmatic Approach Seals Silverware for FCD

Dallas is now completely playoff ready

MLS: FC Dallas at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The phrase that keeps being tossed out there about yesterday’s game was that “It wasn’t pretty but it got the job done” or something to that affect and make no mistake, that’s exactly how anyone should describe the game - and that’s a very, very, very good thing. The lone critique for this club has been their youth - which is actually a double edged sword since it’s also their youth that makes this team incredible.

The youthfulness of this squad has been on display during some incredible blow out losses this year (5-0 at Houston, 3-0 at Vancouver, 4-0 at RBNY, and 5-0 at Seattle). Getting blown out on the road isn’t an uncommon scoreline in MLS, but to have it happen four times to the eventual Supporter’s Shield is problematic. If anything, yesterday’s 0-0 draw put a punctuation mark on a team that’s grown from their early season mistakes and naivety to a seasoned and mature side capable of getting results from any situation. This will be crucial as Dallas looks to capture a historic treble for the first time in league history.

Preserve the Clean Sheet

It’s an overly simple concept when it comes to soccer - you don’t lose games when the opposition doesn’t score. Dallas is second to only the Colorado Rapids in shut outs this year with 12 (Rapids have 13), and Chris Seitz is the holder of 10 of those (just one behind RBNY’s Luis Robles). By securing yet another clean sheet, Dallas picked up the point they needed to guarantee the Shield was going to Dallas (though, it was ultimately needless as the Houston Dynamo did us a solid by holding the Rapids to a draw). Oscar Pareja and company knew that a result would result in silverware, and a result was what they were going after.

Dallas did go after it during the first half when they unleashed five shots in the opening 10 minutes. If not for the post, Atiba Harris would’ve gotten Dallas on he score sheet in the opening stages of the match to put Dallas in great shape. As the game wore on, Dallas began to shift from attack to preserve and went about just keeping the ball away from Seitz as much as possible.

To do, Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman began holding their lines a little bit lower, giving up space in front of them but guarding the precious space behind them and in front of Seitz.

Orange - Recoveries. Purple - Clearances. Blue - Interceptions. Yellow - Blocks.

While it was still LA’s reserves that were trotted out there, Dallas still held the Galaxy to just one shot on target (though that one should’ve been buried by Mike Magee) and LA only could muster 5 total shot attempts

Green - shot on target. Red - Shot off target. Yellow - shot blocked.

You could say Dallas treated this one like a playoff match. If Dallas can hold the opposition to just five shot attempts in the opening road match in the playoffs, you can bet Dallas and their fans will love their chances in the ensuing home game.

Easier Said Than Done

If it were easier, these kinds of pragmatic affairs could be produced a lot more frequently. It’s easier to throw caution in the wind and just run at full speed and attack, attack, attack. But to have the tactical discipline to maintain your shape, to always check your shoulders, track runners, acknowledge the space between you and your teammate and to cut off passing lanes for a full 90 minutes requires a mental stamina that abandons the mind when it’s tired from running an hour and a half on the field.

Credit to Oscar Pareja and his coaching staff for getting his players mentally sharp and fine tuned for the playoffs and also making it easier for the young side to accomplish it. You can actually see it happening as the game wore on simply by looking at their passing charts from the first and second half.

1st Half Passing. Green - completed pass. Red - incomplete pass. Yellow - key pass.
2nd Half Passing. Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.

You can see that in the second half that Dallas spent a majority of the time funneling the ball wide and away from goal. This is basically very rudimentary soccer fundamentals, when you need to clear the ball, hit it high and wide. By simply doing that, it leaves the ball in non threatening positions for Dallas when LA recovers the ball and starts to counter.

Keep Hollingshead on the Field

One final thought from the match: It will serve Pareja and Dallas well if they can figure out a way to keep Ryan Hollingshead on the field as much as possible. In the first half, Hollingshead routinely made very incisive, crossing runs behind the LA defense. The only reason he didn’t get the ball played to him was due to the pressure Ariel Lassiter put on Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta when they had the ball. From my vantage point, I could see that Gruezo and Acosta spotted the runs, but with the angle that Lassiter took to close them down, neither of them had an open passing lane to attempt the long pass. Instead that kind of pressure forced them to play the ball sideways and safely back to the defense and it recycle the offense.

A simple fix here will be to shift the other CDM square to his partner, rather than staggered (one deep and the other higher) and adjust the timing of Hollingshead’s run. This will then allow Dallas the option to to play the long ball if needed, even if one CDM has defensive pressure put on him.

The bottom line here is that Hollingshead’s runs are incredibly smart and difficult to track. If Dallas can manage to find him when he darts behind the defense, the goals with come.