When news broke that Mauro Diaz’s Achilles’ injury would take roughly 8 months for recovery, the big question on many people’s radar was, “How will FC Dallas address this Mauro sized hole in the lineup?” The current roster in October had some pieces that seemed OK in a pinch, but none seemed like a half-season or even a full-season answer. Mauro Rosales was serviceable, Paxton Pomykal is completely untested and without Fabian Castillo, the 4-4-2 counter-attack that Oscar Pareja relied on during Diaz’s absences in 2014 and 2015 was no longer an option. Dallas needed to find someone during the transfer window and they were able to secure the signature of another fabulous Argentinian playmaker in Javier Morales.
Experience with MLS
What may be the biggest knock against the Morales signing is his age. Morales is 36 and has logged over 19,000 minutes for Real Salt Lake over his 10 year career in Utah. But despite that, Morales’ 10 years of MLS experience will actually come as an added advantage to a Dallas side that’s aiming for more trophies in 2017.
When Fernando Clavijo brings in a league outsider to the club, Oscar Pareja has routinely taken his time to fully integrate the new player. There is plenty for the player to acclimate to; the tactics, the teammates, the language and the food. Some players are able to adapt to all of those external factors pretty easily and quickly, but not ever player is the same and some do require a little more time to get their feet wet. Pareja has systemically taken his time to get any new comers to the league and to his team assimilated into the type of player he wants and expects.
Dallas does not have that kind of time in looking for a #10. Dallas needed a player who would play now and when you look at the free agent landscape of #10s who have MLS experience, Javier Morales is easily the top choice.
Sadly, when it comes to MLS, there just aren’t that many pure #10s in the league who’s best asset is simply offensive chance creation. Make no mistake, Morales is one of them and also one of the best in the league too.
Only Sacha Kljestan and Diego Valeri had better key passes (passes that lead to a shot attempt) than Morales last season (minimum 2,000 minutes). And as you can dissect from the chart above, that Morales’ stats stack up quite evenly with Diaz and Rosales in the offensive production department.
Tactically, Morales’ style of play is probably the most similar to Diaz in the league - drifts across the width of the pitch to get on the ball and pull the strings.
I’m showing a small sample size, but it provides a good idea of Morales’ tendencies to drift into pockets of space to orchestrate the attack. Morales should also have a big advantage over Diaz in the corner kick department, a part of Diaz’s game where he has oddly failed to improve over time. Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman and Atiba Harris should enjoy the better service in these types of situations in 2017.
Eye on the Prize
This signing, among all the others that Dallas has managed to pull off this winter, is a strong indicator of their intent to challenge for all the trophies this year, including the Champions League. Remember, Javier Morales has experience in CCL too, having gotten to the finals with RSL in the 2010-11 campaign before falling to Monterrey (2-3). Morales also boasts an MLS Cup winner’s medal with RSL from 2009 and nearly secured a second in 2013 before suffering a heart breaking loss in 2013 in penalties. Morales’ experience in those two competitions will greatly help Dallas’ 2017 plans to remain contenders despite losing two of their best offensive weapons.
Dallas needed to find a new #10 this off-season, and just like how they’ve constructed their teams for the past three years, both Pareja and Clavijo have shown that one of the things that they are peerless in this league is building a team that can simultaneously win now and in the future. This shrewd signing affords Dallas time to let Diaz recover, allows Pomykal time to develop and still manages to keep the Hoops in a position to continue their winning ways for 2017.