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Analyzing FC Dallas' set piece defending issues

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It's been the team's most apparent weakness so far in 2016.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

2016 has been a good year thus far for FC Dallas. The team has carried on with playing the exciting attacking soccer from the previous two years with great rewards with 15 goals, which is the second best attack in the league. Offensively the team is expressing and enjoying themselves, most of the new signings are playing very well, and the squad has both strengthened and matured from last season's experiences.

It's been a lot more good than bad without question up until now, but there have been some problems for the team on the defensive end. While BDS writer Jason Poon did a good job of describing some of the pressing issues, there is still a need to cover perhaps the most worrisome one: set piece defending.

It's the area where FCD have struggled the most and the one that's been earmarked as the team's clearest weakness. Is it down to a failure in the team's marking system? Are goals being let in because the players aren't tall or aggressive enough in the air? Let's look at the evidence below and find out.

Exhibit A (v Columbus Crew)


This was not only Dallas' first allowed set piece goal this year, but also the first goal the team let in at Toyota Stadium since the end of last year's playoffs. Here we see Federico Higuain deliver the corner to the edge of the six yard box with Kei Kamara making a near post run as a decoy before Justin Meram, the goal scorer, made a late charge into the area the ball was delivered on and got on the end of it to score.

There are as many as eight Dallas players in the penalty area when the corner is delivered and only half as many Columbus players yet the play ends in a Columbus goal. Zach Loyd is just standing at the top of the box not really doing anything but watching Higuain get the ball in while Victor Ulloa is only half marking his man. Ryan Hollingshead and Maynor Figueroa are marking more tightly to their players but Figueroa makes a mistake by allowing Meram to get in front of him and on the end of the corner to head it in to the net.

Matt Hedges, who was initially marking Kamara before the corner came in, and Max Urruti get in a mix up when they see Kamara make a run from the near post as a decoy which ends up in both players missing the ball and allows Meram to make that late run-in and get the header in for the goal. We also can see Seitz start to come off his line when the ball initially comes in but then decide against committing himself and ends up leaving himself poorly positioned and exposed once Meram's header came in.

The failures on this goal partially had to do with marking not being tight enough from Figueroa, positioning not convincing enough from Seitz, and miscommunication between Hedges and Seitz as to who would track Kamara's run which dragged them both out of their initial positions where, if they had stayed, the corner gets cleared without problems and no goal ever occurs.

Exhibit B (v Sporting Kansas City)

Here again, it's the same amount of Dallas players in the box (8) and an extra opposing player who just ends up taking a marker and leaving others more free to attack the corner. The corner gets whipped across the near post and 6 yard box which is missed by everyone and Lawrence Olum got on the end to score it at the far post. It's a similar story here to Meram's goal as Benny Feilhaber delivers the corner with Nuno Coelho, initially marked by Figueroa here, making the run to the near post and in the end Urruti again getting involved in the play which Figueroa noticed and decided to leave the responsibility for Urruti to get on the ball and avert the danger.

Urruti again ended up missing the ball, as did Coelho, so the ball just flew right across the six yard box with Zach Loyd just ball watching and not being aware of the threat behind him while Chris Seitz just threw himself down once he saw the ball go right across him but missed it completely and finally, Olum managed to score after easily getting himself free from Ryan Hollingshead who should have marked him a lot better than he did.

The failures here once again saw Urruti, Figueroa, Loyd, and Seitz involved, some for similar reasons to the Columbus goal, others for different ones, while Hollingshead's marking was nowhere near tight or aggressive enough on Olum.  All around a poor goal to concede at any level, let alone at this one.

Ulloa and Tesho Akindele were also in the box, but they were not involved in the play at any point and weren't doing their job improperly anyways.

Exhibit C (v Vancouver Whitecaps)

This time, there's an extra player in the box for Dallas to help out with the defensive duties on the set piece and only 5 for Vancouver when the corner comes in. Cristian Techera, just as Higuain and Feilhaber, sent the corner to the near post and to the edge of the six yard box. Carlos Gruezo is walking around the penalty area instead of getting himself involved in the action, which may have allowed him to get into a better position to stop Jordan Harvey before he got his shot in for the goal but let's look at what's happening elsewhere first.

At the near post, Figueroa is marking Tim Parker who makes a late run to the near post and once again Urruti gets himself involved in the play late but this time he gets a head on the ball, except it went straight to Harvey who put finished the opportunity clinically. Walker Zimmerman is marking big man Kendall Waston tightly throughout the whole play while Akindele and Ulloa seem to be doing something halfway between marking a player and ball watching as the corner came in.

The biggest mistakes here seem to come from both Atiba Harris and Loyd, perhaps in particular the latter. As the corner was delivered, Loyd was close to Harvey but for some reason decided to leave him free at the last minute and by the time Urruti's poor clearance reached Harvey, it was too late for Loyd to recover. Harris on the other hand doesn't seem to be sure of what to do or who to mark throughout the entire time and doesn't react quick enough when Urruti's header is played behind him to get a block in and reaches Harvey who did the rest, Seitz was helpless here, not much more he could have done.

So looking at each of these three goals, a few things seem common and noticeable in all of them:

- Maximiliano Urruti was just standing at the near post in every play and only got involved when the ball was played across the area where he was, but ended up getting himself in the way of a teammate's marking duel every time which ended up in neither player getting the ball and the ball getting through an area it should never have on all three goals.

-Half of the players in the box are either marking or they're just standing around ball watching. Some of those that are marking are either trying to do so on the wrong side which doesn't give them a chance of getting to the ball ahead of their man and others are not sticking to their men tightly and aggressively enough which leads to opportunities for the other team.

-Seitz seems to hesitate when the ball comes into the box and reacts late on some of them, which doesn't inspire much confidence when it comes to defending set pieces given the problems the players are having with them. His positioning is questionable each time and we've seen this happen during games as well on crosses into the box from the sides (Vancouver's opening goal as a good example). Goalkeepers are supposed to take command and organize their players well in these situations to avert the dangers on crosses and set pieces, but Seitz has been unconvincing in that area thus far although he has excelled in others.

It seems clear that Oscar Pareja wants his team to both man mark and mark zones on set pieces, but for that to work, it'll take improved positioning, defending, communicating, and aggression, as well as better commanding and organizing from the goalkeeper. Players cannot allow themselves to just stand and ball watch nor get in each other's way as they have done on those goals above if they are to solve this issue and must do a better job of staying closer to any opposing players in the penalty area or they may pay the ultimate price.

All in all, plenty to take out and homework to do for Pareja when it comes to fixing this major flaw in the team's defensive problems.