FC Dallas made it three wins and three clean sheets in a row for the first time in 2016 on Friday night with a vital 1-0 win at San Jose Earthquakes, whose winless streak in the league has now extended to seven games. The solitary goal of the game was an overhead kick from Maximiliano Urruti, who scored in league play for the first time since his double strike against D.C. United back in late March. The goal was followed by exuberant celebrations between the player and the rest of the team as well as manager Oscar Pareja and tight defending as Dallas maintained its good recent defensive record to hold on for a fourth away win of the season.
Dallas, as a result, stay top of the standings and remain on the right track to win the Supporters' Shield this season ahead of another away game in Seattle next Wednesday while San Jose's bad form continues and doubts began to cast over their capabilities to make it to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The counter-attacking performance of the team and the improved tempo in possession stuck out the most as far as the offensive display went, which is a key reason for why Dallas managed to break the SJ defense down better this time and what they were lacking in the last two meetings against them earlier in the year. Mauro Diaz's quick releases and early switches managed to create opportunities for Urruti and Fabian Castillo and catch the SJ defense off guard and while most of the chances weren't taken well enough, some with a dose of bad luck with Urruti hitting the post twice, one was and that was enough for the win.
We also saw further improvements in the team's defensive game and mentality to weather a growing SJ storm in the final twenty minutes of the contest and grind out all three points. Even the set pieces were defended well and little was given away whenever crosses and dead balls came into the box. Every player performed their duty off the ball very well and the intensity as well as the concentration levels of the team in defensive situations was exactly where it needs to be for a team that's aspiring to challenge for trophies. We've seen positive signs of growth at the back as the season has progressed and it appears that Dallas is headed on the right track and have gotten the balance right going into the business end of the campaign.
Individually, it was a good night for most of the players too. Diaz continued his scintillating recent form with another good passing display and several good chances created which on another night could have easily resulted in two or three assists for him. Urruti ending his long goalless drought was the biggest relief and the celebrations painted a picture of not only a player, but a team that was delighted to see him back on the scoresheet.
The pairings of Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta as well as Walker Zimmerman and Matt Hedges hardly put a foot wrong either with multiple successfully won duels, tackles, and interceptions which continue to signal the continuation of well developing partnerships in the middle of the park in both midfield and defensive positions. Chris Seitz had one of his best performances of the year as well and continued to display why he is ahead of Jesse Gonzalez in the pecking order for the #1 role as his shutout streak in the league extended to 315 minutes, the third highest of any goalkeeper in MLS this season. All in all, a good night for FCD all around.
It might be beginning to sound like a broken record now, but the average foul count of the team seems to be growing higher with each game instead of lowering. Nineteen this time around and three more yellow cards earned, one of which means Atiba Harris is suspended for the Seattle game with his fifth of the campaign, which brings it up to eight accumulated in just the last three matches. As stated before several times, all these fouls and cards could lead several players in the team to disciplinary problems when the season gets to crunch time and every match is a do-or-die situation for the team. Winning is important, but keeping a relatively good disciplinary record and avoiding sanction problems is key as well if the team is to be at full strength to compete when it matters most.
Another negative could be the poor crossing display. Not many successful ones delivered into the box from anyone with almost every one of them either going too long or too short and evading the player(s) that were waiting in the box to get on the end of them. Maynor Figueroa in particular delivered some wayward ones, very much unlike what we saw from him earlier in the year which may be a sign of tiredness given that he hasn't had much rest at any point since arriving here. Harris, Diaz, and Castillo weren't very convincing in this regard either, but thankfully it didn't cost the team anything on the night. Work needs to be done there though in terms of the communication, timing, and precision of the crosses.
Dallas will now head up north to face Seattle Sounders, another struggling Western Conference team, on the road next Wednesday night as they look to make it four wins in a row and back-to-back away wins for the first time this season.