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Scratching the Chalkboard: The hearts and souls of FC Dallas

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Matt Hedges makes this team better, but by how much?

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-FC Dallas at Los Angeles Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The script was perfect. Without a contract and cut from the only professional team he knew, three years later, Victor “Freakin” Ulloa delivers a last minute winner to send the team that believes in youth and developing their own, against one of the richest and most decorated franchises in MLS history. And of course, it had to be Victor Ulloa to deliver the goods. Of all the players on the roster, who better embodies the spirit of the club, the city of Dallas and even the essence of Oscar Pareja than Ulloa?

Shutting It Down

Ulloa is not a destroyer. He does not bring the physicality or the brute muscle into the midfield. His strengths lie in maintaining possession, shuttling the ball between defense and offense, closing off passing lanes and intercepting the ball. He does the things that do not show up on a stat sheet, or even the chalkboard for that matter. At least, not very obviously.

But the first and most immediate impact of Ulloa entering the game at the half was the first step of stifling the Galaxy offense.

LA Galaxy’s first half shots. (Green - shot on target. Red - shot off target. Yellow - shot blocked.)

LAG’s second half shots.

LAG’s extra time shots.

Minus the penalty, Ulloa’s introduction helped limited the Galaxy offense to 5 shots in 75 minutes, which was the same number of shots (5) as the Galaxy had in the first half alone. Not to mention, the quality of shots were vastly different as the heroics of Chris Seitz and Atiba Harris were not as necessary after Vic’s appearance.

Even the passing and possession for LAG took a drastic shift between the halves.

LAG first half passing chart. (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

LAG’s second half passing chart.

This is the Ulloa’ Effect. The Galaxy went from passing through the middle to almost complete avoidance from the middle to wing play. Part of this is Vic’s discipline and excellent read of the game. He has a strong understanding of where the striker is behind him and cuts off the passing lane, forcing the attack to go outside. This is basic soccer defending 101: Keep the ball away from your goal.

Of course, when the team needed it the most, it was Vic, who had done all the dirty work for 75 minutes, that delivered the goods to send Dallas into a final for a chance at a trophy.

Oh Captain

It does not seem to matter that Mauro Diaz is wearing the armband. The leadership and direction of this team rests and lies with centerback Matt Hedges. Of course, on the night that homegrown legend Victor Ulloa sends Dallas into the USOC Final, it was all set up thanks to Hedges finding the space to thunder home a towering header to tie the game in the 116’ minute.

Of all the players on this team, Hedges is the one that FC Dallas cannot be without, at least for long stretches at a time this season.

With Hedges in 2016, FCD’s win percentage is 56%, compared to without at just 50%. From a PPG (points per game) look, Dallas averages 2ppg with Hedges in the lineup as opposed to just 1.5ppg. The difference here is one gets you the Supporter’s Shield, while the other just gets you in the playoffs.

For a team that was once stacked and lauded for it’s offensive power, it seemed fitting, that in the end it was Dallas’ two defensive specialists, the heart and souls of FC Dallas that pushed them on the verge of their first trophy in nearly two decades.