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Scratching the Chalkboard: Everything went Dallas’ Way

Sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup Final-New England Revolution vs FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Soccer is both simultaneously cruel and beautiful. For the New England Revolution, it was a cruel, cruel night as they picked up yet another runner’s up medal to add to their trophy case. But it wasn’t just the outcome that played a role in the Revs demise as Jay Heaps’ side was also decimated by injuries and his tactical adjustments went exactly in Dallas’ favor. Make no mistake, Dallas still had to do the work and finish their chances too, but sometimes things just stack up in your favor and thankfully for Dallas fans, it was a beautiful night of soccer.

No Koffie, No Trophy

When the Revolution hand out their team MVP, it better go to Gershon Koffie. Koffie was the only player on the roster that could do a lick about Mauro Diaz orchestrating the midfield like a conductor would for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Koffie’s obvious contribution was intercepting a FCD counter and turning it into a goal for the visitor’s in the 6th minute and picking up an assist for himself. Koffie’s read and instincts, combined with his range, would have made it a challenging night for Diaz. Once Koffie injured his ankle in the 28th minute, the Revs were toast.

Diaz’s passing chart before Koffie’s sub:

Diaz had already bagged a couple of assists here, but notice where a chunk of Diaz’s passes were originating from. In order to receive the ball, Diaz would have to drift a bit wider than usual because Koffie’s defensive range and smarts kept those passing lanes closed off.

Now compare it to when Koffie had to sub off:

More centralized passes and more damning is the sheer number of nearly straight, vertical passes that Diaz was able to execute. The only way you can do that is if there isn’t a defender on you. Scott Caldwell, who filled in for Koffie at CDM, doesn’t have the pace to keep up with Diaz so he couldn’t step up. But by backing off, Diaz was afforded time to conduct with his baton and queued the instrument of destruction (Maxi Urruti) and timed the attacks to perfection.

Mulligan for Heaps and Je-Vaughn Watson

Former FC Dallas player Je-Vaughn Watson had a rough night. This was largely not his fault. His athleticism and overall feel of the game gives a team a very versatile player capable of playing across the back line and at times, across the whole midfield too. The challenge of course, is that Watson isn’t a leftback. Despite being transformed well into a rightback here in Dallas and proving to be a serviceable centerback too, Watson was a deer in headlights out on the left flank.

I am certain Oscar Pareja noted where Watson lined up and sent Mauro Rosales and Ryan Hollingshead to overload his part of the field. Rosales and Hollingshead do not have the athletic pace to challenge Watson, but their off-ball runs and timing certainly outclass Watson in this case. Watson was caught on multiple occasions, flat-footed and unsure whether to track a run, stay back, step out or drop in when Hollingshead and Rosales combined together.

Above is just their work in the first half, before Watson was also injured and needed to be subbed out. The Chalkboard doesn’t show too much, as many times the runs of Rosales and Hollingshead did not result in them getting the ball, but it acted as a well placed decoy to either spread out the Revs backline or catch them flat-footed.

Dallas got lucky here that Heaps didn’t run out Chris Tierney for this one or swap Woodberry and Watson on the line.

The Best US CB Pairing

When Lach Loyd went down with his concussion, there were some worries about how Walker Zimmerman would be able to find the right balance with Matt Hedges. The Hedges-Loyd pairing had similar inklings of Omar Gonzalez and AJ DeLaGarza from a few years back. There was a symphonic balance for Hedges’ trombone from Loyd’s violin. This isn’t to say that Zimmerman isn’t a good CB - he’s fantastic - but figuring out how the two would work together was the challenge.

Tuesday’s USOC win put an end to any of those doubts as their performance was a crescendo for partnership and their intent of winning it all this year.

(Orange - recoveries. Purple - clearances. Blue - interceptions. Green - successful tackle.)

Defensive actions from defenders are hard to gauge. More doesn’t mean they were doing well. What I am noticing here are Hedges and Zimmerman’s growth in their abilities to read and pick off passes. Time and time again, both defenders stepped out of their central block to intercept a pass and get the offense going again for Dallas. This takes time and experience to develop, but how do you think this impacts what Hollingshead and Maynor Figueroa think when they want to push up in the attack knowing their CBs can handle things on the flanks too?