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Scratching the Chalkboard: FC Dallas maturing at the right time

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Holding RSL to a point on the road shows that this team is ready for the playoffs.

MLS: FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas walked away from Sandy, Utah with a well earned point to keep pace in their quest to win the Supporter’s Shield. While a win would’ve tilted things in Dallas’ favor even more, especially with Colorado picking up a draw last night as well, a point in the larger context is an excellent result. We’ve harped on this endlessly for many years here, but win at home and draw on the road will do the trick towards getting into the playoffs and winning some hardware too. If Dallas can win their next remaining home games and hold LA to a draw on Dallas’ next away game, it’ll give FCD 60 points for the year and that should be enough for the Shield.

Practical Tactics

One of the key criticisms of this Dallas side under Oscar Pareja’s helm has been their inability to grind out results, especially in the first year. Dallas, rightfully so, would go all out, nearly every match to try to win all the points. That kind of youthful exuberance and attacking attitude, while won the hearts of many neutrals, did not fair well for Dallas in terms of the results. During the first two years, Dallas would drop results because they became a little overly ambitious and wiser teams sniffed out their spots and found ways to exploit the spaces and find an equalizer or even the match winner.

That was certainly not the case last night in Utah as the Hoops went for it in the opening stages of the match, only to systematically and carefully back off and go for the pragmatic draw as you can see from their shot attempts by the half.

(Above: First half shot attempts. Below: Second half shot attempts.)

You can also see this played out in their passing game. In the opening 45, Dallas did attempt to methodically break down the RSL defense. However, that idea was completely abandoned for the “Dump and let’s see if Barrios and Urruti can make something out of it” method.

First half passing chart
Second half passing chart

It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing form of soccer to watch, but from a tactics and coaching stand point, this was one of the more mature performances from this young Dallas side. This was the kind of game that they would lose their mental focus, positioning and patience and let a late winner slip in. None of that happened last night and Dallas comes back with a point from a place where they lost 1-0 just a month ago (to a late 78th minute winner). This is a good sign that this club is maturing and can possibly make a deep run in the playoffs.

Defensive Mids Holding Ground

There are a few #10s in the league that make me nervous to see lineup against Dallas. Diego Valeri, Sacha Kljestan and Javier Morales usually top my list. Morales knows and reads the game so well, and like a fine bottle of wine, he gets better with age. Thankfully for this night, Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo were up to the task and kept Morales in their pocket for most of the evening.

Morales did complete a high number of his passes, but I’m more concerned with what kind of passes they were. Morales completed very few passes going forward, only 9 in the final third, and had no key passes. Neutralizing him was a must for Dallas this time around and the young CDMs did just that.

When Are We Going to See Carlos Ruiz?

Before the match kicked off, I thought for sure this would be the game we’d see Ruiz make his season debut. When things were still 0-0, I was thinking possibly in the 80th minute to see if they’d just roll the dice and see if anything will happen. Sadly, we were not given the opportunity and now that I’ve had some time to mull it over, it was actually a very smart move. If Dallas were down a goal, then that sub would’ve made sense. But you do not take off Maxi Urruti in a 0-0 situation, on the road, when a point is a good result. Urruti’s defensive work rate is second to none in this league. His ability to chase and pressure for a full 90 minutes is a huge blessing for Dallas and something that Pareja probably considered and why he opted not to bring Ruiz in.

But with some CONCACAF Champions League action happening on Wednesday, followed by a massive showdown with the LA Galaxy on Saturday, I can see Ruiz getting the start on Wednesday to give Urruti a break.