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Scratching the Chalkboard: Do we even want to see this team in the playoffs?

Dallas no longer controls their playoff destiny

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since Oscar Pareja has taken over for the club, FC Dallas enters “Decision Day” (#2?) with their playoff dreams out of their hands. After Sunday’s drubbing by the Seattle Sounders, Dallas is tied with San Jose on points for the sixth and final playoff spot but loses out on the tie-breaker (wins).

Here are some of my observations from Dallas’ embarrassing loss:

How bad was Diaz’s injury?

That Achilles’ injury almost a year ago has really done a number on the Magical Little Unicorn. And most of us knew that going in, it would be at least six to eight months before Diaz could resume training and even when he got back to full fitness, many of us wondered if he’d still be the same player again?

Dallas teased us with an early return in May against the Houston Dynamo when he did a nine minute cameo. Then Diaz started three straight in June and early July, giving the team an assist per outing and a glimpse that though he wasn’t 100% yet, even a limited Mauro was better than no Mauro.

Then after a hamstring precaution that kept Diaz from the lineup for three straight games in August, Diaz seemed completely back to his old self on 9/2 vs the New York Red Bulls where we found him on the ball, and directing the attack, despite playing a man down. After that display though, it seems like Diaz has become a shadow of his former self.

Diaz’s first half passing vs SEA
Diaz’s second half passing vs SEA (subbed off at 70’)

I split the chalkboards so it’s a little easier to see how Diaz was ineffective against the Sounders. In the first half, Diaz got on the ball a bit but failed to dominate any space of actual significance or threat.

I actually commented on this at halftime that Diaz was really absent in Zone 14. Which you can see below.

Diaz’s Zone 14

Pure #10s like Diaz do their most damage in Zone 14 (the space right outside of the penalty area). It’s where Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta must thrive against opposing #10s, and where Diaz must shine. Five passes in that zone, with only two completed (one going backwards) is hardly the stuff that’ll make defenses nervous.

What Diaz needed to do was put his foot on the ball and dance around defenders. Even if he was unsuccessful and was stripped of the ball, it would keep the defense on their heels deciding whether to let Mauro dance in or step and try to challenge. If a defender missed, it would force the rest of the defense to compensate and open up space for an attacker to exploit. And then the more realistic outcome, Diaz could draw a foul and set up a set piece opportunity.

Diaz has not done that since that match against the Red Bulls. He’s been timid on the ball which makes me wonder how bad was his injury and did the players, coaching staff and fans expect too much from Diaz too soon?

Is it time to shelf him and find an immediate replacement? No. Diaz should be afforded a full off-season to recover and rebuild himself. If after 2018 he cannot rediscover his magic, then maybe it’s time to move on. Luckily for Dallas, Paxton Pomykal will have another season under his belt and hopefully be ready to take control of the team’s offense. But it’s certainly troubling that this team looks worse with Mauro and this story is creeping near the “what if” scenario.

Tactically Too Slow

The staff’s biggest fear with Javier Morales starting at defensive midfield is his defensive range. Think of him as an Powered-Up version of Pirlo in the defensive midfield. For the strangest reason, Colorado (twice) and Orlando failed to take advantage of the defensive mismatch presented there and the staff here were certain that Seattle, specifically, Nicolas Lodeiro, would exploit the mess out of that situation.

Imagine our surprise when Lodeiro lined up like this for the opening 45:

Lodeiro’s first half passing chart vs FCD

That’s extraordinarily deep for a player of his gifts and talents. It was pretty obvious that would change immediately once the second half would start, and Dallas should’ve prepared themselves. Instead, it seemed like Dallas walked out for the second half with the mentality, “We’re still in this, no adjustments necessary”.

Lodeiro’s second half passing chart

See the difference? Seattle made a tactical change to push Lodeiro forward, and thus forced Dallas to react and respond rather than dictate the flow of the game themselves. Morales was taken off in the 57th minute for Maximiliano Urruti, but by that point, Lodeiro had found the game and was starting to dictate the flow of the Sounders’ attack and thus left Dallas on the back heels of this match ever since.

For all the talk days leading up to the match from Oscar Pareja and the players about how they’ll “fight”, what they put out on the field was anything but. Frankly, this team looks more ready to get started with their Christmas shopping than compete on the soccer field. Though there’s still one more game to play and an outside chance of qualifying for the playoffs, does anybody here really think they’ll make out of the first round anyway?