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Fabian Castillo: Shining bright in Turkey

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Fabian Castillo is on the verge of receiving a call up to the Colombian National Team.

Why should you care?

Like it or not, Fabian Castillo is the “Ambassador to Turkey” (and to a lesser extent Europe and Colombia) of FC Dallas. As the biggest star forged and molded in Frisco, in modern MLS, Fabian Castillo’s performance on the field, reflects directly on FC Dallas and it’s collection of young talent.

FCD’s management and fanbase can claim their team is loaded with talent all they want, but that talent needs to “shine” far away from the friendly confines of Frisco. Nobody’s star, is shining brighter, than Fabian Castillo’s.

But wasn’t Castillo and his team struggling? Wasn’t Castillo completely unproductive? Wasn’t Trabzonspor duped into buying a malcontent? And how the heck did we get here?

We’ll take a look at the answers to some of those questions, but first, a little “lifting of the vale” on misconceptions of Fabian Castillo’s time in Turkey.

A Brief History of Castillo’s time in Turkey: Misconceptions and Truths

Earlier this year, on January 6, the Fabian Castillo Saga, had officially come to an end

The news was met by many with relief, as the fanbase was happy to have the drama surrounding Castillo’s loan resolved.

Many others met the news with disbelief, as it was widely anticipated that Turkish club Trabzonspor, would pass on the unproductive Colombian. We all saw the stats, zero goals and one assist in 14 starts. A quick glance at the Turkish Super Lig table, further strengthened those views, as Trabzonspor sat squarely in the bottom half of the table with a sorry looking record of 5 wins - 8 losses - 3 draws, with only 12 goals scored and 20 goals allowed. Not a pretty picture, and certainly not one that induced confidence in the Colombian.

Those were misconceptions, and not truths. The facts were displayed in such a way, that the real truth was hidden from us. The actual facts, paint a completely different picture.

First things first, Trabzonspor was in the middle of two different competitions. We all know about the Super Lig, but Trabzonspor was also competing in the Turkish Cup. Just think of the Turkish Cup as being the same thing as the US Open Cup, but with a group stage. Nobody outside of Turkey bothers to report on the Turkish Cup, so news and information about that tournament, are hard to find. Castillo played in four Turkish Cup matches (two starts). Also, Trabzonspor was playing in an empty home stadium, as it both faced sanctions that barred fans into the stadium, and also awaited completion of their new stadium.

Secondly, Trabzonspor’s head coach Ersun Yanal, has a reputation for being a very attack minded coach, who’s defenders are often left exposed, as the team over commits to the attack. Yanal’s teams are known for scoring in bunches, but also allowing goals in bunches. Yanal’s penchant for aggressive attacking tactics, is such, that when the attack struggles, the whole team suffers. It is not uncommon for Yanal’s teams to finish with an even goals scored to goals allowed ratio, over the duration of their season.

Unhappy with his attack, Yanal tinkered with four different formations before the January Transfer Window. Those formations were the 3-5-2, the 4-5-1 (flat midfield), the 4-2-3-1, but mostly the 4-1-4-1. The results were all over the spectrum, and the attack continued to struggle. With the attack struggling, the defense was being punished. During this tinkering, Castillo was played wide at left-mid, and also as a forward.

The attack was missing a playmaking midfielder (think Mauro Diaz), so all of the individual attackers were suffering. Castillo seldom received service to his location, and when Castillo did manage to get the ball and a chance to display his speed, there were seldom players available for the outlet pass. In other words, Castillo was often taking on multiple defenders, not because he was being selfish, but because he had no choice. Castillo even missed a month of action with an injury.

Even with all the Trabzonspor struggles, there was one fact that their management could not overlook. Trabzonspor’s record when Fabian Castillo was on the field was actually 5 wins - 6 losses -3 draws, with 19 goals scored and 16 goals allowed, across all competitions. To put it plainly, Trabzonspor was a far more dangerous team with Castillo on the field, and their defenders were less exposed. Yanal had also discovered that while Castillo was not the best passer, he was the best player on the team when the ball was at his feet, leading the team in dribbles completed, by a wide margin.

So when the deadline to sign Castillo permanently, or terminate his loan arrived, and their new stadium about to debut, Trabzonspor knew that maintaining Castillo’s service was a no brainer.

The rise of Trabzonspor and Fabian Castillo

Several things have happened in Trabzonspor, since Castillo’s transfer was finalized. One of them being the grand opening of their brand new, state of the art Şenol Güneş Stadium (41,513 capacity). Nearly doubling the capacity of the old stadium (24,000 capacity) and finally giving them a formidable fortress to defend.

The most important one, was head coach Yanal, settling on a single formation for the team. Yanal, settled on Fabian Castillo’s old formation during his time in FCD, the 4-2-3-1 with the Colombian as his every game starter at Left Mid.

Secondly, Castillo was shifted closer to the center of the midfield, in what is called the “inside forward”. This made Castillo’s duties, very similar to those of a “false nine” in the 4-4-2 (a False, False Nine?). Castillo’s new duties were to cut inside during the attack, provide hold up play when necessary, but mostly to dribble through heavy traffic, and become a lightning rod for the attack. His job is to help the team maintain control of the ball and to get the ball to his fellow attackers, usually delivering a pass to the player who will deliver “the final pass” on the attack

Take a look at the following video. This video best highlights what is being asked of Castillo in the attack. Castillo does not score, nor does he get the assist, or the glory that comes with them. Instead, look at his centralized location, and that gorgeous through pass to the attacker, and see the Castillo that is drawing raves:

With his position and its duties now clearly set in stone, Castillo has soared, and so has his team. Trabzonspor has gone on a rampage, currently in the midst of a nine game unbeaten streak (8 since January 6) across all competitions. The team has improved it’s time of possession to such an extent, that the defenders are no longer over exposed, allowing only three goals during its current nine game unbeaten streak. Trabzonspor has risen to 6th on the Super Lig table, as of Saturday’s 1-1 draw on the road to Konyaspor. Trabzonspor sits only three points, outside of EUFA Europa League qualification.

Nobody has taken more notice of Castillo’s play, than Colombian National Team head coach Jose Pekerman. On February 16, Trabzonspor media posted the following

The translation reads “National good news for Castillo”. The article claims that Jose Pekerman has been impressed with Castillo’s form, and that Castillo is the most in-form left-mid on the Colombia National Team roster.

Two days later, on February 18, Turkish media reported Colombia’s head coach Jose Pekerman, had dispatched his assistant coaches to Turkey, with the expressed instructions to monitor Fabian Castillo. Confirming speculation, that Colombia is in deed, interested in calling up Castillo.

Colombia has two very important games next month, against Bolivia (March 23) and Ecuador (March 28), as they attempt to qualify for the World Cup. As Castillo prays and hopes that his national team, calls on him, to help dispute these very important games, so should you.

If Castillo star “shines bright” for the Colombian National Team in March, so will FCD’s star, shine right besides him.

Sources: Records & Stats