A very flattering piece dropped yesterday on MLSsoccer.com that painted FC Dallas’ defensive commitment as a reason for their strong start to the 2017 campaign. It did well to highlight the fact that the only two goals conceded has been from penalties and the first was given by a dive on opening day against the LA Galaxy. The piece also showed off the defensive commitment from striker to defender and the disciplined approach of maintaining their defensive positions.
But as I read, I found myself questioning whether FCD’s defense is really that good. As I dug more to why I was skeptical, here’s what I came up with.
(And for the record, I am not disagreeing with Sam Polak and his article. He made no claims that this defense is best in the league or anything of the sort.)
Against Minnesota, FCD’s defense gave up 13 total shots, the third time in four games that they’ve conceded double digit shots - more on that in a bit. When you recall the game, that one could’ve easily ended 2-2 if it were not for Jesse Gonzalez’ Superman-esque saves such as the one below.
Even from this clip alone, you can see three United players completely wide open inside the penalty area.
The Dallas defense is good, but the keepers Chris Seitz and Gonzalez had a lot to say about that and keeping the goals conceded to just two.
Another metric to consider when assessing a team’s defensive strength aside from goals against, is also how limiting the team is for the opposition. Is the opposition routinely creating chances and are undone by spectacular goalkeeping and poor finishing?
Here’s a quick breakdown of the number of shots Dallas has conceded so far:
LA - 13 shots, 3 on target
SKC - 14 shots, 2 on target
NE - 4 shots, 3 on target
MN - 13 shots, 6 on target
Currently Dallas is conceding 11 shots and 3.5 on target per game. Those are pretty decent numbers when put in comparison with the rest of the league. Dallas is actually 8th best in limiting shots by the opposition. Worst is Montreal at 15.6 per game, and best is actually Sporting Kansas City at 8.2 per game.
At some point though, those numbers will eventually catch up with Dallas. Unless they came limit the chance creation by 3-4 shots per game, goals will be scored against FCD soon.
Has Dallas Been Lucky?
According the math nerds at American Soccer Analysis, Dallas’ cumulative xGA (expected goals against) is at 5.09 and has only conceded two goals in the process. In human, this means that Dallas has conceded roughly three goals fewer than was expected so far.
Some of that can be accounted for poor finishing by the opposition and some of it by ridiculous work from the keepers and some combination of just dumb luck in there. Minnesota has one of the highest xGF in the league, and when you think about that last match, FCD did seem a bit lucky to have escaped that one with a clean sheet.
Also, when Dallas got out of Kansas City with a shutout that seemed like an incredible result at the time. But as the season unfolded a bit more, we’re seeing that SKC has struggled mightily on offense (just four goals scored) and has been one of the worst offensive teams so far in 2017.
This is certainly not an attempt to take away getting a good road point against a Western Conference team, but in hindsight and put into a larger context, that result doesn’t seem to be as significant as it was at the time.
Yes, the players have been committed to the defensive side of things and are certainly reaping the rewards of their effort. Dallas is a good defensive side, but a combination of other factors have certainly helped their cause to keep them undefeated so far.