FC Dallas took down the visiting Sporting Kansas City last night, thanks to he heroics of Maynor Figueroa who headed home the winner in the 70th minute. With the 1-0 win, Dallas remains unbeaten to start the 2017 MLS campaign. The scariest notion is that this team isn’t even at full strength yet, with Anibal Chala, Victor Ulloa, Ryan Hollingshead and of course, Mauro Diaz all working their way back from their respective injuries.
Part of the success for the hot start for Dallas has been due the defensive work from the entire backline. Through six games, FCD has only conceded three goals in the process with two coming from penalties. Despite the Dallas defense doing their best to limit opportunities, there has been an unsung hero that’s been making his mark to tidy up everything in front of the defense.
Maybe it’s because he transitioned into the league faster than anyone in recent memory for FCD, but week in and week out, Carlos Gruezo continues to amaze me. There is absolutely nothing flashy about his game, but he does his work as the team’s defensive midfielder with aplomb.
Gruezo’s passing charts are usually very tidy, as it is his responsibility to cycle the ball out to the wings. With the way Dallas lined up in the 4-2-3-1, and how Sporting Kansas City positioned themselves, Gruezo found himself in an unfamiliar territory of having options to actually go more vertical with his passing. The direct approach paid off as Gruezo managed to help create a couple of key passes in the process, and only misplaced two passes for the entire match.
Defensively, Gruezo continued to just eat up space and clog the passing lanes. He ended the evening with nine recoveries and two tackles. What doesn’t show up on the chart is his defensive positioning, and I’ll try to illustrate that with Benny Feilhaber’s passing chart inside Zone 14.
Good #10s, and Feilhaber is a good one, love to operate in Zone 14. That’s the space where they create the chances and pull the strings for their offense. Given the high percentage of possession that FCD conceded (SKC had 61.1%), the big challenge was to make sure the ball stayed out of Feilhaber’s feet in any space where he could be dangerous. As you can see from the chart above, Feilhaber only managed to four passes inside Zone 14, due in part by Gruezo effectively owning that space.
Last season we called it conservatively that Gruezo was a Top 5 defensive midfielder in this league. Pretty safe to say that Gruezo is in the Top 3 and it wouldn’t surprise any of us if he became the best defensive midfielder by the end of the season.
Grana continues to give our staff a lot of conflict. On one hand, he’s done superbly well to bring width to the attack, but on the other, his crossing leaves a lot to be desired.
Crossing generally has a very low probability of success, but what was most concerning for me was his overall placement last night. Perhaps it was an off night, but far too often Grana made his way to the end line only to put the ball too close to goal and into SKC keeper Tim Melia’s hands.
That being said, the team has done well to isolate Grana into 1v1 situations and letting him take players on to stretch the defense.
This is when I wish that Grana would take a page out of a right back like Antonio Valencia and just drive a low cross through the penalty area. Maxi Urruti, Tesho Akindele and Cristian Colman have the movement and finishing touch to latch onto driven balls and are a less likely to successfully win a header against a centerback.
At this stage, Dallas is simply loaded with players across the entire field and to remain the last unbeaten team in the league is nothing to sneeze at. Especially, when you remember that they’ve played half of their games on the road too picking up five points in three against Western Conference teams. And remember, behind the starting XI and the injured players coming back (Diaz, Hollingshead, Chala and Ulloa), there’s that little core group of Cup winning Homegrowns (Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira and Reggie Cannon) that haven’t been rotated in yet.