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Scratching the Chalkboard: Mismatched CB Pairing Dooms Dallas

CB duo made two communications mistakes that proved costly

MLS: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of who made the team last night, this fixture away in Portland was always going to be a tricky one. Up until last night, Dallas’ record was 1-4-2 at Providence Park, so even if Dallas had their full squad, it still wasn’t a sure thing that FCD would be able to walk out of there with any points.

But with the injury to Walker Zimmerman and Matt Hedges being called to International duty, along with Maynor Figueroa who can slot at CB too also getting called up, Dallas had to make do with Atiba Harris and rookie Walker Hume as the starting pair. Then, of course, the pairing had to deal with Fanendo Adi too which put the team at a huge disadvantage.

All things considered, getting out of Portland with just a 2-0 loss isn’t too bad and the key thing to remember is nobody got injured playing on that turf.

For the most part, the combination of Harris and Hume seemed up to the task but two key decision errors gave Portland the chances they needed to capitalize and get all the points.

Bad Transition Communication

To be fair, this break was caused by a very poor pass from Carlos Gruezo which landed fortuitously at Sebastian Blanco’s feet.

This put Dallas in a 3v4 position with Ulloa out of play and unable to shield Harris and Hume from the initial drive.

Harris is in a real tricky spot. He has Adi on his shoulder and a ball carrier headed at him. Does he step to challenge or stick with Adi and invite Blanco to continue forward. Hedges or Zimmerman would know how to commit to one while signaling to their partner to cover. In this case, you’d see Zimmerman step aggressively towards Blanco and Hedges would provide deep cover.

To expect Harris to know how to do that is ridiculous, as he’s been a career attacker. There’s also Diego Valeri’s run that gives Hume a slight pause on where/who he should cover too.

All this of course, came very quickly and neither Harris or Hume had much time to sort it out. They had to react. And when you’ve played 0 minutes together in any meaningful match before, it’s no surprise that there would be some problems figuring out who goes where.

The final problem came here in transition (again) when Portland managed another 3v3. Hume made the improper read that Guillen was beat and went out to try to cut off the angle. When he did that, he should’ve signaled to Guillen to overlap him and pinch inside to cut off the crossing lane. Instead, neither happened and left Harris with an uncomfortable position of marking two players inside the penalty area. Harris made the decision to challenge when the ball was rolled to Chara, and of course, Chara decides to dummy and let the ball roll to Adi.

These problems are not systemic or a sign of a larger issue at hand. It’s just what happens when 3 out of the 4 starters are not there, and one of your CBs is a former striker/winger.

Portland got it right by bringing men forward to confuse the Dallas defense by overwhelming them with runners. Transition defense is already difficult and relies on instinct and understanding, but this should be a one-off thing with Hedges and Figueroa coming back soon.

Not All Bad For Hume

Please don’t mistake that because Hume made a couple of bad decisions that he’s not cut out for this league. Not every rookie CB transitions to the league like Matt Hedges. Zimmerman himself took a few years (though he was also injured), but he was caught out of sync with the defense a few times his rookie season as well.

For all the bad, Walker Hume also made some really good reads too. There were two moments that I caught where Victor Ulloa had stepped up high into the midfield to pressure the ball and thus vacated a large space of the midfield.

Ulloa - Hume Step

At the very opening of the gif, you see Ulloa abandoning his midfield position to apply pressure. Gruezo is on the other side of the field so he cannot cover that vacated spot. To make Ulloa’s step work, Hume had to step up with him and occupy that space too. The end result was a well placed tackle that turned it into a quick counter for Dallas.

I caught Hume doing this another time - stepping well with Ulloa and matching his positioning with the captain. These are difficult reads to make as a rookie and you have to trust yourself to make it. Had Hume hesitated and not stepped with Ulloa, Blanco would’ve had the chance to turn and lead an attack with Adi, Valeri and Chara making runs and putting the Dallas defense on their heals.

Offense Struggles

FC Dallas shot chart

It’s hard to go from a 6 goal game to what we saw last night. Dallas had an early chance with Lamah knocking on Portland’s door but thanks to some quick reactions by Jake Gleeson and Zarek Valentin, the Timbers managed to clear the ball off the goal line. After that chance, Dallas’ offense completely sputtered into nothing.

Yes, it’s an away game but you would hope that the Dallas attack would produce a little more especially when Liam Ridgewell was out of the game by the 26th minute and Roy Miller by the 61st.

Dallas failed to capitalize on the inexperienced CB pairing in the way that Portland managed to. It’s not time to panic yet, but something needs to change for this offense to get clicking if the MLS Cup is still the prize this team is aiming for.