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By The Numbers: What’s up with the FC Dallas defense?

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What exactly is wrong and how can FCD fix this?

MLS: New York Red Bulls at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

To say Dallas is in a slump is putting it mildly. Dallas, of course, has gone through various win-less streaks in the past half decade, so this is about par for the course. What’s alarming right now though, is that this is a talented team without a glaring positional deficit anywhere in the starting XI. (Yes, there are better players for certain positions but that’s true of every club.)

Dallas has firepower in Maximiliano Urruti (who’s hit double digit goals this season), Michael Barrios and Mauro Diaz. The midfield core has internationals in Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta. The defense is the same with Maynor Figueora, Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman (he’s more up and coming but he’s in the conversation).

This is also not a young side anymore. You can excuse momentary lapses of concentration for young players, but nobody who’s starting regularly is considered inexperienced anymore. Everyone has at least one full season’s worth of starter minutes.

So what gives?

By the years

In 2014, Oscar Pareja’s first year in Dallas, the team went through a similar 8 game win-less streak. That streak was explained away by Mauro Diaz picking up an meniscus injury that sidelined him.

8 game win-less streak

In 2015, Dallas was a little better and went through a six game stretch without a win. Dallas fought that off with a five game winning streak.

6 game win-less streak

In 2016, things looked to stabilize for FC Dallas as their longest win-less streak was capped at 3. Though those stretches did come three times throughout the whole season.

Three 3-game win-less streaks

But the upside was that team was competing across multiple competitions and young Homegrown players were getting runs out there and getting acclimated.

For 2017, Dallas had a full off-season to prepare for the absences of Mauro Diaz and the sudden departure of Fabian Castillo. But there were some expectations that this season would be a little rocky given the uncertainty of Diaz’s return. But now that he’s back and fully fit, why are these long string of poor performances still happening?

Stats

I’ve grabbed the stats of every league game this year. What we’re looking at are the number of times the opponent has taken a shot and the three primary outcomes (besides if it was a goal or not); ‘On Target’,‘Off Target’ or “Blocked”.

I split the charts into two; the left being prior the win-less streak and the right, showing the last 8 matches.

Dallas is giving up marginally more shot attempts (0.27/game) which is too small to be alarmed by. The rest though, may give a better indication of what’s happening.

Opponent shot percentage before streak: 31%

Opponent shot percentage during streak: 52%

What we’re seeing is now more than half of the number of shot attempts by the opposition are finding their way to the Dallas goal. You can see that fewer shot attempts are missed, as a result, and roughly 1 shot fewer is blocked per game.

Obviously, not all shots are created equal and greatly vary in difficulty but this is a start for the players and coaching staff to evaluate how they’re closing down defenders. Why are more chances being created against Dallas?

xG and xGA

Quick note that these numbers are from the fine folks at AmericanSoccerAnalysis.com. At the time of this writing, the latest data set did not have FCD’s match against Atlanta.

On paper, this team should be functioning fine. Yes, there were some injuries and absences, but this team and coach has weathered those problems before.

The eyes test (my visual observation) says this team has been playing relatively fine. Yes, there have been some glaring mistakes but not unusually more than previously.

When things don’t make sense (on paper - fine, eye test - fine), I prefer to turn to xG to see what it reveals.

(xG is the number of goals that can be expected to be scored based on where and how a shot was taken.)

xGD Away

These are Dallas’ last three road games (minus Atlanta). I color coded it based on the xGD. (xGD = Expected Goal Differential)

Green = should have won

Yellow = should have drawn

Red = should have lost

Based on their xGD performance, Dallas should have walked away from those games with four points.

xGD Home

With the exception of Vancouver, Dallas should have won all their home matches during this stretch.

So is Dallas just having a really unlucky spell? Maybe.

The final number I wanted to share is the Home GD vs Home xGD before the win-less streak. Before this two month spiral, Dallas was outperforming itself at Fortress Frisco. The difference is basically two-fold. When I tallied the GD, Dallas was sitting at 11.00. When I compared that to their xGD at home, it was half of that at 5.51.

What does this mean? It points that Dallas may have been lucky and over performing by a large amount at home. Math nerds tend to believe that everything eventually regresses back to the mean.

Think of it like running a 5k, where your average time is 30 minutes or roughly 10min/mile. You start the race excitedly and push out a 8min/mile for the first mile. Of course, this pace is unsustainable, so you slow down in the second mile to 12min/mile before you settle to your average at 10min/mile.

Soccer, of course, is not as linear and performances and results are a little more fluid than that. Our managing editor, Drew Epperly, pointed out that maybe this team isn’t as good as we thought or expected and when you look at the numbers, Drew may be right. This results may just be self correcting itself since it over performed by a large margin at the beginning of the season.

The results are definitely frustrating, and as the season nears the end the lack of positive results is certainly alarming too. However, based on xGD from the last 7 games, Dallas should have pulled out more points than it has. As horrifying as it may sound, perhaps just sticking to the plan and riding it out may be all that this team needs to do to save their season.

If ever there was a time for this team to cling to Busca La Forma, this is it.