Several here at Big D Soccer have written fine analytical pieces, explaining simple things that plague FC Dallas, or pointing out bad play from specific players, some even point out ways the team can turn things around. I'm not here to offer up suggestions on how the team can turn things around, I'm here to tell you it's much worse than you thought. I'm here to tell you, the end is near.
Point of No Return
Beware! This is an unflinching, nonapologetic look at the darkness that has descended upon Frisco in the current 9 match winless streak. This is not a fluff piece. You will not feel better after reading this.
One last thing before we begin. I’ve attended enough Sunday School, and have read enough comics (X-Men!) and other literature, to understand that the 4 signs of the Apocalypse arrive in a predetermined order. That order is Pestilence, War, Famine, and finally Death. Some of the things that ail FCD are well known, while others are not, so to this end, I will not follow the correct order of appearance. I will begin with the most obvious ailment, and end with the least obvious.
So feel free to stop reading at any point, because things will only get worse, the further you read.
Defensive Collapse (Death)
If you had asked me “What is FCDs biggest strength, going into this season?”, I would have replied “Our center back pairing of Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman”. These two men, are the best center back pairing in the league, and the foundation upon which FCD has built what they believe to be an MLS Cup contender. Both players have played good enough to parlay their play into USMNT call ups. The full backs have also had good years with Maynor Figueroa a regular call up for the Honduran national team, and Hernan Grana getting a spot on the MLS All-Star team.
The back four with help from the central midfield pairing of Carlos Gruezo (Ecuador National Team call-up) and Kellyn Acosta (USMNT Call-up), combined to allow a total of 19 goals in the first 19 MLS matches. The team accomplished this despite missing Zimmerman for seven of those matches due to injury or USMNT call-up. These are facts, nothing more, nothing less.
During the current nine match winless streak, FC Dallas has allowed 19 goals. With FCD managing two clean sheets during those nine matches, that means 19 goals have been allowed over a seven match period.
So what happened? What went wrong? Who’s to blame?
Let’s start by showing you something that’s a little shocking:
This is a shot direction chart for the match played at the Columbus Crew on August 27. The Crew went directly at the pillars of the FC Dallas foundation. FC Dallas keeps both of their full backs high on the flanks, confident in the play of their center back pairing, but what can you do when your foundation is rotten?
We all know that Zimmerman has not been 100% since his return from injury, and we all know that Hedges form has fallen off since the All-Star break. FCDs opponents know this as well, and if one player is not fully recovered from an injury, or is out of form, then that player becomes a weakness that can be exploited.
There’s also the 3-3 Houston collapse on August 24, when Hedges had one of his worst games of the season. The backline then was Hedges and Figueroa paired in the center, with Grana and Atiba Harris as the full backs. As this Houston shot chart shows, even with Atiba starting out of position on the left side, a full 50% of the Dynamo attack came down the middle, directly at Hedges and Figueroa. When a player is played outside of his strongest position, and played out of position, then this too is a weakness that can be exploited.
So now we take a look at the Atlanta game, still fresh in our memories. Atlanta targeted the FC Dallas right side pairing of Grana and Zimmerman, as a full 50% of their attack came on that side. On the left side, Hedges and Fig combined for 1 tackle, 4 Interceptions, 1 blocked shot, and 7 clearances. On the right side, Grana and Zimmerman combined for 2 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 blocked shot, zero clearances, and 4 turnovers (all by Grana).
There is no reliable backup at center back. There is no reliable backup at left back. The backup right back never gets on the field. Starters have to play through injury. Starters have to play through bad form. Starters have to play out of position. Starters even have to play through bad games with zero relief available off the bench.
Game in and game out, the defensive back four have just been one big house of cards, simply waiting to collapse.
Poor Form (Pestilence)
The question is which FCD player is in bad form? The answer is, which FCD player isn’t.
We all know which players have been playing poorly. At least we think we know. Take a look for example at Roland Lamah. We all know that Lamah has been in poor form, not only that, but he tends to disappear for long stretches of the match, and often plays out of position. Other players who have obviously looked in poor form are Grana, Hedges, Zimmerman, and Mauro Diaz. Zimmerman and Diaz are both yet to return to form due to injury, so those two are easy. Hedges has been less than his usual reliable self, and Grana has struggled on defense. What about everyone else?
Michael Barrios has been one of the few bright spots for the team. What if I told you that he hasn’t been as bright as you think? Barrios on the season, has averaged 74.4% completion on his pass attempts, and has averaged being dispossessed once a match, with 1.7 unstable touches (bad control). Dispossessed is when a player is dispossessed on the ball by a defender - no dribble involved. In 6 of the 9 recent matches played, Barrios has been dispossessed 11 times. His passing percentage in those same matches has dropped to 70%, and he has had 19 Unstable Touches, and as I mentioned before, not a single shot on goal in the last 2 matches played. I’m not saying that Barrios has been in bad form, but I am saying that his form is beginning to dip.
Urruti has one goal and no assists in the past nine matches. There’s no real stats needed there. A forward’s main purpose on the field is to score goals, and if he’s not scoring, then he’s failing to do the one thing his team is counting on him to do.
Acosta is a player who is not in bad form. He hasn’t scored, nor does he have any assists, but his play has actually been good. So why is he even being mentioned here?
These two Acosta heat maps look alike, but that’s far from the truth. The top most chart is the heat map for the game against Atlanta United FC, and it is read right to left (<—). In this match, Atlanta United overran Grana and Zimmerman on FCDs right side. The heat map show Acosto rushing to their aid, and helping out on their side.
The second heat map is for the match against Seattle last week, and it is read left to right (—>). Acosta as usual, is all over the field, but his highest concentration of touches is on the left side. The same side that Lamah vacates time and time again.
Acosta is one of those players who are in fine form, but are affected by players who are in poor form. Acosta spends so much time running around trying to put out fires, that it prevents him from being a playmaker in the attacking third, thus no goals or assists.
Carlos Gruezo has been rock solid in the middle of the field almost all season long. In the two most recent matches, the normally stout defender, has only registered a combined 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, with zero clearances, and zero blocked shots. Both matches, Gruezo was subbed out and replaced by Ulloa. A blip in the map, or yet another player who’s form has begun to dip? It’s too early to tell, but it’s something this team simply can’t afford at this time.
Figueroa has been in fine form. Here is a player who is doing fine, despite the players around him playing poorly. Figs problem, is that he has had to vacate his Left Back spot on several occasions to cover the Center Back spot whenever Hedges or Zimmerman are out. This affects the team in the form of the entire left side of the defense becoming a an exploitable weakness.
Poor form is like a disease that affects one body part. Untreated, this disease can spread to other parts of the body. I'm trying to tell you that the disease has metastasized, and the patient is terminal.
Lack of Team Positional Discipline (War)
I’m going to show you a thing of beauty, something that you won’t truly understand right away, but will make sense soon enough. Before I do that, I must first remind you that FC Dallas had a 3 game winning streak right before the current 9 game slump.
You are looking at a Player Positions Chart from the 4-2 victory against DC United, back on August 5. The chart takes all the touches a player had throughout the match, and gives you their average position on the field at the time they first touched the ball. The back four maintain their positional shape, with the full backs in advanced positions. Ulloa and Gruezo have similar defense-first styles, and not surprisingly often occupy the same space. Mauro is in a slightly forward centralized position, with tons of space to work with directly in front of him. Lamah, Urruti, and Barrios keep a well spaced 3 forward attacking line. All 3 Player Positions charts from the 3 game winning streak, are near mirror images, with the FCD formation on the field looking like a 4-2-1-3.
Now, let’s take a look at competing charts from one of the matches during the current 9 match winless streak:
The team in orange is Sporting Kansas City, the team in blue is FCD. Notice the very disciplined positional integrity that SKC maintains. Now take a long hard look at the hot mess in blue. FC Dallas rolled out a 4-4-2, and look completely clueless on the field. The backline struggles to maintain their defensive shape. Notice that Lamah is way out of position, drifting too far back and too far into the center. Acosta and Gruezo attempt to occupy the same space. Coleman and Urruti are too far to the right, both competing for space with Barrios. You can’t help but notice the huge black hole that is the left side of the field. All of the players for FCD have minimal space to work with, and they are getting in each others way.
This is the Player Positions chart for the Atlanta United match. FCD replaced Lamah with Hollingshead, and rolled out a 4-2-3-1. Even though the back four played poorly, they did manage to mostly maintain their positional shape. Zimmerman the only one that looks out of place, positioned too far forward, and was punished for this by Atlanta’s speed. Acosta is way out of position, again competing for space with Gruezo. Hollingshead does a better job than Lamah of staying forward, but drifts too far centrally, directly into Mauro’s space. Urruti also drifts too far back, directly competing with Mauro and Hollingshead for the same space. Still, that black hole on the left side remains.
This is last weeks player positions chart against the Seattle Sounders. The back four with Gruezo directly in front of them, maintain near perfect shape, and it is no surprise that they helped to maintain a clean sheet on the day. Barrios is exactly where you want him to be. Lamah manages to stay forward, but yet again, drifts too far centrally. Acosta pushes forward more, directly competing for space with Diaz. Urruti is too far back, joining both Acosta and Diaz in competition for the same space. There’s little to no presence in the attacking 3rd for FCD, and it’s no surprise that of the 9 shots that the forward-most five players combined to take, 8 of them were well outside the 18 yards box.
FC Dallas simply has no answer at the left midfielder position. Urruti spends far too much time going backwards, instead of forward. All 3 central midfielders simply haven’t figured out how to coexist on the field.
Early on in the season, FC Dallas was playing multiple formations, starting matches with a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, then switching mid-match into a 5-2-2-1 or a 4-3-3. Early in the season, we witnessed FCDs tactic of switching up formations mid-match, confuse the opposition and lead to positive results. What we are seeing now, is what happens when a team manages not to settle on one formation, and one team identity on the field. We are seeing what happens, when switching up the formations all the time, stops confusing the opposition, and begins to confuse the FCD players on the field instead. We are witnessing a team that looks to have lost its identity on the field, and will soon be losing more than that.
Failure to Finish (Famine)
This one is no mystery to anyone. We are all well aware that the scoring well has dried up for FCD. So just how bad is it?
I’m going to show you some numbers on the 5 forward-most players for FCD, and to keep it simple, I will not include the SCCL matches. First, let me show you a shot chart:
This is the shot chart of the five forward-most players for FCD in the Seattle Sounders match. I mentioned earlier how they combined for nine shots, with eight of them being outside the 18 yards box. Well, in reality, I’m only showing you the total for 4four players, as Barrios did not have a single shot on goal. This is the second week in a row, where Barrios has failed to register a shot on goal. Lamah registered just one shot on goal, and to no one’s surprise, the lone shot came from the right side of the field. Diaz registered the only shot inside the 18 yards box, and that shot was just barely inside.
Remember a couple of months back, just before the current nine match stretch, when Urruti was near the top of MLS in scoring? Urruti had 11 goals just 19 matches into the season. Urruti has scored only one goal since then (against Houston).
Lamah had eight goals and one assist before the start of the scoring drought nine matches ago. Lamah has only one assist and zero goals in eight matches played since then.
What about Barrios? He entered the current nine match stretch with one goal and eight assists. Barrios has had one goal and three assists since then, but he has failed to record a goal in the last seven matches, and two of his assists came in the 3-3 draw against Houston.
“The Year of Acosta” was going strong, and he had three goal and two assists in only 14 (12 starts) matches played before the All-Star break. Acosta has only featured in six matches since then, and has zero goals or assists.
Finally there’s Diaz. Mauro has only played in 10 matches all season, and he has only started 4 matches during the current stretch with two appearances off the bench. Mauro has 1 goal and no assists.
What has happened? Has FCD not generated enough shots on goal?
No, generating shots has not been a problem at all. FCD continues to generate plenty of shots on goal. Let’s take a look at the following chart:
FC Dallas generated 28 shots on goal against the Colorado Rapids. All the numbers in orange, pertain to FCD. The left side of the chart, displays the location those shots hit in and around the net, that is, those that were not blocked by a defender. Tim Howard only had to save 6 (and 2 claims) of those 28 shots, as eight of those shots were blocked by a defender and the rest simply were never a threat.
The shot distance is poor. The shot selection is poor. The shot placement is poor. The shots simply are not getting through for FCD, no matter how many shots they take.
There are other things wrong with the team, that I haven't addresses. Other things, that others have already covered. There are other signs out there, and they all point to the same thing. The end is near.