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FC Dallas MD: A tale of two matches

Monitoring the pulse of your favorite team.

MLS: FC Dallas at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, my name is Jose A. Carmona, but you know me as El Chico Carmona from the Power Rankings and the Hoops Home & Abroad reports. FCD MD is the first of hopefully many articles to come here at Big D Soccer, where we get a close look at FCDs performance in a single match or multiple matches.

FCD had one heck of a roller coaster week. First, FCD travelled to expansion side Minnesota United FC, and played like they (FCD) were the expansion side in a 4-1 loss that many would love to forget. Here’s a replay of the match, where FCD throws the first snowball:

FCD then came home on a short turnaround, and somewhat resembled their old selves in a 2-0 victory against the hapless Colorado Rapids. The second game saw FCD deck the rapids to the matt with the o’l quick 1-2, and then “lay-n-pray” their butts and spank them for the remainder of the match:

These two matches were very different from each other, one of them panned out like most of the matches that have haunted FCD for the past two months, and the other match reminds us of what FCD is capable of doing.

So let’s take a look at them side by side, and see what changed. Let’s see what worked, and what didn’t work. Let’s see if this once comatose team, has finally woken up.

The shape of things to come?

First, let’s take a look at our patient’s chart, Player Positions chart that is. In fact, let’s take a look at two charts side by side.

Both charts are for FCD. The chart in blue (top) depicts the Minnesota United 4-1 loss, while the chart in orange (bottom) depicts the 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The Player Positions 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 first thing that jumps out at you is how poor the defensive positioning is against Minnesota United. Figueroa, who normally plays left back for FCD, drifts much too far to the left for a center back. Perhaps Fig drifts too far left, because Atiba Harris, who started at LB, is too busy pretending to be a central midfielder! It becomes quite obvious why the left side was completely overrun by MUFC, when the whole left side is being defended by just one player. I’m not kidding either. In Jason Poon’s excellent Chalkboard from the Minnesota game, Jason points out that Atiba had exactly zero defensive actions in the first freaking defensive actions in one entire half! Not just that but Atiba and Fig combined for two tackles, two interceptions, and three clearance for the entire match!

So now we take a look at the 2-0 victory over Colorado. Atiba and Fig who might as well been watching the MUFC match from the stands, both started, but in different positions. Fig started at left back, where he has excelled for the majority of the season, and yet again this match. Papi, please, don’t ever move Fig away from his left back positions again, pretty please. Atiba started at center back, but on the right side, where Atiba has a ton of experience playing on that side of the field at both right back and right mid, not ideal, but there is some comfort level there. That comfort level becomes immediately evident, as they combined for nine clearances and one blocked shot, even though Papi prefers his left back in an advanced position. Not only that, but Atiba and the rest of the back four, along with Carlos Gruezo, maintained their defensive form throughout the match.

So what happened? What changed? The answer is quite simple. Matt Hedges happened. We all know that Hedges has not been himself since his return from the USMNT call-up. That said, FCD has maintained a clean sheet in Matt’s last two starts, as he shows sign of regaining his MLS Defensive Player of the Year form. Hedges had one tackle, one interception, and five clearances against the Rapids, which is just as many defensive actions as Atiba and Fig combined for against MUFC.

Now, Hedges isn’t all the way back, as his play wasn’t perfect. The one thing that is certain, is that Hedges raises the confidence level of the defenders around him, and that this team has a strong defensive pulse with Hedges on the field.

A passing grade?

Let’s take a second look at that Player Positions chart against Colorado. We’ve discussed the sexy looking position of the back five, so let’s now take a look at the rest. I said in the PbP thread for this match, that I liked the starting line-up, as soon as it was announced. I liked the line-up because I expected the back five to look exactly as the chart shows. Javi Morales lined up next to Gruezo, was a brilliant move by Papi, as he prefers to move forward more than Gruezo. Morales would spearhead the attack alongside Mauro Diaz, sharing the similar space, without tripping over each other.

Now the chart doesn’t really do justice to the front five of Morales, Diaz, Roland Lamah, Barrios, and Maxi Urruti. Once FCD had the lead, they simply went about protecting that lead, and that meant that the attackers were not asked to venture as far forward as they usually are asked to do. In fact, I like the positions for all the players, as the only one that is truly out of position is Urruti, who excels at dropping way back in assistance to the defense, so his is the only one that looks like it is interfering with the rest.

Lamah and Barrios maintained almost mirror like positions with Lamah slightly back, Javi is centralized and slightly ahead of Gruezo, yet slightly behind Diaz. If you disregard how out of position Urruti appears to be, the formation looks like a 4-1-1-3-1. You can even argue that the formation is a true 4-2-3-1, with a “defense first” approach.

By the way, Morales next to Lamah, worked brilliantly. The two of them, combined with Fig bombing forward, gave FCD a presence on the left side of the field that has been missing forever. Jason Poon again, does an excellent job of showing you how their play affected that side of the field. I will only add that the combined Heat Map (going left to right) for all three of them, is even sexier than the defensive positioning.

But enough of that. What does all that positon stuff mean anyway? Excellent positioning means excellent passing lanes, and excellent passing lanes can hopefully result in many passing attempts/completions, and holy crap did FCD pass like we’ve never seen before (bare with me, I’m a newer fan). Hey, don’t take my word for it. Here’s a side by side passing chart for the two most recent matches:

The two things that stand out are one, total number of passes, and two, average pass streak. If you take a look back at the jumbled mess that is the MUFC Player Positions chart (which I didn’t even bother trying to explain), then it’s no surprise at all that FCD barely surpassed 400 passes, and only averaged four consecutive passes. Now fast forward to the Rapids match and FCD chained together an average of seven passes in a row, while out passing Colorado at a two-to-one clip. Excellent passing leads to excellent time of possession, and FCD delivered at a 75 to 25 percent possession rate against Colorado.

Now Colorado is a pretty bad team, and last I looked, FCD was also playing like a pretty bad team themselves. The one thing that this proves with certainty, is that FCD is not as bad as Colorado. Knowing just that, for now, is enough to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Shooting lessons?

One thing that has consistently plagued FCD during the 10 match winless streak, and for better parts of the season, is their inability to finish. FCD consistently outshoot opponents, and that did not change at all during their recent slump. So here’s the shooting chart for the MUFC match:

The team in blue (left side) is FCD, and the team in orange (right side) is MUFC. FCD outshot Minnesota United 19-10, an almost two-to-one clip, and still lost 4-1. How’s that possible? The answer is simple. Quality over quantity. Minnesota took far less shots on goal, but they made them count. They patiently probed the defense, and only took shots when the right situations arose.

This is the Shot Zone chart for FCD from the very same match. Notice how the bulk of FCDs shots are far outside the box. The Shot Chart and Shot Zone chart for this match, might as well be the charts for every single match FCD played in the 10 match winless streak. FCD outshot their opponents by a wide margin match in and match out, but due to their poor shot selection and placement, had very little to show for it. You can read further about that in my prior article.

So FCD played an opponent that picked it’s shots, and made them count. You’d think they would learn anything from that, wouldn’t you?

This is the Shot Zone Chart for FCD against Colorado and .............Gaaaaaaawwddd is it seeeeeexxxxxyyy! FCD was outshot by Colorado 10-9, yes outshot by the Rapids. Even so, FCD did not waste a single shot, they made every shot count, and handed us all the first three points we’ve seen in a long long time.

While FCD looks to have found answers to some of the issues that plague the team, it’s hard to get too excited against an opponent of such poor standing. It’s a good thing that three of the four remaining opponents are opponents of such poor standing. If FCD can simply repeat this type of performance in two of their remaining matches, then we’ll be dreaming about playoffs glory soon enough.