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What we learned in the season opener against RSL

Help me troubleshoot our defense

MLS: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas picked up a late goal in the draw against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night. Here are a couple things that we picked up from the season opener.

Is pressing the problem?

Dallas pressed like I’ve never seen them press before. We’re used to seeing Maxi Urruti regularly track back into his own half to win possession, but Michael Barrios impressed me with his efforts too this week. In addition to Urruti and Barrios regularly working back into their own halves, I’m beginning to see that Santiago Mosquera has a knack for working inside. While these are all more or less good characteristics to have as players, they’re problematic for team shape.

When a team is getting regularly punished on the counter attack, you have to start asking questions about team organization. When Dallas loses the ball, they sacrifice organization to press and try to win the ball back quickly, and they aren’t organized well enough for it to be effective. Effective pressing demands positional excellence from the entire team and Dallas isn’t there yet. If Dallas is going to use aggressive pressing to create opportunities, get ready for some growing pains as the players struggle to adapt to a change in tactics.

As a side note, what do you think about Maxi’s positioning? I love his effort when he works back, but too often he leaves us without a player in the box. Colman plays a much more rigid game at striker and contributes less to build up play, but is more likely to be where you need him. Although, I still have yet to be convinced that he can regularly put away opportunities.

Or is it communication?

Reggie Cannon will be having nightmares about Joao Plata for a while. Plata regularly took him on and beat him comfortably, but there are more worrying parts of Reggie’s game. I would expect a young fullback to struggle with one on one defending against a gifted dribbler like Plata, but Cannon’s consistent positioning errors make me worried that he may have learned too much from Hernan Grana last season. If Cannon is going to be aggressive going forward then he is going to get caught out of position, that’s the risk you run by going forward. It happens to Matt Hedges often when he ventures forward to pick out a pass. There’s nothing wrong with that, but like I discussed earlier, to not be picked apart in transition after going forward, you need effective pressing to not allow the opponent to slice through a disorganized defense, which RSL did on their goal.

Above I have a screenshot from the first half. This opportunity didn’t result in a goal, but it should have. Notice the gap between Reto Ziegler and the highest RSL player. It’s big enough that a through ball could easily be threaded through to put RSL in on goal. Ziegler and Cannon have to work together to close that gap, while this breakaway only resulted in a corner, it could have easily been worse. This is where Dallas’ susceptibility to the counter begins, a lack of communication between the backline in transition.

It all starts when Dallas loses possesion in the midfield. Figueroa, Hedges, Gruezo, and Hayes all get circumvented with some nifty passing, then all of a sudden RSL only has to beat Ziegler and Cannon (if he catches up). Matt Hedges is going to have to be more conservative to make sure he is present to organize Cannon and Ziegler on the counter.

Jacori Hayes can do it all

When lining up with two defensive midfielders, they can’t both offer the same thing. Which I feel is the main problem with the Victor Ulloa - CarlosGruezo pairing. They’re both defensive minded players that will hack down anyone you need them to, but lack the creativity of Kellyn Acosta when going forward. I’m not saying that they’re worse players, but they excel in very different things. Dallas’ midfield works best when the defensive midfield pairing has a Gruezo/Ulloa type holding midfielder and a more creative box-to-box type player like Kellyn. The question was who is that player?

I’ve loved Jacori’s game since the first time I saw him play. He darts around the field and puts in a tackle here, makes an interception there, and closes someone down in-between doing those. But I was worried that he was another Gruezo type player, and that he lacked the creativity necessary to play Kellyn’s role. This game, instead of Ulloa, Hayes was tasked with doing a Kellyn impersonation, and he did not disappoint. He wasn’t too burdened by his offensive duties that he stopped being the energetic, midfield-disruptor that he is. He displayed good vision and passing ability and the second midfield spot should be his now.