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Scratching the Chalkboard: Defense Comes Up Big

Dallas rides their defensive strength into the playoffs

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

FC Dallas got the job done over the weekend and clinched their spot into the playoffs. Though Dallas didn’t get on the scoreboard, keeping a clean sheet on the road was an impressive feat, especially in Portland, where this team has struggled to find a result (1-5-3 including the most recent result). To put that into better context, in the eight previous matches in Portland, Dallas has conceded 15 goals in the process, averaging ~1.9 goals against per game.

As we’ve said here on this site many times, win at home and draw on the road and you’ll find yourself in great position in this league. Though not the most electrifying or entertaining performance, a quiet tidy result is just what this team needed at this time.

Cannon-Pedroso Shine

Many of us were clamoring, desperately, for Reggie Cannon to get a look last year and we all feel pretty vindicated by that given how Cannon has played this year. In a little over a year, he’s gone from bench to starter, to elite MLS fullback, and now grumblings about being left out of the USMNT call ups.

And as good as Cannon has been on the right side, his counterpart on the left, Marquinhos Pedroso has been equally impressive. No, Pedroso isn’t going to be called in to the Brazilian national team any time soon, but given how well he’s played for this team, it’s hard to remember that he arrived in July and the time he needed to adapt was virtually none.

Cannon’s (2) passing chart. Pedroso’s (6) passing chart.

Both players got forward well, giving plenty of support to Michael Barrios and Santiago Mosquera on the flanks. They picked their spots well, and didn’t leave the rest of the defense exposed to a counter for much of the evening.

Defensively, this is where both players shined the brightest. Both players positioned themselves well and were not called into too much defensive work thanks in part of their positioning. More impressively, neither player committed a single foul and it was Cannon who actually drew three fouls in the process.

The Dallas defense has really started to clamp down in recent games, having just conceded one goal in their last three. A large part of that has been due to the solid play from their fullbacks, which is incredibly promising as they head in to the final stretch before the playoffs.

Wingers Contributing Too

Not to be outdone by the players behind them, both Santiago Mosquera and Michael Barrios have also been heavily involved defensively too. It would be preferable for both of them to be striking fear on the opposing defenses with their speed and attacking play, but when you’re having a bit of an off night, it’s good to be able to fall back and commit to the team’s defensive shape and game plan.

Mosquera (11) and Barrios’ (21) defensive actions.

Yes, you’re reading that right, Mosquera had a game high nine (!!!) recoveries for both teams. Mosquera definitely should’ve put his chance on frame, the one after Cristian Colman fired his 1v1 straight into Jeff Attinella’s chest, but his commitment to playing both sides of the ball was incredibly helpful in securing a point in this one.

Colman Still Going?

Speaking of.... I was very surprised to see Colman get the start again after last week where I said he was OK, but not great. After watching how the team played again with Colman starting, I’m starting to see where and how Oscar Pareja is finding ways to get the DP involved with the team:

Above is a graphic of the aerial duels Colman won against Portland. If that looks like a lot, it’s because it is. Colman won 14 aerial duels, compared that to 20 from the entire Portland team. Clearly at this point, Colman is simply offering himself as an outlet for the defenders to by pass the midfield when it’s a bit too congested to go that route.

In terms of skill set, yes, Colman is the only striker on the team that can offer this kind of tactical nuance for the team. Domique Badji is more of a speedy striker who thrives on the counter. For road games like this and last week against Vancouver, a big bruising center forward can be incredibly useful to relieve pressure and to occupy the centerbacks.

That being said, I do feel the need to provide some balance to that. Yes, Colman won the majority of his aerial duels. However that just means he got his head (or body) to the ball first. The result of that wasn’t very kind:

Aerial duels won are logged as a pass and in fairness, these are the hardest type of passes to complete. So I’m not saying the aerials he won wasn’t helpful, I’m just saying to look at them with a full perspective.

However, it does look like Pareja will continue with the Colman experiment for the rest of the season. At least we have an idea of why and where Colman might fit in.