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Scratching the Chalkboard: Time for a true #10

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Dallas crashes out of the 2018 season

MLS: Knockout Round-Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas unceremoniously bowed out of the 2018 playoffs at the hands of Diego Valeri and the Portland Timbers, losing 2-1 and finishing the campaign on a four game losing streak. Collapse? Not quite, but it certainly leaves the same sting from 2017 that this team has tried so hard to erase from recent memory. In 2017, Dallas was in first place in August but ended up just outside of the playoffs by regular season end. In 2018, Dallas was in first place with three games to go, but fell drastically in the standings to fourth place and ended up as the first team out of the playoffs.

We’ll dive in to what happened, and what’s next for this club in the coming weeks, but for now, here’s where things went wrong against Portland.

Rising to the Occasion

Just not the one in the right uniform. Playoffs is where the biggest stars rise to top, put the team on their back and make the statement, “This is why I’m the star.” Sometimes, this is where a field player dazzles the world with their silky smooth skills. Other times, it’s a goalkeeper (Hello, Stefan Frei) who decides it’s time to stand on their head and deliver inhuman performance. Diego Valeri did just that, as the reigning league MVP and put Dallas and their fans out of their misery. However, by doing so, he also did it at the expense of Jesse Gonzalez. Gonzalez, instead of rising to the occasion, delivered a couple of key mistakes that ended FCD’s season.

First, was Valeri’s free kick - which to be fair, was wonderfully struck. However, Gonzalez misread the flight of the ball, got his footwork wrong and miss his chance for playoff glory.

You can see Gonzalez initially stutter steps to his right, before realizing the shot was headed in. Most keepers in this league couldn’t even make that stop in the first place, but given Gonzalez’ starting position and considering his frame and reach, that’s a save he could’ve made 9/10. Sadly, this was that one time.

Then, there was his decision to come off his line without making any contact with the ball that eventually buried Dallas, despite having a man advantage.

On one hand, Carlos Gruezo switched off here and failed to track with Valeri, on the other, Jesse should’ve never ventured forward like that when Reto Ziegler had the angle. It looks like Gonzalez misread the flight of the ball again, or that it took a softer bounce that he was anticipating. Either way, the end result was the same: wrong decision, goal conceded.

Gonzalez is still very young in terms of goalkeeper years. He still has the potential to be an elite goal stopper. How he learns and adjusts from these mistakes will determine the trajectory of his career. Despite the errors, I’m still banking that he’ll turn up good soon.

Offense Disappeared

The adage is that defense wins your championships. It’s a tried and bored trope that American broadcasters love to throw out there for the viewers, devoid of any actual analysis. At best, it’s lazy. At worst, it’s misinforming.

(To be clear, I didn’t hear this on the broadcast last night. So no shade being thrown to anyone. This is more a broad, general statement.)

Dallas ended the season on a four game losing skid, and were outscored 8-2 in the process. And despite an overwhelming shot advantage over the Timbers (22-5), it didn’t really look or feel like Dallas was going to get on the board, much less find an equalizer in this one.

One explanation was the Timbers did a solid job of shutting out Maximiliano Urruti as the teams’ #10.

Urruti was his usual active self, but once Dallas trailed and then eventually had the man advantage, the team needed someone who would carve out passes to stretch the Portland defense who was content to sit back and defend.

(Why didn’t Pablo Aranguiz make the 18 again?)

Urruti provided zero open play key passes, and managed just two shots in this contest. Urruti can play and has skills that Oscar Pareja can utilize. But the Timbers effectively exposed Maxi’s weakness as a true playmaker, and nullified Urruti’s industrious motor by forcing him into playing a game he wasn’t truly suited for.

The experiment was worth a look. It kept Urruti on the field, utilized his relentless energy and more importantly, it bought time (hopefully) for Aranguiz to get acclimated to the team and league. Here’s hoping that Pablo takes the #10 role starting today and gives this team the much needed playmaker that they needed last night.