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What we learned against the Philadelphia Union: Oscar Pareja’s changes pay off

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Dallas’ new personnel and formation make the difference.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I’m excited about this game for a couple of reasons. First and most importantly, I finally picked up some much needed points on the match prediction standings. Secondly, that was the most exciting FCD team I’ve seen in almost a year.

Oscar Pareja gets it right

Papi has received criticism in the past for not mixing up the lineups when things felt a little stale. Despite being undefeated, he decided to make changes against Philadelphia to great effect.

He said post-game:

The plan was just to allow Philadelphia to have the ball in the middle. We knew that we could hurt them on the counter-attack. We knew we could use the space that they would give us, exposing their fullbacks and going that high. We had four forwards in the lineup that could get in-behind. That is where we created our chances.

I love it. Pareja created a well-functioning and dangerous team without Mauro Diaz, which I previously thought could not be done. If you had told me that Dallas created chances by getting in behind the backline and Diaz wasn’t involved, I wouldn’t have believed you. Pareja has managed to solve Dallas’ biggest problem, reliance on Diaz to create opportunties, by finding a mix of personnel that complement each other.

Roland Lamah and Santiago Mosquera interchanged fluidly and were both able to create opportunities for themselves and their teammates. Michael Barrios and Reggie Cannon had options to cross to. This game felt like someone had read my personal wishlist of things for Dallas to try and it was delightful to see.

Jimmy Maurer is the man

I used to be in the camp that thought Maurer was just keeping the goalkeeper spot warm while Jesse Gonzalez recovered. I couldn’t see why so many people were comfortable benching our future-national-team, homegrown, 22-year-old goalie for someone who had spent most of their career in NASL. Until the double save.

As much as I had been trying to deny it, that saved forced me to come to terms with Maurer being a very good goalkeeper. I kept hearing the announcers throw around numbers about our defense being one of the best in MLS, while last week I would have argued that those stats flattered us, it’s hard to look at the numbers and say otherwise at this point. And a lot of that credit has to go to Maurer who has made a handful of highlight reel saves to solidify his spot ahead of Gonzalez.

My favorite stat that shows how solid this defense is: FC Dallas (3) have conceded half the number of goals that the team with the next fewest has (NYCFC-6).

Late game

While Dallas had most of the opportunties and applied constant pressure, they still haven’t mastered closing teams out. Dallas makes sloppy mistakes and lets their opponents back into games, and until that tendency changes, I’ll never be wholly confident.

Creating opportunities doesn’t win games, finishing them does. While I enjoy watching Dallas look dangerous on the attack, if they attack well for 60 minutes and make one mistake defending, they could easily be down 1-0. Part of this is just the nature of soccer, but big mistakes have been a part of Dallas’ identity for a while now. If they can show more killer instinct and choke out teams late, then I’ll argue they’re one of the best in the West.

I love Urruti on the bench because his work rate and threat on the counter attack stops opponents from committing too many players forward. Diaz is also capable of orchestrating a one-pass attack to keep the other team on their toes. Hopefully, Dallas’ recent change in formation and personnel can fix their late game woes.