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Scratching the Chalkboard: Does FC Dallas have an identity issue?

What exactly is this team’s identity and how to fix it.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It took a last gasp equalizer courtesy of Cristian Colman to salvage a point for the home side, but the teams’ struggles to generate any kind of offense continues to leave the fan base restless.

Chance creation continues to be a problem

Outside of having a man advantage for more than half a game, FC Dallas have not managed to score more than one goal when playing 11v11 so far this campaign. One of the primary reasons for this has been the team’s inability to create quality chances from the field.

FCD v COL Shot Chart. (Green - shot on target. Red - shot off target. Yellow - shot blocked)

The volume of shots was decent for this one (17), but the quality was certainly lacking. You’ll find six of those attempts were coming from the 25-30 yard range, with just one from Jacori Hayes forcing a save from Tim Howard.

Credit to Colorado’s defense for frustrating the Dallas attack into launching these hopeful attempts. But it points to a larger issue that teams have figured out the Dallas attack and can force FCD into impatient attempts by ceding possession and keeping FCD players in front of them the whole time.

Which brings me to my next point:

What is this team?

Is this a possession oriented team, committed to bringing the ball out from the back? Is this a counter-attacking squad? So far FCD have been sitting in the awkward in between setting without much of an identity. The last time this team looked without knowing who they were was 2013, during Schellas Hyndman’s last season in charge.

In 2018, FCD have averaged nearly 58% of possession, put up nearly 17 shots per game... and it is not working. Only 33% of those 17 shots are finding their way on target. This semi-possession oriented team isn’t working.

It’s time to shift tactics and possibly even formation. Dallas can still run their 4-2-3-1 scheme, but will need to be more patient and purposefully sit deeper to draw the opposition higher up the field. This will create space behind the opposition defense to give the likes of Michael Barrios, Maximiliano Urruti and Roland Lamah a bit more space to run in behind. It’s that kind of space that allows Mauro Diaz to shine, as he’s the king of playing that killer through ball. But he can’t play that ball when the spaces are tight and nobody has room to run.

The other option is going back to the 4-4-2 and pairing Diaz with either Hayes or Carlos Gruezo in the middle. This shift will create a disadvantage defensively in the midfield, but Dallas can try to balance it by leveraging one of Urruti’s strengths: his defensive work rate.

Urruti’s defensive actions vs POR. (Orange - recovery. Green - successful tackle. Blue - interception. Purple - clearance.)

Urruti already enjoys dropping into the midfield to collect the ball or disrupt the opposition, but that kind of work leaves nobody occupying a central defender. By vacating his spot, Dallas has no one to stretch the defense and suddenly, all 10 FCD field players are contained by just 6-7 players from the opposition.

The 4-4-2 will also play to Colman’s strengths too, as he likes to sit on the shoulder of the defense and create havoc with his off ball movement to create scoring opportunities. Colman has the speed to stretch defenses and to keep them honest, and the tactical discipline to not drop too far deep into the midfield to clog the spaces.

Where’s the Home Advantage?

Four games. One win. FC Dallas have not started a season this slowly since 2012 when they began the season also with just one win through the first four, albeit in 2012 they also had two losses at this point as well. FC Dallas have historically been fast starters during the opening months of the season under Oscar Pareja - usually catapulting themselves into first place after four games. In fact, here’s how aggressive the team has started by year through four games.

2014: 10 points

2015: 10 points

2016: 9 points

2017: 10 points

FCD is currently averaging 1.5 points per game at home, which is below the league average of 1.85. Given how difficult road matches are in this league, that number has to change if this team looks to make it back into the playoffs by October.

If there’s any consolation to take away from this, the last time Dallas started four home matches with a 1-0-3 record? 2010 - the same and only year that this team made it to the MLS Cup Finals and the last time an FCD player won the MVP award. Perhaps a historic season is in the works?