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Scratching the Chalkboard: Mauro Diaz returns to starting lineup and dazzles

Super Mauro is back!

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been 19 months since this club has last seen Mauro Diaz at his very best. It’s been a long and frustrating process, waiting for Diaz to recover from his Achilles tear back in October 2016. Diaz shown glimpses of recovering his 2016 form, but yesterday’s performance was probably the most complete and most promising sign that Diaz is back to being Super Mauro.

It just takes one pass

Diaz and the entire FC Dallas team took a while to get going against the visiting LA Galaxy, but once Maximiliano Urruti smashed another long distance drive into the back of the net to open the scoring, the game opened up for Mauro to do Mauro things.

Diaz’ passing chart vs LA. (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass. Blue - assist.)

Diaz tied a team record three assists for the afternoon, and his second and third assists were precisely what this team has lacked in the final third in terms of unlocking defenses. (Though to be fair, LA’s defense is barely a step above traffic ones - more on that later.)

This through ball to Roland Lamah continues to confirm that he’s one of the very best in the league in playing that final pass. This keeps good defenses honest and will push more of them to back off, thus giving more room and space for Diaz to operate more.

But seriously, it’s rather embarrassing that professional players stop running and just resort to putting their arm up. It’s even more embarrassing when they should know by now that attackers will finish the play thanks to VAR. If the attacker scores and is incorrectly called offside, VAR will properly credit the goal. Attackers know to finish the play off. Defenders (good ones at least, or ones that are properly coached) will also finish the play too.

And to finally summarize just how bad LA’s defense is....

Ashley Cole is a pretty decent fullback at getting forward but he’s starting to near Pirlo levels in terms of committing to defending. Not that had he tried would he had stopped making an embarrassment of himself as Diaz feints tend to make everyone look foolish.

Don’t man mark him like you’re an overage rec league player

One of the more interesting things to watch is seeing how teams react to Mauro Diaz in the midfield. LA’s head coach, Sigi Schmid, opted for an old tactic of his back during his Seattle days: man mark him. Sigi had Ozzie Alonso to do the dirty work, and tried to recapture that magic with Perry Kitchen.

I’ll just let this tweet sum that up:

Kitchen went out there with one job in mind: rough up Diaz to throw him off his game. Diaz has been in this league for five years now and that tactic has never worked. Yes, it’ll disrupt the flow of game and slow things down, but it doesn’t provide any kind of mental edge for your team. Just watch Diaz’ body language when he gets fouled - he just gets up and looks to restart quickly.

Kitchen’s defensive and fouls chart

Here’s Kitchen fouling Diaz the first time. Watch his hands as he closes down Diaz twice.

Here’s Kitchen’s second foul, where he goes Joey Barton on Carlos Gruezo after a horrid first touch and tries to compensate with a rash challenge.

Finally, for his last act Kitchen continues to get all handsy with Diaz that makes you wonder if Mauro’s about to join the #MeToo movement.

The sad thing is Sigi is a better coach than this, and Kitchen is a much better player to be regulated to a goon. This kind of amateur, reckless play shouldn’t be anywhere near MLS, but Dallas fans won’t be complaining as it doesn’t do anything to slow down Diaz. In fact, it does the opposite and this silly man marking Diaz around the whole field just opens up space for everyone else; like Kellyn Acosta in this instance.

Welcome back Kellyn

Perhaps a little lost in all the Mauro excitement was the return of Kellyn Acosta to the starting lineup for the first time in 2018. Last year I had reservations about how this team would function with both Diaz and Acosta on the field together. Acosta was having his #YearOfKellyn for the first half of 2017, then things got weird and it didn’t look like Diaz and Acosta could share the field together.

Thanks to Sigi and Kitchen going Rec League on FC Dallas yesterday, Kitchen basically abandoned any kind of positional shape to chase Diaz around the field. Doing so vacated the midfield space which Kellyn gladly gobbled up and used it to link well with the rest of the team.

Dallas shouldn’t see another team so tactically poor the rest of the year, but I’m still keeping my eye out and seeing if Diaz and Acosta and coexist on the field together or not.

One last thing....

I know Maynor can hit a vicious free kick, but this is a pretty poor showing of making yourself big to help your goalie out when you let the shot go through the wall. Not to mention how silly Servando Carrasco looked vacating his spot to charge Maynor like he’s playing special teams and trying to block a field goal. Wrong football there Servando.