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What we learned against LA Galaxy: Is FC Dallas the best in the west?

Ryan Hollingshead fills in well at left back as Dallas take another three points on the road

MLS: FC Dallas at Los Angeles Galaxy Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas got its second straight road win when it beat the LA Galaxy Wednesday night. Ryan Hollingshead, Cristian Colman, and Carlos Gruezo all scored for FCD.

Western Conference contenders?

The win moves Dallas into second in the Western Conference. Dallas are now just two points behind Sporting Kansas City with a game in hand, giving Dallas the opportunity to move into first in the West with another win this weekend.

Don’t get too excited over Dallas’ early season successes. Remember that there is no reward for being atop the table any day other than the last day of the season. In 2017, Dallas looked like early favorites to win the Western conference, but walked away at the end of the season with nothing to show for it.

So what do you make of this Dallas team? They’ve struggled to defend a lead, but there isn’t much else you can say about them to knock them. They have one of the best defenses in the league and have showed that they have a few different ways that they can attack. While I would chalk up Dallas’ favorable table position to the rest of the Western Conference being poor, it’s hard to not at least be a little optimistic about this team. They’ve been able to grind out results and only have one loss this season.

The playoff format rewards teams with the highest ceiling. You don’t have to be consistently good all year as long as you get hot at the end of the season and sneak your way into the playoffs. Once you get there, anything can happen. And Dallas is looking like a team with a high ceiling. Mauro Diaz has been promising when he’s played, but Dallas are no longer dependent upon him for creating chances. All signs for Dallas being a contender are there, they just need to avoid any major injuries or any kind of locker room drama.

Ryan, take a bow

There are a few players on the roster that are easiest to single out for not being good enough. Tesho Akindele is a common target, but Hollingshead can be difficult to watch as well. Most fans are happy to keep Ryan around because of his versatility, but there seems to be a common feeling that he isn’t the type of player that Dallas need in the future. Ultimately, Ryan is an expendable, cheap, American player that fills the roster and offers some depth, but this game proved that he may be more.

Not only did Hollingshead bag a goal and an assist this game, but he worked well up and down the left wing and hinted that he may have something to contribute to the team beyond a solely depth role.

Hollingshead’s map of defensive actions (green- tackles won, gold- defensive blocks, blue- interceptions, yellow- recoveries)

If Anton Nedyalkov wasn’t one of the team’s best players this year, I think we would have a bit of a left back controversy after that showing. Fortunately for Hollingshead, he should have plenty of time to audition for the left back spot as Nedyalkov recovers from his collarbone injury.

The struggle to protect a lead continues

While it’s difficult for any team to protect a lead against LA Galaxy because Zlatan Ibrahimovic is so good in the air that they seem to be able to create chances out of nothing, Dallas giving up two goals in the second half was a continuation of a worrying trend. After a second straight road win, I’m more inclined to say who cares if we can protect a lead as long as we keep getting up big early, but it’s hard to lay any concerns about Dallas’ ability to close out games to bed.

Most of the problem is from lack of organization in the back, but I’m optimistic that Dallas can improve in that aspect. Jesse is a vocal goalie and perhaps he can improve that. The return of Hedges will certainly help, and you can’t forget that Ziegler is still finding his feet with Dallas.

The only change I wouldn’t mind Dallas making is to continue experimenting with personnel combinations in the midfield. I think there exists a perfect combination of three midfielders for Dallas that can choke opponents out of games. Whether that’s technically gifted guys like Kellyn Acosta and Jacori Hayes to maintain possession and soak up pressure, or hack and slash guys like Ulloa and Gruezo, is still up for debate. Oscar Pareja has been pretty good about experimenting thus far this season, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue mixing up the midfield to find the right guys to help us hold a lead.