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Scratching the Chalkboard: Mauro Diaz on the left really works for FC Dallas

Pareja has figured out how to keep Diaz on the field without sacrificing the defensive shape.

MLS: Montreal Impact at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas sprinted to a quick 2-0 lead, courtesy of Montreal’s defense.... well, doing Montreal defensive things. After securing the two goal lead by the 18th minute, Dallas found themselves a little unlucky to add 2-3 more, but quietly did the job professionally to make it four league wins in a row.

Oscar’s Figured Out the Roster

The age old question for years now, is what does this team do with Mauro Diaz? He’s too talented to be left off the 18, but his strengths doesn’t always line up tactically with the rest of the team at times. During this four match winning streak, Pareja has experimented with a 4-3-3, and has placed Diaz out left as a faux-winger.

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

Diaz can and should either drift or cut towards the middle, which creates space for Ryan Hollingshead to do what he does best, overlap from the full back position. This kind of movement creates a lot of chaos for defenses as they’re unsure whether to close down Diaz or stay in their lanes. Either way, when the defender has to think for a split second on what to do, it creates enough time for Diaz to exploit you.

Credit to Pareja for figuring out another way to keep Diaz on the field, without sacrificing the core or spine of this team.

Better Game Management

My critique against this team was how they played right into the hands of San Antonio on Wednesday and Dallas opened themselves up to be hit on the counter. Dallas is at their best when they’re the ones running and playing direct with Diaz leading the break.

From about the 30th to the 40th minute, Montreal started to drop deeper and did the same thing San Antonio did and invited Dallas forward and the Impact would try to hit on the counter. The result worked well for Montreal as you can see from their shot chart below.

These were Montreal’s best chances, and came largely from Dallas being pulled out of defensive position. Once Dallas realized what was happening, they started to drop and let Montreal have possession and they would be the ones to attack on the run.

It’s not the prettiest and can be frustrating to watch your team seemingly chase at home, but you certainly cannot argue with the results and at the time of this writing, Dallas sits atop of the Western Conference standings and just a point within Supporter’s Shield leaders, Atlanta United.

Balanced Fullback Play

2017 was problematic for Dallas, in many ways, but one in particular was the lack of variety to their attacking style of play. It was always go down the right channel with Michael Barrios and Hernan Grana. Not that Dallas had another options as Diaz was out injured for a large chunk of the season and Maynor Figueroa isn’t an overlapping fullback by any stretch. But that element of predictability, didn’t give the team much nuance when they attacked. That is no longer the case as Pareja has solid fullback options on both sides now.

Hollingshead and Cannon’s passing chart vs MTL. (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

Ryan Hollingshead and Reggie Cannon, though playing on opposite sides of the field, found a nice balance and complemented one another really well. When it wasn’t on, on one side of the field, the other would have a chance. The ability to attack from the left, the right and even the middle gives this team a more balanced look that they haven’t had since 2016. Then there’s injured Anton Nedyalkov who can also get forward on the left too, and with Cannon developing and progressing into a potential national team player, the options going forward and stretching the field look incredibly promising for the rest of the season.