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Scratching the Chalkboard: Offense Flies

We finally see why Badji is such a great fit for this team

MLS: Houston Dynamo at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Despite giving up two goals, FC Dallas finally delivered a complete performance since... actually this 4-2 win may have been their best showing of the year. It took a wonder goal and a phantom penalty call to put two goals up on Dallas and while FCD did score four of their own, it certainly felt like this team could’ve put 6 or even 7 on Houston. This is a good sign to see a team respond after a series of embarrassing showings against San Jose (a team that was already eliminated from making the playoffs).

Complete Starts from the Back

Reinserting Jesse Gonzalez and Reto Ziegler proved to be huge as their presence stabilized the defense. Both seemed to have learned quite a bit from not traveling with the team to San Jose and observed what this squad needed to get the points.

With the spine of the defense intact, it seemed to bring out the best in Marquinhos Pedroso and Reggie Cannon over the weekend. We’ve talked about how desperately this team needed more balance after 2017 and how getting someone to offer a small dimension to the attack from the leftback was necessary. Anton Nedyalkov did well to start the season, but to our surprise, Pedroso has fit into the squad even better than Anton. Pedroso has gotten forward adequately to provide balance for Reggie Cannon, and has been solid defensively.

Cannon and Pedroso passing chart (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)
Cannon and Pedroso’s defensive chart (Orange - recovery. Green - successful tackle. Blue - interception. Purple - clearance.)

Having this kind of symmetry puts defenses on alert, unsure where the attack might be coming from. When the attack is balanced, it enables the midfield to control the game better, knowing they have outlets on both wings.

The Wings are So Hot Right Now

Speaking of wings, this team is enjoying stellar play from Michael Barrios and Santiago Mosquera at the moment. Both combined for three of the team’s four goals against Houston, and Mikey is on a tear of seven games with a goal or an assist.

Barrios and Mosquera’s passing chart (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

It’s not just the end product, though getting goals and setting them up is certainly helping, but it’s the way Mosquera and Barrios are working for and with Domique Badji and Maximiliano Urruti.

The opening goal is a prime example of their movement as an attacking unit. Urruti plays a clever through ball on his first touch that sends Barrios through on goal. My favorite is then watching Badji crash the face of goal, and Santi taking one step towards goal before flaring out to provide support and not overcrowding Badji’s run. I actually think Barrios was trying to cross the ball to Badji, but a goal is a goal.

Here’s another example of the front four working well together. Barrios is on the ball, Maxi gives him a square option, but Mikey finds Badji instead who again, does a first time touch to play Barrios through. Santi has moved to overlap the right side with Barrios, and receives a drop which he drives a low effort towards goal. Look where Urruti is and his movement. Though he doesn’t get a touch during this sequence, he’s moving in unison with his teammates. And Badji is right where he’s supposed to be, in front of goal looking to poach.

When Badji keeps crashing the face of goal, he drags at least one defender with him and creates huge amounts of space for Urruti, Mosquera and Barrios to exploit. It’s quite beautiful to watch and it gives someone like Pablo Aranguiz more time to figure out where his best contribution will be. This is what I imagined Oscar Pareja and Fernando Clavijo had in mind when they shipped Kellyn Acosta to Colorado for Badji - beautiful, fast, free flowing attacking soccer.

This is the level that this team should be playing at. Playing like this for a full 90 isn’t realistic, but this team is certainly capable of doing it for large stretches at a time during any game. What remains to be seen is whether they will do it consistently the rest of the season.