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Scratching the Chalkboard: Does FC Dallas finally have their “closer”

What role will Aguilar play?

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

In 2016, Fernando Clavijo and Oscar Pareja did one of the most underrated off-season moves in this franchise’s history by signing Mauro Rosales. Rosales was certainly at his peak MLS form during his Seattle days, and while he was on the decline by the time he arrived in Dallas, Pareja knew exactly what he wanted to get out of a player of his experience and decorated career: Close games out.

In soccer, a “closer” is technically not a real position but it has a purpose and a role on every team, provided its used correctly. Sometimes, it’s simply to carry out the final 15 minutes or so and protect a nefarious 1-0 lead. Other times, it’s to just get a game over with when you’re down 4-0 and you just need to get out of there without any further damage to the scoreboard or sustain any injuries. It’s not a very glamorous role, but something that Pareja has found a great use for in his tactical arsenal that led to the historic double winning 2016 season.

In 2017 the club tried to give that role to Javier Morales, who seemed at the time, to have the right pedigree for the job. For whatever reason that never clicked with Morales and eventually Victor Ulloa settled into that position for this team.

This year, Ulloa continued his role as the team’s “closer” and entered the game whenever Pareja felt the team needed to be settled down. That role changed immediately when Kellyn Acosta was traded to the Colorado Rapids and Ulloa was re-inserted as a starter again. While Ulloa continues to perform well in whatever role he’s been tasked with, because he started games, FC Dallas lost their “closer” for this year.

That is until Abel Aguilar was signed.

New Closer?

It’s only been one game, and just 13 minutes of action but with the what Aguilar brings to the table - a wealth of experience, a decorated playing career, a solid passing game and World Cup experience, it’s easy to see how Aguilar’s role for 2018 is to be this team’s “closer”.

Here are some chalkboards from Rosales back in 2016 when he came off the bench for FCD.

Rosales vs DC passing chart (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

Dallas won this game 3-0 and Rosales entered the match at the 74th minute. His role was simple: just finish the game without giving up a goal.

Rosales vs POR passing chart (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

This one, Dallas won more narrowly 2-1. Rosales entered the game at the 63rd minute, just a few minutes after Dallas scored in the 55th and 57th minute to take the lead. There was a lot of energy in this one and Portland still could’ve gotten a result, so Rosales had a bit more to do and would have to work on shepherding the team to close out a close game.

Again, it’s just one game and just 13 minutes, but given the construction of this team’s roster and how well Ulloa and Carlos Gruezo have partnered in the middle together, it just makes sense for Aguilar to take on that role for the team.

Aguilar’s passing chart vs HOU (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

Against Houston, Aguilar was nearly perfect with his passing as he calmly ushered the ball out to the wings and away from danger. Defensively, he had his moments too, especially since he entered the game just moments after Houston converted a penalty to make it 4-2.

Again, not a lot but but that’s precisely how you want a defensive mid’s chart to look when protecting a two goal lead.

Dallas struck gold in 2016 with Rosales and struggled in 2017 with Morales in the role. With Aguilar, it looks like the closer role is now his for the time being. And only time will tell if he can elevate this team back to their trophy winning days of 2016.