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Scratching the Chalkboard: Team Identity Established

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It wasn’t pretty, but FC Dallas is finding their identity

MLS: Colorado Rapids at FC Dallas Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

It was a wet and slippery afternoon for FC Dallas on Saturday as the Colorado Rapids made life difficult for Luchi Gonzalez and his army of Homegrowns (Dallas tied their own record by starting five Homegrowns, with two more on the bench). With absences to Bryan Acosta and Carlos Gruezo to international duty, and the team misfiring simple tap ins in front of goal, and the slick field that the players were on, the conditions were ripe for Dallas to slide down the standings by dropping some points.

Instead of the letting the dreary weather dictate the mood for the day, a combination of tactics, identity, youth and veteran leadership pushed Dallas over the clouds to a sunny three point party.

FC Dallas has their identity

As soon as Pablo Aranguiz was inserted into the starting lineup, I started to wonder what kind of adjustments Luchi Gonzalez would make to the formation and tactics for this one. Instead, it became evident that while the front three were more active in their movement knowing they had a #10 who could thread a pass to them from anywhere, the expectations of Aranguiz was that he had to play both sides of the ball.

Aranguiz defensive actions vs COL (Orange - recovery. Green - successful tackle. Blue - interception. Purple - clearance. Red - unsuccessful tackle.)

Aranguiz didn’t get stuck in on many defensive situations, but he hustled and did full on sprints to help recover for teammates caught out of position on numerous occasions. Those sprints ended up securing the space and deterred the Rapids’ attack from catching Dallas with numbers forward. Those kinds of plays don’t show up on the stat sheet, but do not go unnoticed to the coaching staff. But if you’re going to play for Luchi and his system, he’ll put you in situations to succeed and utilize your best strengths but you need to show commitment and willingness to be part of the team too.

Aranguiz passing chart vs COL (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

But it’s not just plug and play style of coaching or inserting moving pieces that’s being done here. Part of the team’s new identity is also the expectations for each player. You’re 18 and just signed your first professional contract six weeks ago? Well, here’s your chance to play like a World Cup veteran.

Cerrillo passing chart vs COL (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

Edwin Cerrillo made his first MLS start, in place of Carlos Gruezo - no small task. Cerrillo did his part by dropping between centerbacks Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler when in possession and was the starting point for Dallas’ possession.

On the ball, Cerrillo did just fine as you can see from his passing chart. He helped facilitate the offense and kept possession moving. When he slid in between Hedges and Ziegler, it allowed for both fullbacks Ryan Hollingshead and Reggie Cannon to push forward into the midfield. Defensively though, Cerrillo had a rougher going as he mistimed several of his tackles.

Cerrillo defensive chart vs COL (Orange - recovery. Green - successful tackle. Blue - interception. Purple - clearance. Red - unsuccessful tackle.)

Cerrillo won’t be taking Gruezo’s starting spot any time soon, but the culture and idea is firmly embedded now with all the players: You play at the level of the guy ahead of you on the depth chart and you will get your chances to showcase that you belong.

Uncomfortable preseason paid off

Remember during preseason when Gonzalez stated that he wanted his players to be “uncomfortable”? Well all that work paid dividends yesterday as Dallas found themselves on a slick surface, not having anywhere near the amount of possession they wanted, were getting pinned inside their half during the final 45 minutes, and found themselves tied 1-1 with ~20 minutes to go at home. This was an uncomfortable situation and everyone responded.

I jokingly imagined what it would look like if Dallas went with a 17, 18 and 19 year old to make up their midfield earlier this week:

With three points on the line, I did not expect to see that come to fruition but clearly Luchi and I were on the same thinking wavelength here when he opted just for that to see the game to the end.

And here’s how said 17 year old, Thomas Roberts responded just two minutes into his MLS debut.

It’s a little hard to see and notice, but Roberts moves and freezes two Colorado defenders with a couple of head fakes to open a passing lane to slide the ball to Zdenek Ondrasek. Instead of panicking in a pressured situation, Roberts very calmly composed himself on the ball to create the chance for his team to score the decisive goal.

Certainly not the easiest of situations to make your MLS debut (which was the same for the Cobra), but how this team adapted to the uncomfortable circumstances made Luchi very proud of his guys.

Don’t forget the “old guys”

I’m as excited as the next guy about all the Homegrowns getting their starts and making an impact, but let’s not look past the goal scorers in this one either as Michael Barrios and Ryan Hollingshead came in clutch when they needed to.

Barrios’ offensive touches vs COL (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

Barrios’ charts are harder to gauge as they don’t tell the full story, but he took his goal well and placed it just inside the near post past the outstretched arms of Tim Howard. He wasn’t very accurate inside the final third, but his relentless running and his four fouls suffered put Dallas in advantageous positions to get the win.

Finally, the game winner and the Man of the Match, Hollingshead quietly dominated this game and fittingly rolled a shot into an empty net to secure the points.

Hollingshead touches vs COL (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass. Orange triangle - recovery. Green triangle - successful tackle. Blue triangle - interception. Purple triangle - clearance.)

Hollingshead was tied for the most shot attempts (3) for both teams, led the team in recoveries (12) and had two successful tackles high up in the attacking half. His utilitarian skills are incredibly beneficial for the team, but it’s also his ability to read the game and find spaces that also makes him incredibly valuable for this team. It wasn’t an accident that Hollingshead was wide open inside the penalty area for the game winner. He knows better than anyone on this team when to get forward and where the pockets of spaces are where the ball will end up.

Though not exactly how they wanted to play, or how they wanted to get the win, a win is a win. Now, #LuchiGang can be very excited about getting a positive result next weekend when they visit Real Salt Lake based on his performance.