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Scratching the Chalkboard: It’s a Homegrown Party

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Gonzalez trusts the kids and is rewarded with a three point party

MLS: FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Another game, another starting line up featuring five homegrowns. That’s the fifth time in club history that many homegrowns have started a match, and the first time that it’s happened in consecutive games. At this rate, starting five HGPs will no longer be news and we’ll be at the point of “When are we starting 11 homegrowns?”

These types of games are pretty difficult to unpack and analyze. Such an early goal from Carlos Gruezo (third fastest in FC Dallas history) at the 45 second mark, an 11th minute injury to Real Salt Lake defender Erik Holt, and a foolish 17th minute red card for Damir Kreilach really impacted the game state and how things played out. But so is soccer, and sometimes the soccer gods look down unfavorably to one side and decides to heap the other with gifts.

Pinning the Left

Before the red card to Kreilach (yes, Gruezo sold the head butt but everyone knows if you put your head against your opponent regardless of force, it’s a straight red), Dallas had identified Brooks Lennon as the weak link for RSL and wanted to press and pin RSL back on the left side.

FCD defense chart in the opening 17 minutes (Orange - recovery. Green - successful tackle. Blue - interception. Purple - clearance.)
FCD passing chart in the opening 17 minutes (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

It was that press on the left that led to the opening goal.

The goal came from a combination of Lennon making a poor decision with his first touch and Dallas taking advantage by pressing together as one unit.

Nick Rimando does the only thing he can do here and play the ball to Lennon (boxed in yellow). Dallas pressed with five players in this shot. Edwin Cerrillo is about 5-7 yards behind Gruezo (box 4). Rimando opts to bypass half of FCD’s field players in one pass.

Rather than touch the ball up the sideline, Lennon opts to kill Rimando’s pass and turn his hips open to the field. Unfortunately, that touch put the Dallas midfield back in play as you can see Pablo Aranguiz has now covered Lennon and is working his way to take away the back pass. Paxton Pomykal has taken the inside, and Cerrillo has passed off his mark to Pomykal and is taking away the passing lane to the strikers.

Lennon does what he can do and side steps Aranguiz’s challenge. He couldn’t turn up field in the frame above as the ball and his hips were facing the wrong direction. Ryan Hollingshead (blue box) had stepped to cover Saucedo and eliminated that as a passing option. Now Lennon has three passing options:

  1. Drop the ball back
  2. Play it to Erik holt
  3. But you can see Gruezo is already inching up to pick off that pass

So that’s left with the final option and slide it up field (yellow arrow). Lennon had a really bad touch here and placed the ball too casually forward which Pomykal read and intercepted rather easily and started the whole sequence that led to the opening goal.

Had Lennon opened his hips towards the touch line and touched the ball up the field instead, none of this would’ve happened. Was it just one off and a bad read by Lennon or something Luchi Gonzalez identified from watching tape? Unsure, but my hunch says it’s probably a combination of both with the way Dallas kept pressuring Lennon in the opening quarter.

Pomykal can ball

I wrote after the second game this season against LA Galaxy that the season depends entirely on Pomykal. There was some trepidation about that, putting that much expectation on a 19 year old on his first season as a starter. But as we’ve seen from the last four games, this team’s system is designed for Pomykal to thrive in.

As Kristan pointed out above, Pomykal’s versatility to play on both sides of the ball is highlighted because of the way Gonzalez has set up the team’s press and usage of Pomykal when he has the ball. Dallas has not had an x-factor at this level since Fabian Castillo left in the summer of 2016, and Gonzalez is making sure that his homegrown gets to shine.

While positionally and style of play are completely different, the end result is the same between Castillo and Pomykal: with one or two touches, both players can eliminate a whole line of defenders and stretch the opponent out. Castillo did it with pure speed, and Pomykal does it with an elegant touch to get around his opponents.

Jesus is the answer

Admittedly, the bar is really low right now for Dallas strikers but Jesus Ferreira is making a strong case to be the starting striker for the rest of the season. His goal and couple of assists certainly helps with the argument but it’s his overall movement and ability to combine well with his teammates that’s just working right now.

In the same way that Gonzalez has set up Pomykal for success under this system, he’s doing the same thing with Ferreira and by asking his homegrown striker to occupy defenders, draw them out with his movement and use his vision to create opportunities for his teammates.

That opening goal was initially set up by Ferreira pressing Rimando into a hurried pass. Eventually the ball found his feet, and he very calmly laid a perfectly weight ball over to a streaking Michael Barrios.

Should Ferreira found the ball a bit more given the team was up a man since the 17th minute? Sure. But for now, all signs point to that Jesus is the answer as the striker for Dallas. (That is unless Ricardo Pepi has something to say about that.)