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What we learned against the Vancouver Whitecaps: The struggle continues

Can Badji turn himself into Roland Lamah? Does Dallas miss Cerrillo as much as Pomykal? What good is possession really?

MLS: FC Dallas at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas continued to struggle against the Vancouver Whitecaps. While Dallas had their fair share of chances, poor finishing let them down. As the summer drags on, Dallas desperately need to right their ship if they’re going to continue to compete for a playoff spot.

Barrios to Badji

One of last season’s premier partnerships was Michael Barrios to Roland Lamah. Having a left winger that could drift into the box and unexpectedly pop up between the full back and center back gave Barrios more options to cross to (especially when Maxi wasn’t in the box or was running around dragging defenders out of position). But with Lamah’s departure, Dallas’ left wing play has taken on a very different style— one more dependent upon the individual personnel playing there. But, if Dominque Badji can do his best Lamah impression, then he may be able to find a living on the left wing.

They have somewhat different skill sets. Lamah had a bit of veteran seasoning and technical ability that Badji can struggle with at times, but Badji’s physical tools can make him a major mismatch against unsuspecting fullbacks.

If there was any bright spot in this game, it’s that Dallas may have finally found their number 11.

Cerrillo or Pomykal?

The absences of Edwin Cerrillo and Paxton Pomykal have been hard felt over the last month. Dallas have picked up two points in their last six played making them the coldest team in MLS.

Things have generally fallen apart for Dallas. At the beginning of this run, the defense was able to hold strong and it was the offense that let the team down. Now, the whole thing is a mess.

How did a this team become so dependent on young players so quickly? It’s not because they’re particularly excellent players, it’s because of their execution of their roles. Dallas doesn’t have an attacking midfielder with the work rate of Paxton. Pablo Aranguiz fails to pop into pockets of space necessary to connect the attack and the midfield. As a 10, he’s used to having the ball delivered to him. But if you can cut off the attack from the midfield effectively, as teams have been doing to Dallas, then Aranguiz can’t be dangerous (not like he is dangerous when he’s on the ball anyway). Paxton, as a hybrid 8-10 can connect the attack and the midfield while also providing killer balls himself. In Dallas’ often asymmetrical and awkward three man midfield combination, he balances out the offensive and defensive production by doing much of the leg work.

Cerrillo’s role is similar. As a proto-Gruezo (he’s kind of just baby Gruezo at this point, he plays incredibly similarly to Carlos Gruezo when he first arrived), he frees up his midfield partners to be more aggressive and go forward. The current midfield paring of Jacori Hayes and Bryan Acosta isn’t sure about how to split up attacking and offensive duties. The pairing of Gruezo and Cerrillo had a defend first mentality which gave the team lots of stability in the midfield. Without either of those players, the midfield isn’t as well organized. The Hayes-Acosta partnership is porous defensively and ineffective going forward. Once Cerrillo (or Gruezo) returns, Dallas should at least have a more solid midfield.

Making it count

Dallas had the lion’s share of possession and out-shot Vancouver 20-7, but again it came to nothing. More important than a blind focus on possession is where that possession is. Unfortunately for Dallas, very little of it was in dangerous places.

Dallas’ rarely made passes from dangerous positions on top of the box
Dallas’ midfield and attacking starter’s passes (green- successful, red-unsuccessful, yellow- key pass)

Dallas aren’t getting the ball to the top of the box. Whether it’s by design or poor play from individual personnel (Aranguiz), the ball is not getting to where it needs to be. The most sustainable attacks come through the middle of the pitch. I love seeing Barrios take guys on out on the wing, but crossing doesn’t produce the same quality of opportunities that attacking through the middle does.

I’m sick of saying let’s wait for Paxton to come back for things to get better. He’s a great player, but hardly a savior. Dallas need some major reconfiguring in the midfield to sort out how they can make their possession meaningful. Thus far, it feels like Luchi has failed to adapt. He’s been hamstrung by the departures of important players and injury woes, but it feels like he’s failing his first big test as a coach.

At what point are we willing to blame Luchi? Do we miss Paxton or Cerrillo more? Have you given up on Aranguiz? Do you believe that Badji can contribute from the left wing? Let me know in the comments.