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Scratching the Chalkboard: Mighty Makeshift Midfield

Riddled with absences, Jacori Hayes and Ryan Hollingshead proved their utility

MLS: FC Dallas at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Facing an array of injuries and international absences — especially in the midfield — Luchi Gonzalez turned to two of his more consistent players Saturday in San Jose and they each proved their worth in a game built specifically for them.

The game, like most against the Earthquakes, was incredibly strange — especially considering FC Dallas was gifted an opening goal we can safely assume will never be topped. That being said, leaving the Bay Area with a point seemed fair, especially after San Jose had all the momentum and attacking chances for the first 15 minutes of the second half, where they took a 2-1 advantage.

You can point to several areas of the pitch where FC Dallas — all things considered — braved the storm. But because of how badly Luchi’s options were limited in the midfield, I’m looking at the performances of Ryan Hollingshead and Jacori Hayes in the draw.

New Position, No Problem

Coming as a surprise to absolutely no one, Ryan Hollingshead yet again displayed his on-field flexibility as he made the start as a defensive midfielder, the first of his career in that position according to FCD’s Carter Baum.

The way in which Hollingshead excelled in his new role over the weekend might not be all that shocking, considering the position combines his vast experience as a defender with some on-ball and distributive ability that he also possesses from his time as a winger.

Ryan Hollingshead’s Passing Chart vs. San Jose

While completing 28 of 36 passes isn’t anything special, it’s the vast area of the field Ryan occupied that’s the important takeaway. His 63 touches were third-most on the team, only behind FCD’s two center backs, which you’d always expect to top that category in Gonzalez’s system.

Ryan Hollingshead’s Touches vs. San Jose

Without midfielders with more defined skillsets, Ryan and Jacori had to combine to share the roles that midfield mainstays Carlos Gruezo and Paxton Pomykal normally fill. Ryan, obviously, was tasked with more of the defensive side of things — and he performed exceedingly well.

In an effort I think Gruezo would be proud of, Hollingshead amassed three tackles, two interceptions, five clearances and seven recoveries. All of this came from a guy who still got forward plenty to give the offense a bit of energy in the attack he often provides, no matter where he’s lined up.

It’s simply another workman-like performance from Ryan Hollingshead, and when you’re depleted like FC Dallas has and will be over the course of the next month, performances like this will only stand out more and become increasingly vital.

Play Jacori and You Won’t Be Sorr-y

While my puns are worse than Jason’s, I truly believe this sentiment as Hayes is quickly becoming one of my favorite players on this team. He’s really consistent for just his second year as a regular player and provides much needed two-way abilities in the midfield, especially in a lineup with no true attacking midfielder.

He finds himself in good spaces and, usually, makes smart decisions — like laying the ball of to his teammate, Francis Atuahene, instead of trying to fight off the defender and risk losing possession and the budding attack. His efforts are rewarded with an assist, his second of the year, that tied the game.

Jacori Hayes finds Atuahene for a game-tying goal

Hayes is an intelligent on-ball player — proven by his smart distribution to the tune of 37 completed passes out of 45, good for an 83 percent passing rate. But even better, he’s committed to following a directive for all of Luchi’s players: being able to contribute on both sides of the ball.

Jacori Hayes’ defensive map vs. San Jose

Two interceptions, a tackle and nine recoveries aren’t the numbers of a defensive stalwart, but that’s not how Hayes is geared to play and with Hollingshead providing defensive cover from the midfield, this is the defensive work all you should want from someone like Hayes.

Jacori Hayes heat map vs. San Jose

Hayes consistently occupied the middle of the pitch, as well as overlapping and coming out to the right wing when needed to give support to Michael Barrios. Saturday was Hayes’ sixth-straight appearance, five being starts, and that’s the longest such streak since the beginning of the 2018 season. Similar to the case with Hollingshead, on a team with such an in-flux roster, players with lower ceilings but equally higher floors like Jacori are vital to a young team and coach.

Saturday wasn’t the most attractive match, nor will it be one Luchi’s squad will look to as a template, but individual performances like those of Hollingshead’s and Hayes’ — ones which a boxscore won’t do justice — are what get you through rough stretches and help propel you (hopefully) to brighter months ahead. Continue to look for more moments like these from FCD’s more reliable players as international absences continue on.