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Scratching the Chalkboard: Gruezo & Acosta provide the stability

Sometimes just having your best players back makes all the difference

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

MLS is such a wild and unpredictable game where in a matter of one season, or one game or even between halves, you can see complete swings in how games are played out. After enduring their first winless May since 2014, FC Dallas desperately needed a win to snap themselves out of a funk. Yes, injuries and call ups have been brutally unkind to this team during this stretch but there are no consolation points. You still gotta find a way to get results.

Dallas finally caught a break when Carlos Gruezo returned from injury and had Bryan Acosta back too, before each of them take off for the Copa America and Gold Cup respectively for Colombia and Honduras. Even if it were short lived, Luchi knew how to utilize his best midfielders to anchor his team.

Double Pivot

We’ve talked about the triple pivot a bit when Luchi runs out the 4-3-3 with Gruezo, Acosta and Paxton Pomykal where each of the three midfielders basically rotated with one another to be the midfield engine. With Pomykal gone, and Thomas Roberts inserted into the starting lineup, Gonzalez still opted to run a three man midfield but gave the more defined responsibilities, especially for Gruezo and Acosta so not to overwhelm Roberts in his first start in the middle.

Acosta-Gruezo passing chart vs SEA

When the game is simple, the end result can look like the above chart. Just total and complete control of the game flow, dictating the tempo and freeing Roberts on simply finding spaces and playing that final pass. Roberts did his defensive work too and got back where necessary but the bulk of the dirty work went to the internationals who gobbled up the midfield.

Gruezo-Acosta defensive chart vs SEA

The end result also netted Seattle with this shot chart:

Seattle’s shot chart vs FCD

That’s just five attempts for the whole evening, which credit due to Matt Hedges and Bressan for standing their ground too but it all started with Gruezo and Acosta gumming the middle.

Nelson the rest of the way

No disrespect to Ryan Hollingshead, whom I believe should be starting anywhere on the field, but John Nelson has been a revelation at LB. I feel like Nelson has Hollingshead’s brain with Pomykal’s motor and Reggie Cannon’s energy.

Nelson’s passing chart vs SEA

My favorite part of his game is his willingness to step off his line and push into the midfield to keep the ball pinned in the final third. This can be dangerous as it opens you up for the counter, but unlike an overlapping run on the sideline, Nelson tucks in so he still holds some kind of defensive shape. This does require him to read the game very quickly as he has less than a second to decide where he needs to press or whether he needs to drop. Nelson’s quickness and speed allows him to recover if he made a wrong decision, but his smarts has so far negated that need to a minimum.

With more absences, especially to the midfield coming Dallas’ way, the need for Ryan Hollingshead to slot in anywhere and everywhere becomes that much greater. Having Nelson occupy the LB spot, frees Ryan to do some midfield coverage.