Neither FC Dallas or Sporting Kansas City are challenging for the Supporter’s Shield (or Western Conference Title for that matter) this season, but that didn’t mean the match was without its usual intensity. Fouls flew back and forth as well as Vermes F-bombs (that’s probably a usual occurrence). But it was Dallas that converted their chances and walked away with a much-needed three points.
Acosta the enforcer
The transition between a Gruezo/Cerrillo and Acosta/Servania midfield to an Acosta-Servania pairing was risky. Luchi sacrificed a more defensive-minded midfielder for twin box-to-box players. Conventional wisdom holds that teams need a player in the midfield to do the dirty work. Someone has to be willing to dive into tackles and give a little forearm when its called for (and sometimes when it’s not). Carlos Gruezo was that guy, Edwin Cerrillo is well on his way to being that guy, but I didn’t think Bryan Acosta was that guy until this game.
The stats don’t lie though. Acosta leads the team in fouls committed on the season with 33 and his defensive effort was on full display Saturday night. He traded blows with Guttierez, pressed aggressively, and had a phenomenal run to track back and block a crucial shot.
The Acosta-Servania pairing used to make me anxious on paper because both players don’t hesitate to get forward. They defy traditional designations of an “8” or “6” and have made Luchi’s midfield more versatile and fluid. Their similarity in skill sets means that they can swap sides and defensive responsibilities instantly. They seem to be a pairing that can do it all and they’re both only going to get better. It’s only a matter of time until every game we start seeing one of those ripping long shots find the back of the net.
Lock down defense
Dallas had not recorded a clean sheet on the road until the SKC game. I’m not going to claim they put it all together last night. Reggie struggled and while SKC didn’t register a shot on goal in the first half, they had plenty of chances to put one away. Had Croizet not made his best effort to spoil all of their attacking chances, SKC would have likely grabbed a goal or two in the first half. But focusing on the positives, Matt Hedges’ individual effort should be acknowledged.
He’s had his ups and downs in an FCD kit. Since winning MLS Defender of the Year in 2016, he’s occasionally struggled. We jokingly (or maybe not for some) like to point out that his biggest drop in form came after featuring in Bruce Arena’s Gold Cup team. But more often than not he’s the foundation of Dallas’ success since his arrival.
He doesn’t get the glory that comes with taking free kicks like Reto Ziegler, but he’s a great aerial presence and is incredibly underrated as a passer. Perhaps no player has taken to Luchi’s possession-based system better. He routinely splits disorganized presses with incisive passes to midfielders in space, he’s composed and always on the same page as his partners on the back line, and he’s always in the right place at the right time.
We write a lot about Dallas’ struggling attack, but the only reason that gets so much attention is because we take the consistently great defense for granted. At 29, Hedges has more than a few seasons left of elite play and at 550k a year, he’s one of the best bargains in MLS (he makes less than Zimmerman and Acosta).
We can criticize the front office’s ability to bring in attackers, but they haven’t put a foot wrong when it comes to defenders. Bressan is a great addition that is going to make it much easier for Zanotta to pull the trigger when a good offer comes in for Reggie Cannon. You have to wonder if Reynolds was groomed to be a right back even before Reggie began starting for FCD because Pareja and co. knew he would make the jump to Europe so quick.
Shielded by a strong midfield pairing, the FC Dallas back line looks as strong as it ever has for the foreseeable future. Even without a high profile homegrown defender to challenge guys like Hedges and Ziegler, it’s hard not to be optimistic about Dallas’ defense when they can hit on guys like John Nelson in the draft. So let’s celebrate what we have a bit and not take Hedges for granted.
The thing about building through the academy is that the homegrown kids that make it aren’t just young and good, but they play with the values instilled in them since they joined it. Consistency in coaching isn’t to be overlooked. The result is having guys like Paxton Pomykal who can play on the left wing and in the midfield, Reynolds, who is a striker turned winger and fullback, and Jesus Ferreira who basically fits anywhere in the attack. Busca the forma on the field and onto the field apparently. These kids have done whatever has been asked of them in their development and are well-rounded and versatile players because of it.
I want to pay special attention to Jesus. He isn’t banging them in, but he has fantastic intangibles. His vision, touch, composure, and positioning are all indicators that he’s going to be big. He’s flying under the radar in MLS which says a lot about the youth revolution going on. Only at FCD can your starting striker be 18 and be just as capable as an attacking midfielder as up top, but still not get recognition from the national media. If Jesus was a young signing from Argentina the entire American soccer-sphere would be singing his praises.
The bright side of him being underappreciated is that we may see him hit his peak in Dallas. It’s looking like both Paxton and Reggie are headed to Europe soon, but Jesus might get to stick around for a bit longer. Whether his future is as a striker, a creative midfielder, or a winger (why not stick him on the left wing?) isn’t for certain yet, but he’s currently punching above his weight and deserves a shout out.
Smile! We beat Sporting Kansas City (At Children’s Mercy Park no less). We don’t like those guys, remember? What part of FC Dallas’ performance are you celebrating most this week?