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What we learned against FC Dallas: A Game with No Winners

An exploration into why no one won last night.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Honors were even at Toyota Stadium Saturday night. Both teams labored through 90 minutes and neither side looked convincing in attack. While the teams split points, their fans sure lost. It was a snoozer. If you missed this game, you did not miss out on much.

But what can we take away from that rough night out?

The attack needs a shake up

This seems to be Luchi Gonzalez’s new favorite attacking ensemble. With Paxton Pomykal out, the team lacked a creative presence and playing Jesus Ferreira as an attacking midfielder offered an easy solution. Ferreira is still plastic. He hasn’t established himself at one position and he may not for his entire career. He has a versatile skill set that can be applied from anywhere in the attack. But adopting your game to the pace of MLS is much easier to do at striker than attacking midfield. He was asked to battle against a seasoned midfield this week and he wasn’t up for the task. He was important to FC Dallas’ early pressing efforts, defensive organization, and shape, but he didn’t impact the game with the ball at his feet, which, if you’re an attacking midfielder, you have to do. Paxton is on track to start next week, provided he doesn’t play too long at the All-Star Game, meaning that he can provide the attacking presence that Ferreira has failed to. Ferreira was often positioned deep in the midfield this game so you could tell Luchi is aching for Pomykal to return and play that role. But even if the number 10 spot gets sorted out, there’s still no guarantee Dallas’ attack starts putting goals away.

The wing play has to improve as well. Michael Barrios has worn down the early season optimism that he garners every year as you think that he’s finally put it all together and has started making good decisions until he destroys your hope with every misplaced cut back pass and head-down cross. Santiago Mosquera and Edwin Gyasi both struggle to link up with the rest of the attack. In past seasons, this would be unthinkable for me to say, but I wish we had two Hollingsheads to play on the left side. He consistently displays better chemistry with his teammates while attacking than anyone else on the team. His end product is inconsistent at best, but Santi loses the ball before he can even get to end product. So Ryan Hollingshead offers an immediate improvement there. Gyasi hasn’t shown any tactical awareness when he’s come on. He tends to try to create chances on his own off the dribble, but hasn’t seen much luck with it yet.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

But even if he was finding luck, it would be unlikely that anyone actually finishes it. Badji generally looks unthreatening. When he makes the right run, his teammate can’t get it there. When he makes the wrong wrong, the cross doesn’t matter. The few times that he makes a dangerous run and can get a shot off he’s been far from clinical.

Cobra doesn’t offer much difference from Dominque Badji. If Ricardo Pepi isn’t ready this year, it feels like our only hope in changing the feel of this attack is with Cristian Colman. He offers new opportunities in attack. Whereas Badji’s biggest contribution is in his hold up play, Colman is willing to lead the line. The speedy Paraguyan brings more energy up top, something that Dallas’ attack has lacked all season. Give me Colman up top, Jesus on the left wing, Paxton as a 10, and Barrios on the right.

The question of midfield personnel in this scenario is a more complicated matter. Dare I say start Edwin Cerrillo instead of Brandon Servania? There is a case to be made for it... Playing Paxton in the middle of the field instead of Jesus gives Luchi a more pronounced midfield presence. Pax fits in more naturally there and will contribute as much as a box to box player as he will as a creator. That takes the pressure off of Servania to go forward and if you’re not asking Servania to create, you might as well start Cerrillo who offers more stability in the defensive midfield. That lets Acosta can do his thing without having to worry about stepping on Servania’s toes and leaves Cerrillo shielding the back line.

On the other hand, using Servania’s passing range to spring quick counters to Colman could be a potent strategy. Between Servania, Bryan Acosta, Matt Hedges, and Reto Ziegler Dallas would have four passers who are capable of launching splitting long balls.

So why not do both? Start Servania at home and Cerrillo on the road and see what happens. The current combo is looking stale and I miss seeing Colman’s smile.

The entire team is slumping

Barrios, Hollingshead, and Paxton have all been hot for periods this season and have lifted the attack with them. Currently Dallas doesn’t have anyone that’s even warm. While there is tactical malfeasance up top, there’s some bad luck involved in the timing of the cold streaks as well. That part isn’t Luchi’s fault. There isn’t a player in Saturday’s front four that can be described as consistent. Not to look past this season, but you can judge his attacking know-how after he’s had an off-season to bring in people that fit his system—which currently lacks an identity in the final third.

We don’t know what his visions for the left wing position are yet. Pareja preferred an inverted winger in his later days, but Luchi has had limited options. Aranguiz’s poor form (and eminent departure) left Mosquera as the only legitimate option there. So he brought in Edwin Gyasi on loan, who seems like a tricky winger, but hasn’t shown a strong attacking work rate or decision making ability. When Luchi gets his chance to find a permanent solution for that spot, we can start to evaluate Luchi-ball for what it’s meant to be.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Luchi is willing to adapt

The most clear evidence of Luchi-ball is can be found in the midfield. His strong emphasis on building from the back and retaining possession has been a marked departure from Pareja’s pragmatic, counter-centric approach. His insistence on this system has been frustratingly idealistic at times this season. But we’re slowly seeing him more willing to swap slow building attacks for probing long balls. Luchi is still in his breaking in period as a FC Dallas coach. He’s still figuring out his philosophies and has had a steep learning curve coming directly from the academy.

Nevertheless, FC Dallas has one of their best defenses in years. Last season FCD conceded 1.29 goals per year, so far this season they’re averaging 1.13. You can make a career out of a reputation as a strong defensive coach. Despite this lackluster game, there are indicators that Luchi is on his way to a prosperous career.

What’s your ideal attacking lineup? Is no one being hot the system or the player’s fault? What worries you about Luchi so far? I want to hear your takes in the comments.