Upon occasion, sport will grant us the opportunity to witness something we never suspected we’d witness — and long after it even seemed possible.
Such an event is underway in Frisco, Texas.
At a spry 28 years-old, FC Dallas defender/midfielder Ryan Hollingshead is in the midst of a career year, posting new highs in nearly every statistical category. The California native isn’t just doing this in meaningless games where less-prominent players often pad their stats — he’s etching a new legacy for himself in the most important month yet of play for FC Dallas.
Currently, FCD is clinging onto sixth place in MLS’ Western Conference — a position that would grant them a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Rewind two months, they were sitting comfortably in 4th place, a respectable position for a team with a rookie head coach and a slew of teenagers receiving regular playing time.
But international absences, injuries and a scoring drought sent the Hoops down in the standings until the second week of August, when things finally started to move in the right direction — non-coincidentally the same time in which Hollingshead found a second gear to his offense.
Before we get into Ryan’s 2019, though, we have to go back in time to the five years prior.
After sparse appearances during his 2014 rookie season, the former UCLA Bruin came onto the scene in 2015 as one of coach Oscar Pareja’s regulars at winger and outside back. He appeared in 37 of FC Dallas’ 38 MLS matches, starting 25 of them and all four playoff games. He notched the first three goals of his career — including a goal in the second leg of the Western Conference Finals that kick-started a near comeback from the home side against the Portland Timbers.
2016 was a near mirror-image of his sophomore campaign, again appearing in nearly all of his team’s games and netting two goals — but with more time spent at fullback than the previous season.
The following two years, however, saw Hollingshead play just over 1,500 total minutes — far fewer than the 2,024 he played in 2016 alone. Partially due to squad makeup and Oscar Pareja’s preference of Maynor Figueroa at left back and partially due to getting injured whilst being a literal hero, his production declined as he notched just one goal and three assists in the two-year span.
That brings us to 2019.
With all of the circumstances pointing towards another season similar to the one previous, Ryan Hollingshead has been arguably the biggest surprise of 2019 for FC Dallas. With two months still remaining in the season, Hollingshead has already eclipsed previous highs in starts, minutes played, goals, shots, shots on goal, successful dribbles and passes. He’ll likely set a high in assists, too, as he’s already matched the previous high and will most assuredly set new highs in aerials won and key passes as well before the season is over.
There are a number of factors that could lead to a spike in production like this, but above all, it’s due to the new system in which he’s playing in and the opportunity he was given to be a regular starter within it.
With new boss Luchi Gonzalez in charge, Hollingshead’s self-proclaimed best ability — getting forward — can be properly utilized as the system requires the outside backs to supplement the wingers in attack and for Hollingshead specifically, lets him occasionally push into the midfield for additional support when attacking higher up the field.
This tactical change was implemented as soon as Gonzalez took over, but it hasn’t been until recently, with the team suffering badly from a lack of goals, that the tactics were further tweaked to demand even more overlapping support. This change was made following FC Dallas’ 2-0 loss to Orlando, which served as FCD’s third shutout in four games.
The following week, at home against Minnesota United, Hollingshead got to put to use his new offensive scheme and the results were almost immediate.
After coming down the left flank, Hollingshead took a pass from Michael Barrios and simply rifled it past the Loons’ keeper. This was the first of FCD’s five goals on the night, more than they had scored in the five games prior.
“All week, we’ve been trying to push the outside backs higher, trying to expose the opposition’s defense a little bit more than we have,” Hollingshead said following that match/ “Our attack’s been kind of suffering recently so we wanted to help create as much as we could on the flanks.
“It opened up the game a lot — it exposed our defense a bit — but it also created five goals, which was good. We needed that.”
That August 10 match, now five games in the past, began a string of offensive brilliance for Hollingshead who’s now scored or assisted in four of those past five matches — including three straight.
This run has brought his season goal total to six, which not only doubles his previous career high, but also ties the total number goals he’s scored in the entire 113 games he’s appeared in prior to this year.
In a revamped attack that finally prioritizes true attacking fullbacks, FC Dallas’ 2013 2nd round SuperDraft pick is clearly at the peak of his career at the exact moment FC Dallas needed him to be.
But being there when his team needs him isn’t a new tune in 2019. Over his entire career, when Ryan Hollingshead gets into the attacking mix, there’s a good chance his team will find success — a very good chance. All it took was a system that leans into his abilities and a desperate need for goal-scorers.
I’ll leave you with this, which you might’ve seen on Twitter yesterday: In the 20 career games where Hollingshead has either scored or assisted, FC Dallas is 14-1-5 all-time. That lone loss happened way back in September 2015 and the team has gone unbeaten in the last 16 such games.
On top of that, when Ryan Hollingshead scores, FC Dallas earns points 100 percent of the time, going 7-0-4.
We’re witnessing something special that few saw coming, but based on the history, it’s far-less surprising than you’d expect.