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Scratching the Chalkboard: Tessmann, Acosta and Ricaurte lead from the midfield

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Luchi’s got the midfield figured out - for now.

Sporting Kansas City v FC Dallas Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

Earlier I wrote about the confusion of utilizing Thiago Santos and Bryan Acosta together in the midfield. Individually they both seemingly bring complementary skill sets to the table but for some odd reason their thinking and reading of the game is too similar for them to protect the backline in any meaningful way. Instead of continuing down that path, FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez has seemed to figure things out in the most non-traditional way.

Triple Pivot 2.0

This is definitely not the right definition of the three man midfield set up that Luchi has deployed now, but I’m out of fancy names - so deal with it.

A traditional three man midfield set up would set up a creative midfielder who sits higher up the field. Ideally having your most creative player closer to goal creates more goal scoring opportunities. That’s where Andres Ricaurte would usually be played.

The midfielder playing underneath him would be a box-to-box midfielder, someone who’s charged with covering every blade of grass between the penalty boxes. Normally this would be someone with a high motor or three lungs and can do a bit of everything - pass, tackle, late runs into the box, defend deep. Traditionally, this would be where Bryan Acosta would shine.

Finally the player that sits beneat all of them would be a defensive midfielder, someone who can read the game, steady the tempo with possession and passing and shield the back four from being overrun or outnumbered. Ideally, Tanner Tessmann would occupy this position.

On paper, when the lineup was announced I expected this would be the case - but on the field, Luchi flipped everyone around. Acosta sat the highest of the three midfielders, Ricaurte was the deep lying creative midfielder, and Tessman sat between them. This gives Ricaurte a chance to pull the strings farther back and he does have the passing range and vision to do it. Playing deeper afforded him more time on the ball to pick out his passes and to let the players in front to make their runs.

Ricaurte’s passing chart vs SKC

One thing to note that he was pretty aggressive in trying to thread the ball through the middle of the field. It didn’t always come off, but it does force the Sporting Kansas City defenders to start to cheat more towards compacting the middle and thus giving Michael Barrios and Fafa Picault more space on the wings.

By pushing Acosta higher, it gives him a little more freedom to attack and not worry much about his defensive responsibilities. And surprisingly, Ricaurte puts in a very honest shift on the defensive side - which is why this set up works really well.

Acosta’s attacking chart vs SKC

The player that actually pulls this all together is none other than Tanner Tessmann - who’s been having a very solid year as a first year pro. At first I thought he possessed all the right skills but perhaps the speed of play was a touch or two too fast for him at the moment. (This comes in time.) Wednesday night showed off Tessmann’s progression in that regard.

Defensively he was really sound making sure he covered for Ricaurte and protected the back four, even though he wasn’t always the deepest midfielder in the rotation.

Tessmann’s defensive chart vs SKC

Offensively, if Dallas can get anything out of him this year would just be a bonus. And they nearly did when Tessmann put on a dazzling midfield cross into the box for Fafa in the 27th minute.

Tessmann’s passing chart vs SKC

Right now this combo seems to be the best option for the Dallas midfield. Rather than putting players in specific positions because of their skill set, Luchi is now just getting them out there and putting them in spots where they can be freed to do bring their best.

Of course, this works for now and is absolutely needed. It’ll be interesting to watch how Luchi will bring Paxton Pomykal back in to the mix in 2021 with all of these midfield options available.

Props to Maurer

Let’s be honest, Jimmy Maurer needs more love. He’s been quietly doing a bang up job as the main man between the sticks this season. He’s also been an outstanding figure in the community and has been vocal in his support of black players and their plight in this country.

SKC shots vs Maurer

We also got to see another element of Maurer’s skill set - time wasting. Obviously the previous starter, he who shall not be named, was a favorite of stalling but often took his theatrics too far and would be the subject of a lot of drinking games to when he’d get carded. Maurer professionally milked as much time as he could, when he could and didn’t even get a warning from the ref.

Maurer’s been a commanding force for the defense, organizing them well and keeping everyone on the same page. Props to him for taking this long waited and long deserved opportunity to become the club’s starting keeper.