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Scratching the Chalkboard: Points dropped and lots of questions

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas battled back and forth against Columbus to a 2-2 draw last night at Toyota Stadium. 2-2 was a fortunate result for Dallas as the Crew looked to be the more dangerous side and the winning goal seemed inevitable as time went on. Dallas did manage to get back on the scoreboard but a couple of broken plays and strong finishing, salvaged a solid point for the Crew and left FC Dallas with some questions:

What exactly is happening with this Santos - Acosta pairing?

Thiago Santos and Bryan Acosta are two well traveled veterans who have played the game at high levels over the years. Individually, they’re fine players but put together, I’m still unclear what exactly this partnership does. Neither player complements one another, despite both having very different skill sets. If anything both Santos and Acosta seem to be on the same wavelength, but that’s where things are complicated. They’re both making the same reads and occupying the same space and are figuratively tripping over one another in the midfield.

Columbus Crew head coach, Caleb Porter figured this one out and promptly instructed Pedro Santos to sit higher up the field and in between the lines. Pedro Santos started operating as a secondary striker and started getting behind the Dallas midfield far too easily.

Pedro Santo’s attacking chart in first half vs FCD
Pedro Santos’ attacking chart in second half vs FCD

The difference is pretty telling between the halves when Pedro Santos got to operate between the lines and in Zone 14. He was for more involved in the attack and was playing more direct towards goal as well.

Here’s a screen grab in the 77th minute that highlighted the problem of Thiago and Acosta together:

You can see Pedro Santos (red circle) on the far left of the screen. He’s already behind the midfielders. I drew a yellow circle that happened to overlay the center circle that is comical since it literally looks like that both Bryan Acosta and Thiago Santos were trying to occupy as few Columbus players between them.

The problem here is that neither of them were doing anything - they were caught in between. The front four were launching a counter, but lost the ball and were trying to press to get it back. At this point, either Acosta or Thiago should’ve joined and held hold the team’s shape. Neither did. And at least one of them once the press was broken, should’ve slid back to shield the back four - again, neither did. I don’t even need to tell you where the pass went immediately after this clip.

A couple minutes after this sequence, Pedro Santos got the ball at this feet and Acosta had to chase him down and it resulted in a yellow card.

By themselves or with other players, Thiago Santos and Bryan Acosta are fine players. But somehow paired together essentially negates all their strengths and just highlights their deficiencies. Be happy to see them not play together for a while and give themselves the off-season to sort out their positioning and understanding with one another.

The disappearance of Jesus

To say 2020 has been a difficult year of Jesus Ferreira would be putting it nicely. After a breakout year in 2019, with eight goals and six assists in 29 starts, Ferreira has been reduced to a bench role and has appeared as a late game sub in the last two games without registering a shot or being able to influence the game.

All of Ferreira’s touches in 17 minutes of action vs CLB

Ferreira started the campaign as the team’s #10, but has seen his minutes limited and even worse, his play has suffered along with it. 2020 was supposed to be Ferreira’s time to shine and see if he can take his game to the next level. He had played well enough to keep Paxton Pomykal on the bench, but couldn’t seize the opportunity. Unclear whether he’s carrying an undisclosed injury or this is that dreaded “Sophomore Slump”, but either way, the play of Ferreira leaves a lot to be desired at the moment.

I still think Ferreira’s at his best when he receives the ball at this feet on the run, as opposed to being stationary and trying to dictate the tempo. Whether he gets those opportunities to do that or not this year is the concern. If he doesn’t, can he elevate his game fast enough to salvage the season or can we just throw 2020 into the garbage?

What’s the plan, Luchi?

I’ve been cautious about critiquing Luchi Gonzalez last year since it was his first year as a head coach and time was needed for him to get things together. But now I am starting to see a concerning pattern with some choices.

One continuing to be the usage of Santos and Acosta together in the midfield, which was addressed above. Another was his decision to go with a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 or whatever you want to call it to start the season that yielded terrible results for Dallas. One trend that I’m starting to notice has been the choice of substitutions and when to use them. Going back the last five games, barring injuries, Luchi subbed first only once (2-1 win against Houston back on Sept 12). Every game after that, Luchi has subbed after the opposition.

On the surface, subbing first isn’t an indication of results but it is showing that teams are adjusting faster to Luchi’s game plans and forcing Dallas to play differently. The Pedro Santos incident from last night is a prime example: Caleb Porter spotted a weakness and exposed it with a small tactical change. Gonzalez didn’t respond to it until the 81st minute with a change of bringing on Tanner Tessmann, who promptly sat underneath Acosta the whole time and kept Santos from finding spaces between the lines so easily.

On one hand, I also wanted to give some slack since Gonzalez was handed a pretty rough roster with injuries to Pomykal and then losing Zdenek Ondrasek and Jesse Gonzalez rather unexpectedly. But the team was also gifted with additional players too like Franco Jara and Andres Ricaurte. So there hasn’t been a seismic dip in talent or available options either.

It is just his second year as a head coach, and there’s still plenty of time to grow - not to mention 2020 is just bizarre for everyone. That being said, when will this team take it to the next level?