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Scratching the Chalkboard: Still Falling Short

It was their best performance in Seattle, but still not enough

MLS: Cup Conference Semifinals-FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas ended the weird and difficult 2020 season by falling just a moment short by losing to Seattle 1-0 in the Western Conference semifinals. It all came down to one set piece play and one chance from Michael Barrios that went off the post. It was a disappointing result (again) from Dallas who has now been knocked out of the playoffs by the Sounders four times in the last seven seasons (2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020). While FC Dallas did play admirably and arguably their best soccer in Seattle ever, it still wasn’t enough when it mattered the most.

Has Luchi Figured it Out?

At the risk of giving the team or the manager or the social media manage any more fuel for this, but really in both playoff games this season, FC Dallas were the under dogs. Yet somehow his team went toe to toe against Portland and Seattle, beating the Timbers and pushing Seattle (again) to their best of their abilities. Make no mistake, Seattle in the playoffs is a very, very difficult opponent.

Seattle’s attacking line is just downright scary with Jordan Morris on the left, Joevin Jones on the right, Raul Ruidiaz leading the line and Nicolas Lodeiro pulling the strings. When a team rolls out an attacking quartet like that, you’re really left with the “Choose your own poison” route at this point as it is practically nearly impossible to contain all four of them for 90 minutes. And yet, Dallas did.

There is a large difference between stopping and containing, and I do want to make that distinct. There’s no way to stop a front line like that barring you strapping some ankle weights to their soccer boots, but what you can hope is frustrate them and keep them away from goal and force the supporting cast of Seattle to step it up and beat you.

Morris, Lodeiro, Ruidiaz and Jones’ shot chart vs FCD

This is actually a pretty stinking good chart and something Luchi will probably want to build on for next season, especially when you think about the starting backline to begin this season and the backline that started this one. Only one player (Matt Hedges) was the constant. Given the turnover in personnel, this is a very admirable showing and a blueprint to win games that you shouldn’t be winning.

But that’s also an indicator of where Dallas is at the moment: at their best they can just contain the league’s elite. Over the course of a season, that might be enough to challenge for the Supporter’s Shield but in a league where the value is placed on this one and done tournament, it needs to be more if they wish to challenge for the MLS Cup.

Tessmann’s been a star

I got a fair amount of energy coming from the social media last night when I said Tanner Tessmann was playing at an elite level in the midfield. Disagreement is fine, but I wasn’t in the mood when people went Kellyanne with me and started bringing in their “alternative facts”. Just no. Discussion is good. Debating numbers isn’t something I’m interested in. Anyways.

Tessmann’s passing chart vs SEA

Tessmann was very strong in the midfield in the first half. He faded a bit in the second, but he gave Dallas a fighting chance in the midfield with his presence and energy. It’s not going to show up on any stat sheet or chart, but Tessmann made so many quick decisions on when to step and where to step whenever the ball was coming to the midfield that it forced Seattle’s midfield to play the ball back or out wide. It was a constant presence that continued to disrupt the Seattle flow and because he was able to be the midfield engine for Dallas, it allowed Andres Ricuarte to stay higher up the field just a bit more to try to unleash that killer final pass.

My initial reservation with Tessmann was I felt his decision making was a fraction too slow at this level. That wasn’t the case against Seattle as he was decisive and quick to get the ball out and quick with his first touch. He’s still fairly raw, but his technical skills and positioning are already enough to attract some USMNT attention. It’s hard to believe that he’s just 19 and this was his first professional season too. He’s certainly one that could become a game changer for Dallas in years to come.

It’s time to get Luchi his guys

I will give Luchi credit for doing what he could with the team he inherited. It’s not a bad team, but it’s certainly not the team of players that could execute his vision for this club. One of those square peg, round hole players is Michael Barrios. Barrios had his worst offensive output in a Dallas uniform (1 goal, 5 assists) in his six seasons here and it’s becoming more and more clear that he’s not going to be in the future plans for this club.

The drawback is Barrios brings a lot of speed and despite his woeful finishing abilities, his pace still forces teams to respect it and keeps them on their toes to not be too aggressive pushing up. Barrios has some value as a super sub, but after another game where they badly needed him to produce, his time might be up.

Another player that hasn’t really seemed to work is Franco Jara. Despite Jara leading the team with 7 goals this year, his style of play just never seemed to fit in properly with Dallas. (And the irony of me questioning the team’s leading goal scorer and leading assist maker hasn’t escaped me.) Jara’s not really fluid enough to play across the front line like Luchi’s other attackers, or his midfield trio and the triple pivot thing that he’s been utilizing. Jara’s very stationary and any time he does drift wide, he looks more like a deer in headlights than a vicious goal scorer.

Attacking chart for Mosquera, Barrios and Jara vs SEA

Then there’s the other DP who made it on the field last night, Santiago Mosquera. There are moments where it seems like he would be a great fit for Luchi’s team, but he’s been so injured and inconsistent that can you really have someone that unreliable take up a DP spot on your team?

Dallas has had one full off-season with Luchi at the helm and his best signing was bringing in Fafa Picault - who honestly, when healthy is the perfect fit for Luchi’s press and counter play. The question now is, will Luchi have enough say to offload some of these high priced players who just aren’t working out anymore.