That’s now nine goals in the last nine regular season MLS games for Zdenek Ondrasek during this recent resurgence as the Dallas #9. FC Dallas have been without an out and out goal scorer from the striker position since Blas Perez in 2015, and the Cobra has now become that guy for Dallas - though Maxi Urruti made damn sure to throw his name in the mix yesterday. With another goal, and an assist for the game tying score, Ondrasek is undroppable from the starting lineup until further notice.
Give Cobra the Ball
When it comes to teams who love to dominate possession, the striker position is often the most non-traditional position for that team. There’s the whole faux-9 type player, but generally a target forward like Ondrasek usually doesn’t enter the mix - until now. The Cobra doesn’t have the traditional speed or passing abilities that a faux-9 striker possesses. He’s the more the old school, big, physically imposing type of forward and how Luchi Gonzalez integrated that into his system was has been masterful.
One thing to note is that during yesterday’s match against Montreal was that Dallas’ passing in the final third finally did not looked hurried or carried out in a rushed or flustered manner. Yes, Dallas missed on most of their crosses (connecting just 10 of their 37 cross attempts) but they were all aimed at a specific target and forced the defender to make a vital clearance or interception. This is where Ondrasek’s movement and physical presence creates opportunities for Dallas.
Watch the goal sequence here where Reggie Cannon delivers an incredibly weighted cross into the penalty area - it’s with enough pace and the right height for Ondrasek to redirect it easily. The Cobra starts his run at the back post, then makes his run across the defenders for the near post to latch on to Cannon’s pass. It’s a smart and intelligent run that as you can see from the Impact’s center backs, none of them knew who had who and caused confusion to leave Ondrasek open for the free header.
There is, of course, his back heel assist, which admittedly looked like a bit of luck helped set things up for Ricardo Pepi to equalize.
What’s good to note is the space he was able to create and also find a way to get open for Michael Barrios. Barrios had very few options at this point with it being so crowded inside the penalty area, but to open himself up as the most viable and dangerous option is an incredible skill that Dallas is figuring out how to weaponize on a consistent basis.
I’m sold on Picault
No insult to Dominque Badji who did what was asked and played out of position during this Dallas tenure. Badji has the skills of a striker but was asked to play out wide and didn’t have what was required to fully flourish under Luchi Ball. That is not the case for Fafa Picault, whom Luchi wanted to fill out his roster.
This was my take at around half time regarding Picault:
It was clear that Luchi wanted Picault but it wasn't obvious for what qualities. Now that I've had more time to watch how Fafa positions himself off the ball, the more transparent how he fits perfectly for Luchi Ball. #FCDallas #FCDvMTL— Jason Poon ⚽ (@jasonhpoon) March 7, 2020
I remember Gonzalez saying that Fafa is a good pressing winger that would fit well under Luchi Ball. I didn’t really understand what that meant since I recall Badji pressed well too, but it wasn’t until this game did I see and fully understand what Luchi meant by that.
It’s not so much about who hustles and when you hustle, but rather how you press individually within the larger context of your teammates. Picault would occupy passing lanes in perfect relation to where Ryan Hollingshead behind him, to where Ondrasek was next to him, and where the midfielders (on both teams) were lining up. Picault’s not going to be the goal scoring winger, but with the way he plays with this team and under this system, any goals is just bonus - which is a little to say for a winger but it is what it is.
One strong advantage Fafa has is his reaction time once the ball is played. Again, for Badji, because he was playing out of position, there needed to be a second or even a half second for him to process what he needed to do next and where he needed to position himself. That is not the case with Picault who knew instinctively where to move. These micro second movements are huge difference makers at this level and it’s nice to see Luchi have the right players that he needs to unveil his vision for this club.
And here is where Dallas fans can get excited about a pressing-link up winger: 1v1. Picault is deceptively strong in 1 on 1 situations. He’s not going to blow past you with straight up speed, but he has enough speed and strength to unbalance the defender and get by them to stretch the defensive shape.
Those little moments will inevitably drag the defense over to his side and thus free up more space for Ondrasek to do Cobra things.
The two goals Dallas gave up were incredibly sloppy and we’ll do a dive into that should that become a trend, but for now - Luchi Ball is fun and pleasant to watch thanks to these two additions to the team.