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Scratching the Chalkboard: Nelson’s Rising Star

The draft pick is making the most of his opportunities under Luchi Gonzalez.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of deserved credit going to Bressan for his willingness to literally sacrifice his body for the team from Wednesday’s draw at Sporting Kansas City, but the player who caught my eye and many eyes as well was John Nelson. We already noted how Nelson played a very strong game over the weekend against Minnesota, despite being routinely targeted down his flank. Either Peter Vermes and his staff watched the game tape and thought they could expose a weakness in Nelson’s game or they neglected to do that and chose to just go after the player with the least experience, because Nelson was subjected to a lot of action again but rose to the challenge with sound defending and decision making.

Defensive Star

One thing that was fun to watch from Nelson in 2019 was his ability to get into the attacking half, and attack from a more centralized position rather than just purely overlap along the sideline. This is something Ryan Hollingshead has perfected over the years when he held the starting left pack position. It just creates a different attacking dynamic and opportunity to overload parts of the field to confuse the defense. Essentially Hollingshead and Nelson play the part of an inverted back, choosing to often cut inside towards the middle rather than continue to play wide.

2020 has not offered Nelson a chance to do that, as his side has been the designated side for teams to orchestrated their offense. Rather than forcing the issue, Nelson has reacted with discipline and patience and matched every offense attack with sturdy defensive positioning and strong tackling.

Nelson’s defensive actions vs SKC

With Nelson staying back, it freed up Hollingshead to roam forward and do what he does best: cut inside and overload the middle of the field.

Hollingshead’s passing chart vs SKC

Reggie Cannon’s preferred style in the attack is to overlap with his speed and to hug the touchline to create space. Hollingshead has a different approach by tucking in and allowing others to create the width. This isn’t a one is better discussion - both have merits depending on the opposition, but just a highlight that having a different style of fullback can add another layer of complexity to a dynamic attack.

Stick with the 4-3-3, please

After a successful run with the 4-3-3 against Minnesota, I wondered if Luchi Gonzalez would opt to return to the 5-3-2 while on the road against Kansas City. Thankfully, Luchi stayed with the 4-3-3 to start and then shifted to the 5-3-2 when the team was trying to hold on for a point.

FC Dallas did manage just five shots (though all five were on frame) in this match but more dangerous chances were created from the counter attack and the fluidity between Jesus Ferreira, Franco Jara and Michael Barrios.

Attacking chart for Ferreira, Jara and Barrios vs SKC

Based on the current roster make up of this team, I still believe that Dallas is at their attacking best when they play more direct and just let the front three or four just run at the opposition. Franco Jara’s first FC Dallas goal came off a press and a poor turnover from the Kansas City defense, but it was forced because the front four pressed hard and fast as a unit.

FC Dallas has good collective team speed, and with the likes of Bryan Reynolds also being worked in to the team, it just makes sense to utilize the collective strength of the players and just run at teams. Obviously the insane heat will hinder this, but with the new substitution rules and the hydration breaks, Dallas should have the fitness to pull this off.