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Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Bryan Acosta is leaving FC Dallas for the Gold Cup?

Acosta will be unavailable for a few weeks, but is that a bad thing, or a good thing?

SOCCER: JUN 23 MLS - FC Dallas at LAFC Photo by John McCoy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

FC Dallas’s lone representative in this year’s Gold Cup is Bryan Acosta. With the Catrachos beginning their tournament a week from Tuesday, there still hasn’t been an indication whether Acosta will be available for FC Dallas when they travel to Carson to take on the suddenly diminished LA Galaxy. Acosta has played all but 14 minutes for FC Dallas this year providing great range, accurate passing to hold possession and bite as a defender at his position that won’t be easily replaced.

That said, there’s at least a little disagreement among the staff whether or not he’ll be missed or his absence will be a net positive. With that, we humbly present you with the first installment of our one-part series, ‘It’ll Cost ya, No Costa’.

Ben Lyon- NO ACOSTA!

Since Acosta signed as a Designated Player into a crowded pool of central midfielders, I’ve been prone to defend him as a valuable replacement to the Homegrown Acosta. Bryan Acosta offered similarly great range and even showed glimpses of more bite as a defender and tidier passing. Since a promising start though, his offensive contributions as a ‘box-to-box midfielder have all but dried up. We’ll start with the biggie.

“You may run like Mayes, but you shoot like sh*t”:

Acosta’s last goal for FC Dallas was in the playoffs against 2019. Since then, he’s managed to put just 12 of his 37 shots on target for a grand total of zero goals. This actually flatters him for his performance in 2021 since his performance this year of four on target (two on Sunday night!) out of 20 total shots (2nd to Jara’s 31, also with zero open play goals this year), and it paints a really grim picture. Even worse, those 20 shots have led to a cumulative xG of 0.7 goals. It’s not just the fact he can’t shoot; the opportunity cost of his hero ball is killing this team by limiting more dangerous opportunities that could develop minus Acosta’s patented moonshots. Coach Luchi, if I may suggest:

“No such thing as a free kick because nothing in life is free.”:

Acosta has one primary assist this year. That was awarded rather generously on a pass deflected by Marko Maric into the path of Jaider Obrian in FC Dallas’s 1-1 come from behind win against Houston in May. Beyond that, it’s been a ghost town of facilitation from the Designated Player despite the fact he takes virtually all free kicks and corner kicks awarded to the team.

He has taken 77 combined free kicks and corner kicks this season. To be fair, roughly 20-30 of that number is restarts off of midfield fouls that don’t involve a set play, but you still end up with a number of around 50 set plays that Acosta has triggered with an output of zero goals. Given the opportunities, you might expect him to be far and away from the leader in key passes this year, but if you did you’d be wrong. Andres Ricaurte, despite playing a little over an hour of the available minutes in the last four matches, still has the team lead at 15. Acosta has 13 and has a scant lead of one over Obrian and Ryan Hollingshead and a slightly more robust lead of three over Freddy Vargas who has played less than half the minutes Acosta has. When you consider the fact that putting Acosta on corners takes him out of defending potential counterattacks off of those set plays, it’s almost as egregious that he’s had those responsibilities all year as it is that Jara started for so long.

Speaking of Vargas, the only set piece FC Dallas scored off of this year? Vargas took the corner. He was so good on dead balls in preseason that I’m still dying to know why he isn’t seeing the field these days, and I’m not the only one. Jesus Ferreira has three assists in the four matches since his return, and he certainly looks like he’s whipping in a good ball these days. Maybe Paxton Pomykal ends up taking Acosta’s minutes while he’s gone- his delivery last night helped nick a point. Ricaurte still leads the team in key passes and certainly is more cultured there if he’s on the field.

Acosta has been incredibly wasteful with both his shooting and distribution opportunities, and I can’t imagine his absence, despite missing what he does bring to the table, being a net loss during the Gold Cup. Frankly, I think the opportunities Acosta has squandered so far this year have had a net cost of three points for FC Dallas’s standing in the table. I’ll be rooting fervently for a deep run from Honduras.

Jose Carmona- IT’LL ACOSTA YA!

Since Acosta arrived in Frisco as a Designated Player, most of us have been waiting for him to justify his designation. While my good friend Ben will lump his entire stay in Frisco to justify his conclusions, I’m going to focus strictly on this season, and only this season.

“The glue that holds us together”:

So many of FCD’s fans are so hung up on what Acosta can’t do, that they completely forget what he does for this club. There are two players on the roster who have started all 11 matches this season, the “Iron Men” are Hollinshead and Acosta, with both of them starting all 11 matches this season and separated by only 14 minutes. So it’s not hard to say that the one constant in the midfield has been Acosta. Why is that?

Acosta is currently the second-best passer on the team at 85.5% passing accuracy, just behind Jose Martinez (85.6%). In fact, the only players who can match Acosta’s passing, are all center backs. When Acosta leaves to join Honduras, the two midfielders most capable of replacing his passing prowess will be unavailable. One of those players is Tanner Tessman (82%), who has probably played his last minutes for FC Dallas. The other player is already starting (Facundo Quignon), so not an option at all.

Along with passing the ball, a midfielder must also maintain control of the ball. Acosta has only been dispossessed two times all season long. That’s not a typo. The only players who can match those numbers are all center backs. The only midfielders that can even come close are Pomykal (four), who has only begun to get regular minutes, and Tessmann (six), who is all but gone.

FC Dallas is going to look a lot more disjointed in the middle during the Gold Cup fixtures, and if you are wondering why the club appears to be falling apart at the seams, it’s because it could use a little glue.

“You shall not pass!”

I’m going to give you a stat about Acosta that may not look too impressive at first glance but is actually far more impressive than you could have imagined: 23 Interceptions.

Acosta leads FC Dallas with a total of 23 interceptions, or an average of 2.1 interceptions per match. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that FC Dallas could easily replace those interceptions. I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s highly unlikely. When you combine all the other midfielders on the roster (other than Acosta), 24 interceptions is their combined total. Take away Tessman’s six interceptions, and the total is just 18 interceptions total! Here are your player totals, Ricaurte (7), Tessman (6), Quignon (5), Pomykal (4), Ferriera (2), all others (0).

Another way to protect the backline, besides interceptions, is winning Aerial Duels. Acosta is second on the team with 22 Aerial Duels won, just behind Hollingshead (27). The difference here is that while Hollingshead has lost 15 Aerial Duels, Acosta has only lost five. That’s an Aerial Duels winning percentage of 92.6% for Acosta, with the second-best percentage amongst players getting regular minutes belonging to Bressan (70%). This means that Acosta has been downright dominant on Aerial Duels, and there is not another midfielder on the roster that remotely comes close.

The FC Dallas midfield has been overrun at times this season, but once the Gold Cup fixtures begin, the FC Dallas midfield may very well resemble a turnstile.

“The beginning is the end is the beginning”

I’m going to show you something, that frankly, shouldn’t shock you at all:

The image above is Acosta’s Season Heatmap. He has been mostly used as a defensive midfielder this season, to help cover for the absence of Thiago Santos. As the heatmap clearly shows, Acosta has rarely been (this season) in a position on the field to take high-quality shots (inside the box). In fact, Acosta has taken 20 shots this season, and 19 of those shots are from outside the box.

So why take those shots in the first place? The reason is actually quite simple. Sometimes teams play in a very defensive manner, daring FC Dallas to find a way to break them down. When teams take this defense-first approach, it leads to heavy congestion inside the box. It makes it quite difficult for attacking players to find space to work with inside the box. One way to alleviate this is to have deep-lying players take shots from far outside the box. The idea is that if enough of those shots force saves, force defensive players to block them or come dangerously close enough to force a goalkeeper reaction, the defense will then be forced to spread outwards from the box to defend the deep-lying players. This relieves congestion inside the box and gives the attacking players more space to work with inside the box.

So while everyone has come to joke about the patented Acosta “Moon Shot”, I’m here to tell you that the shot is a necessary evil. While I would prefer that Acosta at least come somewhere closer than the stratosphere, it’s a shot that will continue to rain on the least once it comes down from orbiting the moon.

As for set pieces, I don’t really have a defense for them. I only really have an observation. Acosta’s delivery isn’t always bad and has been rather consistent in the past couple of matches at getting into dangerous positions inside the box. Even with that improvement, still no goals from set-pieces. So my question then is, at what point do we start blaming the players at the receiving end of that service into the box, and stop blaming the person delivering that service?

So let me bring it back to the beginning, and say that if you are counting on your defensive midfielder for goals and goal creation, then there are a lot of things wrong with your attack, and replacing that defensive midfielder won’t solve any of them.

With Tessman all but gone, and Pomykal yet to show he can play longer than 45 minutes, it will come down to players such as Edwin Cerrillo and Brandon Servania to replace the player who has essentially been FC Dallas “Most Valuable Player” over the first 11 matches. I for one will be praying for a short Gold Cup run from the Honduras National Team.