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MLS notebook: FC Dallas’s next step, TFC’s fall and more

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As we approach Decision Day, we take a look at some of MLS’s top stories.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What now for FC Dallas?

FC Dallas beat the Seattle Sounders on Sunday on the back of Carlos Ruiz’s last-second golazo. Take a look at that goal, and recognize the incredible difficulty of Mauro Diaz’s assist:

Not long after that play, Diaz tore his ACL as a result of a collision with Seattle’s Tyrone Mears and was recently confirmed to have been ruled out for eight months. A renowned North Carolina surgeon was scheduled to perform surgery on the oft-injured MVP candidate on Wednesday.

Diaz is arguably the best No. 10 in MLS and while he does not compile the box score statistics that somebody like Diego Valeri does, he spends an insane amount of time in the final third driving defenses crazy. He creates meaningful penetration and with the amount of through-balls he completes, he would have 20 assists a season if Bradley Wright-Phillips or David Villa were receiving those balls. The Argentine is an elite player.

FC Dallas get worse when he’s not playing, as if that needed to be said. Nobody for Dallas has the impact on games that Diaz does, so they will inevitably have trouble adjusting their attack to revolve around someone other than him.

This poses the question, who replaces him on Sunday against LA and beyond? There are a few candidates.

For one, there’s 35-year old MLS veteran Mauro Rosales. An Argentine like Diaz, Rosales has played for Newell’s Old Boys, Ajax, River Plate, Seattle, Chivas USA, and Vancouver in his 22-year professional career. He won Newcomer of the Year in 2011 with the same stat-line that Diaz has right now: five goals and 13 assists.

He has 22 appearances this season for Dallas, but only four of them have been starts, and much of his time on the field has been spent on the wing as a super-sub. He would, more or less, be a like-for-like replacement for Diaz in the middle.

Another option would be to switch formations and go with a 4-4-2, like they did in April when Diaz missed four games. It would look something like this:

football formations

With this lineup, they would play primarily through the wings and through the striking pair up front, rather than through an advanced playmaker. It would be a less dynamic and multi-dimensional attack, but they picked up eight of 12 possible points in the span in which they used a 4-4-2, so it must work to an extent.

Oscar Pareja could also give some players he hasn’t used a ton this season a chance to make something happen. A player like Carlos Lizarazo, Getterson, or Timo Pitter could be a nice option off the bench or even in the starting lineup. Maybe we see Paxton Pomykal in an 18 at some point?

Whatever Pareja comes up with probably won’t get them the treble, because winning an MLS Cup is hard enough without your best player tearing his ACL two weeks before the playoffs start. I still think they win the Shield, though, even if the Galaxy get all three on Decision Day. This will go down as an extraordinary season for FCD, but at the same time possibly one where fans will imagine what could have been.

TFC’s fall

Remember when Toronto FC were top Shield contenders? They were within a few points of FC Dallas, had a bunch of home games remaining, and had one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league. Things looked pretty peachy in Toronto.

But then they dropped more points against a red-carded team, Sebastian Giovinco got injured, and they plateaued, dropping to third in the conference and drawing three of four home games. The New York teams have taken over the Eastern Conference’s knockout round byes and Toronto haven’t won since September 10th in Chicago.

Giovinco came back on Sunday and they got an opportunity to take points from rival Montreal on the road, with the Impact in turmoil thanks to the actions of one Didier Drogba. They needed a late Tosaint Ricketts goal to salvage a 2-2 draw from a game that they certainly could have won.

They will play Chicago on Decision Day at home, which is pretty much the best possible matchup for them, and one that they should win. But don’t take those three points to the bank just yet.

TFC were overwhelmed by Montreal’s energetic front-four in deeper midfield and as a result conceded a considerable amount of space to winger Ignacio Piatti, who used that space to score the first goal of the game. Throughout the match, Piatti filled gaps centrally from the wing and dragged defenders out of position, thus opening the channels for runs from the speedy Dominic Oduro and the crafty Matteo Mancosu.

Just imagine what it could have been like if Drogba had come on as a super-sub.

Chicago don’t have the same weapons, but they can do similar things. Michael de Leeuw is good on the ball and can be dynamic on goal as a second forward or attacking midfielder, making him Piatti Lite in this equation, while David Accam is a better-finishing but equally-pacy version of Oduro. If Chicago can find their lanes and get to them efficiently, they can wreck some havoc on a stranded Michael Bradley.

For TFC, they have to do a better job of getting Giovinco and Jozy Altidore into threatening positions in the attacking third. Too often, one of the two strikers had to drop deep into midfield to receive the ball, leaving the other isolated up top, cutting the head off of TFC’s attack. Jonathan Osorio has to be better from his advanced midfield position at connecting passes with the two.

If they’re going to get back into their championship-contending form, they have to do this and plenty more.

D.C. United are coming in hot

D.C. United are arguably playing the best soccer of any team in MLS at this point in the season and are now firmly cemented into either fourth or fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. Depending on Montreal’s result against New England, just a point for United in Orlando could get D.C. into fourth and into a knockout round matchup with the Impact.

Securing fourth in the East is a minor accomplishment for any team, but for DCU specifically, just a playoff berth is enough to salvage the season. They middled around the lower-depths of the Eastern Conference for much of the spring and summer and looked like they were going to get crowded out at the red line by a throng of clubs competing for position. It didn’t look great for D.C.

But then Ben Olsen and the front office got smart, making two huge deals that changed the course of their season. First, they traded for out-of-form winger Lloyd Sam from the Red Bulls, giving D.C. a serviceable starter out on the right (Lamar Neagle wasn’t working). Then, they acquired exiled NYCFC striker Patrick Mullins, who was third or fourth on Patrick Viera’s depth chart. Mullins has eight goals in 12 starts for United.

Their 4-1-4-1 formation (or 4-3-3, if you want to think about it that way) plays to the feet of Mullins and uses his physicality and tactical savvy to squeak out goals. They get Sam, Patrick Nyarko, or one of their overlapping full-backs to square balls into the box and from that (as well as Luciano Acosta) they have been able to score consistently.

Against Montreal or possibly Philadelphia in the playoffs, they’ll have to continue that. They’ve shown no signs of stopping.