Congratulations to FC Dallas on winning the Supporters’ Shield!
They haven’t mathematically clinched it yet, but after another three points against the Galaxy, FC Dallas can all but claim it. They’re five points ahead of the three teams directly behind them (Colorado and both New York teams) with two games remaining, and while the Rapids have games in hand, it’s hard to count on them getting three points every week. And so, Dallas have the Shield.
FCD play Seattle on the 16th and finish in LA on Decision Day, where they will, in all likelihood, be celebrating their second trophy of the year. They deserve it, because they are easily the most well put-together team in the league, and they have more talent than anybody else despite their lack of aging Europeans.
The questions about whether they can win the treble will persist for the rest of the season. The likelihood of that actually happening is not particularly high — this from MLSsoccer.com explores that in-depth from an analytical perspective — and so I will not be talking about that in this article. Rather, I want to focus on just how good Dallas are.
They are secure in every single area of the game, and I’m not sure how many MLS teams have been able to say that at any point. Let’s take a look at why:
- Starting with how they play, FCD can attack teams in more ways than anybody. They play through Mauro Diaz — if there’s a weakness, it’s their inability to play without him. They can hit teams on the counter with diagonal balls from Diaz; they can keep possession and work the ball to the wings; and they can play in tight spaces around the box, working off of through-balls from Diaz.
They kill teams with purposeful, penetrating passing from not only Diaz, but from deeper midfielders Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo and from full-backs Maynor Figueroa and Atiba Harris. Their comprehensive and multi-dimensional attacking play is unmatched by any team in the league.
- They have a reliable veteran and mistake-free goalkeeper in Chris Seitz, with 24 Under 24 representative Jesse Gonzalez backing him up. Keeper isn’t a problem for most MLS teams (bar NYCFC, New England, and maybe Chicago) and it certainly isn’t an issue for FC Dallas.
- Can you name an MLS team with a better center-back pairing than Dallas? Walker Zimmerman made the 24 Under 24 roster — as the second-best defender — and Matt Hedges (aside from being a front-runner for Defender of the Year) should have a future with the national team. These two players, in addition to being smart, dominating defenders, also contribute to FCD’s incredible set piece abilities. They are 6’3” and 6’4”, so they’re really, really good in the air, defensively and offensively.
- The full-backs (usually Figueroa and Harris) are reliable, and they contribute to the wingers’ licenses to stay forward without significant defensive responsibilities. Michael Barrios, I will say again, is one of the most underrated players in MLS, and his speed and technical abilities can win games. On the right, in the spot that Fabian Castillo vacated, it’s been a whirlwind of players who have taken that spot, without coming close to the effect Castillo had on games. But Tesho Akindele, Mauro Rosales, Getterson, and Ryan Hollingshead have done a respectable enough job.
- Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo feel too good to be playing on the same team. They both made 24 Under 24, and they are each top-tier players in this league. They pass the ball exceptionally well, helping get Diaz into good positions. They’re smart tactically, knowing when to press and when not to press, and they win balls defensively and act as duel No. 6s. Gruezo is a starter for the Ecuadorian national team — no small feat, by the way — and Acosta has been called up to the US national team on multiple occasions, even if Jurgen Klinsmann played him in the wrong position.
- Maxi Urruti may not be the No. 9 this team needs, but he’s been pretty solid of late. And with Carlos Ruiz there on the bench, Dallas have a player who can step in and be relied on to do Alan Gordon-type things in the playoffs.
- Oscar Pareja is the best manager this league has to offer, and it’s not really close. He’d be my first choice to be the national team manager if Klinsmann gets himself into a Sam Allardyce situation or something.
- They’re dominant on set pieces. They don’t have as many goals off them as the Red Bulls do, but they are still really, really good at them. They could score on one at any time, with Diaz’s delivery and players like Hedges and Zimmerman and Figueroa in the box. Dallas are dangerous on every single one, and they can kill defenses on second balls and scraps in the box.
It’s just one of the many traits Dallas have that set them apart from inferior teams. On paper, they should cruise to the MLS Cup final, and they should most definitely win. It’s incredible how good they really are, but will it be enough to be the first MLS team to win the domestic treble? It should be.
For now, they should enjoy the Supporters’ Shield trophy they almost certainly have won.
— Orlando City drew with Toronto on Wednesday then lost to Montreal on Sunday. They’re done.
— The New York Red Bulls put together a really impressive performance against Philadelphia on Saturday, and they now are atop the Eastern Conference standings thanks to goal-differential over NYCFC (I think we know where that differential comes from, btw). Their win against Philadelphia was, in my opinion, their most comprehensive attacking performance this season.
It’s amazing how much pressure they put on Philly’s backline, which was hurt by Joshua Yaro’s injury-forced first half substitution. They pressed high and hung around the final third a lot, to the point where their attackers produced this crowded passing chart:
I can tell you that for the same personnel for the Union, the chart did not look this crowded.
The Red Bulls kept the pressure up with crosses and Sacha Kljestan through-balls and then more crosses. They played direct, but they also played with fast-paced possession when they got into advanced areas, and they were able to get the ball to Bradley Wright-Phillips’s foot constantly.
This kind of attacking prowess helped make this game one of the more exciting ones of the weekend, and it also could help make the Red Bulls Eastern Conference champions.
— San Jose spoiled things for Real Salt Lake, whose low-percentage flank-based strategies are regressing to the mean. Columbus got some consolation points against the Fire, who suck. D.C. United beat Toronto, because MLS. Colorado beat Portland in the most Colorado of wins. New England humiliated themselves and the league, despite winning 3-1 against SKC.
Seattle beat the Whitecaps in Vancouver, continuing to push them further toward clinching a playoff spot. NYCFC beat Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium because David Villa.
Two weeks left of the MLS season.