FC Dallas offense humming right along with 4-4-2, no Mauro Diaz

FC Dallas struggled in the past without Mauro Diaz.

Everything on the offensive side of the ball went through “The Magician” when he was on the pitch. In 2016 alone, he tallied 13 assists and probably had a lot more secondary assists as well.

However, when he the FC Dallas offense ground to a halt. Take for example the first leg of the 2016 Western Conference semifinals against Seattle. Head coach Oscar Pareja rolled out a 5-3-2 lineup for the first time that season and it backfired to the tune of a 3–0 that ultimately sent them crashing out of the playoffs. It also cemented the fact that the FC Dallas offense is nothing without Mauro Diaz.

But not any more.

Through three competitive matches this season, the FC Dallas offense has exploded out of the gate to the tune of seven goals already. Four different players have found the back of the net, showing it’s not just a one-trick pony anymore.

And it’s doing all of this without Diaz.

Cristian Coleman, Maxi Urruti and the 4-4-2

FC Dallas brought in Cristian Coleman from Paraguay to the team’s first true No. 9 in quite some time, but his impact is being felt in more ways than goals he’s scored. While he scored a really nice goal to open the CONCACAF Champions League match against Arabe Unido, it’s been his presence up top that has actually helped Maxi Urruti.

With Oscar Pareja going to a 4-4-2 formation with Diaz out, Coleman gives Urruti something he didn’t have last year — someone to take the defensive pressure off of him. I didn’t realize it until I read a comment on this post from Big D Soccer, but going back the impact of Coleman on Urruti’s play is very noticeable.

On Urruti’s goal Saturday afternoon against Los Angeles, Coleman never touches the ball, but impacts the play. He makes a secondary run to pull defenders away from Urruti, giving him room to take the shot. Many times last year, Urruti would get the ball alone up top, but wouldn’t be able to get a good shot because the defense converged on him. Now with Coleman, defenses have to respect both players which means more space for both.

Of course, he also missed easy shots, but giving Urruti more easy shots can only result in good things. And if Coleman can turn his raw talent into tangible results, FC Dallas will be deadly.

Roland Lamah providing balance for Michael Barrios

Diaz’s injury gets a lot of the focus when it comes to diagnosing what went wrong in FC Dallas’ playoff loss to Seattle, but an overlooked item is the loss of Fabian Castillo to Turkey. Castillo terrorized defenses with his speed on the wing, arguably more than Diaz did with his passes. That meant defenses spent their efforts trying to stop him, leaving Michael Barrios free on the opposite side. But when Castillo went away, Barrios became the focus of defenses and his production dropped.

FC Dallas rectified this situation by bringing in Belgian winger Roland Lamah over the offseason. So far, Lamah hasn’t looked spectacular, but he doesn’t have to be. Lamah just needs to be a threat outside so that defenses can’t overload Barrios’ side of the pitch. And in that regard, the move is working. Barrios scored in the first leg against Arabe Unido (and sent in a cross that resulted in an own goal in the second leg) and has once again looked dangerous in the attack.

Lamah continues to shake off some rust and is still trying to gel with his new teammates, but once he puts it together, the FC Dallas wings are going to be a serious threat for opposing defenses.

Kellyn Acosta's passing chart
As shown in the chart above, Kellyn Acosta spent a good portion of Saturday’s match at the LA Galaxy in an advanced position, a key part in FC Dallas replacing Mauro Diaz.

Kellyn Acosta venturing higher into the attack

But the biggest factor in the strong offensive start for FC Dallas is the emergence of midfielder Kellyn Acosta. In the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, Acosta typically stays back as a defensive midfielder. He occasionally ventured up into the attack, but not always.

Now with no Mauro Diaz, Acosta has taken more of a central midfield role and moved more into the attack. While the formation for Saturday’s match was listed as a flat 4-4-2 (essentially two lines of four plays plus the two strikers), with the way Acosta plays, it turns into a 4-4-2 diamond. Essentially, that means Acosta is higher up in the attack while Carlos Gruezo stays back as a defensive midfielder. In fact, MLS initially showed that as the formation in the match center, although Gruezo was at the top of the diamond and it was later changed to the flat 4-4-2.

The results have been stellar for FC Dallas. Acosta scored the match winner in the 69th minute against Los Angeles, upping his goal total to three across all competitions. Now opposing defenses have to account for Urruti, Coleman, Barrios, Lamah and Acosta. With so many options on the attack, opponents will have to play “pick your poison”, which can only mean good things for FC Dallas.

Of course, it’s still early in the season and FC Dallas will face a tougher defensive opponent in Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. If they do the same on the road this week, then it might be time to panic for the rest of the league.

But for all the worries about what this team would be like without Mauro Diaz, things looking very bright in Frisco.