Entering Friday night’s game against the Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas were leading the Western Conference in points per game. They were able to accomplish this despite 2016 MLS Best XI midfielder Mauro Diaz not making a start.
In their 1-1 draw against the Dynamo, Diaz showed why he’s such an important player for Oscar Pareja’s team. With the Dynamo sitting back and allowing Dallas to control possession after Erick “Cubo” Torres’ goal in the 19th minute, Dallas needed a player who could break down a defense. Diaz did just that in the 59th minute.
With Dylan Remick focused on the threat of Diaz, even with teammate Ricardo Clark in position, Michael Barrios made eye contact with the playmaker and got behind the defense. Diaz threaded a perfect throughball that allowed Barrios to play a pull back to Maxi Urruti, who eventually equalized the match.
That wasn't the only throughball that could've ended up in a goal on the night either.
While the Dallas attack more than held its own in the absence of their No. 10, they weren’t exactly creating a ton of quality chances.
Prior to Diaz’s first game of the season on May 28, Dallas had been averaging 0.55 big chances created per games, ranking them in the bottom four of MLS. In 2016 they created 46 big chances as a team, third in MLS, with 15 coming from Diaz. That total was the second-highest in the league.
Looking at the expected goals numbers provided by Opta on Monday, it’s clear that Dallas needed a jolt offensively. They had been averaging 1.21 expected goals per game, meaning that on average they would be expected to score 1.21 goals per game based on their quality of chances. They fact that they had been scoring 1.47 goals per game could mean they had been displaying some good finishing or that they were getting a bit lucky.
Their 1.21 xG/game is a stark contrast to what they showed last year with Diaz mostly in the lineup. In 2016 they averaged 1.43 xG/game, placing them second in MLS.
Now that Pareja has his playmaker back, we could see a Dallas team that has mostly relied on a staunch defense become the offensive force that they were in 2016. That should be a welcome sign for a team that has their sights on MLS Cup.