Top Takeaways: Andres Ricaurte's influence for FC Dallas, Fredy Montero's comeback & belief for San Jose | Steve Zakuani

Andres Ricaurte - Santiago Mosquera - Ryan Hollingshead - FC Dallas celebrate a goal

FC Dallas’ new playmaker starred again, an MLS vet turned back the clock, and San Jose have reason to believe. Here are the top takeaways from Wednesday night’s action:

Dallas have their No. 10

Santiago Mosquera will steal the headlines from FC Dallas’ big win against the Colorado Rapids, and rightly so — that’s what happens when you score a hat trick — but the big takeaway was another good showing by Andres Ricaurte ,who is already looking like the type of playmaker who will take the Dallas attack to another level. He had no goals or assists tonight, but this is one of those instances where you have to look beyond the box score. Here are two of things he did really well tonight: 

  1. He dictated the tempo of his team’s possession. This is something we see the very best playmakers in the league do. They know when to slow things down by holding on to the ball and by playing simple passes, and they also know when to speed things up with forward passes through the lines and quick, one-touch passes. Ricaurte did that very well tonight. 
  2. His movement opened up space for other players, mainly Michael Barrios, Mosquera and Franco Jara. He had some movements typical of a No. 10, such as trying to find gaps on either side of the Rapids holding midfielders, but he was also not afraid to be unconventional and drop extremely deep, even picking up a pass from the goalkeeper at one point. He’s not quite Nico Lodeiro in how he drags defenders all over the pitch with how and where he moves, but he does move enough to create gaps for his teammates to exploit. 

Ricaurte has the ability to provide jaw-dropping moments such as his goal against Houston, but I think we are more likely to see him doing what he did tonight, which is bringing teammates into the game and driving his team’s possession game. Of course, Mosquera will win all the man of the match awards and be up for Player of the Week, as he should, but in Ricaurte, FC Dallas may have found a playmaker they can build around like they once did with David Ferreira and Mauro Diaz.

Getting the most from Fredy Montero

I’ve known Fredy Montero since we shared our first MLS preseason together with the Sounders in 2009, and we went on to build a good connection on and off the pitch. There are two things I know to be true about him: First, he is obsessed with scoring goals. Don’t get me wrong, he wants to win games and championships and see the team do well, but he is just as driven by the feeling of seeing the ball hit the back of the net. And it’s something he still does really well. 

Second, he is a streaky scorer and so he needs a run of consecutive games to find his best form. He might not score for three games and then he can score in five straight games. With Lucas Cavallini serving a suspension, Montero took full advantage of his first start of the season by scoring a brace to help the Vancouver Whitecaps to a much needed three points, but I would encourage Marc Dos Santos to keep Montero on the pitch even when Cavallini returns. He doesn’t do well when he is in and out of the team or playing only the last 20 minutes. 

Furthermore, Montero needs to start at center forward, because even though he is older than we played together, you only have to look at his second goal (above) to see how much deadly he still is in the box. Scoring with your weaker foot from a difficult angle with such precision is not something that comes naturally to many players. He is great at getting on the end of crosses, finding space where there seems to be none, he’s excellent at pinning much bigger defenders while he lays passes off to teammates and, most importantly for the Whitecaps, he doesn’t need to be playing well to score. 

The hardest thing to do in this game is score goals, and that just happens to be what Fredy does best. The Whitecaps are the lowest-scoring team in the Western Conference, but in Fredy Montero they have a player who can help them change that, if he is given more starting opportunities.

Quakes show reasons for optimism

A week after putting in arguably their worst-ever performance, the San Jose Earthquakes played one of their best games of the season against the Portland Timbers. They didn’t get the three points against Portland but there was enough there (and in Sunday’s draw vs. the Galaxy) for Matias Almeyda to believe that his team have learned from their 7-1 defeat against Seattle just six days ago. I was watching the Quakes to see if there’d be a repeat of some of the shocking defensive errors they produced in Seattle, and while they still left themselves too exposed to the counter by keeping too few players back on set pieces, they were much better organized during the run of play.

For starters, although they still tried to man mark all over the pitch whenever they could, they had much better defensive cover in this game. When the first defender got beat, the second defender was willing to leave the player he was marking, and provide cover. Against Seattle, there was no cover which is why Jordan Morris & Co. were one on one with the goalkeeper as soon as they beat the first defender. 

Secondly, there was a much better collective urgency and commitment when they lost the ball. I’m not someone who over-analyzes the stats but seeing that San Jose won 49 duels to Portland’s 36 confirmed what my eyes saw — there was a defensive intensity that hasn’t been there recently. In the two games since the Seattle defeat there has been a marked improvement, especially on the defensive side of things.

Long-term, San Jose will need to work on keeping a few more numbers back when they attack and being much better at defending the space in behind their backline, but for now, there is reason to be optimistic, thanks to the response since that embarrassing defeat last week.