In soccer, a 3-1 scoreline amounts to a drubbing, but the performance Sporting put in on the road Saturday encouraged me more than the scoreline frustrated me. The single most important development in Dallas was the beginning relationship in the midfield between Benny and Roger. Perhaps this was just a tactical change by Vermes on the road as part of the insertion of Nagamura into the starting lineup, but with Benny dropping into a conventional defensive midfielder position and Roger freed to pursue his relentless box-to-box role, the midfield looked crisper in possession and stouter in defense. It was nice to see Roger go back to being Roger (and even chipping in our lone goal!). Benny acquitted himself well with his tackling and defensive positioning, and his ability to spring long passes makes us a dangerous counterattacking team. Sorting out the job assignments in the midfield matters far more to the success of the season than a road point or three at this stage of the campaign.
Yes, three goals conceded isn't a good showing, but the way they happened makes me think we aren't returning to the sieve-like defense that plagued us at the end of last season.
The first goal came after a rookie mistake by our rookie right back. There's a reason the call them "rookie mistakes." Kudos to Vermes for not calling the kid out in the post-match interviews--Dia looked like a veteran for 85 out of 90 minutes, which is a good showing for someone playing only his second match as a professional. And let's not forget that Chance Myers--an explosive athlete, talented attacking fullback, solid defender, and seasoned veteran of both an MLS Cup and a US Open Cup--is working his way back from injury. The right back position will be getting better this summer, whether through experience for the rookie or the return of Chance.
The second goal came on what has widely been acknowledged as a terrible officiating decision, possibly the worst of the weekend. Yes, Sporting gave up far too many set-pieces, and yes they needed to actually clear that particular corner rather than let the ball be played back into the box, but when 4 out of 11 offensive players are offside--including the goal scorer--that's simply a blown call. In truth, when the ball was played back into the scrum for Perez, the defense did exactly the right thing by stepping forward. The assistant refs will hopefully do better than that in the future, and other than resolving to do a better job of not giving up and then clearing set-pieces, there just isn't much for Sporting to do to prevent that kind of an illegal goal.
The third goal by Dallas was righteous enough, but it occurred at a time when Sporting was having to chase the game. As is so often the case in soccer, when you have to throw players into the attack to try and salvage a point your squad overextends and becomes vulnerable to the counter. We can't say for sure the third goal wouldn't have have happened if the second goal had been disallowed, but I am certain that the third goal was made more likely by the second goal counting.
Are there worries for this team? Sure.
Dwyer needs a goal, and even the late penalty kick didn't open his account on the season. Let's be real, though: Dom scores goals. He'll be fine. Strikers are streaky players, and once he gets his first goal, there'll likely be more following swiftly after it.
In truth, for Dwyer to get solid looks at goal, we need one of our forwards or an honest-to-goodness attacking midfielder to score and take the defensive pressure off of Dom. As it is, Dom spent the entire match draped by one or more defenders. Nemeth had an alarmingly quiet evening, which is a concern, but he may be more effective if he moves back into the center of the midfield (but that, of course, may discombobulate the midfield that played so well on the weekend by sending Nagamura back to the bench). Hopefully Zusi or Anor or Nemeth or (better yet) all three of them will start chipping in goals. If a defense has to be honest and defend our other attacking options, Dom will feast--and Sporting will start collecting points three at a time.
The MLS season is a marathon, not a sprint. Right now teams are figuring themselves out. Given the extraordinary amount of roster turnover for Sporting since last season, we have more figuring out to do than most. I'm glad that we seem to be doing just that.
Bring on Portland.