The Magisterial and Multifaceted Mauro Diaz
Much has been made about the fitness of Mauro Diaz being the difference between FC Dallas in their second MLS Cup final, and having a premature end to their season.
While this is not strictly true, the Argentine has the potential to be an MVP candidate on his day. Injuries have limited Diaz heavily since his arrival from River Plate, and effectively ended his 2014 season in April. The Mauro Diaz that played 90 minutes in Seattle during the play-offs, was far from the Super Mauro that is capable of humiliating every big name designated player without breaking sweat.
During, and after, the opening weekend’s game with San Jose, a few people mentioned that Diaz was very quiet. Dominic Kinnear, and San Jose, are both synonymous with physical defensive play, so there’s no great shock that the two being reunited would result in plenty of closing down and strong challenges.
To the surprise of many, Diaz was selected for the MLS Team of the Week, but that’s actually a great call by the selectors, who took the time to watch what Diaz did beyond the usual runs that mirror some of his more famous compatriots.
Mauro Diaz briefly did what Mauro Diaz is known for. He had the playful flick over Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi’s head. He made the 20 yard run, and played in Atiba Harris at a perfect position to cross. On the other flank, he picks up the ball in the Dallas half, takes a couple of steps into a crowded midfield and threads a 30 yard grounded pass to leave Moises Hernandez clear for a cross.
Two chances carved from nothing, although it’s what we've come to expect from the other magisterial Argentine number 10. He also won four free-kicks, another benefit of Diaz’s tight control frustrating the opposition.
M: Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) - This kid is fun. Ran the show for FCD with an impressive blend of flair, labor and thrust.
I’d wholly agree that Mauro ran the show. He had 20 successful passes in the first half alone. He sought out an unmarked Blas Perez, whose low shot was saved, with a 20th minute free-kick. In the 58th minute, Diaz receives the ball off-balance on the edge of the box, plays a one-two with Ryan Hollingshead as he regains his footing, and simply holds the ball up, drawing Fabian Castillo’s marker and leaving the Colombian with a clear sight for an 18 yard effort.
However, it was his box-to-box performance that left the biggest impression on me. This is where the labor and thrust comes in to play.
In the 10th minute, Chris Wondolowski has a shot parried by Chris Seitz in the FCD goal. The US international recovers the rebound and lays the ball off, very invitingly, to J.J. Koval at the top of the D. Before Koval can even contemplate shooting at goal, Diaz has sprinted back, got between Koval and the ball, and ushered it back for Matt Hedges to clear the danger.
Less than a minute later, following further pressure from the Earthquakes, Diaz picks up a loose ball and shifts the momentum by holding it up long enough for the FC Dallas defense to compose themselves. Play would be switched to Hernandez, before Hollingshead wins a corner. Later on Blas Perez heads away a cross, following yet another potent spell for San Jose. The ball falls to Pierazzi on the edge of the box, with Diaz harrying the Frenchman from that prime central position, back to around 35 yards and against the touchline. Diaz gave his team-mates adequate time to recover and force play back in to the visitors’ half.
His set pieces were poor, he didn’t have a single successful cross, and his lone shot sailed over the bar. There was even a ten minute spell, at the start of the second half, where Diaz was unable to track back or stick to an opponent that turned away from him.
All this aside, the River Plate product put in a splendid show in the areas where most do not associate him. Everyone at Toyota Stadium saw the supreme rise of Victor Ulloa from a youngster waived, to the box-to-box midfielder the club have always called out for. Evidently Pareja has made a concerted effort, across the board, to create a more versatile team that can provide the 4-4-2 needed to get both Perez and Tesho Akindele their desired time up front together. I would be surprised to see Dallas play this formation against a much stronger opponent, in Sporting Kansas City, on Saturday.
It is, however, nice to know the flat midfield is as much an option as the diamond or the 4-2-3-1 that FC Dallas have traditionally preferred. It’s also very bold to take, arguably your best attacking asset, out of his comfort zone in a game. When Dallas fans have seen experimental line-ups and formations, they have coined the phrase ‘In Papi we trust’.
That trust is deserved, and possesses a solid chance of being rewarded with silverware in time.