An Analytical Look at FC Dallas in 2021

I’ve seen lots of discourse online about the current state of FC Dallas. Seven games into the 2021 regular season fans are wondering why the team is underperforming, just how bad are things, and who ultimately is to blame.

To answer some of these questions, let’s dive into some analytic data and unpack what’s happening with the team this year.

A portion of this post previously appeared on /r/FCDallas on Reddit.com. Thanks to American Soccer Analysis for the analytical data.

With seven matches played so far in 2021, Luchi Gonzalez as head coach has amassed the following overall record:

YEARGPWDLGFGAGDPtsPPG
201934139125446+8481.412
2020229762824+4341.545
20217133811-36.857
Total632319219081+9881.397

Based purely on the average points per game achieved in Luchi’s tenure, FC Dallas should be expecting around 9 to 10 points (1.397ppg x 7 games). If we cross-reference against the American Soccer Analysis xGoals calculations we see they’ve come to the same result, expecting FC Dallas to be sitting on 9.87 points.

We can also compare FC Dallas’s goals for and against through the 7 games played against those expected and average calculations. With that, we see that the team’s expected goals for and against are roughly 11.6 against 11, and so we can describe the team as under-performing by roughly 3.6 goals offensively, while the defense is slightly exceeding expectations.

Dallas has conceded 10 goals to opposition players and scored 1 own goal, and against the 11.03 expected goals allowed, that means the team is defensively performing slightly better than expected (since, for the purposes of analytics, own goals are excluded), even if the team is in the bottom half of the league.

That 11.6 offensive xG is important because it shows that tactically there isn’t really much of an issue when it comes to generating offense. Based purely on what the team has done on the field, even with a limited sample size of only 7 games from this season, FC Dallas is likely the 5th-best attacking team in MLS.

So, why has the team scored just 8 goals against 11.6 expected? Where are those 3.6 missing goals?

In a word, Jara.

Franco Jara leads the team in xGoals, with 3.76, and has scored just once so far this season. For reference, here are the FC Dallas players listed by goals, xGoals, and the difference. A player with a positive value in the last column has exceeded expectations. A negative value and they’ve underperformed.

PlayerMinutesGxGG-xG
Franco Jara52913.76-2.76
Freddy Vargas44300.70-0.70
Bryan Acosta69000.56-0.56
Paxton Pomykal22700.45-0.45
José Antonio Martínez64400.17-0.17
Tanner Tessmann47500.17-0.17
Jáder Obrian62322.06-0.06
Matt Hedges35600.04-0.04
Edwin Munjoma40300.000.00
Phelipe33400.000.00
John Nelson25600.000.00
Szabolcs Schon7000.000.00
Jimmy Maurer35600.000.00
Kalil ElMedkhar1700.000.00
Ema Twumasi1500.000.00
Edwin Cerrillo2700.000.00
Andrés Ricaurte58210.970.03
Ricardo Pepi18710.850.15
Ryan Hollingshead69010.800.20
Bressan62410.770.23
Dante Sealy4210.630.37

Franco sits alone at the top of the table, not just for FC Dallas, but for the league as a whole. Second Place is Nashville’s CJ Sapong, with -2.16, but he’s played far fewer minutes (333 vs 529 for Jara). Everyone else in MLS is at -1.76 or better. Jara alone explains 2.76 of the team’s missing 3.6 goals.

With Jesus Ferreira injured and other roster issues, Jara has been relied upon heavily and he’s already played 5.87 games worth of minutes. Even with the small sample size, Jara is so far underperforming that it’s actually – dramatically so – statistically significant.

So why would Luchi keep relying on Jara?

Here’s where we leave the realm of analytics and dive into some speculation.

Jara is the 10th highest-paid player in MLS based on the most recently released MLS Players Association salary guide. He’s guaranteed to make $2.977 million this year, or in a more tangible metric, roughly 3.5 Matts Hedges. That’s a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

I’d bet a good chunk of Jara’s guaranteed compensation that the Hunts have leaned on Luchi to truck him out there because, in part, he’s being paid so goddamn much. Plus, add in the delusions that Pachuca fans who watched him play in Mexico might buy his jerseys/season tickets/whatever else and there’s probably some pressure from above.

That said, Jara’s goal this season is currently the most expensive goal in FC Dallas history. Step aside Denilson, there’s a new king in town.

Why is Jara, and the rest of the team for that matter, underperforming? It’s not really possible to say for certain, but some of it has to do with how Jara meshes with the team (or, to be more accurate, does not), while some of it could be down to how FC Dallas usually performs entering the summer.

Consistently since moving to Toyota Stadium in 2005, and more noticeably in recent years, FC Dallas has struggled to find results, both home and away, from roughly mid-April through June. If we take a look at the team’s PPG from April 16 through June 30th against their full-season PPG, we can see a bit of contrast.

YearApr-Jun GPApr-Jun PPGFull Season PPG
2010101.6001.667
2011132.0771.529
2012110.3641.147
2013101.4001.294
2014120.8331.588
2015111.4551.765
2016111.5451.765
2017111.2731.353
2018112.0911.676
2019121.0831.412
202170.857TBD
2020 season omitted due to no matches played in timeframe

In 7 out of the last 10 full seasons played, FC Dallas has played noticeably worse entering the summer months. The three seasons where the team played better in this time period, they played worse later into the summer, with July, August, and early September standing out for worse results. The summer slump is real.

So, how much can we pin on Luchi himself?

It’s hard to say. Yes, the tactical tinkering hasn’t worked out well, but the lineup is also in flux between recent departures, injuries, and players struggling to get integrated with a new team. It’s on the coach to manage those things, but outside of Jara, the team is performing like a side that should be sitting around 4th or 5th in the West.

Before the season began, I offered up my predictions as part of the annual /r/MLS Countdown to Kickoff series of previews and expected exactly that.

Simply put, we’re 3 missed goals from Jara away from being right where I (and a number of others) expected in February. (See the early part of the article.) That’s likely not far from what Luchi himself expected and given the amount of turnover from last year’s squad he has a lot of pieces to tinker with at the moment.

Maybe Jara will improve as the season progresses, since 7 games and 529 minutes isn’t actually that big of a sample size. He’s definitely getting the chances, and he could just have the worst luck imaginable right now. Or he might actually just suck and be an albatross contract for Andre Zanotta to do something with in the coming months.

Either way, the sky isn’t falling, at least not yet.

4 Comments

  1. I think the tactical tinkering was a problem at the beginning of the season. The recent tinkering by Luchi has FCD playing pretty well, except for (as you point out) the finishing. FCD’s top 2 xG underperformers are two of the starters on the front-line. Oof that’s bad.

    But it’s not just the lack of finishing. It’s the loss of opportunities. If FCD can put away one of the two golden chances (or, perish the thought, both) against SJ, that game probably plays out very differently. So many of Jara’s big misses or tame-straight-at-the-keeper shots have come relatively early in games in in spots that would give FCD the lead. Those are crushing misses and keep FCD from getting into a good game state position. Moreover, that ends up putting the defense under increasing pressure. No defense is perfect. While the GA and the xGA are a bit higher than I would like to see for only 7 games, I think those numbers would be better if FCD was playing with a lead more often and earlier in games. Could the defense be better? Sure. But that isn’t what is holding the team back and the level of underperformance from the defense pales in comparison to the level of underperformance from the front 3.

  2. Jader Obrian also needs to share the blame as far as scoring is concerned no matter what the analytics say. He’s had the best chances to score IMO, but has flubbed them. He was also signed to score goals as he led his team in scoring last year IIRC. Seems like a Fabian Castillo w/o the goals to me.

    1. Some of the blame, yes. But not a lot. Obrian has scored two non-pk goals. Jara has scored none (!!!). Obrian is new to MLS while Jara has most of a season of MLS experience plus years of Liga MX experience. Yes Obrian was signed to score goals, but Jara was signed and is being paid to score a lot of goals. Obrian causes opposing defenses some problems with pace. Vargas hasn’t yet been very dangerous for opposing teams. Obrian has missed a couple of good chances I can think of (one against SJ and his whiff against Colorado off a cross while he was running at goal). But compared to Jara and Vargas, Obrian isn’t the problem.

    2. Obrian’s xG is 2.06, and he has 2 goals. That’s pretty much bang-on as far as I’m concerned, and for right now, I wouldn’t be too concerned with his performance. He’s had some rough moments in recent games, but there’s nothing that stands out as indicative of overall trends – yet. But if he finishes the year down more than 2-3 goals from expected, then there are some questions.

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