If you’ve listened to anyone who covers FC Dallas in 2022, you will have heard talk of the improved play of Edwin Cerrillo.
The 21-year-old Waco native has taken steady steps in his game ever since converting to the holding-mid position in the Academy.
But this year feels different.
In 2022, Cerrillo’s step forward has been remarkable as he’s locked down the job as the starting 6. E, as he’s sometimes referred, has been the club’s most consistently strong performer through the first four games.
Holding mid isn’t a glamorous position and it’s not easy to notice great play from that spot. It can’t be easily demonstrated via goals or assists.
So, what, exactly, is Cerrillo doing so well?
We’ve discussed it a bit on the podcast and while you might be willing to take our word for it, I thought it a worthwhile project to dig into the numbers to try and show you all what exactly he’s improved.
Perhaps I can do it in a way to make it clear and easily digestible.
The Eye Test
Just going on what I was seeing with my own eyes, here are the areas I have said Cerrillo was improving this season.
- Covering more ground – both side to side but also vertically
- Turning back attacks before they start
- Progression play – passing and carries
The Biggest Change
Before I went to the numbers, I figured I should ask Coach Nico Estevez if, firstly, he agreed with my assessment that Cerrillo was much improved and, secondly, why he thought that was.
For the first part of the question, Coach agreed.
As for then for the second part, he said something I hadn’t noticed but in hindsight makes sense: In 2022, Cerrillo has been asked to play higher with a greater gap between himself and the center backs.
Coach Estevez felt Cerrillo was playing too deep in 2021, almost on top of the center backs. This year he’s moved Cerrillo higher up into a single pivot where he is able to cut out passes, win balls, and stifle play in better spaces to help the team.
And that is a big part of the difference.
So yes, Cerrillo is playing better in a more impactful manner and a lot of that is due to a simple change in tactical positioning.
I’ll attempt to show you this shift in position idea is true with some numbers, all of which are adjusted per 90 minutes as we’re talking 22 games last season versus 4 games this season.
Unless mentioned, all stats in this post are from fbref.com.
Let’s start with something simple… touches per phase. Overall, Cerrillo’s touches are the same, 66.3 per game but there’s a shift to the middle of the field.
|Touches Defensive Third||28.3||27.6|
|Touches Middle Third||35.9||37.9|
It is massive? No.
But when a player averages 66 touches per game, having just a few down in one phase and a few up in the other indicates this shift.
Attempting to show the shift in an image, here is Cerrillo’s overall heat map for 2021 vs 2022 (from https://www.sofascore.com/).
Again, not a massive shift, but you can see on the left in 2021 the dense area right atop the defensive third. And on the right, 2022, the far more even spread.
This spread is everything. The area of the field he’s covering has changed; from both a coaching/tactical shift to a higher position as a single pivot but also because of his greater confidence and self-belief.
Let’s look at the rest of the stats.
Tackling and Pressures
The eye didn’t lie on this one.
On the surface, Cerrillo’s total number of tackles is up by one tackle per 90, but the tackles won are up even more. Cerrillo’s also pressing with greater effect and his win percentage on dribblers trying to past him is way up.
|Overall Pressure Win Rate||23.7%||27.8%|
|Vs Dribbler Win PCT||21.9%||45.5%|
That’s big. He’s turning back the attack and he’s become very difficult to get past.
Intercepting, Blocks, and Recoveries
This one surprised me. Before I looked at the numbers, I thought Cerrillo was intercepting a lot more passes this year… and that proved to not be the case.
In fact, he’s down in all three of these categories.
|Cerrillo’s Defensive Action||2021||2022|
After looking at this, I’ve decided it’s again where he’s doing these things. All three categories are technically down and yet pretty much everyone says he’s playing far better.
In 2022, there are fewer intercepts, but they are happening up near midfield where it’s more helpful (and visible) as it turns back the attack before it starts. Compare that to 2021 when a lot of his intercepts were in the defensive third right in front of the center backs. Emergency defending if you will.
Beating the dead horse, it’s where it’s all happening that makes his defensive actions so much more effective and more impactful. I.e., better.
I don’t think you can undersell the importance of a 6 keeping the ball and not turning it back over to the opposition.
Let’s look at 3 areas of Cerrillo’s possession game: passing, dribbling, and carrying.
First, his own passing.
|E’s Passing||89.0%||90.6% (9th best in MLS)|
|E’s Passes Intercepted||1.23||0.79|
|E’s Passes Blocked||0.78||0.53|
So, his passing is about the same in raw percentage terms but he’s being intercepted and blocked less which to me says he’s being smarter in his decisions.
I also think Cerrillo knows dribbles aren’t his forte, so he’s intentionally playing to reduce them unless forced to.
Instead, he’s reading the pressure, shielding successfully, and moving away and then forward without attempting the direct attacking dribble.
|Cerrillo’s Progression Play||2021||2022|
|Passes Under Pressure||7.40||8.16|
Most of Cerrillo’s carries are away and into space even as he’s under more pressure. He’s holding and moving away. And he’s upped how far he’s carrying and the number of times he’s using a carry to progress play.
Perhaps most importantly, he’s also losing the ball at a lower rate. Cerrillo is playing cleaner and helping FCD retain possession.
What’s Next for Cerrillo’s Game?
Given his record of season-to-season improvement, what’s should we look for to next improve in Cerrillo’s game? After all, he’s only 21 and has several years of improvement to come.
Wisdom and Feel.
Being able to play the 6 adequately is quite often about the physical tools: range, tackling, possession play, etc.
Being able to play it great is about the mind.
Reading the game. Feeling the game. Knowing when to foul or take the card and when not to. Knowing when to step, pinch, or cut off a play versus when to get back and fill a gap.
One last stat: Cerrillo is 10th in MLS in fouls committed with 10 total in 2022.
|Cerrillo’s Discipline Report||2021||2022|
Cerrillo’s pure number of fouls is up a tick but that’s ok. Simo Valakari and Leonel Alvarez, two of the best destroyers in club history, used to always be high in fouls committed too.
It’s where and when you do your fouling and how often it gets you into trouble that matters. If a 6 can’t stay on the field he can’t help the team win.
With Cerrillo in 2022, we see the yellow cards going down. That’s good.
This then is the continued area of improvement for him: the mind. Reading the game. Developing the wisdom of knowing when and why. Perhaps this is an area Facundo Quignon can be of great assistance. Facu has much more experience than Cerrillo, hopefully, some of that will be passed along.
But mostly, wisdom just takes time and games. Just keep playing the kid and he should get better and better.