The ascendance of Edwin Cerrillo

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
  • Tackling
  • Intercepting
  • Recovering
  • Turning back attacks before they start
  • Progression play – passing and carries
Foxboro, MA: Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas #6) drives the ball forward in the first half. FC Dallas fell 1-0 to the New England Revolution on March 5, 2022 (c) Burt Granofsky

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.

Proof

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. 

Cerrillo’s Touches20212022
Touches Defensive Third28.327.6
Touches Middle Third35.937.9
Stats adjusted per 90 minutes.

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.

Cerrillo’s Tackling 20212022
Tackles1.692.63
Tackles won1.12.63
Overall Pressure Win Rate23.7%27.8%
Vs Dribbler Win PCT21.9%45.5%
Stats adjusted per 90 minutes.

That’s big. He’s turning back the attack and he’s become very difficult to get past.

Edwin Cerrillo pressures Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley in the MLS matchup at Toyota Stadium. (Daniel McCullough, 3rd Degree)

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 20212022
Interceptions1.230.79
Blocks0.780.53
Recoveries9.359.21
Stats adjusted per 90 minutes.

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.

Progression Play

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.

Cerrillo’s Passing 20212022
E’s Passing89.0%90.6% (9th best in MLS)
E’s Passes Intercepted1.230.79
E’s Passes Blocked0.780.53
Stats adjusted per 90 minutes.

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.

Cerrillo’s Dribbles20212022
Dribbles1.690.79
Successful Dribbles61.5%33.3%
Stats adjusted per 90 minutes.

Instead, he’s reading the pressure, shielding successfully, and moving away and then forward without attempting the direct attacking dribble.

Cerrillo’s Progression Play20212022
Passes Under Pressure7.408.16
Carries46.249.2
Progressive Carries1.562.89
Distance Carried91.7123.2
Dispossessed0.840.26
Stats adjusted per 90 minutes.

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.

Edwin Cerrillo intercepts the ball in the MLS match between FC Dallas and Austin FC, 2021. (Daniel McCullough/3rdDegree)

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 Report20212022
Fouls Committed2.532.63
Yellow Cards0.390.26
Stats adjusted per 90 minutes.

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.

Edwin Cerrillo changed to the number 6 for the 2021 season. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

2 Comments

  1. To your point about wisdom and feel, I strongly believe that the best 6’s don’t generate a lot of defensive stats because the opposing team abandons going through the middle of the field. Buzz, I know you like Chara, but in my view he is a step below the best in the league–if he got all the yellows he actually deserved, he’d have played in about 50% fewer games. More broadly, I think Chara just doesn’t close down the middle of the field as an option like Gruezo did. For me, the 6 is the hardest position to evaluate without knowing the game and watching a good amount of a play from a player. I think the eye test is far more important than pure stats (though I appreciate Buzz’s point and his use of stats to show progression and for that purpose I think it’s very instructive). Good 6’s just make things work (on both sides of the ball).

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