Michael Barrios has been nearly invisible for the entirety of the 2020 season. Although 2020 has been a turbulent year – more so for FC Dallas after having to leave the MLSisBack tournament due to a high number of positive Covid tests – Barrios has seemingly become almost a non-factor in the FC Dallas attack, having yet to register on the score sheet.
Such external turbulence in the season could be part of what is behind his poor start, but there seems to be deeper reasons that are also contributing to his decline in performances.
Barrios has not scored or assisted thus far and his most notable contribution of the season was drawing a penalty after minimal contact in his first substitute appearance of the season against Minnesota United.
Barrios is also averaging one shot per game, which is well below his average even in his worst season. In addition, he is only completing one dribble per 90 and is bizarrely averaging more fouls committed than fouls against.
1. Tactical Inconsistency
For most of his career, Barrios has been a pure winger. Even spending some of his time at right midfield or right attacking midfielder, his instructions have always had him making driving runs and creating chances from out wide.
During his best seasons for the club, he has spent the majority of the season in the same formation in the same position. When he hasn’t, his play has suffered.
In 2020, FC Dallas seems to be on a tactical carousel, trying to account for new players as well as attempting constant shifts to promote players’ strong suits. Switching between a possession-based 4-3-3, a 3-4-3, and a 4-2-3-1.
The past has seemed to prove that a 4-2-3-1 formation is where Barrios thrives far and above any other, even if the center attacking midfielder is not quite a typical no. 10, such as Jesus Ferreira.
Here are the different formations from Nashville part 1, Nashville part 2, and Houston, all in just a bit over a week.
But so much moving around and moving positions – with Barrios even playing as a second striker at a point – has left a lot to be desired from his play.
2. Inconsistent Cast Around Him
Sports hernias, player sales, and the club’s inability to find a consistent number 9 for half a decade have meant that Barrios has seen his fair share of midfielders and strikers to link up with during his time at FC Dallas.
In addition to tactical inconsistency changing his position and role from game to game, it has also changed his supporting cast from game to game. With various midfielders, strikers, off-strikers, false-9s, and teenage D1 football commits all filling out the positions around him, Barrios has not quite been able to get the service or consistency he would hope for.
Obviously a near half-year delay in matches will all affect consistency as well. Not to mention the limited training sessions – especially before the restart – meant less time and less quality training with the current group.
3. Even Year Barrios
During the past decade, the San Francisco Giants would be unstoppable during even number years, yet poor during odd numbered years, which spurred the birth of the “Even year Giants” meme.
The opposite is true of Michael Barrios, who seems to excel during odd-numbered years, putting up double-digit assists in 2017 and 2019, yet he only had seven assists combined through 2016, 2018, and 2020.
While regular science or theories cannot explain such a phenomenon, I believe my theory does: Barrios was going through his family’s attic during his time in Colombia when he rubbed a lamp or something and a genie came out.
In return for a professional career in soccer, Michael Barrios traded 3 inches of height and athletic ability during even-numbered years to become a fullbacks nightmare in odd-numbered years.
That or the even-numbered years have been plagued by other players’ injuries, tactical inconsistency, and an ever-changing cast of midfielders and strikers around him. For good measure let’s blame Denilson too.
Reason for Hope
On the pitch, it has not been all bad for Barrios thus far, as the problem seems to lie solely in the final third. Barrios has already created 2 big chances this season and has a 2.2 key passes average. According to American Soccer Analysis, his combined xG + xA is at .55 per 90, which is higher than his previous three seasons.
With the addition of Andres Ricuarte to the squad, Barrios may finally be able to run onto the end of through balls again instead of spending half the match chasing down balls sent to the touch line by Bryan Acosta or getting beat in the air by center backs who are more than a foot taller than him.
So Ricuarte may be able to revitalize Barrios and help turn his season around and turn him back into the odd year Barrios that we know and love.
Time will tell.