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FC Dallas struggles to find impact substitutions when needed most

FRISCO, Texas — Part of winning games is adjustments and substitutions. FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja knows that, and when he makes the right player substitutions they can have massive impacts on games. For example, when Tesho Akindele came off the bench to score two goals July 4 during the team’s 3-2 victory over Atlanta United. One of the goals was assisted by Ryan Hollingshead, also a sub.

But most of the time this year, finding the right player substitution has been a struggle for Dallas, like in Thursday’s 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo. The subs — usual starter Maxi Urruti, Hollingshead and Cristian Colman — followed an alarming trend of Pareja’s changes not having much impact when the team needs it most.

For example, during the team’s 3-1 loss Aug. 4 against San Jose, Pareja elected to shift more offensively by subbing in attacking midfielder Jacori Hayes for defensive midfielder Victor Ulloa and forward Cristian Colman for winger Akindele. His last sub, Hollingshead, was forced due to right back Reggie Cannon suffering an injury.

The moves didn’t work. Hayes struggled to shake off the rust from a lack of match action, having played a total of 38 minutes since his last start on June 23. 

Hollingshead whipped in balls to no avail.

We’ll get to Colman later.

“I think I didn’t move well from the bench,” Pareja said postmatch when asked if he had any regrets. “I could have done more. The evaluations in the second half, when I made some movements, I could have done better.”

Thursday in Houston, Pareja elected to bring Maxi Urruti off the bench to replace Dominique Badji. Urruti slotted in the No. 9 role, Pablo Aranguiz shifted out wide and Akindele moved to the forward slot.

Aranguiz was full of ideas during the match and applied pressure to Houston’s defense. There was fluidity in his movement on the wing. He launched shots and had animated discussions with his teammates on what he wanted them to do — until he was subbed off for Hollingshead.

It was a 0-0 match and Aranguiz was causing issues. Why take him off for a winger who may not be as comfortable in attacking situations? Sure enough, Hollingshead found himself one-on-one with Dynamo keeper Joe Willis and placed a heavy touch into Willis’ watchful arms.

When Dallas is chasing a goal, Pareja turns to Colman to provide a spark. Colman is very good at getting into positions to score goals, which is why fans are often frustrated when he is not able to finish those chances. Colman has not scored since May 30 in Dallas’ 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. Colman found himself in space in the 86th minute Thursday and connected on a cross from Michael Barrios. The ball drifted harmlessly off-target. 

Colman has shown his worth in defending leads by holding up play and winning aerial duels from long balls, but his scoring record is not good. Since his transfer in January 2017, Colman has only scored four goals in 38 total matches played. 

For a sub situation that works, look at the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers Sunday. The Sounders subbed on Nouhou Tolo, Roman Torres and Will Bruin in pursuit of a result. All three of them can and have started for the club. All three of them played in the MLS Cup final last season. That depth on the bench can change a match.

Does Dallas have that kind of depth to change a match when chasing a goal? Colman is on the receiving end of those balls and it seems to never go in the back of the net. Who’s Dallas impact sub? Urruti, who is on the verge of not scoring in 20 hours?

It’s a question that needs to be solved by playoff time. Those are the matches where adjustments like subs are critical, especially with the fourth one in extra time. Who is going to be Dallas’ impact sub when the team needs it most?

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