Due to performances during the preseason and constant injuries, Brandon Servania began the year playing for North Texas SC. However, after a stellar performance at the U20 World Cup and as the year progressed, he became an integral part of the FC Dallas midfield.
Since the summer when he came back from that World Cup, Brandon Servania has been instrumental for this team. In all regular-season MLS matches since his first start against Toronto on June 23rd, FC Dallas is 6-3-4 with a +9 goal differential when he starts and 1-1-3 with a -7 goal differential when he doesn’t start.
Number-wise, his season has been pretty good. In 1120 minutes, he had one assist and two goals, both coming from the bench in that amazing 5-3 win against Minnesota United. He averaged around 32.4 passes per game and had a passing accuracy of 83.7% throughout the season.
One of his best performances was against Sporting Kansas City last weekend. Granted, it was against a weaker side that had nothing to play for going into the match. But Servania’s performance showed why he is the most important player on this roster going into the playoffs.
Doing All the Dirty Work
Carlos Gruezo was one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS when he played in the league. His defining trait was an ability to control the midfield, tackling incoming attackers and making great defensive plays to help cover the backline. As he grew into the position over the years, Oscar Pareja gave him the responsibility of beginning possession, so Gruezo mastered the ability to possess and start the attack.
When he left, it left a massive question for Luchi to answer, as there was no one on the roster with the qualities that Gruezo possessed.
Edwin Cerrillo became the first choice, especially due to him covering for Gruezo in the beginning of the season due to injuries. Cerrillo ended up with the 3rd highest passing accuracy for players who played over 10 matches in the league, with 92.5%. Cerrillo is great in possession, barely losing the ball and helping the team transition from the defense to the attack. However, Cerrillo is extremely young, and in his first year as a professional. Plus, as seen by his recent matches with North Texas SC, he is bound to the occasional defensive slip-up, which is understandable.
Jacori Hayes was the next choice in line, but Jacori isn’t really a defensive-minded player. His skillset is to hold the ball at his feet, pushing the attack forward as a box-to-box midfielder.
Luchi decided to transition Bryan Acosta, the Honduran Designated Player, into the defensive midfield role. It has had some positive results. With Acosta that deep, the possession game works very well, as he is able to push the ball forward into the attack, which allows players like Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira to play more in the attack. Acosta also helps with the counterattack, as he has constantly dumped the ball into the stride of Michael Barrios multiple times this season.
He is not, however, very good on the defensive side of the ball.
— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) September 30, 2019
Kei Kamara is 35 years old. You can’t let him pass you like that on that part of the field.
It wasn’t just Kamara’s goal. When Jack Price scored his first goal, You can see Bryan Acosta, the defensive midfielder mind you, lightly jogging 10 yards behind Price, who is running right at the centerbacks.
There are three types of defensive midfielders: the ball-winner, the midfield controller, and the regista. Gruezo was mostly a ball-winner, which is exactly what it sounds like, but as his passing and distribution improved, he became more of a midfield controller, being able to do multiple things, which allows the other midfielder to go at goal.
Acosta is neither. His role from that defensive midfielder position is to help create and to jump-start the attack. Regista aren’t known for their defensive abilities, but using them that deep allows for the attack to start deeper in the field.
However, this ends up being negative defensively. Having another player on the defensive side of the ball isn’t enough to be considered a good defensive player. Acosta has trouble with attackers going right at him, as shown by the Kamara.
This is when Servania comes in. Servania has played in multiple locations across the midfield, from the 6 role with the U20’s, to the 8 role, to playing attacking midfielder in the amazing 5-3 win against Minnesota United. However, with FC Dallas, he has usually played as the 8, with either Pomykal and Ferreira in front of him and Acosta playing the defensive midfield role.
Servania has become the defensive player in the midfield since Gruezo left. In the last match against Sporting Kansas City, he led the team with 5 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 4 fouls. However, he isn’t doing it while protecting the defense. Servania plays almost like Pomykal in that regard, tracking the player that has the ball and pouncing when the opportunity comes.
This is Servania’s defensive plays against Sporting Kansas City (Green is tackles, Red is tackles lost, Blue is interceptions, yellow is recoveries). Notice that most occur at least 35 yards from goal. He tracks the ball before the attack enters the dangerous area
The partnership between Acosta and Servania is extremely important. They share the responsibilities that Gruezo used to hold: Acosta sits deep, covering some ground, and helping start possession, and Servania destroys the opponents’ attack and stays higher up the field to cover more grounds.
The last time and only time FC Dallas started both players and lost was against Orlando City SC back in August.
A Special Something
Servania has done a lot of amazing things this year.
Didn't know Brandon Servania had this in his locker. pic.twitter.com/vfqWglp8ax
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) July 14, 2019
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) July 14, 2019
The clips above show FC Dallas in possession, an aspect that Servania has improved dramatically as he has progressed throughout the season. Honestly, though, I think his goal against New Mexico was his best play this season, and is up there as the goal of the season (if Open Cup counts).
And, of course, there’s the 5-3 victory against Minnesota United that I’ve already referenced in this article.
It’s a hot take that Brandon Servania is the most important player on this roster entering the playoffs, but the numbers support it. The team’s record is positive when he starts, and in FC Dallas’ recent losses, where the team lost by three or more goals, Servania did not start. His aggressive play makes the game easier for everyone around him, which makes the team better. He is up there as one of the top performers of the year, including Pomykal, Gonzalez, Hollingshead, and Barrios.
FC Dallas returns to action against Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field in the 1st round of the playoffs on October 19th at 2:30pm. The game can be seen on Fox Sports.
Featured Image: SBI Soccer