FRISCO — Carlos Gruezo isn't on the advertising materials. He's not a broadcaster's "Player to Watch" when FC Dallas is on national TV. Fans don't jostle each other out of the way for his signature during autograph signings.
He likes it that way.
"I'm not the star, the star is over there, the goalscorer!" protests Gruezo, pointing to Maynor Figueroa when Goal asked him for an interview after FCD's 1-0 victory Saturday over Sporting Kansas City.
Agree to disagree.
The Ecuadorian midfielder was critical to FCD keeping a clean sheet against previously unbeaten SKC, man marking Benny Feilhaber for much of the first half, by and large taking the playmaker out of the game until Feilhaber was substituted in the 72nd minute.
"The task for Carlos was to have reference on Feilhaber, Kellyn (Acosta) on (Roger) Espinoza without losing their shape backing each other up during the whole half or game," Dallas manager Oscar Pareja said at the post match news conference. "That’s difficult because sometimes Benny stretched Carlos and Espinoza stretched Kellyn, so there was a hole in the middle that we didn’t want.
"Dealing with that moment for them was crucial, and I think they did it well. There were times when he took him man to man and was attached but there were times when he wasn’t attached and he just had him as a reference and marked the space, which was good for us. We got the ball back and we countered."
While it was one-way traffic for FCD in the first half, with Sporting unable to put a shot on goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez's net, the finishing didn't come through. Even so, because of the changes on the field, Gruezo was able to create more chances than usual in addition to his work recovering the ball in the midfield and keeping the dangerous Feilhaber in check.
"The truth is I think were concentrated during the whole game, and that’s down to the concentration of every one of my teammates," Gruezo said when he relented to an interview. "I always, as I just said, think that for me the stars are other players, not me. I’m just trying to play for my team, support the group and independent of if I did a good job the important thing is that we’re always getting points and that we can maintain control for 90 minutes on the field of play."
Gruezo was silently one of the best additions in MLS last year, signed as a designated player from Stuttgart after his Bundesliga minutes slipped. The 22-year-old struggled at first to adapt to MLS officiating and style of play, becoming one of the first players to serve a suspension for card accumulation after getting five yellows over a seven-match span. But he quickly started to understand what he could and couldn't get away with and also began meshing with the players around him in the midfield.
"Today especially I think we were well connected," Acosta, who is Gruezo's partner in central midfield, told Goal. "I was trying to be close to him because they put a lot of bodies in the middle. It was definitely imperative for me to kind of be connected to him so we can limit their space on the ball. I think we did a tremendous job. Hopefully we can continue that. "
And while Pareja will no doubt echo Acosta's desire to strengthen the bond in the middle, he also wants to see Gruezo grow in his distribution and pass selection.
"Normally he puts a lot of miles into his game and if you track the amount of balls that he gets back to us, that’s amazing," Pareja said. "The next step for Carlos is what can we do with the ball when the ball is at his feet. If he can improve that distribution, then collectively we’re going to be much better.
"That’s hard work for him because after the effort he puts in to getting the ball back, he needs the dynamic to glue people in the middle. It’s tough, and he did it today. That was part of the reason why FC Dallas had such a good game."
Just don't tell Gruezo, who will only find himself getting more and more interview requests and recognition as his star continues to rise for a team that currently stands as the league's last undefeated.