FC Dallas downs Messi’s Miami in Cotton Bowl return

FC Dallas’ preseason started with a win on a cold wet night in Fair Park, as the circus came back to town for the domestic leg of the Messi & Friends world tour.

A goal in just two and a half minutes by Jesus Ferreira led the Burn to its first Cotton Bowl win over a Miami team since 1999. A late Zarco Rodriguez finish helped the OG Burn past a ten-man Miami Fusion in front of 7,529 fans.

Goals & Chances

Asier Illarramendi got to see some old friends and took the chance to punish them pretty quickly. The Basque intercepted an errant pass, redirecting the ball to Liam Fraser. In a passage of play that would have you questioning which team was full of World Cup and Champions League winners, the breakout star of the second half of 2023 played a first time pass to Paul Arriola in space. The ball found Ferreira with Noah Allen on his shoulder, but the ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’ struck once again pulling two defenders out wide before shooting low across Drake Callender.

Leo Messi has apparently never scored an Olimpico as a senior professional. He nearly caught Maarten Paes out four minutes later.

A chance made in Spain for IMCF as Illarra makes a rare poor pass that Sergio Busquets sent Messi’s way. Maarten Paes with a great stop.

Opportunities largely dried up, but Illarra stung Callender’s hands with a long shot after a swift run through the Miami midfield. Antonio Carrera made a neat lunging tackle on Robert Taylor after producing a fantastic reaction save off a Leonardo Campana.

One highlight close to the end was a combination between Nolan Norris, Logan Farrington, and Pedrinho. The recent North Texas SC addition from Flamengo played a stunning through ball for Farrington to run onto on the left. The recent draft pick twisted and turned defenders, creating space to square a ball into the box that Nolan Norris hammered at goal. The 20-year-old Brazilian raced onto the rebound but could only find the face of Serhiy Kryvtsov with his follow-up effort.

Line-up & Tactics

Nico Estevez brought a mostly unscathed team back from training in Wichita Falls. Aside from the long term injuries, Paxton Pomykal was ruled out with a knee injury. Bernard Kamungo rested after his national team debut, and Ema Twumasi was the other notable absentee.

Coach kicked the tires on an updated 3-4-3, featuring a narrower front three and Jesus Ferreira in a deeper role behind the nine.


The effect was that the front three switched around a lot, which really plays to Ferreira’s strengths in play making and trying to stretch lines. Often in 2023 we saw instances where no-one was on the end of his balls into the box because that’s where he should have been. The goal was a strong example of that switching between the front three as Arriola came inside from the left, then Jesus made the advanced run.

If the pro is that Jesus seems to click in this shape, the negative may be that Eugene Ansah does not. He was very much the odd man out and seemed to get caught with the ball in uncomfortable positions, leaving the Miami defense to shepherd him out of play. Logan Farrington on the other hand seemed to thrive in this role. If a DP nine doesn’t materialize, Farrington could have some opportunities playing off feeds from Ferreira and Arriola.

The other component to that adapted 3-4-3 is that almost all of the width on both sides of the ball comes from the wing backs. Marco Farfan is a machine working the entire touchline at this point. Herbert Endeley and Tomas Pondeca both saw some success matching up against Jordi Alba. In theory, Ema Twumasi should be perfect for the role, but we’ve seen times where he excels one way or the other without being able to mesh his attacking and defensive traits.

It’s somewhat unfair to judge performances in preseason when players start getting subbed in from the 35th minute. That said, Omar Gonzalez looks right at home in that FC Dallas back line.

Two other newcomers stood out. Logan Farrington and Diego Garcia.

Farrington is 6’2″ and quick. He knows how to use his body to create space. For the Nolan Norris chance late in the game, Farrington creates space in the center with his pace. As he’s got the CB and RCB’s attention, he’s using his body to turn and shield the ball. A quick turn, look up to see if he’s opened a gap, use the body to fend off the defender, and repeat. He can be the guy to stretch a defense from out wide or drift inside to hold up play and bring the wingers into the game.

Garcia came in for Paul Arriola, getting 40 minutes on both wings. Aside from one moment where a 17-year-old understandably tried to show off in front of arguably the greatest player to ever play the sport, he was so composed. Nice passing, not too conservative or risky. He took players on, came inside from the wings and dropped back well to support Tomas Pondeca at wing back, and had a really pretty curling effort off his left foot that saw Drake Callender scrambling.

The one setback we saw was Jesus Ferreira. After taking a free kick, he went to ground clutching the left side of his groin. Buzz had talked about an issue that the team hoped would resolve itself with rest. I didn’t get a chance to speak with Nico Estevez about it, but it seems like it was more precautionary to remove him from the game as Ferreira took a seat on the bench and didn’t immediately go to the locker room for treatment.


This game was an odd start to preseason. A Monday 5pm kickoff, ridiculous prices, all the difficulties of not playing at a stadium that hosts regular events, plus near-freezing temperatures, rain, and fog!

This was just a convenient stop for the Messi & Friends tour by its Argentine organizers. This was never intended to be a home game for FC Dallas, or convenient for the people of Dallas. Coaches like to talk about creating adversities. You’ll get few chances to have the full away game experience complete with Pacific Northwest weather without leaving DFW.

FC Dallas President Dan Hunt was trotted out in front of the media before the game. I only caught the end of what was largely a group of non-soccer folks showing up to cover Messi asking questions that centered around the things they know to ask about. The younger Hunt had a couple of intriguing points.

  1. Efforts to sign new players really begin after Monday’s game, which was seen as a benchmark
  2. Adding a goal scorer
  3. Acquiring a player for ‘potentially the largest dollar amount in team history’. Dan even cited Alan Velasco as the current record, which was a reported $7-8m.

Next Up

FC Dallas hosts New Mexico United on Saturday in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Toyota Stadium. That game will be an early afternoon kickoff, and I’ve not seen anything on streaming options at this time.

Preseason then moves to the Marbella Football Center once again with the team arriving on the 29th for a training camp and four games that are yet to be announced


  1. Ansah is so good but he just seemed uncomfortable. In Israel, we saw him play a lot more as a winger. Could be more comfortable there maybe? Also is paxtons injury long term? and where was twumasi?

    1. He played mostly as a winger last year and just didn’t seem to be up to it. It may be the adjustment in stepping up a level or two from Israel, but it’s often making the wrong movements or picking bad passes. Ultimately if Jesus is better served on the wing as the team’s best player, Ansah’s best chance at starting is up top and on the Miami game Farrington is gaining ground on him.

      Paxton shouldn’t be long term, Ema was there but not named – probably just picked up a knock.

  2. I was pretty impressed with Norris’ pressing abilities. He managed to stay on the ball often and forced a couple of errant passes.

    1. My only hold-up with Norris’ performance was just experience. A couple of times his positioning took him out of a play or allowed a Miami player by. His passing is so clean, his soccer brain is there, and he’s filling out well physically. His step up from defense to midfield is effortless.

    1. I think so. Bernie and Juqua over the whole season for sure, but Fraser was supposed to be a junk minutes body on the roster, and ended up as one of the better performers late in the season, starting in the playoffs.

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