Considering that FC Dallas had won only once in franchise history in Portland (1-6-3 coming in), the club more than had its hands full in the first round of the 2020 playoffs. But Coach Luchi Gonzalez had a plan and his team worked it just well enough to stretch the Timbers to penalties.
And in penalties, anything can happen.
Without fans in the stands, the PKs turned into a clinic of well-taken shots. FC Dallas took an 8-7 lead on the 3rd extra PK when Jimmy Maurer came up big with the game-winning save on Jorge Villafaña.
“I was frustrated. I felt like I was getting good reads on the PKs, I got really close on a few, even the one that went down the middle I thought I was going to be able to get my foot on it,” Maurer said of the 8 rounds of PKs.
“I was like ‘I just got to get one, just got to get one, and we’re going to win it’. I was pissed, to be honest. I was like ‘I’m saving this next one’ and that will do it.”
And do it, he did.
Coach Gonzalez used all 5 of his subs during the game with three youngsters making the most surprising impact. Tanner Tessmann was a calming influence in midfield spreading the ball about and switching play. Ema Twumasi – in only his 8th ever game for the club – played as a linking-8 and a holding mid over the final stretch.
Lastly, Ricardo “El Tren” Pepi grabbed the game-tying goal shortly after he almost scored on a header. It was an over the top pass from Matt Hedges that sprung Pepi. Thankfully the youngster stayed calm when he put the first shot off the post and he was able to clean it up on the rebound.
“It’s a big game in my career,” Pepi said afterward. “Obviously, getting the opportunity to help the team stay in the game, score the game-tying goal, stay in the playoffs, continue to the next round, it was a very important moment for me.”
With the goal, Pepi became the youngest in FC Dallas history to score a postseason goal at 17 years, 318 days old. Reggie Cannon was the previous record holder with last year’s playoff goal against Seattle at 21 years, 130 days old.
“He certainly showed that he can step in at the biggest stage in a pressure moment when we need it most and deliver,” said Coach Gonzalez.
Pepi, Tessmann, and Twumasi also went on to make their penalty kicks in the shootout. Reto Ziegler, Franco Jara, Bressan, Ryan Hollingshead, and Matt Hedges also scored their PKs.
FC Dallas spent the bulk of the game playing a defensive-minded mid-block that seemed intended to kill off the game and keep the score tight. As usual this season, Jesus Ferreira was brought off in the 61st minute, this time for Tanner Tessmann. Andres Ricaurte stayed deep in a double-8 type shape to maintain the defensive stance beside Tessmann.
“We were making plays defensively, we didn’t concede and as the game went on we found more of the ball, found more space, and found the game ultimately,” Coach Gonzalez said.
Jorge Villafaña, who later missed his PK, scored the opening goal of the game in the 82nd minute on a nice combo play involving Diego Valeri and Cristhian Paredes.
It wasn’t until after the Villafaña goal that Coach Gonzalez rolled the dice with attacking subs and went for the tying goal. Along with the aforementioned Pepi sub, Michael Barrios replaced Thiago Santos shifting Tessmann to the holding mid spot.
The final sub in OT of Reto Ziegler for Fafa Picault shifted Dallas to a 5-4-1 that they have frequently used of late to kill off games. Ziegler’s qualities as a PK taker were certainly a factor in his coming on.
FC Dallas will now face the winner of the Tuesday meeting between LAFC and Seattle in the second round. That second-round match will be on either December 1st or 2nd.