FC Dallas faced potentially its toughest test of what has been a rough season as Bruce Arena and the first placed New England Revolution came to town looking to hold off Papi’s Orlando in the Eastern Conference Standings. Luchi Gonzalez described it as getting the weight of the dirt off his back as a tactically astute and sometimes gritty performance gave his side only its second win of 2021.
Gonzalez bucked the trend to use a five man back line in part at home after the midweek struggle in LA. Johnny Nelson replaced Jose Martinez in an otherwise unchanged team, which largely played as a 4-1-4-1 but could compress into the 3-4-3 from LA as Ryan Hollingshead would drop back into defense. The FC Dallas coach was keen to heap praise on Nkosi Tafari after stepping back into the starting lineup after initially being set to sit.
“He wasn’t initially starting tonight it was going to be Jose [Martinez] with Bressan. Jose picked up an injury, we didn’t think it was anything yesterday but today before the warm up he felt something so it wasn’t worth pushing. Nkosi stepped in without knowing until that moment he rose up to the occasion. I’m so proud of him.”Luchi Gonzalez
Dallas took an important step in the 11th minute. Facundo Quignon blocked a pass with an excellent sliding challenge, deflecting towards Jesus Ferreira. Ferreira touched the ball back over his shoulder for Ricardo Pepi to run on to. The El Paso native held off Jonathan Bell as the pair raced to the loose ball, with Pepi stroking the ball inside the far post from the right side of the area.
Pepi was a post away from extending the lead as the clock hit 20 minutes. Again it was Quignon sliding in to start the play, beating Arnor Trautarson to push the ball out to Justin Che on the right wing. Che swung a cross in with Pepi beating two New England defenders to the delivery but he was only able to find Matt Turner’s near post.
The Revs hadn’t threatened but tied the game in the 33rd minute in fortunate fashion for Bruce Arena’s men. The Revs recycled possession in the back, switching from left to right. A couple of quick passes brought Brandon Bye up the field level with the edge of the area. Johnny Nelson attempted to stop the cross but could only slightly change the path of the ball as Gustavo Bou was able to slip in behind Bressan – who seemed set for the original path of the ball – finishing first time past Maurer from point blank range.
There were a few moments of ill-discipline as three yellow cards came, but none for actions in the course of play. Bryan Accosta received a yellow card for timewasting as early as 18 minutes. Matt Polster for dissent. Even substitute Phelipe found his name in the referee’s book after kicking a ball on to the field from the bench during an appeal for a penalty.
“Most of those plays we were pissed off. Some of the plays there were yellow cards that shouldn’t have been called. I feel like the referee was unfair but it’s not the it’s not a big deal. We handled the game, we managed to do well and we did great out there.”Ricardo Pepi on the communication between the two teams and referee Kevin Stott
One thing Dallas is having to rapidly deal with is a tendency for Jader Obrian to go to ground and the reputation that creates with officials. The Phelipe card – and Jesus Ferreira coming close to one of his own after remonstrating with the fourth official – came from such an incident. Quignon lifted a ball over the back line for Obrian to run on to, the Colombian took a heavy touch on his chest and went down attempting to win a penalty off Andrew Farrell. It was the third such exaggerated fall of the half by the Colombian.
The old adage would be that you couldn’t tell which team was top of its conference and which was bottom, and it was a complete reflection as Bryan Acosta and Facundo Quignon kept reigning MLS Player of the Week Carles Gil to just three touches in Dallas’ defensive third.
The top team in the East looked like taking the lead inside the opening 30 seconds of the second half. Traustason and DeJuan Jones exchanged passes down the left, with the latter feeding Bou in the Dallas box. The Revolution goalscorer from the first half attempted to flick the ball behind him to Jones to shoot but Bressan was able to read the situation and put a foot in at the right time.
Bou may have been threatening a second but it was Pepi that had Toyota Stadium on its feet in the 54th minute with an impressive solo run. Ryan Hollingshead played a short pass down the left for Pepi to chase, El Tren knocked the ball between the legs of Jonathan Bell close to the touchline and took off inside, Jones peeled off from marking Obrian to attempt a tackle in the area. Pepi sidestepped the challenge and shot past Turner and a further challenge from Bell.
The Dallas youngster’s night would end early. After feeling out his knee off the ball the trainers were called, stretching the 18-year-old’s knee out in a way that would indicate a pain on the outside of his leg rather than something as troublesome as the ACL. Enter Franco Jara.
Jara was immediately targeted with a long ball from Justin Che that may have better favored the pace of Pepi or Jesus Ferreira, with Jones completely misreading the flight of the ball leaving Jara through on goal. Turner raced out of his area to beat Dallas’ Designated Player some 30 yards out.
Luchi Gonzalez went back to his bench in the with 20 minutes left, this time by choice, to bring Ema Twumasi on for Jader Obrian. Paxton Pomykal and Edwin Cerrillo followed five minutes later for Jesus Ferreira and Facundo Quignon. The team moved from a 4-1-4-1 it had switched to in controlling the game to a 5-4-1 as New England brought in Teal Bunbury to play as a second striker. The tactical battle with Bruce Arena is often a losing game, but Gonzalez was getting his shots in well.
Dallas had attempted to shut up shop. As the New England attack narrowed with the wingers compressing into almost a line of four, Che’s inexperience showed being pulled inside and leaving a gap for New England down the left. One such run gave a chance for Bunbury with a header that the former USMNT forward powered wide.
“Of course we want to push the game more. Style of play is important in my head and my heart, and I know our players feel those things too, but we’re all learning that in the modern game you have to defend well and if that means you have less shots, less possession because of the circumstances, you can still win a game. Look at Belgium and Portugal today. Belgium has dominated every game they’ve played. They didn’t have a lot of the ball today but they found a way to win, so that’s the game. It’s the modern game and I’m proud that we played a modern game.”Luchi Gonzalez
FC Dallas still threatened as the Revs poured numbers forward. Paxton Pomykal had a shot from wide on the edge of the area, when taking the ball to the corner may have been the wiser option. Hollingshead released Acosta in the left side of the area but a heavy touch left the Honduran with a difficult cross that Turner covered.
Dallas held on through seven minutes of stoppage time to shock the Revolution and finally pick up a second win to pull FC Dallas ahead of their next opponents, Vancouver, as well as Austin FC. San Jose stayed ahead of FCD on the first tiebreaker of games won as both teams sit on ten points.