FCD’s road run ends in narrow Salt Lake loss

FC Dallas slipped to a first defeat in five road games at Real Salt Lake. Coming off a high energy win in Austin, Dallas had to overcome altitude and a script that included cameos from a coach seeking a first win, and a referee that has had more than his fair share of controversial calls in seasons past.

Pablo Mastroeni only had two wins in 11 games against FC Dallas in his time with Colorado, but Toyota Stadium was the site of big moments in the midfielder’s managerial career.

Six games into the 2015 season, Dallas’ fast start saw the Oscar Pareja’s side top of the West and about to host a Colorado Rapids team that had yet to score a goal all season with Mastroeni serving a touchline ban and firmly on the hot seat. A shock 4-0 defeat to the team that would finish bottom of the Western Conference largely contributed to FC Dallas losing out on the 2015 Supporters’ Shield to New York Red Bulls on a tiebreaker.

A year later the Rapids were flying, but Dallas appeared to have the Shield all but won after Colorado dropped two consecutive games. With games in hand, a 1-0 win in Frisco led to a run that forced the race for the Supporters’ Shield down to the final day.

A goalless draw at Toyota Stadium in 2017 would spell the end of Mastroeni’s time in charge of Colorado and, after a debut loss in Vancouver, what could be more apt than a first home win against FC Dallas.

“Giving up three goals on the road, it’s hard. Scoring two goals really puts us in a good position to least get a point out of the game, so defense needs to be better. We need to we need to be better, stronger at the back and a we really need to move on from this one fast because we’ve got a big stream games coming forward that we’ve got to respond well in.”

Ryan Hollingshead

Injuries and international duty hit FCD hard with Ricardo Pepi the most notable absentee. Franco Jara won his first start since July.

Szabolcs Schon was the other change from Austin, after taking a place on the bench for Hungary’s defeat to England earlier in the week. Paxton Pomykal returned from a sprained knee to start, with Freddy Vargas also on international duty.

Bryan Acosta missed Austin through suspension and was away again with Honduras, meaning that Brandon Servania and Edwin Cerrillo once again started in midfield.

Baldomero Toledo has long served as a pantomime villain for FC Dallas fans, and was afforded to chance to renew that role inside the first two minutes after Jader Obrian went down in the area. Toledo opted not to point to the spot, the Video Assistant Referee backed that up.

Dallas looked like a team that smelled blood in the opening minutes. Jesus Ferreira and Brandon Servania both threatened the home goal without the high press that had led to two goals in Austin last weekend.

Ferreira mentioned that FC Dallas’ key phrase at the moment is adapting, and the young Colombian American quickly adapted to playing behind a new striker to help Dallas to an 18th minute lead. Ferreira brought the ball forward out of the midfield and eyed a through pass – via a well executed dummy from Jader Obrian – to Franco Jara. The Designated Player took a touch and finished past Andrew Putnam with the outside of his right boot for his second against RSL in 2021.

Demir Kreilach had an almost immediate response as a cross came in immediately after the restart, but couldn’t keep his volley down inside the area.

Pablo Mastroeni’s side were set about getting the ball out wide to deliver into Kreilach and Rubio Rubin, despite Dallas’ clearance specialists in Matt Hedges and Nkosi Tafari. Paxton Pomykal presented RSL with an ideal set piece opportunity in the 23rd minute. Pablo Ruiz served the free kick from Dallas’ left side, finding Everton Luiz at the back post. Luiz did well to steer the ball across goal but a crucial touch by Pomykal had enough distance on it to prevent Rubin from directing the second ball back at goal.

Despite two strong center backs on aerial balls, Luchi Gonzalez’s team has had an issue with players picking up runners on set pieces and Justen Glad was the latest to take an unaccompanied run into the FCD area. Glad met Aaron Herrera’s 42nd minute cross after a quick free kick released Herrera down Dallas’ left side as Edwin Cerrillo and Brandon Servania were closer to marking each other than any of the three RSL players attacking the six yard box.

FC Dallas lagged behind 11-8 on the shot count, more alarmingly 5-1 shots on target. Defensively the visitors did well to restrict Salt Lake almost exclusively to chances from outside the area. Only one effort on frame aside from the goal – a header from the edge of the area – actually came from inside the box.

Dallas had another penalty shout in the opening minutes of the second half, as they believed Glad handled the ball inside the area in the process of clearing the ball out for a throw in. The ball did appear to hit the arm, but it was comfortably outside of the area and therefore not a reviewable play.

The problem Dallas faced in this instance and the one that shortly followed was that Toledo refused to make a call, seeming to rely on VAR to correct any mistake. The two incidents were on the edge of the area, but not inside, leaving VAR unable to act when a free kick could have been awarded, still allowing VAR to intervene if there was a possible penalty or red card.

“They’re waiting for someone to tell them in their ear to make the call, and then if they make the call it has to be clear and obvious. So it’s even hard for them. It has to be a PK that that changes the game or has to be a red card, which I could argue maybe one of them were red card because it was last man.”

Luchi Gonzalez asked if he felt Baldomero Toledo relied on VAR rather than trying to call incidents around the areas.

Real Salt Lake took the ball from one end of the field to the other in taking the lead in the 54th minute after Paxton Pomykal was brought down in the area. As the penalty appeal was waved away, RSL countered in the wide positions. The ball broke out left to Noah Powder, who attempted a shot from just outside the area. The ball took a deflection off Ema Twumasi, which Phelipe did well to react to but the Brazilian was only able to push the ball into the path of Jonathan Menendez for a simple tap-in.

FC Dallas struggled to regain its early lively play. Without blaming the altitude, Ryan Hollingshead intimated it did add to the adversities of a long road trip in between late flights, disrupted training cycles, and missing players.

The hosts should have had a third in the 68th minute after taking a few touches between players in a passage of play that was more reminiscent of a team that was several goals to the good. Two players held possession well inside Phelipe’s area before cutting back to Kreilach outside the box, who skied his first time effort.

RSL did extend the lead soon after with a shot from the same spot Kreilach had missed moments earlier. Menendez spotted Albert Rusnak hovering around the edge of the Dallas box, finding the Slovak with a nice cutback through traffic. Phelipe may have been unsighted as he got a hand to the low shot but should have done better, only managing to push the ball onto the post and in.

Jesus Ferreira has been a gamechanger for FC Dallas of late, and it took a fantastic solo effort to try and drag the team in powder blue back into the game. Jader Obrian held the ball up on the right touchline, losing possession as Ferreira flew by to pick up the loose ball. The homegrown appeared to cut inside towards a left-footed shot, but pulled it back to his right as Pablo Ruiz fell over himself trying to keep up. After taking a touch outside to his right away from Justen Glad, Ferreira smashed the ball high into the RSL net to pull it back to 3-2 with ten minutes to maintain the unbeaten run.

Dallas’ subs came late, and a problem that has been highlighted on the podcast is that substitutions when trailing tends to be like-for-like changes rather than an attempt to change the game. Kalil ElMedkhar replaced Paxton Pomykal on the left wing in the 68th minute before the third goal.

A trio of changes came in the 76th minute as Facundo Quignon made his return from injury to replace Edwin Cerrillo as the defensive midfield. Andres Ricaurte subbed in for Brandon Servania as the eight, and Justin Che was brought in for Ryan Hollingshead. Twumasi moved to left back until he later made way for Eddie Munjoma.

“You want to you want to try to keep your organization without just throwing the game. and have a have a system that maybe disorganizes you and opens you up. Trying to find that balance where you try to get back into the game but yet stay organized. I thought we did that but in the end it wasn’t enough.”

Luchi Gonzalez

If Phelipe was at fault for Salt Lake’s third, he may have atoned for it in stoppage time as a corner from Maikel Chang almost crept in. The would-be olympico beat Eddie Munjoma at the front post but Phelipe was able to drop down to block the attempt on the line with his leg.

Anderson Julio made his arrival in the fourth minute of stoppage time, and almost stole the show. Rusnak knocked the ball into space from Dallas’ right touchline, beating Justin Che to the ball. Julio raced in to win possession ahead of Nkosi Tafari, then turned Tafari’s attempted recovery. Matt Hedges put in a challenge but the ball fell kindly for Julio to maintain his run across the six yard line. Eddie Munjoma forced Julio wide but he was able to get a shot off past Phelipe before Facundo Quignon slid in to clear the ball just ahead of the line.

This will be a strange game for Luchi Gonzalez, and his coaches and analysts to review. Two goals on the road, 14 shots, solid possession numbers with decent territory. All with a host of players missing. Only two shots on targets, a couple of big defensive mishaps including another set piece goal conceded, and only two starting players passing above an 80% rate is somewhat troubling though.

FC Dallas will be relieved to be back in Frisco next week after the international window, although it comes against a San Jose side who have been strangely better on the road than at PayPal Park.

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