First half defensive woes cost Dallas in Austin

FC Dallas’ season came to an end after a three-minute spell put the game beyond reach. Passive play, poor ball movement, and a couple of defensive breakdowns backed the visitors into a corner throughout the first half.

“The first half we didn’t look ready, we didn’t come out like we were ready,” said Matt Hedges. “We didn’t come out with intensity and it showed. And you can’t win playoff games playing one half.”

While the Huntsmen dropped like flies toward the end of their first-round match with Minnesota United, Paxton Pomykal was the only casualty. Pomykal was declared available off the bench after coming through a full training session. Brandon Servania took his place in an otherwise unchanged lineup.

Matt Hedges was called into action barely a minute in as Diego Fagundez managed to beat Ema Twumasi to direct a Sebastian Driussi cross past Maarten Paes, but the GOAT was able to hook away what had been reduced to a bobble toward the goal line.

Moussa Djitte got the start over former FCD striker Maxi Urruti and vindicated the choice in the 26th minute. Servania attempted to head the ball clear at the front post, which took the ball clear of any other FC Dallas defender. Twumasi stepped off Djitte, leaving the Senegalese forward with an easy finish from six yards.

Things went from bad to worse in the 29th after allowing Driussi a clear run down the middle of the field. The Austin playmaker picked up the ball in midfield after a heavy touch under control by Alan Velasco. After sidestepping Jose Martinez with ease, before smashing the ball low past Paes.

After struggling against Austin’s low block, Dallas finally found a run in a good spot heading into first-half stoppage time as Paul Arriola managed to fire off a shot under a challenge, Dallas’ first effort of any kind. It brought to an end the worst half of football the team had played in 2022.

Nico Estevez turned to Franco Jara at the break. The veteran forward came in for Servania with Jesus Ferreira dropping behind the front line to combat Austin’s low block.

Dallas immediately looked better for it, with Velasco threatening a low ball into the box that was hacked away by a defender, before the team created a chance for Ferreira at the top of the box.

Dallas may have gotten away with one in the 54th as an FCD corner was cleared away toward Diego Fagundez. The former New England man tussled with Marco Farfan chasing the loose ball toward the halfway line. Each player had a handful of jersey as Farfan tumbled over leaving Fagundez a clear run at Paes, but the referee blew gave Dallas the benefit of the doubt and blew for a free kick.

The midfield had been calling out for a Pomykal presence, and Coach Estevez duly obliged on the hour mark to replace Facundo Quignon. Nanu came in for Twumasi at the same time. Austin also took the opportunity to swap Djitte for Maxi Urruti.

After a shaky first half, Velasco looked somewhat approaching the player he’s been of late, forcing a save out of Brad Stuver with an effort from 30 yards. His touch had returned, and he was the one to pull a goal back in the 65th minute.

Some great combination play between Pomykal and Farfan down the left resulted in a cross by the former. Velasco picked up the ball on the edge of the box, attempting a one-two with Jara that took a fortunate bounce off Alex Ring to leave it at a nice height to volley past Stuver.

Austin still looked dangerous on the break and forced Paes into a save in the 70th minute after Emiliano Rigoni found Fagundez loitering around the edge of the area unmarked. The Uruguayan shot low through traffic, but Paes could push the ball out of harm’s way.

Jader Obrian had been involved in some antics while warming up around the corner takers in the first half and would get his chance in the 75th minute with Farfan withdrawn. Nanu moved to the left with both acting as attacking fullbacks.

Ferreira almost had the equalizer in the 79th, with a long looping header off a Sebastian Lletget cross. Stuver and the crossbar combined to stop the awkward effort.

Dallas was pouring everything forward, leaving just the center backs, and Paxton as a fill-in 6 or deep-lying playmaker. Driussi saw a close-range header firmly palmed away off a Rigoni cross from the right.

It took a remarkable save to keep Austin ahead with four minutes remaining as the two fullbacks combined. A high looping cross from Nanu found Obrian at the back post. Stuver looked beaten but managed to just flick his foot to get the ball away.

Dallas made a final change as Tsiki Ntsabeleng replaced Velasco.

Somewhat ironically, Dallas would win a free kick in a position you’d fancy Velasco from. Dead center of the box, 25 yards out after Pomykal was caught attempting a volley. Ferreira wasn’t keeping up his usual Q2 Stadium standard and promptly skied the chance.

Despite five minutes of stoppage time, the Hoops looked out of ideas.

After winning a free kick on the halfway line, the whole team got forward, except for Jesus Ferreira to take it. The biggest goal threat was the furthest from the goal, and the ball was immediately played back to him.

When in possession, they valued keeping the ball over doing anything with it, harkening back to Luchi-ball.

Year one of the new era lasted longer than any would have predicted over the winter, but the manner of the defeat left a feeling of a premature end.

“It’s heartbreaking to end the season like that,” said Jesus Ferreira. “We know that everyone gave everything they could throughout the year to get to where we are now. We were unable to get the result this time but we will keep our head cool as we look forward to next season.”

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