Five takeaways from FC Dallas’ opening day draw vs Toronto FC

The new era that we keep getting told is here kicked off at a near-freezing and damp Toyota Stadium. New kits, new coach, new smoke machines in the empty north end, but a few of the same problems occurring as Dallas only took a point off Toronto FC.

Jader Obrian prodded home a low ball across the box from Paul Arriola in the opening ten minutes. The pair then combined with Jesus Ferreira for the latter to score, but Arriola was shown to be offside in the build-up.

Jonathan Osorio tied the game for Toronto on the cusp of halftime.

5. Still GOAT It

Not even a year removed from a fractured hip, Matt Hedges seems to be putting 2021 firmly behind him.

The captain was busy helping cover against Jayden Nelson on the Dallas right, leading the game in both interceptions and clearances, as well as the most touches by any FC Dallas player.

A week ago he was in a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint with Fafa Picault. His conditioning is never in doubt, and it looks like he’s playing without any lingering effects.

Fit or not, you can’t replace the kind of clean defensive actions that a player of Hedges’ quality brings.

4. Deja Vu

Luchi-ball may be gone but some of the sticking points still remain one game into the new era.

Dallas still struggles against a high press which Bob Bradley’s side used to good effect.

The Huntsmen also seem to have issues with midfielder tracking, an issue that cost FCD dearly in 2021.

Coach Nico Estevez mentioned in his post-game press conference that Brandon Servania was having a tough time with Jonathan Osorio‘s positioning. Servania was dropping deep to cover Osorio, rather than allow Edwin Cerrillo to pick up the mark, which created a gap in the Dallas midfield.

Unfortunately, those difficulties tracking Osorio also spread to Paxton Pomykal, who didn’t pick up Osorio’s late first-half run to the back post to equalize after Cerrillo and Servania were pulled away to the near side of Jesus Jimenez’s cross.

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Brandon Servania closes down Toronto FC defender Jacob Shaffelburg in the MLS matchup at Toyota Stadium. (Daniel McCullough, 3rd Degree)

3. Right Back

We knew there would be a couple of position battles coming soon, including the right back spot, but Nanu may get his chance sooner than we expected.

Paul Arriola said after the game that he was embarrassed to go down with cramps in game one. That’s not embarrassing, the physical part of the season is a slow build. The mental part really shouldn’t be, and Ema Twumasi looked like he just wasn’t fully present.

There’s every chance Jayden Nelson’s performance could be the starting point just like Cade Cowell’s last season after the 3-1 loss in San Jose. Unfortunately, Twumasi did himself no favors in that matchup, frequently being caught upfield, giving Nelson far too much of a head start to chase after the ball when he was in position, and a series of poor choices in possession. Two throw-ins taken short to Paul Arriola went straight to opposition players.

1/3 in tackles, 0/3 successful dribbles, 0/1 crosses, only 9/21 on forward passes, and he led the game with four dispossessions.

Nanu by comparison looked dialed in, not having an issue switching between midfield and wing before eventually moving back as the right back.

Toronto’s average position chart/passing network shows a heavy trend towards Dallas’ right (MLSsoccer.com)

2. Definition

Nico’s vision seemed to have some clearly defined build patterns. One similar to what we saw last season as Edwin Cerrillo drops back between the center backs, allowing both full backs to push up into a 3-4-3. The other saw the full back on the opposite side from the ball tuck inside as the third center back, with the full back on the ball-side advancing and the midfield staying intact.

Here are the two examples I’d put together for the San Antonio game using the 2021 team and the starters vs SAFC to show the two patterns.

An example of building from the back where the defensive midfielder becomes a third center back
An example of a build shape where the right back advances and the left back tucks inside to support the center backs

As Dallas began to lose its shape after the opening goal, Cerrillo and both full backs often defaulted to a mid-point, inadvertently adopting the Metodo 2-3-2-3 formation that led Italy to back-to-back World Cups in the 1930s. Unfortunately for FCD it just made a gap in the midfield and gave Toronto’s wingers some clear air without straying offside.

There were a couple of other concepts that seemed to be executed well. The wing swap was a hot topic a couple of weeks back, and that really led to FC Dallas’ goal. It was peculiar that the team did not continue to swap the wingers, although that may have simply been to keep Arriola on the side with Nelson as a better defender than Obrian.

1. Depth

Although not injury-related, depth is already an issue. The substitutes used represented the best attacking output currently available, with only one player in the four attacking roles was brought on as Dallas tried to find a winner.

With Szabolcs Schon and Franco Jara currently on the mend, and Alan Velasco just touching down in Dallas on early Sunday morning, only Tsiki Ntsabeleng – who the team intends to primarily play as a midfielder – was available to replace any of the front three.

The South African took to the midfield in his professional debut before being moved to right wing, and a later left midfield.

We talked about the delicate situation in midfield as Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania appear to have a far greater load than we’ve seen either carry before. Particularly when those two players have not had full seasons in a starting role.

Nanu was the latest player tried in the midfield briefly as Dallas moved to a 4-4-2. The Portuguese full back adopted a wide position, swapping in and out of possession with Ntsabeleng to get brief moments in the 8-spot.

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Jesus Ferreira brings the ball to the center circle as Toronto FC players celebrate their goal in the MLS matchup at Toyota Stadium. (Daniel McCullough, 3rd Degree)

Looking Ahead

Things certainly don’t get easier after struggling with one of last year’s poorer teams. The Hoops will be on the road to Supporters’ Shield holders New England for the Saturday early kick-off, a 12:30 pm start on TXA 21 and FCDallas.com.

New England was held to a 2-2 draw with Portland, and Bruce Arena may need to consider the Revs’ Concacaf Champions League quarter-final with Pumas next Wednesday.

3 Comments

  1. Good stuff Dan.

    Re 5 – Hedges looked good. Martinez did not. Oof. I hope Buzz is correct that Nico is just giving Martinez the veteran treatment and that we’ll soon see Tafari.

    Re 4 – agree that Toronto did a good job of pulling FCD’s midfield apart. The reds always seemed to have an option wide open in midfield. In fairness, Toronto has a lot of experience and savvy in midfield (and good coaching), and hopefully our boys learned some lessons.

    Two other thoughts. One is that Carlos Salcedo was huge for Toronto. If Omar Gonzalez would have been in that spot instead, I think FCD would have boat raced Toronto. With that one addition I think Toronto got a lot better and is probably closer to the top of the Eastern Conference than to the bottom (yes, it’s a knee-jerk reaction after one week, but that’s what the internet is for, right?).

    Second thought is that Obrian is gonna Obrian. Just like last year, promising attacks would die on a bad Jader touch or decision. It’s super frustrating because you would think that he should have enough quality to turn a few more opportunities into goal-scoring chances. I think getting a little more consistently good play from Schon or Velasco (admittedly an “if”) will go a long way to helping FCD execute better offensively.

    1. Yeah, Martinez kept Farfan almost as busy as Twumasi kept Hedges.

      I resisted the temptation to talk about the front three. Obrian had a couple of moments when he made a central run where he just didn’t seem to get the notion that a pass was meant to miss him and hit whoever was making the run outside. Needed to do better with the central chance he had in the box, especially after his other shot on target which just needed to be a pass to an unmarked Arriola at the back post. I’m not sure how much you can do with a 26-year-old on that level of decision making.

      1. Probably fair to not knock the front 3 too much. I might be harsh on Obrian considering that Jesus wasn’t clinical in execution or decision-making either. And as a group the team created some chances, so plenty to build on.

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