Five takeaways from FC Dallas’ preseason finale

FC Dallas eased to a 2-1 preseason win over their Texas rivals to round out its preparations for the 2022 season.

Jesus Ferreira forced an own-goal by Adam Lundkvist early on, and Paxton Pomykal finished off some great work by Paul Arriola. As Dallas worked through some tactical scenarios, Houston did get a late consolation goal from Corey Baird after a clearance cannoned off Brandon Servania to leave the former RSL winger with an easy finish.

Nico Estevez named an unchanged side from the midweek draw with Chicago, and you’ve got to expect that to be his likely starting XI barring injury.

5. Fixed Wing

The game against Chicago saw an issue where Jader Obrian and Marco Farfan just weren’t able to get going down the left for the first 10 minutes. A wing swap seemed to fix that, but every time they switched back, FC Dallas looked lost on either flank.

Coach Estevez has talked about working through a struggle rather than working around one, and it showed with the wingers not swapping until Obrian was subbed off in the final 15 minutes.

Against the Dynamo, the left side certainly worked better than in midweek, although Farfan still isn’t getting as high up as Ema Twumasi. That may be the defensive drop-off from Arriola to Obrian, it could also be that Arriola is both more experienced in general, and especially with Nico’s style which helps when gelling with players like Farfan, who arrived barely a week ago.

One switch that took place in its absence was the notion of Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania pressing the ball as the Dynamo midfielders played backward with the respective winger dropping into their position. Those shapes held a little longer than just occupying space, that seemed like they were testing the viability of switches, and Paxton Pomykal mentioned the team’s desire to constantly present fresh looks to the Houston full backs after the game.

4…4-2

Buzz had mentioned it on the last pod and we got to see a couple of implementations of a 4-4-2.

In the first half we got see one of the out-of-possession shapes that Dallas is working with, as the 4-3-3 falls into a 4-4-2 with the winger on the opposite side of the ball falling back as a wide midfielder as the other forwards move more centrally. The effect on Houston’s narrow shape was to pen them in on their possessions in their defensive third.

In the closing stages, FCD finished out the game in a 4-4-2 with Tsiki Ntsabeleng as the second striker. Kalil ElMedkhar took a higher line on the right flank that triggered a pivot between the two shapes depending on who had possession. Very much the opposite of the clip above where ElMedkahr – in Arriola’s place in the video – would step forward to move to allow Ferreira and Ntsabeleng to move across to the ball.

“We didn’t have legs in the wingers anymore. We’re asking a lot of them and then for the shape that Houston was building up. We thought 4-4-2 gave us more balance, and it worked perfectly because they had the ball but they couldn’t progress. I think this is what we wanted and the guys understand really well. It’s something that we’ve worked on the first two, three weeks of the preseason, and I think to have two options on how we want to defend is going to be crucial for for the season.”

Nico Estevez

3. Jesus

Jesus Ferreira worked his way into more of those traditional 9 spots on Saturday. One thing the lack of wing swaps may have exposed though – he instinctively runs to the back post on any cross.

There were a couple of low crosses, very similar to those that FCD scored on against San Antonio that went straight to an orange shirt since Ferreira was occupying the same areas as the wingers rather than attacking the ball from a central position.

There weren’t as many late runs from Pomykal and Servania as the midfield shape was played with, but you want to know that if you put a ball between the six-yard box and the penalty mark your 9 is going to be challenging for that ball.

2. Possession with Purpose

One thing FC Dallas was accused of over the past couple of years was holding on to possession for the sake of it. FCD is a possession team, that’s the reality of it, but passing with intent is Nico’s MO rather than just controlling possession.

Houston’s shape was designed to frustrate Dallas and we saw a largely in-control patient display. Out of possession the visitors sat fairly deep opting to save numbers rather than press Dallas’ back line in the build. The Dynamo also played very narrow – it reminded me of playground football, how no-one makes space because every single player is firmly fixed the ball – which left Dallas trying to draw players out of position in that compact block.

I’ve clipped a video of the build-up to the first goal from when Dallas takes possession, after winning a free kick on the left.

The possession lasts 68 seconds as they attempt to move the ball into tight spots on both sides to drag players across the field. Once they see the opening, it’s exactly 15 seconds from the ball leaving Matt Hedges’ foot on the right to crossing the line after breaking open some space down the left touchline.

Both the pass numbers and the time from that trigger point with Hedges are displayed in the bottom left corner.

There were 17 passes to create the opportunity, and six to execute it. We talked about Luchi-ball numbers, that 600 pass target, and that’s out the window. You may still see numbers in the 4-500 range sometimes on a stat sheet, but the only numbers Estevez is fixated on are those final six.

1. Edwin Cerrillo

I was a huge fan of Edwin Cerrillo‘s performance and how he reacted to the game.

Houston left a wide gap in the midfield while trying to build down the wings. The entire midfield played as a much flatter three with Cerrillo often getting ahead of Pomykal and Servania to press the ball-carrying midfielder in the first half.

In the second, Nico Estevez opted to try a different build pattern than we’d seen last week, with Cerrillo dropping back between the center backs and the full backs moving to a 3-4-3. When we talk about range, his was effectively a 70x70yd square between both touchlines and boxes.

That’s some incredible fitness to cover that much ground, and you really have to have a strong read on the game to not gift spaces in vital areas.

A coach back in England once told me if his defensive midfielder was noticeable, he wasn’t happy with how his team was playing. I think this clip does a reasonable job of explaining that.

I’m tracking Edwin back from the end of a pressing run on Darwin Ceren to close down a passing option for Matias Vera – boxing Vera in with Ferreira and Obrian to where he puts the ball out for a throw. We’re going to watch him drop back as the third center back and off-camera he’s going to make a supporting run for Ema Twumasi, briefly possessing the ball close to the Houston box.

You want your 6 to support on both sides of the ball. Aside from what is presented above, Cerrillo played a large part in shutting down Fafa Picault and Memo Rodriguez on the wings. Both players attempted to find the half-spaces between full back and center back. Cerrillo found success in occupying those spaces, forcing the Houston attackers to take on the FC Dallas full backs, who burned both for pace on the day.

In this clip, you see Cerrillo supporting high pressing, supporting his center backs in possession, and offering options in attack.

A few seconds after the end of the clip, a Houston player attempts to clear the ball with a Dynamo midfielder knocking it out for a throw. I think you can probably guess who was in a position to receive that ball down the touchline otherwise.

Looking Ahead

I mentioned above that this looks like your starting XI. Coach opted for a smaller bench, naming 11 subs compared to Houston’s 16. Only six of those made it on the field, creating more of those MLS-like decisions than where you can flip the whole team.

Alan Velasco is expected to arrive sometime next week according to reports in Argentina.

I asked Coach about a couple of players. Jimmy Maurer is ready to resume full training as of Monday or Tuesday. Szabolcs Schon should follow in the middle of the week. Franco Jara has had an unspecified day-to-day injury. Estevez said he will join the group either at the end of next week or the following week, effectively ruling him out of the opening day game against Toronto.

One further concern may be Matt Hedges. Nkosi Tafari was dressed and being prepped to sub in at halftime as a lot of attention was being paid to Hedges as he went through the warm-up prior to the second half. Hopefully, that’s just a little tightness or cramping that worked itself out.

The GOAT looked like his pre-2021 self, seeing the ball out for a goal kick off a shoulder-to-shoulder chase with Fafa Picault at one point. Jose Martinez on the other hand may be a talking point for this week’s podcast.

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