Late Tafari heroics seal win over Austin

Finally, real soccer is back as FC Dallas returned to MLS play for the first time since a 1-1 draw in Seattle on July 15.

“It definitely wasn’t our prettiest game but at this point of the season we have to take the win no matter what,” said FC Dallas winger Paul Arriola. “That has to be our mentality from the start. If things aren’t going our way or we’re having an off-day tactically and the other team is doing something we’re not used to, we need to adapt and find a way to win.

The big news coming into the game was the absence of Jesus Ferreira. The FC Dallas striker fell ill earlier in the week, before being declared healthy enough to train on Friday.

One of the two new midfielders made the roster with Champions League winner Asier Illarramendi on the bench. Canadian international Liam Fraser was a coach decision to miss out.

Jesus Jimenez returned from injury to start at the #9 in the only change from the typical lineup we saw through Leagues Cup.

The visitors included Matt Hedges in the lineup after his short stay in Toronto.

Given the 20-days since FC Dallas’ last game against Miami, it should come as no surprise that the game labored for the most part. Alex Ring recorded the first shot from the corner of the Dallas area in the 15th minute. A weak effort that Maarten Paes comfortably gathered.

Referee Rubiel Vazquez earned a few boos around Toyota Stadium after booking Paul Arriola for appealing for a free kick, then just before the hydration break he pulled a yellow card out for Marco Farfan. The FC Dallas left back was deemed not to have retreated quickly enough at a free kick.

Geovane Jesus’ evening ended early, going off injured in the 30th minute. Ema Twumasi immediately got stuck in with a challenge in the Dallas box after coming on.

Both teams struggled to create chances. Nick Lima shanked a shot from 18 yards well wide of Paes right-hand post. Earlier, Bernard Kamungo got behind a header but saw it blocked by a defender.

The key for Dallas may have been Alan Velasco’s limited involvement, though he did win a free kick in a great position after being brought down by Daniel Pereira heading into injury time. The Argentine couldn’t make the dead ball count.

A second change came at the break with Eugene Ansah replacing Bernard Kamungo. The substitution moved Paul Arriola to the right wing.

Both sides started the half with flashy efforts that flattered to deceive. Alan Velasco curled an effort wide of the far post from the corner of the box before Ethan Finlay sent a bicycle kick wide at the other end in the 50th minute.

Poor play out of the back gave Austin the best chance of the game to that point in the 55th minute. Maarten Paes tried to lift a pass to Nkosi Tafari in his area, which fell to an Austin player instead. This soon led to a stinging effort by Owen Wolff that Paes punched away.

Nico Estevez went to his bench once more in the 58th minute as Illarra made his entrance in place of Sebastian Lletget. Jader Obrian replaced Jesus Jimenez up front. Lletget was busy but the FC Dallas midfield was untidy in possession. Jimenez on the other hand had little impact aside from two volley attempts that only endangered the staff working around the field.

Eugene Ansah carved out Dallas’ first shot on target in the 60th minute, taking down a cross-field ball from Alan Velasco, and turning a defender before shooting low only to see Brad Stuver tip the ball wide.

The game threatened to get interesting in the 67th minute as Austin’s Pereira picked up a second yellow card. The visitors desperately tried to clear away a teasing cross by Asier Illarramendi, with strong appeals for handball against Sebastian Driussi. Pereira went in strong on Velasco before a lunge at Jose Martinez. The referee played the advantage before showing the cards at the next break in play.

With absolutely no urgency in the team against Austin’s low block, Estevez tried to shake things up with his final sub in the 85th minute, bringing in Dante Sealy for Jose Martinez. The homegrown played left back with Marco Farfan slotting in at left center back.

The Burn began to move the ball around quicker, and forced it into the box. They even recorded another shot on target in the 89th minute through Paul Arriola, although the winger was visibly disappointed at his weak header.

The crossing approach to breaking the block statistically was working, as Eugene Ansah had a similarly weak header held in stoppage time, but FC Short wasn’t faring so well in a crowded Austin area.

Apparently all the excitement was saved for deep in the seven minutes added on. Nkosi Tafari and Marco Farfan went for the same header, leaving Austin a run on goal and an eventual shot by Jon Gallgher. Tafari slid in for a block, redirecting the shot off the crossbar for Ema Twumasi to clear.

Dallas took the ball straight up the other end, and again it was Tafari coming up big. The center back turned forward as the team broke down field from his earlier redirect. Marco Farfan swung a cross in from the right, with Tafari beating the mark of Julio Cascante.

Austin lined up like an onside kick in the oval ball game, but the referee blew the final whistle as Stuver launched the ball to his receivers.

An important win for FC Dallas to get back above the playoff line, and stay in touching distance of the top-four. Also, a massive morale boost to be able to do so without the talismanic Ferreira. The introduction of Illarramendi brought a passing range that no-one else on the roster can offer in a time where moving the ball forward was an issue.

“It’s just as big as the win,” said Nkosi Tafari of the team’s sixth shutout of the season. “We did everything we should be doing tonight in terms of the result. In terms of the play on the field, it wasn’t great. But the result of winning and getting a shutout at home, if you do that every game you’d be a champion. We did what we were supposed to tonight.”

Dallas moves on to a trip to St. Louis on Wednesday night before returning to Frisco next weekend to host Atlanta United.

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