Takeaways as Dallas gets another road point against Red Bull

FC Dallas moves to five games unbeaten after a goalless draw at Red Bull Arena. Dallas kept back-to-back clean sheets thanks to another man of the match performance from Maarten Paes and could have snatched the win late on with two solid chances falling to Franco Jara and Jader Obrian.

Trusting the Process

It’s a simple game at heart, and something a coach I used to work with has always stuck with me. ‘If you can’t score past me, you’ll never beat me.’ His teams always featured a strong goalkeeper and center backs, it didn’t matter if the score was 1-0 or 7-0 at the end of the day, the clean sheet was the foundation for it all.

Nico Estevez’s approach is really just a deep dive into that same mindset. Absorb pressure, prevent clear-cut chances, frustrate opponents, and then try to push on late in the game when the opposition has expended too much effort in the attack.

Paxton Pomykal spoke after the game of the rarity of securing back-to-back clean sheets on the road. It’s the first time the team has done it since 2020, and only the 12th time in franchise history. Dallas has never managed three in a row.

Speaking of Pomykal, there was a subtle in-game adjustment with the FCD homegrown to combat the effectiveness of Lewis Morgan against Marco Farfan. The Red Bulls’ wing back was pushed high on the right in their build to get a good run at Farfan and press his attempts to play out of the back. Pomykal had been playing very central position to make numbers against the home side’s midfield five, but Estevez had the 22-year-old push wider to cover Morgan.

Initially, Pomykal was sitting closer to the touchline, forcing Morgan inside to where Facundo Quignon and Jose Martinez could support Farfan. Over time that became closer to the image below, with Pomykal moving to more of a typical covering position in Dallas’ midfield trio.

The adjustment to push Paxton Pomykal into a wider position against Lewis Morgan (highlighted red)

Gerhard Struber played around with the formation some, looking to take control of the midfield. A move from 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1 may have been an attempt to draw the Dallas midfield out in the open. It may also have been to get a grip on FCD’s equally asymmetrical shape that we’ll talk about in a moment.

We’ve seen FC Dallas adopt a 3-4-3 as a close-out formation and that was the case once again. It seems such a long time ago that FC Dallas was a 4-2-3-1 counterattack with no real plan B.

In His Defense

It seems every opinion of who should be the long-term starter at right back is based on negatives.

Nanu’s tendency to get lost in attack versus Twumasi’s habit of doing too much and putting a foot wrong. There was a strong negative reaction to Ema Twumasi – particularly his positioning – in this game that I didn’t really agree with.

Twumasi’s positioning was a lot more aggressive than that of Marco Farfan on the left, with Matt Hedges covering over far to the right. This allowed Twumasi to impact the numbers game in midfield, plus NYRB held John Tolkin fairly deep with Paul Arriola sitting high up in a position that forced Aaron Long to mirror Hedges’ adjustment. It’s not a massive gamble when Twumasi is arguably the fastest player on the field, but this may be a good time to revisit the idea of roles vs shapes.

We always think of formations in perfect symmetry when everything is really micro-managed at the professional level. Twumasi cheated high up the right because Estevez would have told him to push up ten yards, much like he told Pomykal to sit wider left. The effect you get is two formations that look roughly correct albeit with a slight anti-clockwise rotation as both teams tried to push up on their right sides.

Average positions for NYRB v FCD from WhoScored.com

Here’s a couple of clips that show Twumasi’s pace in dealing with his advanced position in addition to a couple of other aspects I wanted to highlight. I made a couple of notes where he’s really learned to use his body well in close-out situations.

Twumasi has also really got into a groove of picking out the half-spaces. Closing down a channel for a run or pass, that also allows him to react to the ball being spread centrally or wide. One of his teething problems at right back was committing one way or the other and making the passer’s mind up for him.

On the attacking side, Ema Twumasi was the FC Dallas player with the most receptions at 39. He jointly led FCD in completed passes with 43. 25 out of the 41 that WhoScored counted were forward, as opposed to 36/45 for the other player FBref recorded 43 passes for – Marco Farfan. The theme going forward seemed to be a want to go down the right but the NYRB press forced Dallas left.

Six Degrees of Separation

For the second successive away game, we’ve seen Edwin Cerrillo take a seat in favor of Facundo Quignon. Let’s take a quick look at some numbers to see why. I’ve picked a few per 90 stats from FBref that play a little into their differences.

Edwin CerrilloFacundo Quignon
Key Passes0.390.00
Passes to final 1/35.101.67
Passes into the box0.200.00
Switch passes1.181.67
Completed passes47.6051.70
Progressive distance104.7048.80
Tackles def 1/31.181.67
Tackles mid 1/30.591.67
Times dribbled past1.180.83
Per 90 stats from FBref.com

Edwin Cerrillo gets balls into the final third on the pass and the dribble. On the road, there’s an emphasis for absorbing pressure and not losing the midfield. You can see that Facu averages 10 more defensive pressures per 90 minutes, and is generally shutting down players more effectively in the midfield.

To possibly oversimplify it, Edwin Cerrillo gets the ball from the defense to the attack. Facundo Quignon wins the ball back and takes care of it. While both players do a bit of both, you lean into attacking expressiveness at home, and are more pragmatic away. The adage is to win at home and tie on the road and that’s exactly how the last five games have turned out.

A Point Gained Or Two Dropped?

That said, you can look at all three away games and say FC Dallas had the chances to win. Here we are with a record-equaling second consecutive road shutout, but also as the only team in MLS yet to score on the road.

On the performance, Dallas saved what would have been a loss last season. Dallas also invited pressure rather than attempting to play on the front foot against a team that has yet to win at home. This may be the point to remember that it is a process.

The start to 2022 looked grim. Opening with the rebounding Toronto, traveling to the Supporters’ Shield winners, a Nashville side that seems to know how to shut down Dallas. The MLS Cup finalists, a trip to a suddenly-serious Chicago, the Western Conference regular-season champs, and a visit to a Red Bulls team that last missed the playoffs in 2009.

In reality, Toronto’s rebuild is delayed until the summer and they have two points on the road. New England only just won their second game this past weekend against Charlotte. Nashville has been hindered by an eight-game road trip to start the year. Portland has only beaten Austin and Vancouver. Chicago has a single home win, while Colorado (on the road) and NYRB (at home) only had a single point where it mattered.

Dallas’ only defeat came away to a side that are 22nd in the overall standings, a point away from being bottom of the east. The Red Bulls are the only team Dallas has faced currently in the top-ten, at ninth.

Our neighbors down I-35 are catching some flak for riding the wave of an easy start, but is it really that much different here?

The weekend’s Texas Derby, and opening game in the defense of Copa Tejas, presents a Houston side tied with Dallas on points per game. The rivalry game, followed by a trip to a thus-far dud Sporting Kansas City could present a statement win, that all-important road win, and a chance to turn the unbeaten run into something really worth paying attention to.

Looking Ahead

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is back at Toyota Stadium for the first time since 2017 with FC Tulsa making the trip down on Tuesday night. Tulsa is currently riding a three-game losing streak in USL Championship.

Nico Estevez will likely roll out a vastly changed lineup with a number of fringe and North Texas SC players involved.

As with all US Open Cup games, the game will be shown live on ESPN+. FC Dallas will put out audio commentary by Owen Newkirk and Steve Davis on its website for the 7:30 pm kickoff.

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