Takeaways as FCD pestered by problematic Pigeons

Two heavily rotated teams played to a close result, but ultimately FC Dallas didn’t look much of a threat to defending MLS Cup winners NYCFC.

With Brandon Servania, Facundo Quignon, and Marco Farfan all serving suspension – Farfan’s conveniently timed given that the full back is also in concussion protocol – Nico Estevez took the opportunity to rotate the side and get some much needed rest for some of the regulars.

Nkosi Tafari came in for Matt Hedges, with Eddie Munjoma and Nanu getting the start at full back. Edwin Cerrillo made his first start of the month alongside Tsiki Ntsabeleng, allowing Paxton Pomykal to drop to the bench. Paul Arriola also got a breather as Jader Obrian paired with Alan Velasco on the wings. A common second half pairing came early as Jesus Ferreira dropped behind Franco Jara in a two forward look.

Dependency Issues

The FC Dallas defense can be tough to watch without Matt Hedges and it showed again on the lone goal. A long punt downfield from the keeper, Eddie Munjoma barely challenges for the ball after getting on the wrong side of his man. Jose Martinez dives in instead of staying on his feet and trying to stand Santiago Rodgriguez up. Instead, the winger is given a free run into the box with Nkosi Tafari trying to cover two players. Tsiki Ntsabeleng did an admirable job making the covering run back from midfield but couldn’t catch up with the play.

When you compare the 2020 team, you had Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead, and Jimmy Maurer shouting instructions, organizing. There was a lot of talk about Martinez being captain material when he signed, and I see the rah-rah moments before the game but not in-play when it matters.

I asked Nico Estevez after the game whether he intended to give Hedges and co the night off, with Coach stating that they needed to play some part since other players cannot play well without them. That certainly felt aimed at the back line.

Redemption

After a 25 minute run out in Houston that ended with Coach excusing a dire performance on non-apparent heat exhaustion, Tsiki Ntsabeleng put in a near-breakout performance in his 66 minutes.

The South African rookie led the game in dribbles with four from four attempts. His two tackles and two clearances led the team at the time he was subbed off.

Plan of Attack

Last night’s game plan reminded me very much of the following scene from the BBC’s Blackadder Goes Forth and how trench warfare never really evolved in World War I:

Rather than getting out of a trench and walking very slowly towards the enemy just like the last 18 times, FC Dallas hit 37 crosses with only ten finding an FC Dallas player. Only one of those saw an effort on target as Jesus Ferreira got behind a great cross from Franco Jara in the 70th minute. Furthermore, only four crosses reached an FC Dallas head.

Time for a little history lesson. The reason British soldiers in WWI walked slowly in a line to the enemy trenches was because the higher ups were confident that artillery barrages meant no Germans would be left to fire back. The Germans had dug out bunkers and just hung out while things went boom around then got back to it with a line of sitting duck targets in front of them. For four years, the British did not largely adjust their tactics to represent the realities in front of them. That is the parallel.

Nico Estevez stated in his press conference that they’d found New York City FC has a problem dealing with crosses, and had conceded a lot of goals from those. Of 21 goals conceded in the regular season, only three came from crosses that were headed or volleyed in. A further five came from ground balls played across the box to tap in at the far post. Those goals were also conceded by a back four rather the three center back system used in a hugely changed side on Wednesday night.

This is also where Oscar Pareja would throw Walker Zimmerman or Matt Hedges up front late in a game, instead 5′ 8″ Jesus Ferreira was the best hope of a headed goal, living up to the FC Short moniker.

NYCFC is bad at tracking runs in the box, which makes through passing and cut backs from the byline an effective strategy, accounting for nearly half of their goals conceded in 2022. Having Velasco, Obrian, Arriola, and someone like Szabolcs Schon getting to the byline and pulling back to space would make sense. Using the passing abilities of Paxton Pomykal and Thomas Roberts to feed balls into gaps between defenders would be another effective strategy. We’ve seen Nico Estevez make some great half time adjustments, but we’ve not seen a lot of true in-game adjustment and this was a game that needed it.

The seven interceptions and 14 clearances among the NYCFC starting back five seems like a gift because rather than try to change up run patterns and do the things that had limited success, Dallas stuck to getting crosses in and the substitutions largely reflected an unwillingness to move away from that strategy.

Looking Ahead

It’s back to the grind on Saturday as Austin come to town currently sitting in first place overall and in a form that threatens FC Dallas’ unbeaten record against the team in black and green.

The 8pm kick off will air on TXA21 and FCDallas.com/stream in-market, or ESPN+ for those outside of DFW.

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