Well, there goes the unbeaten start of the new era. It took a penalty to lift reigning Supporters’ Shield holders, New England Revolution, past Dallas in Foxboro.
Nico Estevez named an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Toronto. Once again Dallas looked a much-improved side overall but the final ball remained elusive.
We’ve seen some visually appealing football, a clear tactical nous, and heard talk about Nico Estevez’s vision and professionalism. The next test for the first-year Spanish head coach may be man-management.
One of Oscar Pareja’s strengths was his ability to rip a player a new one without upsetting the dressing room. I remember being at a practice where the team was doing some corner kick routines. For whatever reason, Kellyn Acosta just couldn’t clear the first defender. Papi strolls over screaming at Acosta to get it right, puts a ball on the corner arc, takes a pinpoint perfect corner, then proceeds to hug Kellyn, and walk back to his position. Weirdly every corner for the rest of the session was on a dime.
Some players found Luchi Gonzalez’s approach to be somewhere between a friend and a school teacher rather than a top-level professional soccer coach. We all remember the weird interaction with Franco Jara after subbing the Argentine forward, and there was often talk of players losing interest in lengthy speeches.
That first test for Nico Estevez looks likely to be Jader Obrian.
Two yellow cards in the opening two games, and neither for anything in the run of play, isn’t a great way to start the season. The game in New England saw too many petulant moments, including a couple of times where Ted Unkel could have easily shown a second yellow card.
Starting with a foul on Andrew Farrell where Obrian holds on to the Revs defender after the referee had his back turned to wave advantage. Obrian then remonstrated with Unkel moments after.
The second part of the clip below is the award of a yellow card for failing to retreat at a free kick. Obrian did the right thing, to begin with, as you absolutely have someone stand on the ball to prevent the quick kick, but you get back ten yards when the ref tells you to. It’s a deserved booking that Obrian continues to argue.
We fast forward to the end of the game, Obrian is walking around as FC Dallas attempts a final attack, then runs 15 yards to Unkel at the final whistle to remonstrate over an earlier decision until Matt Hedges has to push him away.
Even aspects of Jader Obrian’s game are showing some strong issues that Nico Estevez is going to have to remedy
Here’s another three clip video, firstly we see a simple misread where Henry Kessler is caught out of position following Jesus Ferreira‘s run back towards the midfield. Paul Arriola makes a run between the left back and center back, leaving an enormous space for Obrian to attack, but he instead runs outside of the right back and watches a low cross easily beaten away. There are certainly a couple of growing pains in the front three, but Obrian struggles to identify spaces and anticipate passes.
The second clip is something that happened a few times – Obrian walking around. Standing in an “offside” position on a Dallas throw (where there of course is no offside), Obrian makes no effort to get back onside to support the Dallas attack. Instead, he walks back watching a pass intended for him go out for a goal kick as an attempt to play it would only result in a Revs free kick.
And the last clip is something that’s developed a bad reputation already in the past year. Obrian and Omar Gonzalez both go for a loose ball in the box – and this was the second time this exact scenario played out in the space of 50 seconds. As the pair contest the 50-50 ball, Obrian clearly lets his trailing leg go underneath him.
Whether you like it or not, simulation is a part of this sport, but if you’re going to dive then do it well. Not only is that a potential second yellow card, but it also’s a focal point for the MLS Disciplinary Committee this season, and Obrian is too busy complaining that he fails to support Nanu in recovering the ball in a dangerous area.
Keep It Real
We know Jesus Ferreira was always going to be a false nine rather than that Pepi-like higher nine. Nico Estevez has talked about Ferreira’s ability to drop back and help with the build, his defensive and passing abilities absolutely support that. The issue I find is how deep Ferreria drops back for his pace.
In this game, he was about 50-50 on getting back up to contribute in the attack after dropping back to pass the ball inside the Dallas half, leaving the Dallas forward with just two off-target shots for a combined 0.119 xGA.
New Additions Clicking
The big worry in any rebuilding period is that new players may take time to settle in. While we can’t speak for Alan Velasco, Dallas’ other offseason acquisitions appear to be having little trouble adjusting to their new home.
Paul Arriola and Marco Farfan have both put in man-of-the-match performances, the latter most appropriately in this game.
Farfan had the most touches of any player on the field, he tied Adam Buksa for most successful dribbles with four, only one behind Carles Gil for the most fouled player. Farfan was fouled four times, with two of those leading to bookings. And of course, Dallas’ sole shot on target.
The real highlight was the overall progress in Farfan’s contribution to the Dallas attack as this touch map from WhoScored.com can show. Against Toronto, Farfan had eight touches in the opposing third, all very much on the edge of that territory. The Former Portland Timber found 19 of his touches in the final third, right up to the end line.
Nanu looks strong on both sides of the ball in these early games as he works his way to being 90 minutes fit.
Maarten Paes kept great command of his area and pulled out a big double save.
Tsiki Ntsabeleng also looks far better than his 29th pick would suggest in this year’s draft.
On the podcast, we’ve talked about how fragile that midfield may be and the depth behind it.
Judging by the substitution times, I wouldn’t be shocked if all three in the midfield have a minutes target. Brandon Servania was the only one subbed out in the first game and was the late withdrawal against New England to give him a total of 155 minutes across the two games. Edwin Cerrillo and Paxton Pomykal both left the game in the 69th minute to leave them on 158 minutes.
The problem then is what lies behind them. Tsiki Ntsabeleng has been a positive late addition to throw a lot of energy into a tiring game, but that leaves questions of how well he can maintain that intensity from the start, and how well his game translates into Nico’s system before a game has a chance to descend into a battle of conditioning.
Edwin Cerrillo has been incredible so far stepping up as the six, but the midfield is also playing a far flatter line requiring him to play as a hybrid 6/8 in supporting the attack. Cerrillo actually leads the team with 12 completed passes into the final third and has the most touches in the middle third of the field across those two games.
Facundo Quignon is really the one backup where there aren’t any questions. His range may not quite be as vast as Cerrillo, but his passing makes up for that. A 22-minute performance brought five pressures, a tackle, an interception, a shot, 12/13 passing, and was the only FC Dallas player to complete a pass in both boxes.
It’s that third midfield spot that’s troublesome. Servania was replaced late on by Kalil ElMedkhar as Dallas moved to a 4-4-2. Really the only viable central midfielders currently available are fullbacks that would be a Band-Aid fix to the position in a three-man midfield.
Nashville SC stops by Frisco next weekend on the third part of their eight-game road trip while their new home at the Nashville Fairgrounds is being finished.
A shock win in Seattle and a draw with Minnesota United leave Nashville unbeaten ahead of the 7:30 pm kick-off against FCD, which will be broadcast on TXA 21 and FCDallas.com/stream.