Takeaways from FC Dallas’ 1-1 draw with RSL

FC Dallas missed out on the chance to recapture third place in the Western Conference standings but managed to keep its closest challenger at bay, after a 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake.

With Minnesota United picking up a win over Houston earlier in the day, the Loons overtook Dallas. A win would have taken Dallas back to third and a loss would crucially close RSL’s gap behind to just a point and eliminate Dallas’ advantage in the wins tiebreaker.

Coach Nico Estevez welcomed Jesus Ferreira back from suspension, and a small core muscle issue, to lead the line while Sebastian Lletget replaced Tsiki Ntsabeleng in the midfield as FC Dallas looked to leave the season’s first blowout firmly behind. Franco Jara was a notable absence from the bench with a glute injury.

No lingering effects showed from Nashville in the seventh minute as Alan Velasco swept home from the edge of the box after some great work from Sebastian Lletget on the edge of the RSL area.

The fast start from Dallas slowed as the half went on with RSL hitting the bar 20 minutes in before referee Ramy Touchan awarded the visitors a penalty in the 29th minute after Maarten Paes came off his line to try and punch a ball clear of Justin Meram.

Touchan went to the monitor, where it showed Paes getting all ball, before reversing the decision. The home side certainly needed to see out the remaining 15 minutes as their attack faltered and the energy levels seemed to drop.

Disaster struck three minutes into the second half as Paxton Pomykal went down under no contact after clearing a ball out of the Dallas area. The midfielder has a knee issue that he described as an occasional flare-up of an old knock. Coach Estevez did say the team doctors will observe the injury for a few days.

Brandon Servania couldn’t capture the same presence on either side of the ball, while RSL made an attacking change shortly after to bring in Anderson Julio and Rubio Rubin.

It only took seven minutes to have an effect as Julio headed home off an Aaron Herrera cross.

Both sides had chances. RSL saw another header saved two minutes later. A few minutes after, Paes attempted to punch a ball he shouldn’t have come out for, leaving Rubin an empty net that he missed.

Dallas spurned a fantastic opportunity in the 89th minute after Paul Arriola cut back inside the box for Servania, but the midfielder skied a shot where he had time to take a touch or force the ball low.

Bouncebackability

This is MLS, blow out losses happen and last week just happened to be the first one for FCD this year. How teams respond is key.

Coach Nico said he was pleased with the response, and that no heads dropped in preparation for RSL. I spoke with Paul Arriola, who commended the team’s response, particularly in putting an immediate stamp on the game.

At any level of play, you can call it a new game, but if you concede early, you may as well be carrying on the drubbing you received the week before. Starting out aggressively was as important to show RSL – another good team – who is in control as much as for erasing a bad night in Nashville.

Away from Dallas, looking at my hometown Hatters, Luton had a coaching change a few years ago after winning promotion to the EFL Championship. Graeme Jones came in as a wonderfully qualified assistant of Roberto Martinez with Belgium.

Luton would lose a game days before it as Jones would talk up the difficulties of the prior game, and you could see that downtrodden nature affect the team. They were dead last at the halfway mark as the pandemic stopped the season.

Former manager Nathan Jones returned with his much higher spirited nature, and Luton went into every game with the belief they could win…and did, enough to survive then secure a playoff place the season after.

Having a young squad where we talk about guys like Arriola (28) and Pomykal (22) as veterans can be of great benefit in these times.

Luchi Gonzalez used to say these guys don’t know how to be beat or stay beaten. It helps that Coach Nico isn’t a ‘woe is me’ coach, but that nature within the team is what Iain Dowie coined as bouncebackability. These next five games need that quality.

Connection Issues

The dynamic of the attack has been an interesting evolution. For a while, it was the pairing of Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola, with Alan Velasco featuring in spells. The Argentine winger is really starting to grow into some strong performances, but are there further growing pains developing in the front three?

Against RSL, one of the season’s big successes seemed off as Ferreira and Arriola appeared to struggle to connect.

Velasco made a lot of inside runs to great effect, with Arriola mirroring as an almost-inverted winger in the second half. The effect on Ferreira seemed to be that as the game progressed, his ‘9.5’ role saw him drop deeper and deeper to where he’d play a great ball out of the midfield, but you’d want him in the box to finish the resulting pass rather than 40 yards back.

A passing/position map from MLSSoccer.com of the first half between FC Dallas and RSL

At halftime, this caught my eye. The average position chart that doubles up as a passing web normally has a thick line between numbers 7 and 10, indicating a good number of passes shared between Arriola and Ferreira, but nothing appeared. The pair – who’ve combined to assist each other seven times in 2022 – shared just six successful passes by the end of the game, four from Arriola and two by Ferreira.

Arriola didn’t seem concerned by the lack of play between the two and was encouraged by a couple of strong moments from Velasco.

“I thought Jesus played me a few balls in behind that, just an inch or two difference is a clear chance on goal. But for me that’s the beauty of Jesus being able to drop in underneath. He’s not just a nine, he plays like an attacking midfielder. When when he’s able to pick up those balls, I’m ready to run. I think the connection is still clearly there. I think we work extremely hard just trying to understand each other’s movements, obviously a lot of communication.

“We need to continue to get Alan to understand when to come in and when to try and stay wide and play as a winger, but when he has good moments, they’re great. I thought tonight him being able to pick up the ball sometimes, beat a guy and then make make a good pass. That’s good.”

Paul Arriola on the front three

A New Perspective

The Paxton Pomykal/Sebastian Lletget pairing is one that we’re excited to see develop, allowing Pomykal to play as a deeper box-to-box 8 and letting Lletget play a little higher up the field and link play through to the front three.

The pair switched sides with Pomykal lining up on the right to give both players the ability to cut inside and shoot off their preferred foot. That can also help just change up the deliveries from out wide when the midfielder can play more of an in-swinging cross, similar to a corner.

Lletget had a difficult game despite some incredible work to make the goal happen after he sucked the Salt Lake defense in before dummying Arriola’s blocked shot as it made its way to Velasco.

Pomykal obviously departed early with a knee issue that he seems confident of. I’ll be interested to see if Estevez reverts the pair to their usual sides of the three-man midfield the next time they line up together or if they opt to switch in-game.

Slow to React

It’s the same question popping up again, is Coach Estevez a little slow to react to changes?

This time it was Mark and Steve asking on the FC Dallas broadcast after the double change in the 62nd minute seemed to swing the game in Real Salt Lake’s favor.

Matt Doyle pointed out that Dallas’ downtrend came around the time of Paxton Pomykal‘s departure, and Brandon Servania certainly experienced a few struggles trying to fill in for the team’s engine.

I took Matt’s image and added one more point to it. Dallas comes off a streak of shots while RSL ends a run of more than 20 minutes without a shot just seconds after the introduction of Anderson Julio and Rubio Rubin. The pair combined for six of RSL’s nine shots in the remainder of the game, including the goal.

Coach’s response in the post-game interview on the broadcast was that there was nothing to react to since the formation didn’t change. Yet it seems a little na├»ve to say nothing changed when the profile of the players certainly did. Dallas was flagging, RSL injected pace, and were suddenly on the shoulders of both center backs.

FCD doesn’t have the fastest center back pairing, Jose Martinez does have a tendency to get lost on marking assignments, and neither player really excelled under crosses in that particular game.

Julio got on Hedges’ shoulder a minute after coming on, forcing Paes to spill a save that Martinez hacked away. Paes managed to tip a free kick onto the bar that dropped invitingly in the six-yard box before Ema Twumasi cut in front of Julio to guide the ball to safety. That three-minute spell with a two-minute delay in the middle seemed like the warning to be heeded that Dallas needed some kind of change to get back on the front foot.

Another couple of minutes and a third offensive sub go by, and Martinez gets turned around before watching his mark head in the equalizer. Two minutes after that, Justen Glad comfortably beats out Martinez with Paes holding a tame effort.

There aren’t many coaches that want to hook a center back with half an hour to play, so going to a 3-4-3 may have been a solution to allow the fullbacks to continue pushing high as Dallas chased the second goal. It felt like a situation that was calling out for Nkosi Tafari and some self-preservation to form a base to chase a winner from, or just not allow a succession of chances that led to the equalizer.

The Chase

There are five games left for Dallas as other teams play midweek to catch up. Estevez described it as five finals left to play as FCD seeks a return to the playoffs and fights for a home game in the first round.

There will be a keen eye around the league as 10 of the other 13 teams in the West play on Wednesday night. Minnesota United has to travel to RSL before hosting Dallas at the weekend. Nashville, who are suddenly in the mix after seven goals in their last two games, host Colorado. The Galaxy goes to Toronto, and Portland plays out a hipster fest in Austin.

Not having any more midweek games is a bonus for Dallas. Those are occasions where form can go out of the window, as 6-0 specialists Philly can tell you. It’ll be a good time to keep an eye on El Jefe’s hatewatching guide because it seems like Dallas’ closest rivals in the playoffs could easily shift in the next few days.

Looking Ahead

The aforementioned Loons will look to do the double over Dallas and try to distance themselves from the fight for the last home playoff. Three consecutive 2-1 wins have come since the surprising 4-3 weather-affected loss in Colorado, as MNUFC has two games in hand and a two-win advantage to add to their single-point lead over Dallas.

The 2:30 pm kickoff is on Univision (so you know it’s really 2:50 pm!) with an English language stream on Twitter. Mark Followill and Steve Davis will be on 1190AM and the iHeartRadio app if you want to sync up that perfect viewing experience!

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