FC Dallas eased to a 6-0 win over San Antonio FC in the team’s preseason homecoming.
As often happens, North Texas SC held a 45-minute scrimmage against the FCD substitutes. The senior FCD team won 2-0 through Beni Redzic and Tsiki Ntsabeleng.
Nico Estevez rolled out a strong starting lineup that lasted 70 minutes vs San Antonio – something he’d highlighted on a midweek media call – before a full line change. Isaiah Parker replaced Marco Farfan a few minutes prior.
A Jesus Ferreira hat-trick, a brace for Jader Obrian, and one from Paul Arriola gave Dallas the win over a San Antonio side that were clearly still finding their feet in the much later USL preseason.
With a new coach, new system, and new players For FC Dallas, let’s talk more about what we saw than just the goals.
As Gregg Berhalter’s assistant with the national team, we knew to expect a 4-3-3. Buzz mentioned on the podcast how the team has been working on a 4-4-2 but the bread-and-butter is going to be the single-pivot 4-3-3. While the shape is fairly similar to the disastrous 2021, how it’s used really plays into FC Dallas’ offseason moves.
While there wasn’t a lot of defensive action to observe the differences in how the team compresses, we had plenty of examples of FCD’s attacking shape.
Forget the quality of the players, the big fear of the transition from Ricardo Pepi to Jesus Ferreira was simply their different traits. Pepi tends to attack the ball, and make those wide drifting runs whereas Ferreira can drop back and get a little lost between the forward and midfield lines. How the wingers and attacking midfielder are set around that more false 9 Ferreira plays can be the difference between a passive attack that shoots from distance and a team that grinds its way into the box.
The wingers at various points actually played higher than Ferreira, allowing for either Paul Arriola or Jader Obrian – who have both played the position – to slot inside and allow Ferreira to cover their space.
Ferreira did well to also combine with Paxton Pomykal as we discuss…
There was an interesting build in the first half where Arriola came inside as the 9, Ferreira dropped back to play as a dual-10 with Paxton Pomykal, and Ema Twumasi filled the right wing space with Brandon Servania occupying the half-space between his right-sided central midfield position and where a fullback would usually support the winger. As that then develops, you get a full overload – well not quite against a back five – of the San Antonio defense with Pomykal/Ferreira stepping forward to form almost a flat 5 v 5.
Coach Estevez was pleased to have the chance to go against a back five so this may have been a test for a particular build pattern that could be used to overload a back four in a no-pressure situation after the team went two goals up inside the first seven minutes.
We were all sad to see Ryan Hollingshead leave, but his departure is indicative of changes to the position. Hollingshead was an offensive fullback, almost an extension of the wing, which required a lot of tracking back to the point where Paxton Pomykal and Jader Obrian joined Ryan in the top five for tackles on FC Dallas.
A keystone of Luchi-ball was the use of full backs in the build. Both full backs would take off as the defensive midfielder dropped between the center backs. The fullbacks would often underlap the wings, cutting inside to look for the shot.
If we base Nico Estevez’s system on the US Men’s National Team, the wings play inside. We saw that as Arriola and Obrian combined inside the box frequently. This firstly requires a fullback that is attacking to make more overlapping runs as demonstrated by Twumasi in the example of the final third overload.
We also saw Farfan getting further up the left, particularly when Arriola switched to that side.
The most notable change is that the fullbacks fall more in the traditional use. While there is a trigger point for both fullbacks to advance, the emphasis is more on the wings making that synchronized run with the fullback on the ball side advancing in support. The opposite fullback then tucks inside to a back three with the 6 remaining in the midfield where previously there was a void that teams could play in to.
Estevez noted after the game that Facundo Quignon’s presence in that previously open space drew a man out of San Antonio’s midfield as they shifted from a 5-3-2 to a 5-2-1-2, which in itself stops SAFC overloading against Pomykal and Servania.
There were plenty of unofficial debuts between the two games, so let’s go through a few:
Paul Arriola – A goal, an assist, and a hockey assist sums up a strong performance. Interestingly his first at Toyota Stadium since the US U-23s lost to Colombia in the Olympic qualifying playoff way back in March 2016.
I asked after the game if that had come to mind at all, but he said he’s just excited to call Dallas home and get the season started.
Arriola’s pace was something else, his timing with Obrian was as if they’d played together for several years. Likewise his switches with Ferreira, something he put down to their shared national team time. He wasn’t creating gaps in a bad way, reacting to another player’s actions. He created plenty in a positive manner, with that same knack of creating a yard or two of space with a simple turn as Franco Jara. Defensively, he covered back and closed channels in those times where both fullbacks got forward.
“For Jesus [Ferreira] and myself it’s a little easier because we understand, we’ve been through it. It’s been three years of something similar to this. At this point, I just want to try and help everyone get on the same page. I know it works and so we can definitely be successful like this.”Paul Arriola on his adaptation to life at FC Dallas and his role in helping others adapt to the style Nico Estevez brings from the USMNT
Marco Farfan – Defensively looked bright. Picked out some good passes and timed his bursts forward well, as you’d want from someone who has spent a few years in the league now. It was a little quieter than I’m sure he would have wanted as San Antonio rarely threatened, and only really broke down the Dallas right a couple of times.
Maarten Paes – Not a lot to do. His command of the box was encouraging, claiming a couple of crosses, which can be difficult when your first language isn’t English or Spanish. Assuming Maurer doesn’t return Wednesday, I’m intrigued to see the Dutch keeper line up against MLS opposition.
Isaiah Parker – I liked his off-the-ball runs, but I didn’t get to see too much of the attacking phase on the ball.
As North Texas pressed both full-backs, I thought Parker handled the pressure a little better than Eddie Munjoma on the right. Munjoma tried a little too hard to find Kalil ElMedkhar ahead, while Parker was happy to exchange passes with Edwin Cerrillo or Tsiki Ntsabeleng in the midfield in an effort to draw a pressing player into space, or just recycle play to Nkosi Tafari.
Tsiki Ntsabeleng – The South African draft pick is projecting as Brandon Servania’s backup. A well-taken goal against North Texas capped his day off.
I saw plenty of forward runs, I’d like to see him in more than late minutes against a well-beaten San Antonio team, and a half-matched up against 17-year-old Santiago Ferreira. As someone who primarily played as a winger, there’s a big question mark over how well Tsiki can defend, and we just didn’t see that tested. Buzz did a Burn on him.
Lucas Bartlett – Another where the lack of defense required obscured what we wanted to see. As Dallas worked on the build phase in the back, I was rather disappointed.
Whether it was instructed or not, I wanted to see Bartlett’s range of passing. His passing was something highlighted on draft day, and I never saw anything beyond knocking the ball to Tafari. There were opportunities with players in space, but no attempt to find them.
It was mentioned to me that he was a little nervous in the games in Florida before he grew into the game, so maybe it’s worth giving him a pass in the first home game, but right now I don’t see an MLS rotation center back which that 6th pick should have secured.
Blaine Ferri – He’s threatening to be the Cerrillo/Tessmann player that comes into camp as an extra body and wins a contract. It’s good to see a prolific player from his USSDA days hitting those levels.
He’s acting as the backup to Paxton, and you’re seeing the things you want to see from that free 8. He’s dictating the tempo, spreading the ball wide, and combing well with Beni Redzic ahead. I think he had the hockey assist on the Ntsabeleng goal, finding Eddie Munjoma down the right in position to cross.
Beni Redzic – The Homegrown was firmly in his own head to start. When I asked Coach Estevez how he thought Redzic was doing in preseason he was keen to make the point that Beni is returning from ankle surgery that sidelined the 19-year-old since June.
After briefly switching out to left wing with Szabolcs Schon, he seemed to regain his focus and contributed with the opening goal in the NTX game. He made some good runs, checked back and wide searching for the ball. Certainly, a player who needs at least one solid year in MLS Next Pro.
“He’s a player that understands the the spacing between the lines very well. As a winger where he played before, he used to dribble the ball more, and now it’s something that he’s improving. Sometimes he hesitates to bounce the ball one touch, he takes two touches and the play gets a little bit slower than we would like, but he’s improving in the side. He also has the willingness to defend and the willingness to run, and I think he’s a very valuable player during this preseason for us.”Nico Estevez on Beni Redzic
Antonio Carrera – With Jimmy Maurer out injured, Carrera is second choice right now. One of his older brother’s trademarks was that booming shout as a leader in any team he played in. Antonio is incredibly soft-spoken but was loud and clear in every shout on the field, calling players off balls he wanted to claim.
Again, a goalkeeper not tested. A couple of low gathers is was about the extent of Carrera’s day.
Between a six-save performance for the U-20s against FCD and 45 minutes against Orlando, we speculated on the podcast whether the continued delay in announcing a deal between player and club may be now down to which team is signing him. That MLS Next Pro contract may well be becoming an outright Homegrown deal based on his preseason. Nico Estevez had even gone as far as to tell fans at a meet and greet that Carrera had won the third keeper spot with FC Dallas.
FC Dallas returns to action on Wednesday in Austin, facing Chicago Fire. The game takes place at Austin FC’s training facility with a stream available for the 11 am kickoff. The game may see debuts for both Xherdan Shaqiri and Nanu, who arrived in Texas on Friday evening.