Well, that was fun. FC Dallas came in hot and took care of business. Thankfully the Galaxy always want to open the field up and play rather than a low block.
“I wish he didn’t leave it down to the wire like that but it just shows the resilience of the team to have the right mindset coming away to LA, against a team that had nothing to lose, and putting a strong performance together like that.”Paxton Pomykal
FC Dallas scored four goals in the first half for the first time since August 29, 2021, when Dallas beat Austin FC 5-3.
Lineups and Tactics
It came as a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one, that Coach Nico Estevez reverted to a 4-2-3-1 with Alan Velasco in the central midfield (you can call it a lopsided 4-3-3 if you wish).
Bernard Kamungo getting off a plane and going into the lineup was also a welcome shock. Thankfully Asier Illarramendi was able to play.
Jader Obrian came on for the injured Kamungo in the 43rd minute.
The game kill starts in the 77th minute, with Liam Fraser and Dante Sealy replacing Paxton Pomykal and Paul Arriolla. Then in the 82nd, Jose Martinez replaced Marco Farfan and Jesus Jimenez replaced Alan Velasco shifting the team into a 3-4-3 type setup with Dante Sealy at wingback.
Since LA Galaxay are, like half the league, cowards and don’t post a shape, we have to go to MLS to see their 3-4-3. Our old friend Edwin Cerrillo started in midfield.
Due to injury, Raheem Edwards replaced Julián Aude in the 24th minute.
Chasing the game, the Galaxy made two halftime subs: Chris Mavinga replaced Tony Alfaro and Jonathan Pérez replaced Billy Sharp.
In the 64th, the Gals’ best player Riqui Puig came on for Diego Fagundez.
In the 83rd, Eriq Zavaleta came on for Kelvin Leerdam.
This will take a minute as there are a lot of them.
FC Dallas 1-0. 4th minute. A fantastic intercept, progressive carry, and pass by Nkosii Tafari fins Bernard Kamungo on the break. Bernie slips the keeper for the opening goal. This was FCD’s fastest goal of the season.
FC Dallas 2-0 13th minute. First career goal for Ema Twumasi who steps smartly to recover a loose ball in a good position and finishes. Special assist by Diego Costa for just standing there and letting Twumasi run away from him.
“It’s an amazing feeling, but for me it’s more important getting into the playoffs. Last year we made it and came up short. We came here looking to win and secure our spot. It’s amazing getting my first goal and help the team, but we still have a lot of work in front of us.”Ema Twumasi
LA Galaxy 2-1. 24th minute. Ouch. Ema Twumasi and Marco Farfan get accidentally swapped when their tracking off a set play leads them to opposite sides of the shape. Raheem Edwards skins Farfan – caveat he’s on the wrong side and doesn’t know how to guard the line – for the near-post finish.
FC Dallas 3-1. 30th minute. Just a wonderful team goal. Marco Farfan pinches, Asier Illarramendi recovers and feeds Paxton Pomykal. Pomykal plays wide to Jesus Ferreira. Ferreira hits a beauty of a cross to the crashing Bernard Kamungo for the goal.
FC Dallas 4-1. 45+2 minute. 4th goal in the first half! Nkosi Tafari again makes a phenomenal splitting pass to a player on the break, Paul Arriola this time. Arriola sees the hard-running Jader Obrian on the back side for an easy goal (that Obrian almost flubs).
My FCD Man of the Match was Bernard Kamungo. You could have picked any of a handful of choices but Kamungo got back from the U23 camp just a day or so before flying to LA and stepping right into the XI. His effort, directness, and movement were infectious, and his clutch ability in front of net paid off twice. If he hadn’t had his ankle rolled up, the kid would have had a hat trick (on Obrian’s goal, Bernie makes that same run).
“I think it is important to know that [Kamungo]’s still a young player, he is still developing, and then we have to be aware that he needs to know what things he is doing well, what things he needs to improve. He has a lot of room to improve. I think he has to be hungry and I think he showed what his character is as a person and as a player.”Coach Estevez
The 4-2-3-1 with Alan Velasco in the middle as a “free-8” was to me the biggest catalyst for the explosion. Dallas played its best ball all year with Velasco in this role during Leagues Cup (and in one game with Pomykal in the same spot vs RSL). Velasco can dribble away from players, progress the ball, line break, shoot from range, and generally cause havoc back there. He also plays pretty solid recovery defense.
As a consequence, the first half was the best half of Nico-Ball we’ve seen. Out possessed 60% to 40% but by playing fast transition FCD outshoots LA 13 to 4 with 6 (!) shots on target for 4 goals. Amazing. There are many games FCD doesn’t create that many chances in the entire game.
“It was now or never. We’d created a lot of opportunities in front of goal the past few games but didn’t put away our chances early. I thought that we did really well off the ball today, we were hungry and the result reflected that.”Paxton Pomykal
One of the low-key benefits of the tactics was putting the wings on switch-foot positioning (a right-footed player on the left and a lefty on the right). This is a hallmark of modern football where most of the crossing comes from the outside backs (FCD isn’t a big swing-it-in team usually) instead you want the wings to cut inside and shoot. This worked fantastically with Arriola left (a righty) and Kamungo right (a lefty). Obrian (a righty) broke this when he subbed in at right wing.
Jesus Ferreira, despite not scoring, had a really good day. 44 touches, 4 shots, two on target, 6 shot-creating actions, 2 goal-creating actions, 1 assist, and 2 key passes. He wasn’t dispossessed a single time and only had 2 miscontrolls.
Monster game by Nkosi Tafari. He was dominant. 84% passing, 3 progressive passes (2 of which led to goals), 3 goal-creating actions, 1 tackle, 1 intercept, and 6 clears.
Asier Illarramendi was a beast at the 6 again. 67 touches, 85% passing, 4 progressive passes, 14 recoveries, 4 blocks, 3 intercepts, 2/3 on tackles. Unreal.
I told you there were lots of people you could pick for Man of the Match. And I didn’t even mention Maarten Paes and his 4 saves.
Camino del Medio
The 2nd half drop-off is only a small concern, but it happens by nature when a club is up 4-1. Still, I would prefer a little more positive play. Just 2 more shots were created in the 2nd half.
The dangerously positioned free-kick that Velasco took toward the end of the half should have been taken by Paxton Pomykal (lefty). In that spot, Velasco, a righty, had a very poor angle and little chance to squeeze it in. The whole goal was open for Pomykal from that spot.
I’m not anti-Dante Sealy. He shows flashes of good things and may have a big future. But in these late-game defensive stands, he can sometimes be a liability because he chases down at about 80%. He’s not bringing the intensity needed. Dude, you’re playing for 20 minutes. Every run should be 100%. Close down hard. And if you make a mistake, don’t just wave your hand sorry and stand there, bust your ass to recover and help.
The Ema Twumasi and Marco Farfan swap that led to the Galaxy goal came off a set piece tracking that led them to be swapped. Coach Estevez’s defensive responsibility above all else mantra meant they got stuck in those spots. While it sucked, and LA targeted it, it’s not really anyone’s fault. Someone up top for FCD needed to relieve the pressure so the D could recover shape.