The Breakdown – FC Dallas at Philadelphia Union

Since starting the 7 games in 22 days run FC Dallas has yet to lose a game. Still, with just 6 points from 1 win and 3 ties – including the point against Union on the road – the playoff chase is still in flux with 4 games to go.

“We’re happy with the performance and effort of the team, the personality and authority that we showed playing against one of the finalists of the MLS Cup last year – who’s really good at home.”

FCD Head Coach Nico Estevez

Lineups and Tactics

FC Dallas pulled a fast one and didn’t let anyone – not even it seems their own socials and the AppleTV broadcast – know and rolled out a 3-4-3 with Dante Sealy starting at wingback. And that was just one of the rotation moves. Jesus Jimenez, Paxton Pomykal, Liam Fraser, and Sam Junqua all rotated in.

“Analyzing Philly, they’re a team that I know well, at home they like to load the box and try to get crosses very early. They’re very direct and vertical so we added a third center back to help us control those moments.”

Coach Nico Estevez

I drew up the shape since the official sources (and us) were all wrong on it.

FC Dallas' actual shape against Philly on Sept 27, 2023.
FC Dallas’ actual shape against Philly on Sept 27, 2023.

The first set of subs, which as often is the case, seemed scripted for loan management. Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola replaced Jesus Jimenez and Jader Obrian in the 68th minute.

In the 79th minute, Asier Illarramendi and Jose Martinez replaced Alan Velasco and Dante Sealy (shifting Junqua out wide).

Finally, in the 91st minute, Eugene Ansah replaced Paxton Pomykal.

Philadelphia had some slight rotation but they are in their normal narrow diamond 4. They, being a good team, dictate their style on the opposition.

The Doop XI vs FC Dallas on Sept 27, 2023. (Courtesy Philly Union)
The Doop XI vs FC Dallas on Sept 27, 2023. (Courtesy Philly Union)

In the 75th minute, Union brought on Chris Donovan and Tai Baribo for Mikael Uhre and Alejandro Bedoya, the latter of whom made his 200th MLS start in this game.

Then in the 86th, Nathan Harriel replaced Olivier Mbaizo.


Philadelphia Union 0-1. 25th minute. Union breaks out of the back with a quick keeper outlet throw. Kai Wagner brings the ball down, carries 20 yards, and plays a long pass to the breaking Quinn Sullivan who beats Dante Sealy and Ema Twumasi. Full field in 10 seconds, impressive.

FC Dallas 1-1. 36th minute. An absolute banger of a worldie from Alan Velasco. Just a spectacular hit. Golazo indeed.

Lo Bueno

My FCD Man of the Match was Paxton Pomykal. Fantastic performance, one of his best of the year. The dribble drives and penetrating passes (progression) are a big improvement. Maybe it’s cause he’s positioned deeper? Love it.

“Playing with Pax, you know, it’s seamless. He’s the guy that helps everybody on the pitch and makes it easier for everybody else. Playing with him and being able to connect with him is super easy. It’s like the connection that we had today and, going forward, is excellent.”

Liam Fraser

Maarten Paes was an absolute monster in the net, again. Break it down for us, my man.

Get your Paes Patrol shirt here.

Alan Velasco was a real handful, driving the Union defense to distraction. Two shot-creating actions, 2 for 5 on take-ons, 82% passing, 1 key pass, and 1 goal. He did get a little sloppy and some of his “referee management” isn’t working as intended. But overall he was the biggest FCD Catalyst on the night. La Joyita indeed.

“Today we talked to him about us wanting him to get on the ball more and he did a good job on that.”

Coach Nico Estevez

Camino del Medio

By the current handball rule, if the ball strikes a player’s arm, he can’t score without someone else touching the ball first, even if it’s not a handball. And yes, I thought the ball hit Paul Arriola‘s arm quite clearly even if my man Peter Welpton didn’t (see 3rd Degree the Podcast).

Muy Feo

Liam Fraser was too immobile in this one for me. He’s at his best when he’s more rangy. 86% passing is ok, but not compared to Pomykal’s 92%. Fraser was dispossessed just one time but he was too loose with the ball and continues to let passes go past him to no one. Just 4 for 8 on long balls.

“Liam (Fraser) just came to the club and had an outstanding performance today.”

Coach Nico Estevez disagrees with my assessment.

3-4-3. Man, I just don’t like it with this side. Velasco plays it properly but Obrian doesn’t and so it’s not really effective. Jesus Jimenez doesn’t get high enough to press the center back and the shape is kind of a mess having to shift around him. You can see from his heat map he was pretty much static in his own half near the circle (FCD going right to left on this graphic).

Jesus Jimenez's heat map against Union, Sept 27, 2023. (Courtesy
Jesus Jimenez’s heat map against Union, Sept 27, 2023. (Courtesy

And no, Jimenez isn’t a 10 here in a 3-5-2. It’s a 3-4-3 with Jimenez at the 9… um.. er… yeah.

FC Dallas average position at Philadelphia Union, Sept 27, 2023. (Courtesy MLS)
FC Dallas average position at Philadelphia Union, Sept 27, 2023. (Courtesy MLS)


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