The Breakdown: FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders, 2020 MLS Playoffs

Having won only once at Seattle in their history and with the terrible FC Dallas road form, winning at Seattle was going to be a big hurdle just as it was in Portland.  As we talked about during the lead-up, a mid-block sit-and-counter style wasn’t going to work.

And sure enough, Dallas came to play.

Los Toros put in a terrific performance. While no one was really great, there were a number of players who showed quite well. In the end Dallas just lacked the offensive punch – as they have all year – to beat a really good team on the road.

I’m proud of the guys, I’m proud of the staff, I’m proud of our owners for showing us relentless passion and support for our guys on and off the field. They were brave today, they moved the ball, they pressed, they sacrificed for each other, but it didn’t bounce our way. 

Coach Luchi Gonzalez

Let’s break it down…

Lineups and Tactics

As we predicted, Coach Gonzalez went with a double-8 style 4-3-3 alignment with Tanner Tessmann replacing Jesus Ferreira from the week before. This change meant Andres Ricarute played the attacking-8 position. 

As FCD did in the final 2/3s in Portland, Ryan Hollingshead started at right wing with Fafa Picault on the left so Johnny Nelson remained the left back next to Bressan.

FCD XI predict at Seattle 2020 playoffs West Semi
FCD XI at Seattle 2020 playoffs West Semifinal, December 1, 2020.

In the 58th minute, down 0-1, Luchi started subbing for offense as FCD tried to get the goal back. First, Michael Barrios came on for Nelson thus shifting Hollingshead to his natural left back.

Then in the 80th minute, a double sub of Ricardo Pepi and Santiago Mosquera came on for Picault and Tessmann.  This made Ricaurte more of the linking-8 with Santi on the left wing and Pepi as a 2nd striker with Jara in a 4-2-4 type shape.

Then the final total gamble, Ferreira came on for Thiago Santos and played as a 6. Probably in the hope he could make some kind of game-tying pass from deep.

Seattle in their usual 4-2-3-1.

The Seattle Sounders XI against FC Dallas in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, December 1, 2020. (Courtesy Seattle Sounders)

In a defensive move up 1-0, Kelvin Leerdam replaced Joevin Jones shifting Alex Roldan higher.

Then in two game killing subs, Roman Torres replaced Joao Paulo in the 87th minutes and Brad Smith replaced Jordan Morris in the 91st minute.


0-1 Seattle Sounders goal. 49th minute. Off of a corner. Seattle runs a set play that includes a high screen that scrapes Thiago Santos off Shane O’Neill.  It works perfectly and O’Neill heads it back post for the goal.  Unfortunately, there’s no one at the back post for Dallas. 

Lo Bueno

Andres Ricarute was my Man of the Match for Dallas as the attacking-8.  Importantly still a deeper’ish 8, which is the key.  Ricaurte was the best Dallas player on the day and came the closest to unlocking the Seattle defense with his 4 key passes. 90 touches, 1 shot, 76% passing, 4 for 4 on dribbles, 3 drawn fouls, 1 tackle, 3 interceptions, 8 recoveries, and 5 crosses.  He was everywhere.

Andres Ricaurte at Seattle Sounders in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, December 1, 2020.

I was so pleased FCD tried to play, tried to make a game of it.  Rather than a mid-block sitting in – which wouldn’t have worked, I don’t think – they went for it. The Huntsmen were positive and bright going forward, which was a joy to see. Did they win? No. But they were up for the game and that’s pleasing.

I thought the way we set up today was the right way to play. I thought we played well, we held the ball, created some chances. I thought there were a couple times we could’ve scored towards the end of the second half when we hit that post and had a shot saved off the line. But I thought Luchi set us up the right way today, I thought it was one of our best performances against Seattle. We didn’t win but I was proud of the way we played tonight.

Matt Hedges

Fafa Picault had one of his better games. 52 touches, 2 shots, 1 key pass, 2 for 4 on dribbles, 2 drawn fouls, 2 interceptions, and 5 crosses.  Was he great? No. The crosses failed to connect and he was disposed 3 times. But he was an overall positive in the game.

Michael Barrios looked pretty good as an attacking sub. I think this is the future for him – if he returns in 2021 – as he doesn’t play enough defense and leaves his right back exposed.  He’s starting to lose a bit of pace and it shows.  90% passing and with just 18 touches he got in 4 crosses.  That’s a really good bench contribution.

The FC Dallas defense did a nice job overall and mostly contained the very dangerous Seattle front.  14 shots by the home team but only 2 of them were on target. That’s pretty good against the team who scored the 3rd most goals in the Western Conference.

Matt Hedges, in particular, was immense. Again. With Reynolds getting forward and Seattle overloading to their left, Hedges almost had to play two positions.  2 tackles, 5 interceptions, 4 clears, 1 block, 8 recoveries, and 6 for 12 on long balls while trying to build against the aggressive Seattle press.

Yeah, it’s disappointing to come here and play the way we did and be in the game the whole time, it was a really even match and we had our chances. We kept them from having many chances and to give up a goal like that is disappointing for us.

Matt Hedges

Camino del Medio

Tanner Tessmann was, for the most part, damn good.  He was calming, shifted the flow, and relieving pressure.  84% passing isn’t bad on the road at Seattle when you’re 19 years old.  2 shots, 1 key pass, 3 dribbles, and 4 for 6 on long balls. But, Tessmann had 5 or 6 tough rookie moments when he was too calm and too casual.  Those moments saw him dispossessed 3 times with 3 other fumbles touches.  I’m quite confident this will improve going forward, he is after all a 19-year-old rookie.  So much upside to come.

Bryan Reynolds was also a mixed bag. He got hit hard early and was a little tentative most of the game. I can hardly blame him for that with the future he has ahead.  Hollingshead wasn’t helping him much defensively nor did Barrios. You can tell Reynolds is more comfortable getting forwards with Barrios though as BR14 was more active in the 2nd half after Hedges had a word with him at halftime.  On the night, Reynolds was 90% passing on 68 touches (that’s low) with just 1 dribble and only 2 crosses. He did have 2 tackles, 6 recoveries, and 3 interceptions tough.

Ryan Hollingshead also had a pretty good game… once he shifted to left back. I don’t think he was much good on the right wing. He mostly played it in the middle and left Reynolds exposed to the Jordan Morris / Nouhou Tolo overload. You can see from the chart below – left side first 58 minutes at right wing, right side the rest of the game at left back – what I mean. 

Ryan Hollingshead as a “right wing” and then at left back against Seattle in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, December 1, 2020.

Jimmy Maurer didn’t have to do a lot with just 2 shots on goal. He did make one save but I think he would like a do-over on the corner. I’m sure he saw it late but that wasn’t a great reaction. He was good in all his usual ways with communication and build play. But he didn’t come up with the big save when it was needed.

Muy Feo

Seattle gets to everything first at home, they always do. They have an intensity at home that is almost impossible to match. The Sounders get to pretty much every loose ball first. They had more tackles (15 to 6) and more duels (68 to 46).  Because of all this – and usually because of the home crowd – the road team virtually always has more fouls (11 to 14).  It would be admirable if not so damn annoying. This is why home-field advantage is so massive in the playoffs.

Franco Jara did pretty much nothing on the night. This is the big game that a big-time player on a big-time contract is supposed to make a difference.  29 touches resulting in 1 shot. 81% passing sounds good with 1 key pass, but far too often he was out wide or deep trying to… well, I’m not sure what he was trying to do. 4 crosses. 4 crosses from the team’s 9. Seriously? I mean look at this garbage. 5 touches in the box all out on the left corner like he’s a wing? SMH. Get in the damn box.

Franco Jara passing and touch chart at Seattle Sounders in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, December 1, 2020.

As I am a fan of having defenders on the posts on corners, it was disappointing to see the back post empty on the goal.  Admittedly, it’s hard to break quickly on the counter if you bring back 2 attackers to do this.

Next Game

The next game will be in spring training of 2021. Hopefully, 3rd Degree will be allowed to cover it in person.

The sun will rise tomorrow. This loss does not define us. It’s all about the process and we just got together as a team just now and pretty confident they’re going to have an even better offseason and I think they’re going to be very motivated to compete and get out of their comfort zones in the next preseason. And that makes me very excited for what’s ahead.

Coach Luchi Gonzalez

Instant Reaction – 3 Things

FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.

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