The Breakdown – FC Dallas at Vancouver Whitecaps

On the road in MLS, on turf, against a team that wants to mid-low block and counter, I’ll take the tie. I don’t love it. But it’s not a terrible road start.

Let’s break it down.

Lineups and Tactics

FC Dallas rolls with the 4-3-3 and we see the 3rd CB combo – Nkosi Tafari and Sebas Ibeagha. I’m not sure if the plan was to roll out all three combos in the first three games or if the tactics of the game just made FCD go this route. Granted, Vancouver plays direct with pace so the combo makes sense.

“José (Martínez) and Kos (Tafari) are two different players. Kos is similar to the athletic play style I have, while José has that technical play and is very good on the ball. It’s about knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we can push each other and become better. We always rotate in training and try different pairings because we don’t know what could happen in a game and we need to all be on the same page.”

Sebastien Ibeagha

Also, Edwin Cerrillo kept his spot as Facundo Quignon was “questionable’ and wasn’t in the game-day roster.

FCD XI at VAN March 23
The FC Dallas XI at Vancouver Whitecaps, March 11, 2023. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

60th minute, Coach Nico Estevez goes to his bench bringing on Jose Martinez and Jader Obrian for Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola. Shifting FCD into a 3-4-3. In the 77th minute, Geovane Jesus comes on for Ema Twumasi. Then in the 89th minute, Sam Junqua replaced Marco Farfan.

FCD XI late vs VAN Mar 23
The FC Dallas XI late in the game vs Vancouver, March 11, 2023

“We tried to modify to defending to a 4-4-2. But that didn’t didn’t work well. And then we switched to a three in the back and it helped us. Sometimes people think that switch which introduces a center back, it means you want to defend – it was the opposite. We were looking to give more forward players the ball, to have more width with our winbacks and then trying to exploit the wide areas to score goals.”

Coach Nico Estevez

Vancouver sticks with the Xmas Tree formation they have used this year (4-3-2-1).

Van XI vs FCD march 23
Vancouver Whitecaps XI vs FC Dallas, March 11, 2023. (Courtesy Whitecaps)

At halftime, Coach Vanni Sartini went to his bench for Sergio Córdova to replace Cristian Dájome. In the 70th, Pedro Vite replaced Brian White. At the 78th-minute mark, Sebastian Berhalter replaced Alessandro Schöpf. And finally, a double sub in the 83rd, Ali Ahmed replaced Ryan Raposo and Mathías Laborda came on for Julian Gressel.


1-0 FC Dallas, 4th minute.

Nkosi Tafari with a lovely long pass to his center-back partner Sebea Ibeaghas who hits a lovely header for goal.

“It’s been a long time since I scored a goal, so it is good to be back on the score sheet. For it to be assisted by Kos (Tafari) is great because he’s my guy. We looked at each other and I told him to put the ball in the box and that is exactly what he did. It was a good goal and it makes it a little extra special that Kos assisted it for me.”

Sebastien Ibeagha

1-1, Vancouver goal. 12th minute.

Paul Arriola with a beauty of an own goal on a Whitecaps long throw-in.

Lo Bueno

Man of the Match: Nkosi Tafari. I thought he was fantastic. Confident and calm in the middle. Passed out of the back well. Hit a couple of nice long balls. The assist was terrific. Won a bunch of duels in the air and on the ground. Just a dominant performance. As pointed out by FCD’s Garrett Melcer, in 2 starts Tafari has lost 1 duel. He’s 13/14 on the ground and 11/11 in the air on the year. Feeling good about my “Year of Nkosi” prediction on the podcast.

Marco Farfan, as usual, with a performance that made him a Man of the Match candidate. To my eyes, he puts in so much work and covers the most ground in the team, partially cause Alan Velasco plays “false” style wing, more inside than out.

Sebastien Ibeagha was also good although not as good as Tafari. He scored his first FC Dallas and MLS goal and almost had a brace. He covered a lot of ground. Not as calm and steading as Tafari but overall quality performance.

This is a hell of a save by Maarten Paes. Four saves on the night and this wasn’t the only top tier of them.

This really was a strong defensive road performance. FCD held Vancouver to 10 shots at home and while 4 of them were on target Paes was up to the task. Only 8.3% of the Vancouver crosses connected (FCD was at 40%).

Paxton Pomykal really is an energizer bunny. According to 90 minutes, 81 touches, 96% passing, 10 recoveries, and 4 fouls suffered. And on turf, which hurts more when you go down. 2 tackles, 2 intercepts. The dude is a terrier.

Congrats to Jesus Ferreira on his 100th MLS start.

I liked the 3 at the back change. It was a good move to help overload the midfield and tighten the back line. FCD was having to go wide and 3-4-3 gives those wingbacks room to run.

“Switching to a back three means we will be more aggressive and attack more. We missed the chance to get in the lead in the first half and Nico saw that. We tried to push the game more and go forward in the second half. Changing us to three at the back allowed us to go more forward and that is exactly what we did.”

Sebastien Ibeagha

Camino del Medio

11 shots on the road is something that I can live with (as opposed to 11 shots at home). But only 2 on goal isn’t good enough. As always, this team needs a good ratio of shots to shots on goal, something closer to 50%. FCD again was troubled breaking down the block and glogg method. Despite winning the xG FCD just didn’t give themselves enough chances.

“We had a good start and scored a goal. And then it was a moment there that we should have been more aggressive, we should be more determined to score the second goal. And even though we were having the possession, we were dominating, we weren’t creating those goal scoring opportunities.”

Coach Nico Estevez

While Edwin Cerrillo may never be an elite passer and still has a lot of room to grow (he was being a bit too aggressive on long passes in this one) he still covers an immense amount of ground. 90% of being a 6 is what you do without the ball so I wanted to try and show how much coverage he is doing. So here’s his combined pass/defense chart from MLS which shows a good spread. You can see a concentration just left of center due to the late game 3-4-3 where he was in a more double-pivot setup with Pomykal.

Edwin Cerrillo pass and D chart vs Vancouver, March 11, 2023
Edwin Cerrillo pass and D chart vs Vancouver, March 11, 2023 (Courtesy MLS)

Muy Feo

I was back to thinking Sebastian Lletget’s movement looked stiff and limited. Maybe the turf? Maybe still getting over the preseason knocks? Lletget only had 40 touches, that’s not enough for your free-8 (only 33 for Paul Arriola but he’s a wing). Unlike last week when Lletget had a bunch of good stats hiding in his game, this week they were there. He was clean with the ball with 94% passing but didn’t do much else.

I didn’t dig the Jader Obrian sub. For some reason these days he’s causing a short-circuit in the FCD front group. I think it’s cause his style is so different it doesn’t interact with the rest of the team or at least with the current play method. In his 30-ish minutes, he had just 15 touches with 9/10 passing. To his credit though, he had 3 key passes in his 9. So there is still value in the player. I put this more on the coaches than Obrian himself, FCD needs to figure out how to get Darth Jader on the same page with his teammates. From the quotes about the 3-4-3, Obrian was part of that attacking idea… it’ just not cohesive.

Instant Reaction – 3 Things


  1. Totally agree with your take on Nkosi, Buzz. His play looks effortless at times. I feel like there was an outside of the foot pass he made into space and it looked like he just flicked it 30-40 yards with the perfect weight.

    Any idea why Obrian was wearing gloves? Was it cold in that stadium?

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