The Breakdown – FC Dallas vs Portland Timbers

Coming into the game against Portland, FC Dallas had only lost one game at home against Portland Timbers all-time. The Timbers, on the other hand, were as hot as anyone in MLS going undefeated in 7 with 5 wins in that span (5-0-2). Something had to give.

“Resilience, resilience from the team. That was huge today.”

FC Dallas Interim Coach Peter Luccin

Let’s break it down.

Lineups and Tactics

Interim Coach Peter Luccin once again changed shapes and somewhat uncommonly the social media graphic was wrong. The triggers for all of us to know the drawing was wrong was the Sam Junqua switchfoot outside back with Paul Arriola as a high wing. It’s been a year since we’ve seen Junqua on the opposite wing and Luccin only plays his (so far) when he needs a 3rd center back.

Tomas Pondeca made his first MLS start.

MLS has the correct shape on their site, so we’ll use that.

The FC Dallas XI vs Portland Timbers, July 4, 2024. (Courtesy MLS)
The FC Dallas XI vs Portland Timbers, July 4, 2024. (Courtesy MLS)

In the run of play, the shape quite often dropped into a 4-4-2 with Marco Farfan shifting to left back, Tomas Pondeca to left mid, and Parul Arriola to right mid. I never quite figured out the trigger for this, but it was fun to see.

Up 2-1 in the 62nd minute, Coach Luccin brought on Logan Farrington for Pondeca.

Then in the 77th, Bernard Kamungo came on for Arriola.

Finally, a double sub in the 85th minute, Ema Twumasi made his first appearance under Coach Luccin coming on for Farfan and Eugene Ansah replaced Ntsabeleng.

Since the Timbers social media people are cowards and don’t draw a shape we have to go to MLS for Portland’s 4-2-3-1.

The Portland Timbers Xi vs FC Dallas, July 4, 2024. (Courtesy MLS)

In the 58th minute, the Timbers went for the triple sub with Felipe Mora, Eryk Williamson, and Diego Chara replacing Santiago Moreno, David Ayala, and Juan Mosquera.

In the 85th, Nathan Fogaca replaced Jonathan Rodríguez.

In the 88th, Sawyer Jura made his MLS debut replacing Claudio Bravo.


0-1 Portland Timbers goal. 8th minute. There’s a mistake in the back that leaves FCD exposed, Nkosi Tafari almost recovers but just misses the Anthony slow roller.

1-1 FC Dallas goal. 49th minute. A fantastically weighted pass by Tsiki Ntsabeleng is right on stride with Peter Musa and finishes with aplomb. That’s his 10th goal in 20 games, a goal every 2.4 shots on target, that’s quite a good strike rate.

2-1 FC Dallas goal. 61st minute. A looping corner to the back post by Sebastian Lletget where Nkosi Tafari has made a circling run. Looks like a scripted play with most of FCD making the front post action.

“Oh man, we’re loving that play right now. It is something that we work on in training and it set up that way and I’m so glad that the ball left my foot and went exactly where I wanted it to and Nkosi with the header.” 

Sebastian Lletget

2-2 Portland Timbers goal. 63rd minute. Could FCD’s defense as a collective have done better? Perhaps. But this is a really class pass and finish by a good team on the same page. Evander with the finish of the Anthony slotted pass.

The thing that is upsetting about this goal is how quickly it comes after the FCD go-ahead in the inevitable post-goal momentary let-off.

3-2 FC Dallas goal. 87th minute. Actually an own goal by Cristhian Paredes. Bernard Kamungo drives toward the end line and his front-post cross to the vicinity of Peter Musa‘s run is bundled in by Paredes.

Lo Bueno

Tsiki Ntsabeleng was my Man of the Match. His first half was meh just like everyone else, but in the 2nd half he was the catalyst. Playing higher up the field really benefits him and he’s cut down on the dumb turnovers. He didn’t get as many touches as others – less than half what Lletget had – but he was higher in the defensive traffic. 49 touches, 4 shot-creating actions, 4 progressive passes, 1 assist, 3 key passes, 86% passing… impact more than volume.

Dallas was 1-8-2 this year when allowing the first goal. Coming back to win 3-2 after that first letdown shows the team has found some guts and commitment to each other. That’s wonderful to watch.

“The halftime talk, maybe it’s better for me to not say anything. It was a hard talk, but at the same time, we told them to believe. We felt that we could score in the second half. The second half we showed character. We are in a very hard situation right now in the club and with the team, with so many injuries to very important players.”

Peter Luccin

“I think our pace in the first half was lacking and we knew that. We created a couple of chances here and there but our buildup was kind of slow, so we knew to increase the pace and that was the biggest change in the second half.” 

Sebastian Lletget

Nkosi Tafari has become super aggressive in his play under Luccin. Both in terms of getting forward into the attack and in his defending. Every once in a while his aggressiveness might cost him a little (first goal maybe) but then it helps him score goals and run down attackers like in this clip below. I like the aggressive Tafari, I think he feeds off it and stays more engaged. He made the MLS Team of the Matchday.

I said last Breakdown that Sebastian Lletget has done so well under Luccin that he should now be a full-time starter rather than part-time, that continued in this one as he could have been Man of the Match with 2 assists. He’s now got 5 assists in his last 5 games. Lletget, of all people, had 116 touches. That’s about twice what he normally has. 6 shot-creating actions, 89% passing, 12 progressive passes, 11 passes into the final third, 4 intercepts, 3 key passes, and 5 carries into the final third.

Asier Illarramendi was awesome, but he’s always awesome. The Timbers were sitting back so he was free to dictate. 90 touches, 96% passing, 14 progressive passes, 5 progressive carries, 13 passes into the final third, and 2/3 on tackles.

Camino del Medio

FC Dallas in the first half was poor. The team lacked the initiative and couldn’t really get much going. yes, controlled possession but they weren’t doing anything with it. Whatever Luccin said to them at halftime worked, they came alive in the 2nd half.

Shooting efficiency, again, impacts this game. This has been a running trend for FC Dallas for a few years now. Without Jesus Ferreira, it’s almost always bad. First half, 8 shots, 0 on target, 0 goals. Just poor. Second half, the same 8 shots, but 4 on target – that’s 50% – and 2 goals – again 50% of those on target. Fantastic. Showing a little patience and working for better opportunities makes a huge difference for this team.

I’m not going to tell you Tomas Pondeca, making his first MLS start, was great. But he was solid for being his first-ever start. I applaud seeing “kids” play even if in this case he’s the age of a college draft pick, he’s still a kid pretty much at 22.

“Tomas Pondeca had his first start today and I’m very happy with the energy and the quality that he brought.”

Peter Luccin

It was interesting watching FCD dominate possession. In this current age of soccer that means little. It’s about chance creation not how long you hold the ball. But still, it was different and something FCD had to adapt to and I think they did well with it.

Muy Feo

The transition defense wasn’t great for FCD, but Portland is excellent at that. Evander is a legit MVP candidate and sometimes there’s only so much you can do. Sometimes the other guys is excellent. His goal and assist in this game bring his totals to 10 goals and 12 assists on the season. Evander had 11 shot-creating actions on just 42 touches, that’s roughly 1 in 4 touches getting a shot for his team. 5 shots himself, 3 on target, 1 goal. Dude is a baller.

“After the first half, we were very passive with nothing offensively. The only thing about the first half that I liked was the compactness of the team. We were compact, but no one making runs, no one even putting more pressure on the ball or playing with the ball. When Evander is on the ball, we need to put more pressure, because he’s a high level, quality player.” 

Peter Luccin

Instant Reaction – 3 Things


  1. I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one confused by the formation. At times, it looked like Ibeagha was playing right FB with Arriola staying so high. Has anyone talked to coach about what he was trying to accomplish with this take on a 3 back system?

  2. Seeing Nkosi get forward and roam is fun and seems to help the team attack, but it really highlights that there is 0 recovery speed from anyone else on that back line. I still don’t love the 3 back thing but being fluid seemed to help some at least. It was really confusing to watch but I have to imagine that made it confusing to try to break down for the Timber too.

    Also, we’ve now got 4 entertaining matches out of 5 under Luccin. Idk if he’s the guy or not long term (so far a .600 record with this roster in it’s current state impresses me but it’s a long season still) it’s nice to have fun watching the games and I do appreciate that.

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