The Breakdown – FC Dallas vs Real Salt Lake, May 2024

Last week’s tie in Houston felt like a win. This 3-3 tie against Real Salt Lake in Dallas feels like a loss. Not just cause it was at home but because FC Dallas blew a 3-0 lead for the 1st time in club history.

It doesn’t matter that it was to the top team in the conference.

“It’s unacceptable to lose this game. The mistakes we made and the goals conceded are avoidable. The giveaway that we had in the first goal is unacceptable. The second goal, the way that we defended is unacceptable. The third goal is a really, really bad moment for the team. I understand that we played on Wednesday and they didn’t. I understand that we were going to be fatigued at the end of the game. Not just the goals conceded, I think we had chances to score a fourth and fifth goal and close this game out earlier. 

Coach Nico Estevez

See, even Coach thinks it’s a loss.

Lineups and Tactics

Coach Nico Estevez played the same 3-4-2-1 but with about 8 defenders. Or 7.5 since one of them is Asier Illarramendi.

I was concerned that a lot of players came straight back into the XI without the usual slow, bench, minute-build-up return that is this coach’s MO. That includes both Paul Arriola and Liam Fraser. Thankfully, as far as we know, that doesn’t appear to have resulted in greater injury.

Ema Twumasi recovered from his knock to play but Jesus Ferreira was held out, although I understand it was a close choice on Ferreira.

FC Dallas XI vs RSL, May 25, 2024. (Courtesy FC Dallas)
FC Dallas XI vs RSL, May 25, 2024. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

In a fascinating move, Patrickson Delgado – who is usually a stay-at-home holding mid – starts as one of the underneath 10s. I tried to have some fun with that. I have more on this below.

I’ve become convinced that the trait this coach most wants in his players, is defense, both as an individual and in the team concept; effort, intensity, and understanding. In this game, he took Patrickson’s defense as a 10 over say, Sebastian Lletget, or any of the other choices available. Even the two non-defenders – Parul Arriola and Petar Musa – are both good defenders for their positions. They press, chase, cut out passes, and try to turn the opposition over.

Given the way this team scores most of its goals – in rapid transition – maybe none of that should be a surprise.

66th minutes, probably scripted, Dante Sealy and Bernard Kamungo replaced Marco Farfan and Paul Arriola. I think this sub turned the game, more on it later.

81st minute. Nolan Norris for the flagging Liam Fraser, the latter (as you will see down below) did not close well on goal #2.

Then in the 88th, Lletget for Patrickson, who was looking a bit gassed.

Real Salt Lake in a 4-2-3-1.

RSL’s XI vs FC Dallas, May 25, 2024. (Courtesy RSL)

Coach Pablo Mastroeni, down 3-1, goes all-in and runs 4 changes right after this team gets one back. Anderson Julio, Maikel Chang, Fidel Barajas, and Bryan Oviedo repalce Diego Luna, Matt Crooks, Andrés Gómez, and Alexandros Katranis.

Then in the 70th, one final roll of the dice with Nelson Palacio coming on for Chukwuemeka Eneli.


Dan had clips and some talking points on 4 of the goals in his gamer so I’ll do quick hits on those four and include clips here the two he skipped.

1-0 FC Dallas goal. Minute 45+4. Zac MacMath fumbles an Asier Illarramendi cross into his own net.

2-0 FC Dallas goal. 57th minute. Zac MacMath comes way out to intercept a long Maarten Paes throw to Patrickson, MacMath muffs it and Delgado takes advantage.

3-0 FC Dallas goal. 59th minute. Asier Illarramendi wins the ball in a midfield press and leads Parul Arriola, who notches his first goal of the season.

3-1 RSL goal.  61st minute. A quintessential RSL goal. Quick ball movement, a great through pass on the break, a quick burst from underneath to get behind the D (perhaps a little flat in the post 3-0 goal afterglow), and a nice finish by Diego Luna.

“Moon Boy,” that’s funny.

3-2 RSL goal. 73rd minute. Ema Twumasi is caught up field and Liam Fraser covers. Fraser closes late and Anderson Julio hits a banger.

3-3 RSL goal. Minute 90+8. (literally, 10 seconds left) Short corner. The ball comes to Nelson Palacio atop the box. All 18 FCD defenders had collapsed deep into the box (something that happens to them a lot) leaving Palacio acres of space. His shot pass into the net is redirected as it goes through Sebas Ibeagha‘s legs for the goal.

“I probably owe a lot of the guys here dinner tonight. I’m happy to do it and help thank them for what they did for me.”

Zac MacMath

Lo Bueno

My Man of the Match was Patrickson Delgado. He was asked to play a very odd, “high 6” kind of role as one of the 10s. A “false 10” maybe? The idea seemed to be to press hard and make it difficult for RSL to build out, which Patrickson did well. And he scored a nice goal when his chance came. 92% passing, 3 shots, 1 goal, 2 key passes,

“The number one thing for me is to help the team no matter what position on the field I play. Tonight I played a more attacking role and I did well, but I have to correct a couple of things.”

Patrickson Delgado

The FCD offense performed in peak Nico Estevez style. 16 shots with an outstanding 11 on target. A team xG of nearly 2 (1.9) resulting in 3 goals (MLS stats). The way Dallas quickly punishes mistakes is the entire offensive game plan.

“We pushed Marco [Farfan] a little bit higher on the press, this allowed us to build press earlier and then trap them in one area and win the ball back. After, we just found the pockets. We did a really good job at finding Paul [Arriola] and Patrickson (Delgado) in those pockets and that helped us to create dangerous chances.”

Coach Nico Estevez
Burn baby Burn!

Best Ema Twumasi game of the year, I thought. He was more adventurous and dangerous getting forward. Of course, he was caught up (not his fault per se) on one of the goals so Coach won’t like that. But I will take that for his better combo and attacking play. 104 yards in carries (led team), 90% passing, (5/5 long balls), 0.4 xAG (led team), 3 key passes (led team), 4 passes into the penalty area (led team), 1 intercept, 4 clears, and 3 recoveries.

As always, Asier Illarramendi was a baller. It’s sometimes so quiet and clean you can almost don’t notice. 90 minutes, 70 touches, 87% passing, 5 shot-creating actions, 2 goal-creating actions, 4/4 on tackles, 4 progressive passes, 3 progressive carries, 2 blocks, 1 intercept, and 7 recoveries.

Camino del Medio

There was a stretch in the first half where Asier Illarramendi had to gesture at his teammates 4 times in about 10 minutes to get them to make a run. He ended the stretch standing near his coach and said something (about it?) to him. Illarra’s got to be so frustrated with the level of play of this team. Hopefully, they can all learn from him and raise their game. After this stretch of stagnant play, and maybe cause of Illarra’s cheesy goal or cause he was so pissed at them, the team woke up a bit and played a lot better to start the 2nd.

I found a new Twitter account that looks interesting, @mlsstat. Here’s their thread on the FCD/RSL game. I’m going to come back to the passing chart.

On one hand, I like that the Captain is standing up on the bluebird and taking some of the heat.

But as my friend Dan Crooke put it…


Muy Feo

You got to hate a 3 goal collapse, the first in franchise history. Make no mistake, this is up there as one of the worst meltdowns in franchise history. If you are like me, when the first one went in I mumbled to myself, “oh, here we go. Tie incoming.” I started to write a tweet about a two-goal lead (3-1) being the most dangerous lead in soccer but I deleted it cause it would not have been funny when the lead vanished… and sure enough.

“Yeah, it’s very frustrating. Giving up a 3-0 lead here at home is unacceptable to our team. The vibes in the locker room afterwards, you can tell. We hold each other to a standard. We showed that we could do it against the first-place team in the West.”

Marco Farfan

I have a bone to pick with the first set of FCD subs as I think it turned the game. 66 minutes in, this sure looks like a typical Nico Estevez workload management sub (he uses the 5 subs to manage workload so he can rotate less). That part I am fine with. But when you are up 3-1 having just given up a goal to the 2nd best offense in MLS… make an adaptation and change who you are bringing in. Perhaps bring on Omar Gonzalez for Marco Farfan, shift Nkosi Tafari to LCB, and Sam Junqua to LWB? Perhaps bring on Tsiki Ntsabeleng into that high role for Paul Arriola where his notable energy and defensive work can continue making it hard for RSL? You don’t have to bring on two attacking wingers when trying to bunker a lead. I’m sure there was some hope they could get in behind or something but both Dante Sealy and Bernard Kaumgo are poor defenders at best. Bad call.

Here’s one of the images from the account I found on Twitter, @mlsstat. Take a look at the passing chart. This might be a bit nitpicky, but I don’t like how little flow there is from Tafari to Ibeagha. Twumasi was having a good day, as you can see from the xT chart to the left (xThreat). Maybe Ibeagha isn’t the world’s best passer or maybe it’s cause Tafari is right-footed? Going from Tafari through Ibby to Twumasi, rather than just going into Illarra or Fraser to get wide to Twumsai would create more variance and perhaps help them get out of the back.

Nolan Norris has a yellow card problem. That’s now 7 in 8 games across FC Dallas and North Texas SC. Even though the one he got in this game was a bit ridiculous.

Instant Reaction – 3 Things

A few people wanted me to blast the team for the blow 3-0 in my “3 Things,” but you already know they blew the game and I only get 3 things. Talking blown lead is too easy and boring to talk about. so I decided to stay analytical.

1 Comment

  1. The Sealy sub was the real head scratcher. I agree the better move would have been to bring on Omar and move Sam to LWB. He’s done it before. Then what shouldn’t be lost was the conversation Nico had with SL after the 2nd RSL goal. SL could be seen waving the midfield back towards the FCD box setting up the shooting gallery in extra time. What should have been a glorious home win against a quality opponent turned into more Nico crap.

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