The Breakdown: Minnesota United at FC Dallas, August 29

The Loons were in town on Saturday night – still one of the best nicknames in MLS, the Loons – and a poor scoring FC Dallas club got things going in the right direction to the tune of a 3-1 win.  Naturally, everyone is feeling pretty good.

But as usual, every game has its good and bad.  This one does for sure.  It was also a big game for tactical alterations as Dallas played in 4 different shapes over the course of the game.

Let’s break it down.

Lineups and Tactics

As we expected, FC Dallas under Coach Luchi Gonzalez went to four at the back in the double-pivot (4-2-3-1).  After talking up Ricardo Pepi in his weekly media call, we weren’t surprised to see him start at right wing. Fafa Picault, after his sub appearance against the Dynamo, also got the start at left wing.  Zdenek Ondrasek returned as the 9 probably because Franco Jara had a kid on Thursday and missed some training.

The big change came, of course, at right back with the Reggie Cannon sale on the horizon.  Johnny Nelson kept his left back spot after his solid defensive play and Ryan Hollingshead was at right back.

The FC Dallas XI vs Minnesota United, August 29, 2020. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

At the 59th minutes, in response to the Minnesota 2nd half pressure, Gonzalez made a triple change with Michael Barrios on for Pepi, Brandon Servania on for Jesus Ferreira, and Franco Jara on for Kobra.  These three changes moved Dallas into a more traditional 4-3-3 look with a double-8 look.

However that didn’t solve the issues and in the 67th minute, Bressan came on for Picault (hamstring) shifting to a 3-5-2.

Finally, in the 84th minutes, Bryan Reynolds came on for Acosta shifting the shape to a 3-4-3.

Minnesota United played a 4-2-3-1. 

Minnesota United XI at FC Dallas, August 29, 2020. (Courtesy MNUFC)

The biggest change for the Loons came at halftime. After sitting for 30 minutes, Coach Adrian Heath threw caution to the wind and made four changes. Raheem Edwards came on for Kevin Molino, Thomás Chacón for Ethan Finlay, Hassani Dotson for Robin Lod, and Mason Toye for Luis Amarilla.

Then in the 81st minute, Heath made his final move brining on James Musa for Jose Aja.


1-0 FC Dallas Goal. 11th minute.  Following a great long switch by Bryan Acosta, Fafa Picault cuts inside leaving Romain Metanire in his dust and shoots back post.

2-0 FC Dallas Goal. 12th minute. Picault torches Metanire again but his cross bounces long. Ricardo Pepi recovers the ball and makes a nice splitting pace in tight space to Jesus Ferreira.  Ferreira takes a couple touches and fires near post.

2-1 Minnesota United Goal. 55th minute. A bad pass by Matt Hedges out of the back is stolen and feed back into the danger zone. What a banger by Hassani Dotson. It was Edwin Cerrillo like.

3-1 FC Dallas Goal. 96th minute. A Reto Ziegler PK.

Here’s the drive by Michael Barrios that earns the shot from the spot.  Barrios hesitated and the defense closed, but speed is speed and Barrios blows past the defender only to be brought down.  Poor foul there, Barrios was running out of space and the D had inside help.

El Bueno

Fafa Picault was Man of the Match for me. He was beating Romain Metanire at will. 36 touches in 66 minutes. 78% passing, 1 goal, 2 key passes, 2 dribbles, 4 crosses, and a surprising 3 tackles.

It was a regular performance. It was just missing overall and in the last month people haven’t seen me. It can be difficult when you start to hear the criticism. I know what I’m capable of as a left winger when it comes to attack in the past few years in the league. I’ve had good support from my teammates and coaches, and just having self-belief to help the team.

Fafa Picault

Bryan Acosta, in the first half at least, was excellent. This is exactly the linking play we have been asking for. Luchi talks about Acosta’s range and ground covered, and in this one it was evident. 91% passing, 2 key passes, 2 crosses, and 5 for 6 on long balls including the assist (I mean, sort of) on the Picault goal.  On the down side, he was flat in the 2nd half (admittedly after sitting 30 minutes) until he realized he was about to sub out.

Brian’s very dynamic, very dynamic. And if you look at his like numbers, GPS wise, he’s probably one of the guys that covers the most distance, has the most accelerations, [and] gets on the ball a lot. So you know, he has that role where now – as the eight more than the six, now – last year was more than six – now he’s more the eight and Thiago is covering more of the defensive six central position, defensively, to cover the set and protect the center backs.

Luchi Gonzalez

This was Jesus Ferreira’s best game as a 10 since last year and not because he scored. He was active getting forward, linking play and possession, high pressing, and playing effective modern midfield soccer.  2 shots (both on target), 93% passing (that’s amazing for a 10), 1 dribble, 2 fouls drawn, 2 tackles (1 win, 1 loss), 1 intercept, and 2 recoveries. That’s a good day.

As I broke down above in the tactics, Cocah Gonzalez used four tactical shapes in this one. The first change to a “traditional” 4-3-3 didn’t really solve the 2nd half problems, but the 2nd change – to three at the back – did. First, let me show you the 2nd half problem. 1st half, shots are contained, closed down, and mostly blocked. 2nd half, you can clearly see the volume of shots coming atop the circle before the change and after.

So the three-at-the-back change helped close the danger space by bringing Hedges into the middle supporting the 6 and shifting to a double-pivot again. Then the 3rd change, to a 3-4-3 when Reynolds came on, first on the right then on the left – was to get an extra defender in the wide spaces on both sides above the outside wingback.  Look at this Minn passing chart from the 2nd half, you can see how much action was coming wide and just above the box from the gap atop the wingbacks. This change was to stifle that.

MNUFC 2nd half passing chart at FC Dallas, 8-29-20.

We added an extra center back. That center back can cover outside backs, he can cover off in behind, and he can break into the midfield. And that’s important because that third center back can be aggressive breaking into the midfield.

Luchi Gonzalez

Overall I’m giving Ricardo Pepi a win. He didn’t play high and wide as Barrios does. He was mostly wide in the defensive and middle third, but then – unsurprisingly – cut inside more in the final third.  80% passing, 1 shot, 1 assist, 1 tackle, 2 clears. No crosses, that’s something to improve on. Overall I’d call this a win for the 4th youngest starter in club history.  

Ricardo Pepi all touch video by Mr Kranks.

Matt Hedges is carrying this defense with 77 touches and 84% passing (his long balls were off, only 3 for 11, trouble connecting with Pepi?).  3 blocks, 5 intercepts, 4 clearances, and 6 recoveries.

This is quality garb by the gaffer.

Camino del Medio

I am so conflicted about Franco Jara. He’s clearly a bit slower than one would like, but holy cow does he play a high, cultured level.  [To have had this guy 4 years ago?  Papi would have won 2 cups!]  Clearly not enough touches for Jara with just 16 as a sub in a formation that was at that point mostly counterattacking.  

I’m also of two minds about the “discussion” between Reto Ziegler and Franco Jara about who would take the PK. I’m all about consistency there, one player taking them all. That’s Reto’s job. PKs are mostly mental, Ziegler has the experience and quality shot for it.  But I’m also down for giving a new striker a PK to help get him his first goal. Jara was the PK taker at Pachuca, 10 of his last 20 goals for Los Tuzos were from the spot, so he should be good at it too.  But mostly I wish Coach Gonzalez would have foreseen this and avoided the misunderstanding

Jara was clearly pissed about it.

Ryan Hollingshead was pretty good at right back: 83% passing, 2 crosses, 2 key passes, 1 dribble, 4 tackles, 2 intercepts, and 3 clearances. If you play him there this season he would grow into it even more. But why break one position, to fix another?

Overall, you have to be pretty pleased with the FCD shooting. Seven on target, that’s excellent. 64% of their shots inside the box, also excellent.  But only 11 shots are home isn’t enough. That’s not enough chance creation. Being outshot at home 15 to 11 isn’t acceptable.  So a mixed bag of good quality shot just not enough of them.

Muy Feo

Man do I hate 5 subs. Minnesota was getting hammered so at halftime he change damn near half his team!  That’s ridiculous.  Coach Gonzalez was able to use four formations via personnel swaps!  In this sport, the tactics and personal choices matter – or at least they used to – now a coach can wall paper over all the mistakes mid game.

Michael Barrios looks off to me still. Something isn’t right. He’s hesitating and allowing defenders to close down, the ball is getting caught under him, or his dribbling right into people. This isn’t the player we are used to.

The left side of the defense, Johnny Nelson and Reto Ziegler, were clearly being targeted by the Loons.  41% of Loon attacks went down the left.  The assumption is Nelson’s inexperience and Ziegler’s loss of step were the attraction.  But it wasn’t just in the attack, it was in defense and press too.  MNUFC kept trying to pin Nelson and Ziegler against the side line and touch line.  Ziegler passing at a 91% clip, kept this from being a bad situation, Nelson at only 76% is clearly a work in progress in the build. Combined, the left build was a problem.

You know, Johnny’s held his own. Johnny’s defended well. The last two games he played that we didn’t concede. And so that shows you he we can depend on him and his one on one duels.

Having the extra center back, Matt was able to shift over and you just provide a little bit more density on the backline protecting as well.

Luchi Gonzalez.

If you needs more proof that this is true, check out Jimmy Maurer’s pass chart here by half. Maurer only made two short passes left all game, both in the first half. Going left he, basically, only went long to Picault. So to that left side everything is mostly bypassing Ziegler and Nelson. Going right, it’s all short to Hedges/Hollingshead, nothing long to Pepi. 

You can also obviously see the FCD first half build short vs second half sit deep and counter attack strategies just in these two charts alone.

Next Game

FC Dallas has a tough one as they go back on the road next Wednesday at Sporting KC.  Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm on TXA21.


  1. This was a great read and a very thorough breakdown. My initial reaction was that Nelson played really well. While I know they were definitely pressuring him (a lot, now that I see your analysis), I thought he played good defense.

    The bad pass by Hedges was costly. It drives me bonkers how many times we cross our own goal on passes in the backfield.

  2. FWIW, Barrios has done 0.55 xG+xA / 96 so far this season, including 0.38 non-penalty xA, which is second in the league for players that have more than 200 minutes, per American Soccer Analysis. In ’17-’19, he did 0.46, 0.51, and 0.54 xG+xA / 96.

    All that to say that, while I agree he hasn’t looked “right” since the restart, he’s still producing chances just like he has in the past few years.

    1. Exactly Frits. the xG and xA are there. He’s doing everything right tactically, getting into the right spots… but then not producing himself. System-wise he’s fine… it’s the little stumbles with the ball, the little hesitation, dribbling into people. Real production: 0 g, 0 a. Just something a bit off.

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