The Breakdown: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas

If you’re new to reading 3rd Degree, hello, welcome to the club. For those few of you that are new, I should probably explain this long-running feature called The Breakdown

Long ago it was called the “Monday Morning Gaffer” and between those two names, it should be obvious what this feature is.  For every FC Dallas game, We break down the tactics and goals then add in some observations about what was good, what was bad, and what kind of floated down the middle. I… wait for it… break it down.

In their 2020 MLS home opener, FC Dallas hosted the Philadelphia Union and came away with a solid, if unspectacular, 2-0 win.

Let’s break it down.

Lineups and Tactics

Coach Luchi Gonzalez started his team in his typical 4-3-3.  The big surprise, unless you listen to our podcast or are a patreon of the site, was 18-year-old Tanner Tessmann starting in midfield as the linking-8 after signing a Homegrown contract earlier that week.

The FC Dallas starting XI vs Philadelphia Union, February 29, 2020. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

The formation changed to a 3-5-2 when Bressan was brought on for Fafa Picault. Jesus Ferreira took up a proto-typical #10 role behind the strikers.

FCD’s 3-5-2 from the middle of the match against Philadelphia Union, February 29, 2020.

Then the shape changed again into a different 3-5-2 after Paxton Pomykal replaced Ferreira.  Pomykal dropped deeper and played as a dual-8 alongside Tessmann. 

FCD’s 3-5-2 from the end of the match against Philadelphia Union, February 29, 2020.

Philadelphia was in their diamond 4-4-2. That formation is one of the big reasons they traded Fafa Picault. His best position is as a wide and high wing and this Union system doesn’t use one of those. 

Union also didn’t make a graphic, opting for this 10-second video instead.


1-0 FC Dallas goal. 61st minute.  Jesus Ferreira with a long pass to Zdenek Ondrasek who’s trap results in a slight bounce up in the ball… Kobra’s marking center back, Jakob Glesnes, drops off for some mystery reason (tracking Barrios?) giving FCD’s poacher three yards of space to shoot.  That’s a dangerous idea and a goal results.

2-0 FC Dallas goal. 91st minute. Tanner Tessmann finds Paxton Pomykal just past midfield.  Both players making a 45 yard run, one with the ball and one without, and Pomykal plays an entry pass to Tessmann who has crashed the center channel.  Tessmann 1-touch lays the ball off for the cutting Pomykal, who takes a dribble and shoots back post for the goal.  So sexy.

El Bueno

It was a solid win, so I’m going to keep it simple to a few items. I hope.

Thiago Santos was my Man of the Match.  He was everything we’ve been talking about this spring and everything FC Dallas has been missing since Carlos Gruezo was sold last year.  A pure bulldog type holding mid. He even mixed in some forward runs that caught everyone by surprise. I love everything I saw. 78% passing, 4 aerials won, 79 touches (led FCD), 1 shot, 3 dribbles, drew 6 fouls, 3 tackles, 5 clears, 5 for 10 long balls, and 9 recoveries.

Tanner Tessmann should be commended for a terrific performance in a start just days after signing. The kid’s just 18 and this line is fantastic: 90 minutes, 1 assist, 2 key passes, 7 tackles (led FCD), 12 duals won, 11 recoveries, 5 for 9 on long balls, and 71% passing overall.  He didn’t make any game-breaking passes, instead, he kept it clean and simple, and doing the job he was assigned.  The longer the game went the more comfortable he became.  The rookie mistakes one would expect weren’t there. Terrific.

It was amazing, it’s a dream come true. I’ve been working hard for four years to get this opportunity. It finally came and I think I took advantage of it, and our team did great. I got to give them credit because they gave me confidence, they gave me the ball, they believed in me so I just give the credit to FC Dallas.

Tanner Tessmann

Here’s an all-touch video for Tessmann by 3rd Degree contributor @MisterKranks.

Paxton Pomykal made a difference, which is what he does.  It’s remarkable, the “Sundance Kid” had only 5 touches in the game and he produced that banger of a goal.  He’s also an annoying pest defensively and a good example of how you can break up a game and still have zero defensive actions.

I love Los Toros having the ability to shift gears with a tactical formation change to a 3-5-2.  This is a terrific innovation by Coach Gonzalez. In this game, the third center back helped the build against the two strikers.

I think tactically, before we we weren’t really building out too well, so when we had the goal, to have three center backs playing on two strikers, it’s easier to handle where your fullbacks don’t have to cover as much.

Paxton Pomykal

Reggie Cannon. What a game. The whole defense was strong, but Cannon was really bringing it.  82% passing, 2 dribbles, drew 4 fouls, dispossessed 4 times (ok that could be better), 2 tackles, 4 clears, and 3 crosses.  And he was working his tail off despite maybe risking the hamstring.

Tifos Rule.

Camino del Medio

Kobra was Kobra. 80 minutes of bunk, then in a split second he grabs the game-winner. He was also ready to fight a dude for his teammate.  What a character, how can you now love this guy? 

You can’t score if you don’t try. It bounced perfectly so I just closed my eyes, probably, and kicked it. I hit it well I guess.


Not quite the Luchi-Ball we’re used to seeing with only 400 passes at home rather than the usual 600+ and pretty much dead even 50% possession.  Granted, Union is a pretty good team.  FCD had some little trouble building from the back against the 2-striker Union system. Other than Cannon, passing at a rate <80% by the defense rather than the 90% we’re used to seeing.

Fafa Picault did some great stuff and had some terrific moments.  For the first time in a long time, FCD has a vertical balance on the left to Michael Barrios on the right.  BUT, I think Picault needs to be higher up the field. Check out his average position compared to Barrios (who did play some striker) and compare his charts.  Just a little bit higher up please Fafa.

FCD average position vs Philadelphia Union, February 29, 2020, and the passing/shot charts for Picault and Barrios.

Muy Feo

Jesus Ferreira was a little rusty I thought. Only 61% passing and his shooting wasn’t crisp. 1 shot, 1 assist, 1 key pass… but dispossessed 3 times.  Just an ok day for him, hopefully, it’s just early season blues.  You can see some of the line breaking he’s so key to in this all-touch video (again, thanks to @MisterKranks) but you can also see some of the flubs and misfires.

Reggie Cannon’s hamstring… I’m concerned.

Only 9 shots by Dallas, with 5 on target. That’s not enough shots in any game and most certainly at home. Although 67% of them came inside the box is good.  Still, chances created was a trouble spot at times last year. This will bear watching.

Next Game

Next Saturday, March 7th at 2 pm CT, FC Dallas hosts Montreal Impact.  The Impact are a team FCD should beat in Frisco if they are as good as the team believes. 

Stick around after the game as North Texas SC has a scrimmage against SMU following the FCD game.

The Sundance Kid

The Sundance Kid.



  1. Kobra and pax off to a start is great! Tessman was solid on D. I think of santos was a deep 6 we could have played with a more attacking cm pair in front of him.

    At 18 Tess is another in the stable of cm who need time. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of him, cerrlio, or servania end up playing a bunch with ntsc or even go out on loan.

    3 home points to start the season, just what we needed. Another home game next weekend I believe, starting with 6 gets a great pace to hit 50, which is what we need for a minimum playoff spot.

    I think attaining 3-5th and going a round deeper in mls cup is bare minimum this season.

  2. Solid first outing for the boys. Really like the pairing of Santos and Tessman. The Sundance Kid came in and showed everyone why he belongs on the field when he’s 100% healthy. What a stud.

    Hope Ferreira is able to shake the yips, because he had some really solid chances.

    We’ll miss Reggie when he gets sold, but I really hope that he does get sold so he can shine on a bigger stage.

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