The Breakdown: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas – May 1, 2021

My goodness did FCD show up for this one. A big game in just the third game of the season with a dominate performance.  With a 4-1 performance there are lots of positives.

When the opponent goes for a full squad rotation, this is how you should dominate them.

Let’s break it down…

Lineups and Tactics

With his hand perhaps forced by the absence of Matt Hedges, Coach Luchi Gonzalez shifts back to the 4-3-3. Tanner Tessmann lines up as the 6, Eddie Munjoma makes his first career start at right back, and Ryan Hollingshead goes left. Bressan with the captain’s armband. Ricardo Pepi starts at the 9.

Don’t 100% believe this shape, from what I saw in training and the game it was for sure a single pivot 4-3-3.

FC Dallas starting XI vs Portland Timbers, May 1, 2021.

In the 59th minute, Paxton Pomykal came on for Freddy Vargas at left wing which is a like-for-like move. At the same time – in a defensive move – Johnny Nelson replaced Munjoma shifting Hollingshead to Right back.

67th minutes, Franco Jara for Pepi and Edwin Cerrillo for Tessmann. In the first half, Tessmann who was lined up as the 6 swapped with Acosta. But when Cerrillo came on he took the 6-spot and moved Acosta back to 8.

Finally in the 83rd minute, Dante Sealy replaced Jader Obrian at right wing.

Portland came out in their normal 4-2-3-1 but rotated their entire team.

Portland Timbers XI vs FC Dallas, May 1, 2021. (Courtesy MLS)

Down 3 goals at halftime, Giovanni Savarese rolled the dice bringing on four of his biggest guns on Diego Valeri for Yimmi Chara, Dairon Asprilla for Felipe Mora, Josecarlos Van Rankin for Claudio Bravo, and Eryk Williamson for Andy Polo.

In the 75th minute, more firepower came off the bench as Jeremy Ebobisse replaced Blake Bodily.


1-0 FC Dallas goal. 2ndminute. Ryan Hollingshead get forward, does a little triangle with Freddy Vargas then finds Andres Ricaurte for the goals.  Just like they drew it up in training and worked on during the week. Easy game.

2-0 FC Dallas goal. 14thminute. Phelipe plays a long ball from the back that gets past the defense for Jader Obrian on the break. Obrian lofts it over the keeper who got caught in two minds.

3-0 FC Dallas goal. 45’+3’ minute. Off a Freddy Vargas corner, Jose Martinez’s shot is saved and Bressan put away the rebound.

3-1 Timbers goal. 62nd minute, Eryk Williamson drives through midfield with no challenge, plays a give and go with Diego Valeri, and finishes back post. 

4-1 FC Dallas goal. 85th minute. Dante Sealy, off a phenomenal lead pass by Franco Jara, slides the ball post the keeper for his first career MLS goal.

Lo Bueno

Bressan wearing the armband was fantastic and he was my Man of the Match. The guy went from not being MLS starter capable the last few years to – after a pay cut – arguably FCD’s best defender in 2021. You can make a case the 3-4-3 was just to get him on the field. In the past, when Hedges was missing, the defense had fallen apart… not this time and it was in a large part thanks to Bressan.  87% passing, 88 touches (compared to just 69 for Jose Martinez), 3 interceptions, won 57% of his defensive pressures (led FCD), and had 3 clearances. And a goal.

Bryan Acosta for 60 minutes was phenomenal. Arguably his best stretch in an FCD kit if only it had lasted 90.  He started as the linking 8 but moved back to 6 – I missed the exact time – and was a force. Active, energetic, mobile. He was covering massive chunks of the field, cleaning up mistakes, and covering up for overlaps. Just amazing… although he did get tired and didn’t challenge the ball on Timbers’ goal.  If he could play 6 for 90 as he did for 40 minutes he would solve a lot of Luchi’s problems.  80 touches, 88% passing, 1 key pass, 67 progressive carries, 16 pressures, and 8 recoveries.

Andres Ricaurte looked great, dominated the offensive half of play for Dallas.  His best performances of the season so far and he could easily have been a MOTM choice. 68 touches, 2 shots, 2 key passes, 2 dribbles, 3 drawn fouls, 76% passing, 9 recoveries, 27 defensive pressures (tied with Pepi for the most on the team), and 6 for 7 on long passes.

Amazing how something like a simple formation change makes such a difference. Not only is FCD more comfortable in the 4-3-3 but it also solved the one massive problem from San Jose where they were outmanned in the middle of the park. 3-4-3 can work if the two wings come back and play in the middle… but they don’t so it doesn’t.

I want us to be versatile. I don’t want us to be a one-system team. I don’t want players to be very limited to what their positions can be too, right side, left side. I think our guys really embraced it in the preseason to be fluid and flexible. But we want to have a style of play, we want to have possession on the ball, we want to create with outside backs and we want to put away chances. I think our pressing was also very positive; to force the opponent to make mistakes and play long. So those are the things – no matter the system – we want to maintain.

Luchi Gonzalez

Ricardo Pepi movement was fantastic. He ran a high line, put the center backs under stress, created openings with his movement, showed some pace, and was generally good.  He didn’t score of course but I thought he looked great most of the time.  He even made 27 defensive pressures. Granted he didn’t win many of them; but the will, desire, and pace are there.

Ryan Hollingshead was fantastic on his more “natural” left. No, he’s not left-footed but he’s played left so long that he’s comfortable and instinctive there.  Just look at this chart and compare the right and left sides (yes, right side is up 3-0).  I don’t know why anyone would take him off the left. Offensive left backs are so hard to find and the Coach G system is so reliant on them as he mentioned above.  Just leave Ryan over there.

Ryan Hollingshead passing chart vs Portland Timbers, May 1, 2021. (Courtesy MLS)

I think the mindset this year, knowing what had happened with right back position and left back position, the goal this year for me was to be ready to play either of them and either of them at a really high level: to be the best right back or best left back wherever I needed to play.

Ryan Hollingshead

I hear what you are saying, Ryan, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

Congrats Dante Sealy on the first career MLS goal.  

Camino del Medio

Congratulations also to Eddie Munjoma on the first career start.  While it wasn’t top tier there are some positives to grown on.  Generally speaking, the defensive side still needs a little work. But he tried to get forward and be effective and that’s where his promise lies. He needs to do a lot more in the offensive half – compare his chart to Ryan’s above – but I still want him to start again this weekend.

Eddie Munjoma’s passing chart vs Portland Timbers, May 1, 2021. (Courtesy MLS)

Eddie did a great job. It is not easy to play the first game. He did really great tonight. He is working really hard, pushing as much as he can. He learned a lot from Reynolds and was just waiting for his moment. He is a quick learner and he shows that he wants to learn. I am sure he is going to perform well in the next game also.


Tanner Tessmann wasn’t looking so great as the 6. He was too inactive, not covering the ground and covering up the holes – hence the position change. Compare him to Acosta in this game after the swap. Tessmann looked really good as the 8 of course. So overall some good, some bad.

Muy Feo

Overall, there is still a slight disconnect between the entire team and the front line. It’s not horrific, but could certainly improve. Lack of touches for strikers is the biggest red flag as Ricardo Pepi had 24 in 66 minutes and Franco Jara just 10 in 23 minutes.  Those are two of your highest xG guys, you want to see them with the ball at their feet. Even Jader Obrian had only 33 touches in his 82 minutes. Freddy Vargas – who the team seems to be playing through a great deal – had a slightly better 39 in just 58 minutes.

Next Game

It’s El Capitán time as the Houston Dynamo come to town on Saturday at 2:30 pm. The match will broadcast nationally on Univision, TUDN and Twitter.


  1. Judging off the first two games and off Luchi’s comments, do you think that he treated those first two matches like an extension of the preseason? In other words, why not just tinker with formations to see if the team can handle playing a variety of styles?

    If that’s the case, I can see the merits to that, as Seattle/Portland have proven time and again that the early season results don’t matter. That said, I’m not sure this team has shown they have the ability to flip the switch when they need to.

    1. I think his list of trusted players is really small. Basically, he wanted to get Bressan on the field over Cerrillo… or whoever the other options are.

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