It might not seem to the league at large that last night's win against DC was a big deal, and on its face that would be a fair assessment.
After all, coming into Saturday game D.C. United had been only slightly more organized than a henhouse, so having them lose to the league leaders hardly seems worth noting. If anything, it would appear that Dallas disappointed, winning by only one goal when as recently as Wednesday the uninspiring Houston Dynamo hung four on the same team.
But things are never quite that cut and dry, as both teams rolled out significantly different lineups to face each other. While DC's changes were meant to reinvigorate the squad with youth (as well as save Bill Hamid's confidence), FC Dallas' found themselves forced into several substitutions due to injury.
This situation was not something that should have been taken lightly: DC was absolutely desperate for a win, and there were portions of the game where they played with appropriate levels of desperation. While it would be, given the opponent, completely unacceptable to drop points at home, this was a game where the excuses were tailor-made should a let-down occur. If something had gone wrong and Dallas had squandered the three points, everyone would have pointed to the starting lineup featuring several critical pieces out. A team doesn't just drop a George John or David Ferreira from the lineup and feel no repercussions.
In effect, this was the quintessential "trap game".
Pieces of Trap Bait:
- David Ferreira was out, as a precaution more than anything else according to Schellas Hyndman, forcing a different offensive strategy from the gaffer. Luckily, the strategy worked out pretty well for a first run-through. Eric Hassli and Blas Perez combined well enough, assisted by Jackson's athletic efforts. The newly paired forwards tortured the DC defense for the first 15 minutes, igniting hope that perhaps losing Ferreira for short stretches of time isn't the end of the world.
- Jackson and Hassli both had big games, albeit for different reasons. Hassli came out and made his presence known immediately. He held off defenders with his massive frame, created space by barreling through (yet not fouling) the back line, and was a prime example of physicality meeting skill. He almost single-handedly created the opening for Jackson's goal, through a combination of good dribbling, careful use of his body to shield the ball, and an excellent pass. An assist for his first start is something he'll take and run with, hopefully giving him further confidence. When you factor in that he hasn't had many games to get into form, it should be enough to excite everyone pulling for the Toros. Hassli improving further is a scintillating prospect.
- Jackson ran his rear end off, covering large sections of the field while doing so. As much as we have complained about the evil, mustachioed Jackson who likes to horse-collar players to award free kicks (that Dwayne De Rosario goal came from an entirely unnecessary foul), the Good Jackson fights like crazy. While he won't replace Jacobson any time soon (or ever), the Brazilian pounced with alarming speed on loose balls and started counterattacks. This is a common theme with Jackson, but I think it's important to realize how lucky we are to have such a ferociously competitive player on the roster. That nice and composed finish was the cherry to top a great night's performance.
- London Woodberry started the game and earned major, major minutes. Other than Ruben Luna, no homegrown for FC Dallas has played an entire league game for a whole 90 minutes, so that's encouraging. Barring a few nice interceptions (and a few mistakes), he was more or less invisible for throughout the game, a great sign for a rookie centerback. The less you notice a young defender, the better.
- Fabian Castillo put in a pretty disappointing performance, and to make matters worse his temper got the better of him several times. Feel free to insert the standard "but he's young" explanation, but it's well past the point where he can be excused for yelling at a referee after getting booked. There's no reason to accept that lack of composure from Fabian at this point. Hyndman subbed him off at the half and Castillo can have no complaints. When you're subbed ate 45 minute mark, you know you've disappointing the ol' coach.
- Fabian coming off for Kenny Cooper ignited dreams of a Hydra (that's a famous three-headed monster, you see) offensive, and those dreams weren't unfounded. Once Cooper had settled in, the team assaulted Joe Willis' goal relentlessly. The "Three Amigos" (I prefer Hydra, but this one has picked up steam) have this fan very, very optimistic about the potential returns of their combined efforts. It wasn't always pretty, but you could see flashes of this trio's potential future. If not for Willis' excellent saves, the three-headed monster would certainly have had at least a goal to show for their efforts.
- Chris Seitz made great save off a shot deflected off of Blas Perez. A lesser keeper simply doesn't react quick enough, and if Seitz hadn't made that save no one could have held it against him. He made it though, allowing us to take his performance for granted.
- The only major criticism one can level at FCD is that for most of the first half they played down to DC, and they paid the price for it before the half. Despite running roughshod over DC for portions of the opening frame, Dallas simply did not take DC seriously enough when United got the ball forward. Lackadaisical marking, lazy pressing and a lack of bite in their challenges gave DC the belief that they needed. As Drew mentioned in his post from yesterday, after the 20th minute or so Dallas simply stopped playing with the intensity required from a league leading team.
- Je-Vaughn Watson was pretty great, especially given fans' expectations of his performance. This is a great thing to see, inferior opposition or not. Perhaps it was simply a matter of him adjusting to the system (though he is still fairly lax defensively), maybe it was confidence, or maybe he just needed more playing time. Whatever it is, Watson acquitted himself quite well in this game. His passing was on the mark, he ran forward with confidence, and even got himself into a few tackles (!!!) to break up attacks. He also happened to author of the silliest goals I've seen scored by Dallas this season. I've never seen a ball chested into the net, but that's exactly what Watson did. He got into position that allowed him to get that close to the ball, so credit is due to him, regardless of how unconventional that brace was.