Wednesday night, "El Expresso Azul" (Blue Express) reached the final stop, in its quest for CCL glory. Despite Arabe Unido's 2-1 victory over visiting FC Dallas, there was little rejoicing in Panama. The Blue Express had reached the end of the line, running out of track far earlier than it expected. FC Dallas advanced 5-2 on aggregate, in route to its first ever CCL Semifinals.
In the aftermath of the final whistle, many FCD fans have decided to rail, at what to them, looked like a listless performance by FCD. Those observations, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Oscar Pareja had just executed the perfect gameplan, and had done so, by keeping his team on track all night, and making sure they achieved all the goals he had set before them.
The first thing that Pareja did right, was starting a strong line up:
Papi went with the 4-2-3-1 formation, and let the fans know that FCD was taking this game seriously, deploying eight starters and three key subs in that formation. Javier Morales, Tesho Akindele, and Aaron Guillen, all were handed their first starts of the season.
Papi set foul simple goals for his team to achieve by the end of the 1st half:
- Score an “Away” goal.
- Keep a clean sheet
- Avoid any injuries
- Avoid any red cards, game ejections
FCD played aggressively if not disjointedly, and 22 minutes later, delivered on the first of those goals:
Soccer diehards realized that the game and the series, were pretty much over. If you were watching the Facebook live stream, the small dip in viewership, was the soccer diehards calling it a night.
The half came to an end with FCD leading 1-0, and Papi’s troops, having achieved every goal set before them. Now that the series was pretty much over, with FCD holding a fairly insurmountable 5-0 aggregate score, with an away goal to boot. Papi decided to give the casual fans, the first of three hints, that this game was over.
Papi rolls out the 5-4-1 formation that the team had tinkered with in Argentina, moving Morales to left-mid, and away from the more aggressive centralized position he held in the 1st half. He also subbed in defender Attiba Harris as his third CB, replacing the more attacking oriented Michael Barrios, and thus achieving one of the goals he had set for himself and the team in the second half - saving Barrios life!
Cristian Colman came in for Urruti, with the purpose of providing mostly hold up play. FCD now in what was a mostly defensive formation, with seven defenders on the field (3 CB, 2 FB, 2 CDM), kept a compact and purely defensive line of defense. The offensive tactic was very slow build up play, with many short passes to maintain possession (tici taca?), and to basically run out the clock. If by this time you hadn’t figured out the game was all but over, and would from this point be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage, then Papi provided you with a second hint.
Paxton Pomykal makes his senior debut, replacing FCD’s budding young superstar Kellyn Acosta. This was the third and final substitution, and officially signaled the start of “Garbage Time”. Don’t get me wrong, we all believe that Paxton will one day be a superstar himself, but you only bring the youngster out to play once there’s nothing left to play for.
Are you still watching? Seriously? This game has been over for 40 minutes! Oh well, Papi has decided to give you his third, and final hint, that you should be off to bed.
Papi is relaxing, and probably making dinner plans. His troops now have a little over 13 minutes left to achieve the goals he set for them in the second half:
- Save Barrios life!
- Don’t allow six goals (Duh)
- Avoid any injuries
- Avoid any red cards, or game ejections.
- Provide Papi with educational film material for the next practice.
The game ends with FC Dallas losing 1-2, after the team concedes two late set pieces goals, just three minutes apart. Although the team was not victorious in Panama, they were victorious in the series, long before the final whistle. Papi made all the right calls, and his players achieved every single goal he placed before them.
What does the game result and Papi’s tactics, portend for the rest of FCD’s season?
“Moments like this, require someone who will act, who will do the unpleasant thing, the necessary thing” Frank Underwood, House of Cards.
Make no mistake about it, Papi has set lofty goals for his team. Papi has an uncanny knack to see the big picture, and like the best chess grand masters, plan many more moves ahead than his rivals (and us fans) could ever fathom. All the way to checkmate.
Papi’s willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve those goals, means that he will not hesitate to do the necessary things to get there. Expect more Homegrown showcase games like last season’s Crew SC game. Expect more “Insult Lineups”, like last season’s game against the Seattle Sounders. The fans, rivals and experts, will question, mock, or curse, many of Papi’s decisions throughout the season. But when the dust settles at the end of the year, we’ll look back with one or more trophies in hand, and all of us will utter the same words “In Papi we trust!”