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Scratching the Chalkboard: Time to dump the 4-2-3-1

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Is FCD’s best formation the 4-4-2?

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

For the past few seasons, a few things remained true of this Dallas side: Oscar Pareja would play at least one Homegrown in the starting XI, Blas Perez/Atiba Harris would get a yellow, Fabian Castillo would dazzle with a single touch, then subsequently kick the ball out of bounds with his very next touch, fans will complain about the attendance, there are no craft beer options at the stadium and Dallas would line up in the 4-2-3-1.

This year has been different on almost every regard. Castillo’s high risk/high reward style has been replaced with a more reliable and consistent play of Roland Lamah. There’s actually craft beer available now. But some things have remained too, such as the complaints and frustrations of the attendance and the Homegrowns making the team. The one thing that has been influx a bit has been the starting formation, where this side has gone back and forth with the 4-4-2 and the 4-2-3-1. Moving forward, Oscar Pareja has some tough decisions to make and how to proceed and navigate the next few games where Dallas will enjoy 4 out of their next 6 games at the confines of Fortress Frisco.

Sluggish Start

Perhaps what doomed Dallas to a solitary point against the Portland Timbers was their atrocious start to the match. Below you’ll see the team’s passing chart for the opening 30 minutes.

While at this stage, Dallas was enjoying well over 60% of the possession (something Dallas has been unfamiliar with this season), you’ll quickly notice that a bulk of that was inside their own half with the ball essentially being cycled in the back line. Portland’s defensive posture was to send Fanendo Adi to press by himself and drop everyone else deep into the midfield and overcrowding the middle third.

When a team drops their defensive lines that deep, typically a healthy Mauro Diaz would find ways to get on the ball by simply dropping deeper and closer to his defenders to receive the ball. By that very nature, he draws at least one defender (sometimes 2-3) with him and thus creates more space for everyone else to expose. For whatever reason, Javier Morales did not drop nearly enough to spread the Timbers defense.

Morales’ passing chart for the opening 30 minutes

This really poor start left Dallas trailing 1-0 after 30 minutes. Even after the goal, Dallas became a little more direct and started to play with a stronger sense of urgency but still did little to pose as a threat to Portland’s goal.

Dallas’ passing chart from minute 30-45.

The weather and the delay may have been factors in their sluggish start too, but those are uncontrollable factors. As soon as Dallas reverted back to the 4-4-2, there was a significant up tick in Dallas’ attack.

4-4-2 to Stay?

Once Dallas subbed out Javier Morales for Michael Barrios and shifted their formation to a 4-4-2, FCD became far more assertive in their chance creation.

Dallas’ passing chart after switching to the 4-4-2

Of course, the game state of trailing by a goal is also a cause for being more aggressive and their attack finally began to click better.

FCD’s shot chart while using the 4-2-3-1
FCD’s shot chart after switching to the 4-4-2

Right now, and with the personnel that’s available to Pareja, the 4-4-2 seems to be the best option moving forward and Morales may be best suited in a sub role. It’s a major shift from the end of last season when the 4-4-2 was incredibly ineffective in the playoffs and saw Dallas bow out early. But it seems that after some time and injection of new players, the 4-4-2 that doomed Dallas last season may be the formation that’ll carry them until Diaz returns.

Goalkeeper Battle

After losing his starting position to Jesse Gonzalez a few weeks ago, and being injured, it seems that the door for Chris Seitz’s return may be coming sooner rather than later. One of the more troubling things from the last two matches were the amount of confusion between Gonzalez and his back line. Last week, we saw Matt Hedges vocally and gesture for Gonzalez to come out for the ball. Gonzalez eventually did, but there was a two second pause which enabled Dom Dwyer to come dangerously close to picking up a cheap scoring chance.

Last night, we saw a few similar incidences where a defender said one thing and Gonzalez said/did another. At one point Walker Zimmerman was gesturing for Gonzalez to punt down field, only to find Gonzalez roll the ball to Zimmerman’s feet. There was also a play where the ball was crossed across the face of goal where Gonzalez was expecting Maynor Figueroa to collect and push it out and Figueroa was expecting Gonzalez to fall on it.

Finally, that Adi goal to open the scoring for the game. Adi was completely unmarked on that set piece. To Portland’s credit, they executed that set play very well with a beautifully placed ball by David Guzman. However, that was not a quick set piece. There was plenty of time from when the foul occurred and when the ball was struck. When you afforded about 2 minutes to organize your defense and the main target of the set piece is left unmarked, questions need to be answered. Who was in charge of organizing the defense? Was it Gonzalez or was it Hedges?

Gonzalez’s ceiling as a keeper is still incredible. He’s one of the best shot stoppers in the league. But when it comes to communication and understanding your defenders’ tendencies and preferences, Gonzalez is still very raw. If these small miscues keep happening, don’t be surprised if the game talks to Pareja and he makes another keeper switch soon.