FC Dallas is one of only two unbeaten teams in the league this year (along with New York City FC), but you would be forgiven if it doesn’t feel that way. With only 6 points coming from a four-game home stand, Dallas’ start to the season has been…mediocre. Heading to New England, Dallas will take on one of the hottest teams in the league. After losing their first match against Philadelphia, the Revs have beaten Colorado, Houston (in Houston), and Montreal while in between also giving NYCFC their only non-win of the season in a 2-2 tie, in which the Revs led twice.
Under new coach Brad Freidel, New England has adopted a more aggressive approach to most games. They are playing a pressing game, creating turnovers in the final third and generally just harassing the opposing team. That has worked great against teams like Colorado and Houston, neither of which you would say is “possession” oriented. A more nuanced approach was also seen against New York, and that is the game plan I expect to see used against Dallas.
Not to go into too much detail, but New England basically forced City to try to work around their midfield by clogging up the middle and forcing play out to the full backs and wings, where they would then press and trap. It was a wonderful strategy that probably should have given them the win apart from a bit-too-aggressive second half.Reggie is going to have to be ready to make quick and decisive decisions as I imagine he will be target number one. Of course, I have said that almost every game, and he has played great, so maybe no need to worry at all.
The other real problem with pressing for Dallas will be how careful they are with the ball in midfield. These first four games have not seen the sharpest passing from the whole team and if we continue to just give the ball away, New England has shown the ability to punish us.
Diego Fagundez and Cristian Penilla have been on fire over the past few games. Both are great with the ball at their feet but also have a keen eye for the final pass. New England has scored in just about every way imaginable so pegging an overall offensive philosophy is difficult. Basically, its press, press, press, turnover. Once the turnover occurs, field position dictates where they send the ball next. You will see a lot of crosses sent into the box for Bunberry or Agudelo to try and connect with. Fagundez scored a beautifully curled ball from outside the box just last game. Penilla went 1-on-1 out on the wing and broke his defender down to score against Houston. These are just a few examples, but the point is the same. Once a turnover happens, New England has transitioned better than almost every team in the league, pouring players forward on long counter attacking runs, or quick hits when they catch a team high up the field.
Jacori Hayes vs Diego Fagundez – As mentioned earlier, it will be crucial for Dallas to maintain possession and work their way through New England’s high press. It’s going to fall on Carlos Gruezo and Hayes to shuttle the ball between the defense and up to Diaz or the wingers as efficiently as possible. Fagundez is acting as the first line of the press, so getting around him will open up the rest of the attack. We have seen Hayes grow a huge amount over these opening weeks in the season and this will be his toughest test yet. He has done well in possession and distribution; getting forward and being more involved in the offense is his next developmental step.
1. Find the Offense – Not sure if you have noticed or not, but Dallas has scored only one goal in three of its first four matches. The lone win came against Seattle when we put up three against 10 men. Against Real Salt Lake and Colorado, it took 85+ minutes to find the back of the net. For all the weapons this team has, its lack of consistently finishing has really held them back this year. We will have to get at least two to beat New England.
2. Defensive Consistency – On the plus side, the biggest question mark going into the season has turned out to be the brightest spot. Dallas has only surrendered three goals through four matches, and our defense has looked better and better as the weeks have gone on. The Hedges-Ziegler pairing has continued to gel and Ziegler in particular has come up with some big blocks in almost every game. The fact that we also have two new full backs makes that goals-conceded record even more impressive. Dallas needs to continue developing their back four. New England should provide a stern evaluation.
3. Unselfish Play – This ties in more to the offense and the trouble we’ve had, but seeing a bit more sharing in front of the goal by a few players would help unlock more opportunities to score. I have one moment, in particular, stuck in my head. On one hand, I understand a goal-scorer kind of needs to be selfish to produce results. On the other hand, situational or even just spatial awareness would probably have Dallas with at least one more goal, in a certain game, equaling one more win.
Let’s wrap this up — delicately. I always want FC Dallas to win. I’m a huge homer. But I’m finding it hard to see a way forward in this one. Traveling to New England, playing on the turf, against one of the hottest teams running, and it’s our first away game of the season. A win looks difficult. Compound our own form, and I can’t bring myself to choose anything other than a 2-0 loss.
Please prove me wrong Dallas.