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Scratching the Chalkboard: FC Dallas abandons possession and nearly pulls it off

FC Dallas opted to go with the counter but it didn’t go as planned

MLS: FC Dallas at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas were so close to getting a positive result last night against the Philadelphia Union, but some sloppy play ultimately caught up with them and Dallas lost all the points. Circumstances leading up to the match didn’t help, with suspensions coming from the club to Jesse Gonzalez, Carlos Gruezo and Pablo Aranguiz and forcing 17 year old Thomas Roberts into a start on the left wing. Dallas held an early 1-0 lead late into this one, before conceding and walking away without any points to show for it.

Grind it out

After Reto Ziegler froze Andre Blake on his goal line, with what has to be a Goal of the Week contender, Dallas went with the bunker and tried to capitalize on the break.

I couldn’t tell if this was part of the game plan or a reaction to what was happening on the field, or a bit of a last minute tactical change because of the suspensions (or perhaps some combination of all three), but Dallas set up their blocks really deep in comparison to the rest of the season. Without a true left winger, it was pretty easy for the Philadelphia Union to neutralize Dallas’ attack as then it becomes much easier to target Michael Barrios as the primary target out of the back.

Union’s passing chart after Ziegler’s goal

At this point, you can see above that most of the Unions passes and possession were now coming from inside Dallas’ half. Dallas set themselves about 5-8 yards deeper than usual, inviting pressure and the Union to bring the ball up. This probably would’ve worked out better had Dominique Badji and/or Santiago Mosquera had been available to add some speed on the left to keep the Union defense honest.

When you don’t have enough speed up top to go on the counter, this happens:

Passing comparison

The Philadelphia Union had 70% of their passes in the attacking half, and nearly 40% of their total passes were inside the final third. That kind of advanced possession led to Union taking 18 shots (season high against Dallas this year), with 8 on goal (also a season high against FCD this year). And it it weren’t for Jimmy Mauer’s heroics in goal, this could’ve been much worse.

Union’s 18 shots

This kind of defensive set up is pretty normal when you don’t feel like you have the right personnel or match up against a team. But because it didn’t work, it brings me to my next point:

Wrong starters?

To be clear, this isn’t a knock against Thomas Roberts who was asked to play out of position. His skill set just wasn’t set up to be utilized properly in a counter attacking game. I didn’t think anything at the time when Roberts got the nod on the left, assuming Dallas would go for the possession game again. (Narrator: They didn’t.)

Since that wasn’t in the game plan, why not start Zdnek Ondrasek up top and slide Jesus Ferreira to the left? Or, give John Nelson the start at left wing. Perhaps Ema Tsumasi wasn’t ready, but surely he has more pure pace than Roberts.

FCD midfield passing (Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

Above you can see Dallas’ midfield trio of Edwin Cerrillo, Paxton Pomykal and Jacori Hayes and notice how deep their passes were starting from. Most of them were inside their own half and only one of them (Pomykal) managed to attempt a pass in Zone 14 (the area just outside the penalty area).

In the end, there just wasn’t enough balance on the field to pull it off. Had Dallas walked out of there with a draw or even a 1-0 win, that would’ve been a steal. The question now is, is this a one off mistake or will history repeat itself?