FC Dallas suffered another humiliating loss over the weekend as the New York Red Bulls, without their stars, showed up and defeated Dallas 3-1 in their home stadium. But such performances are to be expected with such a young squad. When you #PlayYourKids, you get a mixture of jubilant highs and frustrating lows. All this is par for the course, especially for a first time head coach. Luchi Gonzalez did his share of experimentation with a weakened lineup too, and revealed a few nuggets for the team to build on.
Cannot replace Michael Barrios...
...at least, not in a like for like sense tactically. Nobody is going to make the mistake of expecting Ryan Hollingshead to deliver like Michael Barrios on the right wing but that was what happened. To be fair, Dominique Badji’s injury did not set up Dallas or Hollingshead well. Badji was set to provide the speed, with Hollingshead to combine with him along with Santiago Mosquera. Once Badji went down and had to be replaced by Jesus Ferreira, Hollingshead was left in a tough spot.
Hollingshead was fine, but just couldn’t find the right rhythm. This was a tall ask for a player who usually lines up on the left side. (And no, switching sides isn’t as easy as you would think as it requires a different mindset and skill set to execute.)
What I would’ve liked to see instead was moving this team out of the 4-3-3 and into the 4-4-2 with Mosquera and Ferreira up top. Without the game breaking speed up top, Dallas should’ve shifted their formation to account for Hollingshead not being a pure winger.
Hollingshead’s exposure was further exacerbated by how the Red Bulls approached their press.
High Press, Go Direct
This was new-ish. Generally I find high pressing teams like to get the ball back and then keep it, like you personally insulted them by taking the ball off them in the first place and they’re teaching you a lesson by making extra passes to make you chase a little more. The Red Bulls did not do that, despite deploying the high press.
Generally when Dallas is on the ball inside their half, RBNY had pushed 5 or 6 of their players into the attacking half to press as a unit. The result is what you see in the chart above with RBNY winning the ball back frequently in very advanced positions. And because RBNY had committed so many players forward already, the second they got the ball back, they just needed 1-2 passes and were already in dangerous positions to create a scoring chance.
The Red Bulls were already pressing before Badji’s injury, but Dallas had no outlet when they couldn’t pass around the press. Without the speed up top, RBNY could be more confident with their press knowing that they didn’t have to worry too much about being hit on the counter.
The Cobra: Game Changer?
The flow of the game did decidedly change when Zdenek “The Cobra” Ondrasek made his appearance, but a large part of that had to do with game state (Dallas trailing 1-2) than Cobra himself.
Now that New York was up 2-1, on the road, the natural instinct for Chris Armas was to dial back the press a bit and try to hold on for the win. With the introduction of a target forward like Ondrasek, it’s a pretty routine tactical adjustment: The ball’s coming long, we need to drop back a bit.
By dropping off and tampering the press down, it opens up for the other team to get on the ball and generate more chances. Granted, Dallas still had to create and work for those opportunities, but it does become a little easier.
You can see from the chart above that Dallas began to do the right things: New York had dropped their lines, so you bypass the midfield by going direct, especially since you just brought in a traditional target forward. Dallas basically skipped past the RBNY’s midfield and started playing closer to goal.
With Badji and Mosquera seemingly out, I do wonder if starting Ondrasek with Jesus Ferreira in a 4-4-2 is in store next week. I think Ferreira can play on the wing, but with his natural goal scoring abilities, do you really want to move Jesus further away from goal?
Where does this team go now?
This is the big question for FC Dallas right now. I made my early season prediction that Paxton Pomykal would be this team’s MVP, that Dallas’ success would ride or die with the 19 year old. It’s early, but so far Dallas has not fared well without Paxton driving and creating as FCD have lost both games without Pomyakl in 2019.
And as much as Pomykal means to this team, it’s starting to show just how valuable Barrios is to the attack too. Philadelphia Union’s head coach, Jim Curtin, pointed that out when the sides met earlier this year and how once Barrios was subbed out, it was became easier to attack Dallas without the threat of Barrios’ blistering counter attacking speed.
Dallas do not have the luxury of having like for like players for Pomykal and Barrios, and what this team needs to figure out is how to tactically account for their absences. How will they adjust when one or both of them are gone? What formation will they play? Who will step up and drive the offense?
With Pomykal called up for the U20 World Cup, we’ll find out soon whether that player exists on this team or not. As for the Barrios conundrum, Luchi’s going to have his hands full figuring that one out.