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Scratching The Chalkboard: Practical Approach Sees Dallas into Conference Semis

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Luchi’s more pragmatic approach advances Dallas in the playoffs

SOCCER: NOV 22 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Round One - FC Dallas at Portland Timbers Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

FC Dallas pulled off the improbable on Sunday evening, knocking off Portland in penalties to advance to the Western Conference semifinals against the Seattle Sounders. Instead of going toe-to-toe like they did last year against Seattle, Luchi Gonzalez offered a more pragmatic approach against Portland and with a few fortunate bounces, saw their efforts pay off.

Don’t let Portland run

Perhaps a more reckless approach towards this game would’ve been trying to stack your best against their best. Dallas could’ve easily just matched Portland’s propensity to attack with flair on the counter by offering the same. Instead, Luchi Gonzalez opted to bench Michael Barrios and held his team back from breaking. It was not the prettiest of soccer as Dallas struggled to break out of their own half during the first 45 minutes.

FC Dallas’ first half passing chart vs POR

Dallas managed a singular half chance of an attempt on goal from 35 yards out, and that was it. Dallas’ approach was practical - “Stay in this game at the half”. And with both teams locked at 0-0, it gave Dallas a chance to test and push for 45 minutes rather than spend the game chasing. Chasing would’ve meant exposing themselves even more and allowing Portland to run at them, a serious no-no if you want a chance against the Timbers.

By compacting their defense, keeping their lines tight and marking Diego Valeri with life and death intensity, it forced the Timber regulars to try to step up and take the glory. It’s the methodology that if you’re going to lose, you make damn sure you lose because their supporting cast stepped up. Don’t lose because their best player shined.

So what did that look like? It meant Andy Polo became the Timber’s primary source of attack and he registered six shot attempts for the evening. Six shot attempts is already a lot for any player, but even more so when you realize that Polo had attempted 9 shots for the entire 2020 season.

Andy Polo’s shot chart vs FCD

If Dallas was going out, it was because Polo rose to the occasion and scored a wonder goal and not because Diego Chara made his trademark box to box run spilling apart the defense or Valeri doing some wonder goal (like he almost pulled off at the death that banged off the post).

Disappointing Night for the DPs

It escaped no one’s attention when the very first sub went to Tanner Tessmann instead of Bryan Acosta or even Michael Barrios. Barrios eventually made it on the field after Dallas fell behind 1-0, but Acosta nor Santiago Mosquera got a look. It’s incredibly damning for both players to not be called when you’ve been regulated as a bench warmer during the biggest game of your season. Adding salt to Acosta’s wound was when Luchi put Ema Twumasi into a central midfield role, a position (as far as I could tell) he’d never played before.

Both Tessmann and Twumasi performed incredibly well together in the midfield with Twumasi providing the energy and defensive range, while Tessmann unlocked the Timbers’ defense with his passing range.

Ema and Tanner’ passing chart vs POR
Ema and Tanner’s defensive chart vs POR

Tessmann’s diagonal balls and ability to switch the point of attack is something the Dallas midfield has missed since Carlos Gruezo departed. And we hadn’t even gotten to Ricardo Pepi yet who provided Dallas with the equalizer in the penultimate minute to send the game to overtime. (That will be for another time.)

Ultimately, it was once again the Dallas Homegrowns and draft picks that has stepped up for Dallas. Which not only points the finger at the more expensive players this team has brought in, but also the team construct and the management that has identified these players as worth their wages. After this season, the front office needs to take a serious look at their transfer approach and figure out how they can get the right players to take Dallas to the next level. Because for every Mauro Diaz, this team has had a dozen Mosquera’s.