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What we learned in FC Dallas’ return to action

Dallas struggle with more than rust after the restart

MLS: Nashville SC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In their first action in months, FC Dallas fell 1-0 to Nashville SC behind a late David Accam goal. The first half saw both teams play it safe and ease their way back into the season, but things opened up in the second half. Of Dallas’ fifteen shots, eight came after the 75th minute. Nevertheless, despite dominating possession, an impressive passing accuracy of 90%, and making nearly double the number of passes as Nashville—Dallas failed to secure a point.

The 5-3-2 is back

Luchi Gonzalez’s conservative 5-3-2 did not reflect Dallas’ status as favorites. In the past, his team has struggled to perform with five in the back. This tactical choice is all the more confounding when taking into account Dallas’ lack of depth at central defender and crowded midfield (that may be adding a new face?). However, this debate isn’t new. The 5-3-2 drew heavy criticism when it appeared last season (and every season before that).

I understand Luchi’s logic. Matt Hedges, Reto Ziegler, and Bressan are all competent defenders. You want extra numbers in defense to help with the nerves during the first game after the restart. Dallas appeared dedicated to building out of the back, as has become a trademark under Luchi and having an extra center back gives Jimmy Maurer—who isn’t a remarkable distributor—more options to pass to. Likewise, it lets Reggie Cannon and Ryan Hollingshead position themselves in the midfield and frees them up to contribute anywhere they’re needed and, at least out wide, it worked. Cannon put himself in dangerous positions with late arriving runs that played off of Michael Barrios, Hollingshead combined well with his teammates and provided width on the left.

It wasn’t until the team transitioned into a 4-4-2 in the 74th minute with the substitution of Ziegler for Zdenek Ondrasek that the defense falters.

Bressan doesn’t look great here, but ultimately it’s a three on two and Dallas’ defenders are at a disadvantage. FCD got caught on the counter and Nashville scored a deflection—these things happen.

The personnel turnover provided by five subs makes micromanaging tactics nearly impossible. Had Tanner Tessmann stepped into the exact same deep pivot role that Santos occupied, then he can make an impact on Accam’s breakaway, but it’s the closing minutes of the game, you haven’t scored yet, I understand why Tessman is eager to get forward.

That being said, 5-3-2—not great, but forgivable. If it shows up again this weekend, there may be cause for concern. While I appreciate that it (ideally) provides defensive stability during the first half so that Luchi can make adjustments in the second half that reflect the team’s needs, FCD cannot afford to only attack in the second half. As long as they continue being a team that struggles to create chances, five in the back isn’t going to cut it.

Jara looks promising

He actually showed up. Franco Jara is on our team.

While he didn’t factor too much into this game, we saw enough to start to imagine how he’s going to integrate into the team. He looks like a number nine who is going to be the furthest man forward, combine well with teammates, and bring culture to the striker spot that we haven’t seen in years (ever?) He had some nifty touches around the box, displayed solid decision making skills, and can turn and shoot.

I still think his arrival is going to be the story of FC Dallas season (besides all the other stuff) and that’s not just because I’m grasping for things to be excited for right now.

Destination unknown

This isn’t a question of form, but more so personnel decisions: how far along are we in a rebuilding process? Luchi and Zanotta seem to have freer access to the Hunt’s checkbook than Oscar Pareja did. They’ve brought in Thiago, Jara, maybe Bryan Acosta, Fafa Picault, and a slew of Homegrown players and I’m still left wondering what exactly the vision is, even with something as simple as a formation. If Luchi is going to rely on the 5-3-2, then why not bring center back depth?

Couple that head scratcher with the news that he may be bringing in a creative midfielder and I’m stumped as to what he has planned. We have one of the most talented and promising midfields in the league, but it’s still unclear if there is room for Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, or Jesus Ferreira in it. There seems to be an odd player out in every formation that’s shoehorned somewhere they shouldn’t be and the attack suffers as a result.

We’ll have to wait and see the lineup is shaken up this weekend and what that can tell us.

Thanks for reading. I’m excited to jump back into the season with you. What are your takeaways from the game?

  • Is playing a 5-3-2 at home ever okay?
  • Did you like what you saw from Jara?
  • Where are we at and what’s our ceiling?

Let me know in the comments.