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Scratching the Chalkboard: Back to what works

Dallas went back to the 4-3-3 and immediately saw dividends

MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A little weather delay (again), couldn’t dampen the spirits of FC Dallas last night as they finally got off to a strong start and bagged three points for the first time in six months. Dallas scored two quick goals in the first half (first time in 2020 that they scored in the opening half) and despite a nervy second half where Minnesota mounted an honest comeback effort, this was by far the best Dallas has played this year.

Going back to what’s good

Luchi Gonzalez had his men play out of a 4-3-3 to start, but staggered the midfield in a more traditional sense. Thiago Santos sat deeper in a more traditional defensive midfield role, and pushed Bryan Acosta further up to join the attack. Jesus Ferriera essentially had no defensive responsibilities and sat in his father’s position as a #10 and this combination overloaded the Minnesota defense.

By Abandoning the wing-backs from a three central defenders or five-man defense, it also meant the width was coming from Fafa Picault and Ricardo Pepi - who was getting his first MLS start as a 17 year old. Picault is a natural winger and thrives in open spaces and in 1-on-1 situations. This also offered Dallas fans a first real look at why Luchi wanted a player like Fafa in his system.

Picault’s attacking chart vs MIN

Picault is certainly one of the best pressing wingers in the league, but he also brings a certain level of dynamic attacking flair (goal and two key passes) and decision making from the wide position. On what started as a dominating performance from Fafa, ended with a disappointing hamstring injury early in the second half. Hopefully Picault can recover quickly as the next player in line is Santiago Mosquera who has struggled with consistency during his time in Dallas.

Nelson Rising

After last season the expectation was that Reggie Cannon would be on his way abroad sooner rather than later. On the docket it meant that John Nelson would slide into the starting leftback position soon and Ryan Hollingshead would move to the right side. Nelson’s been the target of the opposition in the last few games, given that he’s more inexperienced and less of a known quantity.

Nelson showed lots of promise in his limited action during his rookie campaign and is now given a real run to cement himself as the starter now.

Nelson’s passing chart vs MIN
Nelson’s defensive chart vs MIN

Despite being targeted, Nelson has stood tall defensively and hasn’t looked out of place. But the constant attention down the left side has limited his opportunities to get forward in the attack. This tactical element has left the 3-5-2 that Luchi has used recently very limited on the offensive end. There was no true width coming from Nelson, so going back to the 4-3-3 and allowing a true attacking winger in Picault roam freely gave Dallas more balance in the attack, and resulted in two early goals in their victory last night.

Matt Hedges’ Passing Range

One thing that I started noticing more recently was the evolution of Matt Hedges’ game. Already among the league’s elite defensively, and a persistent aerial threat on set pieces, the one area that Hedges could improve on was his passing range.

Hedge’s successful passes vs MIN

In 2014 and 2015, Hedges would routinely play a long ball over the top to try to get behind the defensive lines. The problem is that it is often a difficult pass for the receiving player to settle and turn into an offensive chance. This season we’re starting to see Hedges pick his passes on the ground and split the forward and midfield lines with the ball landing at the feet of Jesus Ferreira or Michael Barrios.

This development immediately changes the way Dallas can attack and these passes will change how teams prepare for Dallas. If they sit back, Hedges can now pick out passes through a majority of the defense in one touch. If they press and one singular player doesn’t press with his teammates, it could disrupt the opposing team’s defensive shape. Basically Dallas now has a deep lying playmaker from the back line which is a stupid awesome luxury to have.