On Saturday against the Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas struggled out of the gates, going down against the Dynamo after the opponents pressed and swarmed the team, leaving their strikers and midfielders unable to be as effective as they would have hoped.
This wasn’t the first slow start for the team, as Colorado Rapids also swarmed the home side with a pressing attack before Dallas righted the ship behind an eventual 3-1 victory.
Against Houston, the team managed to turn it around late, very late, but turn it around they did, closing out the match with a come from behind 2-1 victory. Both goals were hardly sensational, just classic gritty scores in clutch moments after putting the away side under pressure time and time again.
From a layman’s perspective or even from the stands, in the first half, the Hoops lacked energy, looking a step behind their opponents, unable to connect passes or occupy the right spots. Maybe this makes sense considering the team had an Open Cup match that week. Were they showing a bit of those heavy legs in a congested season?
FC Dallas Head Coach Nico Estevez calmly pushed back on this issue of lack of energy.
“It’s a common misconception in my country,” he said in the post-game media call. “When a team looks like they are not doing well, people tend to relate that to energy or intensity. I have a different approach. I didn’t put my players in the right tactical strategy, positioning them to be successful. We talked about it at halftime, details that we introduced to have that energy. We were better positioned with shorter runs that helped to force the opponent to keep the ball longer.”
Nico’s willingness to take the blame for a slow start is an interesting change of pace, considering in the past couple of years the previous FC Dallas head coach constantly encouraged his team to play with more intensity. Rather than demanding more of his players, Estevez is self-reflective, adjusting his game plan against opponents who are going after this still fairly young roster. Certainly, in his first year at the helm of a Major League Soccer team, fans should expect him to evolve.
Looking ahead to Sporting Kansas City, that evolution must continue to get a big result in a tough place, something that Dallas has done before.
Will the team prepare for their opponents working on multiple formations? How will the team keep that ability to be flexible and adjust in the midst of a match to pull out results?
In Nico’s view, the adjustments weren’t that drastic against Houston.
“Against Houston, we did small adjustments to be better. The forwards, in this case, Paxton and Jesus, weren’t pressing with the aggression that we wanted,” Nico responded about their preparation in a media call this week. “Coming from the Red Bull game, we planned to not be that aggressive in order to win second balls. The Red Bull game plan was to be more compact and less aggressive. Houston caught us in between.”
“But we talked about it today, showed video,” Nico said. “We are confident we corrected it. For us, we know that we feel better and more comfortable being an aggressive team.”
Sporting Kansas City is never a fun place to play. Against a guy like Peter Vermes, who Nico noted is one of the best coaches in the league, the team will have to figure out these wrinkles to come away with something. While Vermes and company haven’t been in the best form as of late, the Cauldron is a formidable and daunting place to play for any team.
“Our mentality have shown we can compete away,” Nico said. “We have to keep thinking about improving when we play away. We have room to improve positioning. And we could do a good job in this coming trip because it’s a great chance against a good team.”
“If we can dictate our way of playing,” Nico added.
Most Major League Soccer coaches get a bit of a pass in their first year. There are usually highs and lows. What is key is how they adjust and keep learning about the league and about how to use their roster to the best effect. The fans may not have sky-high expectations for this team, but if Nico keeps leading his squad to grind out results, the confidence will grow.
And behind that will no doubt be the evolution of Nico Estevez as head coach.
As much fun as it has been to watch this team take its next step, game by game, it’s been just as fun to watch Nico coach with passion and grow on his own.
May that journey continue against Kansas City this weekend.