Luchi Gonzalez and FC Dallas headed out to Atlanta Georgia to take on a struggling Atlanta United. Even though the reigning MLS champions have not displayed the same form of the past two seasons, getting a result on the road is no easy task. FC Dallas not only earned the win, but they also did it in a different fashion.

The Game

This game saw a couple of changes as the most obvious was a formation change to a 3-5-2. Bressan made his first start with FC Dallas and had a stellar game. The first half began in the best way for FC Dallas. Atlanta pressed FC Dallas deep in the Dallas defensive third which gave Michael Barrios plenty of space on the counterattack as he played across to Jesus Ferreira. Ferreira notched his 3rd goal of the season in the 6th minute to give FC Dallas the early lead. FC Dallas continued to instill their game plan of conceding possession and looking for spaces to attack and exploit. Towards the end of the half, it appeared that Atlanta had found some rhythm, but FC Dallas did well to frustrate any attacks from the 5-stripes.

The intensity of the first half was a preview of what to expect in the second half. Atlanta United, desperate to find some form, sent constant barrages of attacks from all over the field. Bressan was taken out just after the hour mark with an apparent knee injury. John Nelson came in to play left back for the injured Bressan. Bryan Acosta made his return to the team after suffering an ankle injury as he came in for Jesus Ferreira. On a quick counter, Edwin Cerrillo played a long ball into space for Michael Barrios who ran up the field and played a perfect cross into the feet of the trailing Bryan Acosta to seal the game for FC Dallas. Jacori Hayes got some play time for Paxton Pomykal who was fouled a team-high 4 times (though it seemed more during the game). In the last moments of the match, Atlanta United got a consolation goal off a Carlos Gruezo foul in the penalty box which resulted in a Josef Martinez penalty goal.

Thoughts & Takeaways

A New Look

The biggest headline coming into this game was the formation change. The utilization of a new formation had a remarkable impact on the game. One of the things that I am keeping an eye on is tactical dynamism from Luchi Gonzalez. Under Oscar Pareja, things were rather stagnant and predictable when it came to tactics. It’s early in the season and it’s understandable that teams may still be experimenting with different game plans and ideas. Luchi Gonzalez and his staff did their homework when it came to this game and were not experimenting.

Bressan has shown flashes of brilliance in the few minutes that he has gotten and was having a stellar game as he put his body on the line. Hopefully, that injury isn’t a long-term one. It was great that Ryan Hollingshead and Reggie Cannon got more opportunities to go forward as a result of the system change. So far this season, both fullbacks for FC Dallas have done well getting forward and aiding in the attack while not proving to be a defensive worry.

The midfield duo of Edwin Cerrillo and Carlos Gruezo had a major role in frustrating the Atlanta attack despite the talent and number of chances that the opposition had. They ended the game with a combined 7 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 clearances, 2 blocked shots, and 5 fouls. What helped FCD this game was having two solid central players that disrupted the middle and shield the top of the box. Have a look at their combined heatmap.

Gruezo Cerrillo Heat map
Gruezo & Cerrillo Heat Map

The interchanges between the front 3 worked well this game. Luchi Gonzalez has been wanting more interchanges to happen and these past two games have really shown the success of it. While there were 2 true attacking options, the rotation of each player in the front triangle was a headache to the Atlanta backline. The constant practice of rondos helps the players to make quick, accurate decisions in tight spaces. The cleverness in this game was the attack culminating in getting one of the attackers isolated in space so that they could make a run down the field. This causes Atlanta to commit numbers to the player with the ball as players made a late run into the box. The attack is starting to come together, and it’s looking very nice.

Now, I’m a personal fan of the average position chart. Formations only mean so much and what is more important is the system that you play, and the chart supports that the formation really doesn’t tell everything.

FC Dallas Average Positioning
FC Dallas Average Positioning

It matches what was displayed in the whole game. Commit numbers in the middle to clog the attack, and force Atlanta wide, then crash to that side while being compact. Compactness was displayed more this game compared to others where FC Dallas tends to be wide and open. Great tactical dynamism from Luchi Gonzalez this game.


Jesse had quite the game. Jesse Gonzalez came away with a season-high 7 saves and each save was incredible. Jesse Gonzalez said, “It was just the environment. I love playing in these types of environments. Not only me, but the team did a great job. We did what we trained throughout the whole week and I think it gave us the result.” These are the type of performances that can really help your confidence going forward. Jesse is still very young when it comes to a goalkeeper at 23 years old and still has time to grow. His game intelligence on when to come off his line for a ball has gotten much better, though there were a few that he just missed his timing.

Edwin Cerrillo had a very involved game containing players like both Martinez’s and Ezequiel Barco. He really has grown into his role and he shows so much maturity at a young age. It isn’t easy when you are called in to fill in the roles of two experienced players who depart for international duty. He showed that he could hold down the position but has been getting more and more comfortable with his development. It speaks volumes on the quality of training and preparation that Luchi Gonzalez gives his players but also the maturity, mental fortitude, and drive that Edwin Cerrillo has.

Michael Barrios has undergone a little transformation this season. He finished the game with two assists, both of which were excellent. Michael Barrios’ previous season was arguably “monotone” when it came to his style of play and it isn’t entirely his fault. Again, under Oscar Pareja, it was simple: pass to the attacking players and let them play it into the box. Under Luchi Gonzalez, being smart with your possession and making it meaningful is a must. As a result, Barrios now holds onto the ball more and is looking to make quick interchanges with players. Field players are positioning themselves to create space and initiate an attack with numbers. The cross to Bryan Acosta encapsulates this change perfectly. Normally, Barrios would either run to the end-line and fire in a cross or run right at goal. It’s like there is a signal that Luchi Gonzalez has taught the team: once the ball is played out into space to a player, commit numbers forward to give the player with the ball options and make some runs to confuse the opposition. It seems that Barrios knows that there are going to be players who make runs with him in time, so he doesn’t have to do all the work himself. It was such a simple play and cross, but the simplicity of the play is what makes is such a beautiful goal.

This must be great for the confidence of the team and the belief in Luchi Gonzalez’s system. Luchi Gonzalez and his coaching staff can feel very happy and proud about this game. It may not have been the prettiest soccer towards the end of the game but the tactical intelligence and the grit to get the result is what matters.

When asked about the importance of this game, Reto Ziegler responded, “Yeah, it is, especially against the champion. It’s important for our confidence since we have a lot of young players on the team. They see that we can win against teams like Atlanta, it gives them confidence because the season is long and so, at the end, I think we deserved it.”

The impact that this game had on the team is a valuable takeaway. Yes, Atlanta United is struggling but to frustrate an opponent that is littered with so much talent is amazing. This is team is of the youngest in the league and there have been some big chances with the club in the offseason and FC Dallas is “playing the kids.”

Photo: Atlanta United FC
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