FC Dallas took on the Houston Dynamo in the first edition of the 2019 Texas Derby. FC Dallas would fall 1-2 but as with any derby match, it didn’t end without controversy.
The first half wasn’t exactly the way that FC Dallas would want to start the game. FCD looked to find their rhythm and dictate their game plan. The Dynamo did well to frustrate FCD by being quick to intercept passes and cover players to limit the options that FC Dallas has. The Dynamo would be awarded a soft penalty. Jesse Gonzalez came very close to blocking the shot as the ball snuck underneath him. Throughout the half, FCD looked to be on their heals and was looking to making it to halftime to try and regroup.
The second half was a different story for FC Dallas as they came out with the intent to win the match. FCD was much livelier as they continued to push forward up the field and create quality chances. The Dynamo scored a second goal in the 58th minute off a counterattack. In the 64th minute, Luchi Gonzalez subbed in Santiago Mosquera and Dominique Badji for Carlos Gruezo and Jesus Ferreira respectively as FCD continued to look for the first goal that could spark a comeback. FCD changed formation into a 4-2-3-1 with Aranguiz being tasked to pull the strings. In the 80th minute, John Nelson was subbed in for Ryan Hollingshead.
Dom Badji scored off a Michael Barrios cross into the box in the 87th minute. The game ended with controversy as FCD scored off a set piece play where Santi Mosquera put the ball into the goal. The goal was ruled off for a foul in the box. The controversy comes from the fact that Alan Kelly initially pointed to the center circle after the goal was scored and there was no offsides flag. It appears that VAR (Christina Unkel) told Kelly of a foul in the box though Kelly did not review the play.
Thoughts and Takeaways
These past two games, FC Dallas has been more reactive and staying on their heels rather than being proactive and successfully implement their game plan. There were missed passes, especially in the final third, that FCD has normally made when near each other as they pass the ball to create space and make quick interchanges with each other. In other words, when rondos were being talked about in the media, it showed on the field as FCD made short, quick passes in the final third which moved the ball up the field along with the players. In this and the San Jose game, the players look more static and there was visible frustration amongst players when a missed pass into open space did not find someone.
There can be an argument made that the man-marking that San Jose implemented and the pseudo-press-man-marking that the Dynamo implemented were a cause of these missed interchanges as it limits the movement of the ball to the advanced players and thus when a more risky pass is played, it will not find someone. At the same time, when FCD did have space a ball was played forward to make a player advance up the field, the reaction to the intended player was late. Could it be that teams have started to figure out how Luchi Ball works? Are the guys getting tired already with the tactical complexity that is required to play Luchi Ball? Is there a disconnect between players and intention? These are some things to keep a look out for in the future.
With the absence of Paxton Pomykal, it made sense to play Edwin Cerrillo, Bryan Acosta, and Carlos Gruezo in the midfield. While none of those players are quite the creative force that Paxton is, this task was given to Pablo Aranguiz as he played left wing. Picking the consistent left winger has been a decision that Luchi Gonzalez seems to still be working on. Pablo Aranguiz was lively but found little success in being able to be a serious threat in the first 64 minutes of the game with having 21 attempted passes.
After the Badji and Mosquera substitution, FC Dallas adopted a 4-2-3-1 with Aranguiz playing as a 10. Here, Aranguiz was more dynamic and really showed his strengths as he attempted 25 passes in the final 26 minutes of the game.
It also helped that Aranguiz had two serious attacking options in Mosquera and Barrios on both sides of him. When FC Dallas first acquired Pablo Aranguiz, fans were impressed with the talent and potential that he displayed in the away Seattle game in 2018 as he filled in for the departed Mauro Diaz as a 10. It goes without saying that Aranguiz’s natural position is as a 10 rather than the wing. It is great that Luchi is experimenting and trying to figure what different positions that players can play to further help round out and complete the team. Though, given that Paxton is gone, it might be better to have Aranguiz play in a central role rather than being on the wing and let him get experience and grow in his natural position.
Additionally, Mosquera showed moments of his former self that fans came to know towards the end of the 2018 season. It might be time to let him become the more consistent winger to not only let whoever plays the left wing get time to adjust and find their rhythm in the team but to also help the rest of the field players get used to what the attack is going to look like going forward.
It has been a tough 2 games for Luchi Gonzalez and the team but that’s okay. This game was a derby and as fans, we always want to win these games. This game had everything: slow play, fast play, goals, drama (lots of it), and PRO Referees (of course). FC Dallas was the better team the last 20 minutes of the game and they had quite a few referee decisions go against them. That’s good because you want to end the game well. Really, the game could’ve been 2-1 in favor of Dallas if the penalty was reviewed and deemed soft AND the second goal that FCD scored stood. Though the game went otherwise, and the coaching staff and team are going to move on.
Many had the impression that this is going to be a “rebuild” year where Luchi Gonzalez was given time to find his footing as a professional coach in MLS and to build his team. FC Dallas sits in 5th place (at the time of writing) in the Western Conference after playing 10 games with 17 points. Many thought that FC Dallas will be towards the middle of the pack in the Western Conference hovering around the playoff line. Maybe FC Dallas hasn’t “over-performed” quite per se but we have been treated to more than what was expected thus far into the season.
It’s not time to hit the proverbial “panic-button” but more of keeping our heads down and figuring things out going through this process. FC Dallas is getting attention around the league for having one of the youngest squads in MLS that can compete on a consistent basis.
Featured Image: FC Dallas