El Capitán and a playoff spot are up for grabs as FC Dallas hosts cross-state rivals Houston Dynamo in the final Texas Derby match of the 2020 season.

Match Information

  • Date: Saturday, October 31st, 2020
  • Time: 2:30 PM CST
  • Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
  • How to Watch: Univision/Twitter

This will be the fourth and final matchup between Dallas and Houston in the 2020 season. The two sides are virtually even after their first three matchups, with each side gaining a win at home following a 0-0 draw in the first matchup in Houston on August 21st.

The second matchup, played September 12th in Frisco, ended with a 2-1 Dallas win highlighted by a goal of the year contender from Andres Ricaurte.

Dallas had an opportunity to take home El Capitán in the third matchup in Houston on October 7th, but Dallas fell 2-0, even though they played the entirety of the second half a man up.

The totality of those results means that Dallas must come away from this final matchup victorious to keep El Capitán in Frisco for another year. Because the goal difference from the previous three games favors Houston by a goal, a draw would see the cannon head back to Houston with the Dynamo. If winning the Texas Derby isn’t motivation enough to capture all 3 points, Dallas can also claim their spot in the playoffs with a win. The league quietly announced that, due to discrepancies in numbers of games played for each team caused by postponements due to positive COVID-19 tests for various teams, the final standings would be determined on points per game basis instead of total points. A win in Frisco on Saturday afternoon would confirm Dallas’ spot in the top 8 of the west and secure a third straight playoff appearance for the club and a second straight appearance for head coach Luchi Gonzalez.

Houston should have a similar amount of motivation as their playoff hopes hang on by a thread. Although a draw would send El Capitán back to Houston, it would also eliminate the Dynamo from playoff contention. Even taking 3 points against Dallas would leave Houston as an outside shot to make the playoffs, but it would certainly keep their season alive for just a bit longer. In what has been a very challenging rebuilding year for new head coach Tab Ramos, taking home a Texas Derby victory in his first season would certainly be a bright spot as the rebuild of the Dynamo continues into the 2021 season.

Projected Lineups

FC Dallas

This lineup is unchanged from the team that beat Inter Miami 2-1 on Wednesday night. Luchi Gonzalez has tinkered with his lineup throughout the season but coming off one of the better performances of the year and heading into a huge matchup, Luchi is likely to stick with what worked. Bressan retains his place partnered with Matt Hedges in this lineup. The decision between Bressan or Reto Ziegler will come down to whether or not Ziegler is able to come out of his self-imposed quarantine after his wife was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Thiago Santos and Andres Ricaurte are virtual locks in midfield while Jesus Ferreira keeps his spot in midfield after one of his better performances of the season on Wednesday. The front 3, who have struggled to maintain consistency and cohesion throughout the season, remain the same. Santiago Mosquera has come off of the Dallas injury list, but he certainly will not have the fitness needed to start. It is also certainly not outside of the realm of possibility for Tanner Tessmann to return to the lineup, but Tessmann’s recent performances have been up or down and it is likely that Luchi will stick with what worked against Miami.

Houston Dynamo

Houston Lineup vs Dallas

This lineup is mostly unchanged from the side that traveled to LAFC on Wednesday night and lost 2-1. There is one enforced change for the Dynamo as typical starting midfielder Matias Vera picked up a red card and will be suspended for Saturday’s derby match. This pushes veteran Honduran midfielder, Boniek Garcia, into the midfield alongside Darwin Ceren, who scored the decisive penalty kick in the last matchup with Dallas to seal the 2-0 victory for Houston.

Ariel Lassiter also comes into the lineup, replacing Niko Hansen, who started against LAFC. Left-back Adam Lundqvist is still serving a suspension for his horror tackle against Minnesota United that ended Hassani Dotson’s season, so normal right back Zarek Valentin slides to the left and Jose Bizama makes a second straight start at right-back.

Center back Victor Cabrera also makes another start in place of normal starter Kiki Struna, who has struggled for form in 2020. Mauro Manotas has had a very poor year for his standards, but he gets the startup top and will look to combine with the electric Darwin Quintero and homegrown attacking midfielder Memo Rodriguez, who scored a gorgeous free kick in the last meeting between the sides in Frisco.

Keys to the Match

1) High Intensity From Minute 1

This seems like something that should not need to be said going into a Texas Derby match, but FC Dallas has struggled to start games off with enough intensity and desire in 2020. Some of this likely stems from Dallas’ desire to grab hold of possession and settle into their preferred style of play, but too often in 2020 have Dallas allowed the opposition to get on the front foot early on in games.

This was an issue in the 2-0 defeat to Houston near the start of October and Dallas was really never able to up their intensity enough to truly trouble Houston and make them uncomfortable, even after going down a man late in the first half. Houston is a team that has struggled at times this season but has real talent all over the pitch and Dallas will need to come out sharp, focused, and intense from the first minute.

2) Breaking Down the Low-Mid Block

This has been Dallas’ biggest pain point during the 2020 season and is the main reason why they are the joint lowest-scoring team in the Western Conference in 2020. Teams let Dallas have the ball and drop their point of engagement back to roughly the halfway line and dare Dallas to try to break down an organized defense. Nashville SC has probably exemplified this the best as Dallas has failed to score against the expansion side in three matches.

Houston also utilized this tactic to great effect after going down to 10 men in the previous Texas Derby matchup and Dallas was woeful in chance creation in that second half. Prior to the Wednesday night match against Inter Miami, Dallas had only scored 3 goals in 7 games and went through large portions of those games without even coming particularly close to scoring.

The Miami game was a turn in the right direction as Dallas greatly increased their chances created (though they didn’t finish these chances well), though it will remain to be seen if that was simply a blip in the overall form this season. It would be surprising to see Houston come out with any other tactic besides sitting in a low-mid block and countering, so Dallas will need to look like they did against Miami if they want to come away with the victory.

3) Fullbacks Getting Forward

One of the staples of “Luchi-ball” is both the left and right backs getting forward and joining the attack. Ultimately, “Luchi-ball” and the system deployed under Oscar Pareja are not massively different, but the fullback play is where one can find one of the starkest differences. Under Pareja, if one fullback went forward, the opposite fullback was tasked with staying back with the center backs.

Under Luchi, both fullbacks have a license to get forward simultaneously to help create overload opportunities. To this end, fullbacks have been integral to FCD’s attack in 2020, especially recently.

The last 3 goals scored by FCD all heavily involved fullbacks, with two of them being goals from left-back Ryan Hollingshead coming from crosses delivered by right-back Bryan Reynolds and the third goal coming from a penalty drawn by Reynolds. Hollingshead himself now has 9 goals since the start of 2019, 4 more goals than the rest of his MLS career combined. It is clear that when FCD’s fullbacks are cooking, the attack produces goals and the fullback play will be vital to winning all 3 points against Houston to claim El Capitán and a playoff spot.

Will FC Dallas clinch their playoff spot and keep El Capitán in Frisco for another year?

Featured Image: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports
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