The final installment of the 2021 Texas Derby takes place on Saturday, and FC Dallas has the opportunity to retain El Capitán for the fourth consecutive season.

Let’s take a look at three keys for FC Dallas to leave Houston with three points.

Before we get to the three keys for the match, it should be pointed out that, in addition to the Texas Derby and El Capitán being up for grabs this weekend, FC Dallas can also clinch the first-ever MLS-based Copa Tejas with a win in Houston.

So, although a draw would be enough for FCD to retain the El Capitán for the fourth season in a row, a win would be even sweeter than normal with Copa Tejas on the line.

With that in mind, along with FCD’s dwindling playoff hopes, Luchi Gonzalez and his team should be pushing for no less than the three points on their trip down I-45.

1) Contain Darwin Quintero

For a large chunk of the 2021 season, Tab Ramos was reluctant to give Houston’s only DP attacker steady minutes, typically only giving him 15-20 minute cameo appearances near the end of games if he played at all. In the two previous games against Dallas, Quintero played a grand total of 6 minutes, all coming in the matchup early in the season at Toyota Stadium. The reasoning seemed to be that Quintero would not do the defensive work required in his system, relegating Quintero to only 374 minutes played thus far this season.

However, after going 16 games without a win and without Quintero making a single start in this time frame, Ramos finally relented to pressure from the fans and gave Quintero his first start of the 2021 season against Copa Tejas rivals Austin FC last weekend and, lo and behold, Houston recorded their highest single-game goal tally and blew away Austin 3-0.

He followed that up with another start mid-week away to the LA Galaxy, where Houston came away with another positive result in a 1-1 draw, with Quintero recording an assist on Houston’s goal.

So, with all that said, it would be a real surprise not to see Quintero in the starting eleven for Houston in what is certainly their most important game of the season thus far. Dallas should be familiar with Quintero; he featured for Houston in matches against Dallas in 2020 and for Minnesota in 2019 and 2018. Quintero can be deployed on the wing, but Tab Ramos seems likely to use him in central midfield, giving him a relatively free role to find space in front of two holding midfielders. The Dallas midfield will need to be constantly aware of Quintero and where he is on the field to ensure that he cannot pick up the ball in certain spots and is not given too much time on the ball to pick a pass or take shots. It will be a major challenge for Dallas, but they’ll have to be up for it if they want to come away with a result.

2) Do Not Let Pepi Get Isolated

Photo: Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports

Ricardo Pepi has been nothing short of a sensation in 2021, going from the bench to the starting lineup to starting and scoring for the US National Team within the span of a few months. As astronomical as the hype for the 18-year-old is, he is still an 18-year-old striker, and he is now an 18-year-old striker who gets a lot of attention from opposing defenses. To this end, Dallas needs to ensure that Pepi is not isolated up top on his own. FC Dallas is a better team when Pepi is involved in the build-up. His hold-up play still needs work, but he combines well with his wingers and midfielders and has a knack for finding spaces between defenders.

Dallas can not allow Pepi to become detached from the team, barely touching the ball and hardly involved in the game, as has happened on some occasions in 2021, especially on the road. This season, Pepi has already had success in Houston, scoring Dallas’ second goal in the most recent 2-2 draw in August. It will be imperative for Dallas that he can get involved once again on Saturday.

3) Set Piece Defending

Defending, in general, has not been great for FC Dallas recently as they have conceded 12 goals in their last 5 games and have conceded 3 goals in 3 separate games in that span. Not all of these goals have come on set pieces, but Dallas’ set-piece defending has been worrisome in this run of games. Runners have often been left unmarked and been given free runs at the ball, often requiring a desperate clearance to get the ball out of danger. It was a minor miracle that Dallas did not concede a goal from a set-piece in their home game against San Jose, which featured a sequence in which San Jose midfielder Jackson Yueill cleared a ball off the line, so the Dallas defenders would not have to do so.

Houston are not a particularly threatening team on set pieces while looking at the numbers, but the likes of Tim Parker, Teenage Hadebe, and Maynor Figueroa are no slouches in these situations, and the aforementioned Darwin Quintero is adept at delivering quality service on set pieces. Dallas will need to be sharp in these situations and also avoid giving up fouls in dangerous areas and conceding corners. On a positive note on this front, Jimmy Maurer should return this weekend in goal, which should help in these situations. His communication and defensive organization abilities are a significant improvement over young Phelipe.

Will FC Dallas make it four seasons in a row with El Capitán?
Will they pull off the win and take home Copa Tejas while they are at it?

Featured Image: Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports
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