FC Dallas earned their first win of the 2022 season against Nashville SC over the weekend. Let’s look at three big takeaways from that performance.
1) Alan Velasco
The wait to see FC Dallas’ record breaking signing finally ended on Saturday as the 19 year old finally made his club debut. And what a debut it was. Velasco entered the game in the 64th minute, replacing Jader Obrian. It took a few minutes for him to get on the ball, but once that happened, his quality was instantly noticeable. Velasco, to this point in his career, is most known for his exceptional dribbling ability, which was on full display on Saturday as Velasco glided by Nashville defenders with ease. At times, he did a little too much and dribbled his way into a bad spot, but it is clear that he will cause MLS defenders a lot of issues with his dribbling ability.
His mentality looks great too. When FCD won a penalty in the last 10 minutes, Velasco was instantly ready to step up and take the penalty. Ultimately he was beat out for the try by his fellow Argentinean Franco Jara, who expertly slotted home the penalty, but that hunger and drive to get on the scoresheet is fantastic to see.
That hunger and drive was very obvious just two minutes later as Velasco picked up a pass from Brandon Servania (more on him shortly) at midfield and drove through midfield towards the Nashville backline. Nashville’s midfield and defenders were helpless as Velasco drove past them toward the left side of the box before taking a quick shot that arced over Joe Willis, hit the crossbar and settled into the goal. Toyota Stadium was electric when Velasco came onto the field, it exploded when Velasco’s shot went in. It was easily one of the most exciting debuts that any FC Dallas player has had in the history of the club and I think I can speak for everyone around the club in saying that I can’t wait to see what else Velasco has in store for us.
2) Homegrown midfield shines
For the third consecutive game, FCD started with the all homegrown midfield trio of Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania and Edwin Cerrillo and for the third consecutive game, they were very, very good. Cerrillo has certainly been the most under the radar of the three, playing as the deepest lying midfielder, often dropping between the center backs in possession and playing largely centrally in defense. In these three weeks, Cerrillo has gone up against some of the best attacking midfielders in the league, first facing up against Alejandro Pozuelo against Toronto, then reigning MVP Carles Gil against New England and finally Hany Mukhtar on Saturday. Cerrillo certainly isn’t doing this alone, but he seemed especially effective in limiting any opportunities for Mukhtar himself or for Mukhtar to set up his teammates. Mukhtar ended the game with just a single shot and 0 key passes. Some of this is certainly the overall Dallas defensive system, but Cerrillo has been excellent to start the season.
Pomykal and Servania, especially Servania, also both had excellent performances. On his 23rd birthday, Servania was everywhere, notching the assist on Velasco’s goal and popping up all over the place both offensively and defensively in his 90 minute performance. Interestingly, although Servania was a presence defensively, his defensive stats were limited, only recording one interception and a handful of clearances and recoveries. It was offensively where he shined, helping drag Nashville’s defense all over the field and open up spaces for his teammates. Nico Estevez’s 4-3-3 asks the central midfielders to come out and play wide often and Servania has shown a lot of comfort in playing in the wide spaces thus far this season.
Finally, Pomykal was back to his more usual self after a bit of a shaky performance in New England in the previous game. Much like Servania, Pomykal popped out into the wide spaces with regularity and, as always, covered huge amounts of ground while he was on the field. Pomykal was more active defensively than Servania and his role thus far seems to be a bit freer than Servania’s, Pomykal pops up all over the field, both dropping deep to work in possession and moving high up the field to work with chance creation. Through just three games, the midfield looks very comfortable and should only continue to improve from here.
3) Defense preventing chances
One of the most jarring things watching FCD thus far in 2022 after watching them in 2021 is how much the team has improved defensively. In 2021, FCD seemed to constantly be living dangerously, ready to concede at any moment’s notice and often conceding a large number of shots and chances to the opposition. Thus far, that has changed drastically in 2022 and was exemplified by the performance against Nashville. Nashville had 5 shots in the entire game and failed to get a shot on target and really test Maarten Paes in goal. What’s more is that all 5 of Nashville’s shots came in the first half, specifically in a roughly 10 minute period, and most of those shots were headers from set pieces. FCD did not allow Nashville to get off a single shot in the entire second half.
This seems to be coming from a combination of Nico Estevez’s system, which simply seems more sturdy and excels at winning the ball back quickly following a turnover in the counter press, along with strong individual performances. The aforementioned midfield has been very strong defensively thus far, Matt Hedges seems to be back to his usual self and newcomer Marco Farfan has been excellent at left back. This defensive base is something huge for FCD to build upon going forward and will help the team stay in games throughout the season.
What were your biggest takeaways from FCD’s performance against Nashville? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Matt Strasen/Dallas Morning News