Game 1 of the 2022 Texas Derby went to the boys in red in dramatic fashion. Let’s look a little deeper into the game with three major takeaways from Saturday’s Derby win.

1) Winning Ugly

For a second straight home game, FCD spent large parts of the game being outplayed by the visitors. Although Houston was not nearly as dominant as Colorado was two weeks prior, Houston still had the better of the chances through the first 65-70 minutes and were rightly rewarded with a goal. Truthfully, FCD were lucky to have seemingly been just inches away from conceding on a very well taken Memo Rodriguez free kick in the second half and a Joshue Quinonez slip in the 83rd minute forced Maarten Paes into a great save in a one-on-one situation against Rodriguez. It wasn’t until the last 20 minutes or so of the game that FCD truly clawed their way into the ascendancy and truly looked like the team most likely to score.

Let’s be clear, a win is a win, and, by the end of the game, FCD had properly battered the Houston door down, with FCD recording 14 shots overall with 7 on target (after just 4 and 0 respectively in the first half) and Houston with 9 shots and just 2 on target (after 4 shots with 1 on target in the first half). Some of the best teams in the history of this league have shown what FCD has shown in these last two games, an ability to weather the storm, grind through a relatively poor performance, ride their luck at times and then deliver in crucial moments. FCD did so against the Rapids and then did it again against their in-state rivals to deliver two massive wins early in the season, but that kind of thing is only good on occasion, it isn’t a sustainable path to success in MLS and FCD will need to step up their performances if they want to keep their lofty spot in the Western Conference standings.

2) Impact off the bench

If you had put some money on Tsiki Ntsabeleng and Facundo Quignon to be the two FCD goal scorers in this game, you would have had a pretty significant return on that money as both substitute midfielders scored their first FC Dallas goals to pull off the late game comeback. As mentioned above, FCD didn’t truly take hold of this game until around the 70th minute. It isn’t a coincidence that that time frame coincides with FCD’s first sub, Franco Jara coming on for Paxton Pomykal and shifting the team into the 4-4-2 that has been so effective throughout the season in these late game situations. With that change, FCD were able to generate more consistent pressure and, at that point, were basically pinning Houston into the own half. But the goals didn’t come until almost 20 minutes later, following the triple substitution that saw Tsiki Ntsabeleng, Facundo Quignon and Joshue Quinonez come on for Brandon Servania, Edwin Cerrillo and Ema Twumasi. That burst of energy immediately saw Tsiki put in a dangerous cross that Jara headed on to the bar, and just minutes after that, Tsiki scored the equalizer. The pressure continued into stoppage time when FCD was able to take advantage of some slack Houston marking, leaving Quignon all alone at the back post to get the game winner.

I’m still not necessarily absolutely in love with every bit of how Nico Estevez and his staff handle substitutions. For me, they are often still coming a little bit too late (if FCD hadn’t pulled off this comeback or had only pulled off the draw, I think a big talking point would be that Estevez should have made his subs earlier in the game), but there’s no question that the mixture of second half subs and tactical changes have been very effective in helping FCD get results. That will continue to be very important as FCD enters a tough run of games in the month of May.

3) Atmosphere

For the third consecutive home MLS game, FCD eclipsed the 15k attendance mark. In today’s MLS, that isn’t exactly a crowning achievement, but for a club that has consistently struggled to generate interest and hype for the team, seeing that kind of number with regularity is fantastic (keep in mind that Toyota Stadium’s new capacity with the Hall of Fame renovations and moved supporters’ section is only 19,096). But even more important than the improved attendance numbers has been the atmosphere at the stadium. I’ve been a season ticket holder since 2018 and have been attending matches on at least a somewhat regular basis since 2015 and I can not remember a run of games that had such consistent attendances along with such a great atmosphere. The work that El Matador and Dallas Beer Guardians are doing to generate atmosphere from The Rhine has been felt around the stadium and Saturday’s game was evidence of that. Even with FCD playing poorly throughout the game and the game being at an awkward 2pm time slot, the energy from the crowd was great with the crowd engaged and consistently reacting (quite strongly at times) to moments in the game, particularly calls from the referees. When the equalizing and then winning goals went in, the reaction was absolutely fantastic to see. Hats off to the ticket sales teams and marketing teams as well for helping to generate consistent interest and hype for the team. Winning is always going to help as well but hopefully we can continue to see great crowds and atmosphere at Toyota Stadium for the rest of the season.

What are your thoughts following a huge Texas Derby victory? Let me know in the comments below!

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