It was ultimately a disappointing result for FC Dallas, but they remained undefeated against Austin FC after a 2-2 draw in Austin. Let’s look at three major takeaways from that result.
1) Dallas (mostly) comfortable ceding possession
Prior to this game in last week’s column, I mentioned that one of the big questions would be how each team would approach the game tactically. Dallas has struggled to generate offense against teams happy to sit in a mid or low block, allowing Dallas to possess the ball but staying compact, forcing Dallas to play wide where they have struggled to generate quality chances from crosses, as seen in the 2-0 defeat to Vancouver. I mentioned that it seemed unlikely based on this season (or last season really) that Austin would do so at home and that turned out to be true. Austin were dominant in possession, outpossessing Dallas 63-37, but this wasn’t really a case of Austin just being such a superior team that they controlled the ball and flow of the game. Dallas largely allowed Austin to have the ball, happy to allow them to play the ball around their back line and into defensive midfielder Felipe, who was often a trigger point for the Dallas defense to engage and press. To be clear, there were plenty of times Dallas did press up high, that is what led to their first goal, a high press forcing a Jon Gallagher turnover that eventually led to Paxton Pomykal’s parried shot that fell kindly to Paul Arriola. But Dallas was largely happy to allow Austin possession and prevent dangerous chances, which they did successfully…mostly.
After Dallas’ second goal, Austin really ramped up the pressure, essentially giving up on their slower build up play and shoving the ball right down the middle of FCD’s defense, specifically targeting substitute Moussa Djitte. Djitte proved to be too much for the Dallas defense, and Jose Martinez in particular, to handle. He was instrumental in creating the first goal from Sebastian Driussi and his presence in the middle clearly helped create the space for Danny Hoesen to head in the game tying goal late in regulation.
Even with that happening, I don’t think that FCD’s game plan was the wrong one. They created a number of quality chances, more than Austin did over the course of the entire game. More on what, in my opinion, really went wrong below.
2) Unable to close out the game
Dallas has struggled to close out leads on the road this season and this game was no different. To be fair, Austin are a good team, especially offensively, and a draw on the road against them is far from a bad resort. However, it is not surprising that the attitude expressed by the team in post-game interviews felt more like a loss than a hard fought draw. The win was there for the taking and the team was unable to do so.
Nico Estevez has done a fantastic job with this team, but I think he needed to be quicker with certain substitutions in this one. The first sub, Brandon Servania for Tsiki Ntsabeleng, who seemed to be struggling with cramping, was a good one and was timed well, especially considering Servania scored four minutes following the sub. But the following subs happened much too late. By the time Austin scored their first goal, Djitte had been on the field for almost 10 minutes. It was clear after just a few minutes that he was going to be a handful for the Dallas defense. Estevez and his staff should have recognized this sooner and brought in Nkosi Tafari, especially after Martinez was absolutely bodied on Austin’s first goal. Instead, the second sub didn’t come until 7 minutes after Austin’s goal and it was a straight wing swap with Jader Obrian coming on for Alan Velasco. Again, not a bad sub and Obrian’s pace helped relieve pressure on a few occasions down the stretch, but there needed to be more recognition of defensive frailities in that moment. That is the absolutely latest I would have brought on Tafari and switched to a back 3/5. At that point, Dallas was playing purely on the counter, so a change in shape was unlikely to disrupt any rhythm the team had in the build up.
Instead, Estevez waited until after Austin scored their game tying goal to make a triple sub with Tafari coming on for Paxton Pomykal, Franco Jara coming in for Jesus Ferreira and Ema Twumasi coming in for Nanu. I have no problem with any of these subs, but they simply happened too late. By that point, this was largely an attempt to hold on to a draw when the real attempt should have been to hold on to the lead before it even got to be a 2-2 game. On a hot night away from home in a tough environment, I would have liked to see those subs happen sooner. I understand wanting to trust guys and give them the chance to close things out but in a 5 sub world it just doesn’t make sense to hold on to those subs for so long in a tight game.
3) Bounce back for Velasco
After what was probably his worst performance of the season against Vancouver in the previous game, Alan Velasco bounced back in a big way against Austin, providing the assist for Brandon Servania’s goal and involving himself far more in the build up and attack for FCD. Velasco didn’t have a ton of touches with just 34, a byproduct of FCD’s approach to the game. He only went 7/10 on passes and didn’t complete any of his 3 dribbles. Doesn’t sound great, you might be saying. However, Velasco was not dispossessed during the game, a big improvement on his regular giveaways from a week prior. Most impressively was his defensive work. Instead of the very free role he occupied against Vancouver, Velasco was a more proper winger in the team shape. He won 2 out of 3 tackles attempted, contributed a clearance, an interception, 4 recoveries, and most impressive, went 7/11 on his duels on the ground. This is an area where Velasco has massively struggled throughout the season, he simply has been unable to win 50/50s, so seeing that kind of improvement against a pretty physical Austin side is great to see. And although Velasco was not successful on any dribbles, he did draw 4 fouls, a crucial bit of play for a team not dominating the ball. FCD staff and fans will hope that this can be the start of a turnaround for Velasco going forward.
How are you feeling after FCD vs Austin? Feeling good about the draw against a good opponent or does this feel more like a loss? Let me know in the comments below!
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