FC Dallas’ 2022 season came to a disappointing close on Sunday night as Los Toros fell to their in-state rivals Austin FC 2-1. Let’s look at what went wrong for FCD at Q2 Stadium.
1) Misstep in tactics and lineup in the first half
Although I do not agree with how FC Dallas approached (or seemed to approach) the game, I do understand the logic and thought that went into things. As far as I could tell, the game plan from FCD was very similar to the plan in a number of away games throughout the season: stay organized and compact defensively, slow the game to a snail’s pace, do not make any major mistakes and then, in the second half, push forward aggressively. FCD survived a flurry of pressure and chances in the first 5 minutes against Austin but after that pressure abated, did settle into what appeared to be a comfortable rhythm. They were possessing the ball, slowing the game down, the burst of adrenaline from the Austin players seemed to be dropping off and the raucous crowd at Q2 Stadium seemed to be dropping in energy a bit. Of course, 25 minutes in, a mistake and a switch off on a corner changed everything entirely (we’ll come back to this moment later).
So, I do understand the game plan and will even concede that, for a time, it looked to be working, but I think it was absolutely the wrong decision. Dallas and Austin are extremely similarly matched teams and, although their strengths differ (Austin scored a ton while Dallas had a strong defense), FCD should have come out aggressively against Austin. Despite Austin’s strengths and excellent form throughout the season, they did not have a strong defense and were prone to errors leading to easy goals, as was the case against FC Dallas themselves back in June. Dallas is an excellent pressing team and, even without Paxton Pomykal, is more than capable of pressing their opponents into mistakes and creating opportunities.
I do suspect that not being able to start Pomykal (he came on in the 60th minute and was clearly not 100%) was a major cause for the reluctance to come out aggressive against Austin. Nico Estevez chose to go with Brandon Servania, who replaced Pomykal at halftime against Minnesota United a week before, in the starting lineup. This was not a mistake in and of itself but, as Buzz Carrick from 3rd Degree excellently explains here in his post-game takeaways, pairing Servania with Facundo Quignon was a mistake. Neither Servania or Quignon are midfielders who want to drive the ball forward on the dribble, they like to occupy deep spaces and try to spray passes. They simply got outworked by the Austin midfield in the first half and couldn’t provide enough going forward as they never really put any pressure on Austin’s midfield or defense.
Edwin Cerrillo would have been a better choice to pair with Servania as, although he would be playing as the 6, Cerrillo’s passing is more adventurous and aggressive than Quignon’s and his athleticism and quickness allows him to cover ground more quickly. He also seemed to be up for the game judging by his antics in trying to throw off Austin’s corner kick takers in the first half. Dallas could have used more of that kind of attitude and mentality in the game. Alternatively, if Nico was dead set on playing Quignon over Cerrillo, Tsiki Ntsabeleng would have been a better option to replace Pomykal in the starting lineup. Although still a bit raw as a central midfielder, Tsiki’s play is a closer approximation to how Pomykal plays. He is more aggressive and more willing to drive forward with the ball compared to Servania and would have been a better complement for Quignon.
2) Ferreira couldn’t find the game
Throughout the 2022 season, FCD relied heavily on their attacking trio of Jesus Ferreira, Paul Arriola and Alan Velasco to provide the goal scoring. Ferreira was especially notable here, contributing to 24 (18 goals + 6 assists) of FCD’s 48 regular season goals. But Ferreira hit a poor run of form at a bad time in the season. After scoring twice in FCD’s huge win over LAFC on September 10th, Ferreira has not scored since for FC Dallas or for the US National Team. Ferreira seemed to poised to break the club single-season scoring record before season’s end, but despite a frantic effort to do so on the final day against Sporting Kansas City, he was unable to get over the hump, settling for being a joint-highest single season goal scorer with Kenny Cooper and Jason Kreis.
This, unfortunately, carried into the postseason as Ferreira failed to score against Minnesota United and missed a massive chance in extra time to win the game before penalties (in all fairness to Ferreira, he did convert his penalty kick well). Things did not improve for Ferreira in Austin. Ferreira was a virtual nonentity in FCD’s very poor first half and although he did come alive a bit in the second half, ending with 4 shots in total, he was unable to truly test Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver and, even being moved into more of a second striker/10 role, ended the game with only 49 touches.
So what happened? The Ferreira that fans saw against Austin was in huge contrast to the Ferreira that played for most of the season. One aspect that should certainly be considered is the sheer number of minutes Ferreira played across 2022. In addition to playing 33 matches, only missing a single match due to yellow card accumulation, he played the most minutes in MLS in his career and also was part of every single national team call up in 2022, playing in just about every US game. Those minutes, combined with the travel demands of both MLS and national team duty, seemed to simply wear Ferreira down, especially considering the sheer amount of running Ferreira does from game to game as he leads the FCD press.
This really should not be a cause for concern though. Ferreira has displayed a remarkable amount of improvement across his game in his few years as a professional and he is, amazingly enough, still only 21 years old. He will undoubtedly take this experience at the end of the season in stride and use it to continue building his game and career. Let’s just hope he’s still in an FCD uniform at the start of the 2023 season.
3) Costly individual errors
As mentioned previously, FCD’s work early in the game to survive Austin’s early pressure and settle into the game was undone by costly individual mistakes that ruined the game plan and ultimately led to FCD’s downfall. In the 25th minute, Brandon Servania completely whiffed on a header from an Austin corner, Ema Twumasi switched off at the back post (certainly expecting his teammate to get his head on the ball) and Austin’s Moussa Djitte smashed a shot past Maarten Paes to make it 1-0. Just 3 minutes later, an uncharacteristically poor touch from Alan Velasco fell directly to Austin’s star player Sebastian Driussi, who glided into the final third, went by Jose Martinez and buried a well taken shot in the Dallas goal for 2-0.
Put simply, these kinds of errors kill teams in the playoffs. This is not at all to say that the loss itself can be pinned on any one individual player but it does show how fragile things can be and how the game plan (or what seemed to be the game plan) was contingent on FCD as a whole not making these kinds of individual errors. You can weather pressure for as long as you want but when you whiff on a header on a corner, that is going to be a major problem. These were the kinds of errors that FCD largely avoided throughout the 2022 season but were also the kinds of errors that were all too common in FCD’s disastrous 2021 campaign. Despite such a successful season, these errors rearing their head at the worst time shows just how far FCD came in a single season and also that there is still plenty of work to be done both individually and as a collective group, from the players to the staff and all the way to the front office.
Where do you think things went wrong for FCD against Austin FC in this playoff match? Let me know in the comments below!
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