FC Dallas traveled to Vancouver for their first road test of 2023, coming home with a point after a 1-1 draw. This week, let’s look at three things we learned from FCD’s trip to the Pacific Northwest.

1) Center back flexibility

In the Burn’s third game of the season, Nico Estevez rolled out a third different center back pairing with Nkosi Tafari and Sebastien Ibeagha paired together with Jose Martinez on the bench. The pairing ended up working out quite well with the two center backs combining for FCD’s opening goal and generally playing well defensively throughout the game. It is clear that Estevez and his staff view all three of Tafari, Ibeagha and Martinez as starter level options and there’s a good chance that a preferred pairing may never actually be settled, with the coaches instead choosing to go with which ever pairing they feel best fits the opponent or rotating based on fitness and form.

Also of note, for the second consecutive game, the Burn switched to a back 3 in the second half. Against the LA Galaxy, this was Ibeagha coming on to help close up shop defensively and plug some gaps while against Vancouver, this was Martinez coming on to counter Vancouver’s switch to two strikers in the second half and, according to Ibeagha in his post game remarks, to move Dallas into a more attacking shape. Generally in recent years we’ve almost exclusively seen the back 3 used as a more defensive measure, so it is interesting to hear Ibeagha specifically call it out as something where Dallas wanted to be more attacking. With these three center backs at their disposal, don’t be surprised to see the Burn use more of this three at the back formation throughout the season.

2) More open approach

In Estevez’s first season in charge, a hallmark of the team was their approach on the road. In almost every case, the idea seemed to be to “kill the game” in the first half and early part of the second half, ideally keeping the score at 0-0, before opening up in the last 20-30 minutes to try to grab a goal and all three points. This had mixed success, Dallas was able to do this on a number of occasions but just as often were unable to completely kill things off and keep their opponents off the scoresheet. There were some notable successes, such as the demolition of the LA Galaxy in Carson, along with some notable failures, like the beating the Burn took in Nashville. One of my big question marks going into this Vancouver game was if Estevez and his staff would look to approach away games in the same manner.

It is obviously still very early but it does look like the Burn want to take a slightly different, more open approach on the road. Dallas played far more open throughout the game in Vancouver than they did in almost any away game from last year. They ended up outpossessing (56-44%) and taking more shots (11 to 10) than their opponents and, especially in the first half, put the Whitecaps under a ton of pressure. The Burn generally seemed less rigid in their shape and, although this did lead to some Vancouver opportunities, certainly opened the game up much more. It remains to be seen how this will play out over the course of the season but it was refreshing to see Dallas really try to attack the game and take the reins as opposed to trying to sit back and kill the game.

3) Paxton taking a beating

One of the storylines in this very early part of the FCD season is the play of Paxton Pomykal. Pomykal had a bounce back season in 2022 coming off a string of injuries but wasn’t able to regularly get on the scoresheet. Thus far in 2023, he looks like a man on a mission to change that fact, but he won’t get there without taking one hell of a beating, as was on display against the Whitecaps. Pomykal, one of the most fouled players in MLS in 2022, was fouled 4 times against Vancouver, following up games where he was fouled twice against the Galaxy and three times against Minnesota. In addition to the fouls suffered, he was involved in 11 ground duels (he won 7), demonstrating how often he finds himself coming into physical confrontations with opposing players. A few times against Vancouver, Pomykal was on the ground after a challenge or foul for a worrying amount of time. It will be notable to watch how teams handle Pomykal in the physicality department and it will be incredibly important for the Burn to keep Paxton healthy over the course of the season.

What are your thoughts on FCD following their first away match of 2023? Let me know in the comments below!

Featured Image: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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