It was a disappointing result for FC Dallas on Saturday night as they finished the latest round of the Texas Derby with a 1-1 draw.
Let’s look at three big takeaways from the latest battle for El Capitan.
1) Obrian Steps Up
Last week, I mentioned that Jader Obrian had a massive opportunity to play a major role in the team in the coming weeks and possibly months, with Paul Arriola set to be sidelined with a thigh injury for what looks like might be a decent amount of time. So far, so good for Obrian, who is playing perhaps the best soccer he’s ever played since joining FC Dallas ahead of the 2021 season.
Following up a strong performance last weekend against Austin, Obrian had a stellar game in the midweek matchup against Vancouver, providing an excellent assist for Jesus Ferreira’s first goal and then putting in another strong performance against Houston, scoring FCD’s lone goal and coming close to adding a second when his shot cannoned off the crossbar in the second half. Obrian was rewarded for his efforts with a spot on the MLS Team of the Matchday bench. Arguably, Obrian has actually been more effective than Arriola has been at any point this season, which is a statement I don’t think anyone who follows the Burn would have expected to make in 2023.
Regardless of what happens when Arriola does come back, Obrian’s play is a massive boon for Nico Estevez and FCD, and it is great to see someone who clearly works as hard as Obrian does see these end results.
2) Slight Formation Change Moving Forward?
Since Nico Estevez took over in 2022, FCD has mostly been married to a standard 4-3-3 with a single-pivot defensive midfielder. The team will shift within games to different looks, but the 4-3-3 has almost always been the default, even dating back beyond Estevez to the days when Luchi Gonzalez was in charge of the team.
Recently, however, there seems to have been a bit of a shift. Part of this seems to have been enforced by the realities of the FCD roster as the club only really has 3 players who one would naturally place as an 8 in the 4-3-3: Paxton Pomykal, Sebastian Lletget, and Tsiki Ntsabeleng. Facundo Quignon and Edwin Cerrillo can slot in there, but it certainly isn’t their primary position. With so few players in the position, FCD has been more flexible in formation this season, more regularly ending up in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 kind of shape with a double pivot of defensive mids instead of the single. Most recently, injuries to both Lletget and Pomykal forced FCD into a 4-2-3-1 shape against Vancouver, where they lined up with Ntsabeleng as the “10” with Quignon and Cerrillo playing as a double pivot and then again in a 4-2-3-1 against Houston where Pomykal replaced Cerrillo but certainly played a deeper role than what he has done in the 4-3-3.
So far, it looks pretty good! We really don’t know the status of Lletget and how long he will be out, but if he is set to miss any extended amount of time, this is a sensible shape for FCD. Jesus Ferreira could easily drop into that “10” role (it isn’t really a traditional 10, more of a second-striker kind of look) with Jesus Jimenez up top, and Alan Velasco is certainly capable of playing more centrally there as well. Perhaps the biggest benefactor of the double pivot so far is Facundo Quignon, who looks like an almost different player entirely in recent games than he has for most of his FCD career. It has also, with a small sample size, tightened up the FCD defense. The Burn did concede against both Vancouver and Houston, though against Vancouver, it was an extremely rare Maarten Paes mistake that was the culprit, and Houston’s goal came from a set piece. In both cases, it was not a case of the FCD defense being broken down. Between those two games, FCD allowed just 6 shots on target with an “open play xG” allowed of just 0.76 (according to FotMob). That’s pretty good! If you don’t concede a lot of chances, you simply aren’t going to concede a lot of goals, and it isn’t surprising, with these changes in mind, to see that the FCD defense has righted the ship in recent weeks and is, once again, among the best defenses in the league.
It will be interesting to continue to track how FCD chooses to line up, as it may end up influencing what they do in the transfer market both this summer and moving beyond this season. If Estevez finds that his personnel and roster are more suited to that look, it will make sense to bring in an attacking midfield playmaker, someone in the vein of FC Cincinnati’s Lucho Acosta or Columbus’ Lucas Zelarayan. That kind of player could be an absolutely game changer for the Burn.
3) Have to Be More Clinical
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: FC Dallas controlled the game and had more chances but couldn’t put them away and lost points due to a late equalizer. Unfortunately, this has become a bit of a common trend with the Burn in the past few seasons. They are great at controlling the game and preventing the opposition from generating a lot of chances. Despite not having the majority of possession at home, Dallas were in control of the game, limiting Houston to very few chances while hitting them on counter opportunities when they had the chance.
They had opportunities in the first half to get out to a lead that they couldn’t capitalize on. In the second half, they had two major opportunities to extend their lead to 2-0, with a sequence where Jader Obrian hit the post followed by Alan Velasco’s header being blocked by Houston right back Franco Escobar and another sequence where Jesus Ferreira got into a great shooting position only to see his shot blocked by Houston center back Micael.
To give full credit to Houston, they defended resolutely throughout the game and generally did a good job of preventing opportunities themselves while also showcasing some excellent last-ditch defending. But if Dallas wants to ascend into the upper echelon of teams in MLS this season, they have to start being more clinical when they get their chances. The way the team is set up simply means that they are not going to generate a high volume of chances, so every chance that does come along is very important.
If they can start taking 2-0 leads instead of trying to hold a 1-0 lead, that will be huge for the Burn as the season moves along.
What are your thoughts following this round of the Texas Derby?
Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: FC Dallas Twitter