FC Dallas left it to the last possible moment in their Copa Tejas clash with Austin FC on Saturday night but were able to come away with a 1-0 victory over their in-state rivals.
Let’s look at three takeaways from the match as FCD goes into their final 10 games of the season.
1) Kos Clutch Again
For the second time in 2023, Dallas ended up relying on their big fan favorite center back, Nkosi Tafari, to pick up a result late in a game. First, it was in San Jose where Tafari’s header from an Alan Velasco service rescued a point for the Burn. This time, it was an eerily similar goal, with Marco Farfan’s delivery finding Tafari’s head before the ball nestled in the goal past Brad Stuver’s outstretched arms. It ended up being the latest game-winning goal in FC Dallas history, with 96:49 showing on the clock when the ball hit the net.
It marked Nkosi’s 3rd goal of the season, placing him in a tie for second on the team in league play. We’ll get into more about how it is a bit problematic for the second leading scorer to be A) a center back and B) only have 3 goals, but no one will be complaining too much after this latest goal. In addition to the heroics, Tafari put in a man-of-the-match level performance at the back, holding Austin’s danger man Sebastian Driussi in check, passing at an 89% clip and winning the majority of his duels.
Last week, I mentioned that Tafari had established himself as the best defender on this team, and he showed that on Saturday night in a big performance.
2) Solid Debut for Illarra
FCD’s big summer signing made his debut early in the second half against Austin. After just over a week of training with the team, it was a bit surprising to see Illarra get such a long run out. After all, he had been without a club since the end of June and is more or less still in preseason form in the hot Texas summer. But Illarra showed no signs of preseason form or any issues with the heat, stepping onto the field and instantly showing the class and quality one would expect from a former Real Madrid player and someone with over 400 appearances in Spain. Many thought Illarra would be coming in to compete with Facundo Quignon at the 6, but it seems like he will factor in at the 8, with him replacing Sebastian Lletget. Illarra largely played in a deeper lying role, spending most of his time around the outside of the box looking to break apart the Austin defense, with most of his time spent playing against 10 men after Dani Pereira’s red card just a few minutes after Illarra’s substitution.
It was actually a little surprising to see how often the team looked to play through Illarra. At times, wingers and fullbacks passed up crossing opportunities to play the ball backward to Illarra. On the one hand, it is a good sign to see his teammates already so comfortable with him on the field, and it is clear that he has a level of class about, but also, it may not be great for the team to lean so heavily on one player in those situations. It will be fascinating to watch Illarra’s role in the team develop. It seems clear that he’ll be able to immediately help this team, but until we see more of him playing against 11 men, it is hard to say exactly how much he will change for the Burn. So far, so good.
3) Offensive Struggles Without Ferreira
Although the night ended with a truly joyous moment, it was a real slog to get there. We’ve talked a number of times this season about how much Dallas struggles without Jesus Ferreira in the lineup. We’ve also talked about how Dallas struggles to break down mid- and low-block defenses. Both of these were on display against Austin, with Ferreira missing the match due to illness that kept him out of training for most of the week and Austin electing to go away from their typical possession-heavily based tactics and trying to play against the ball for large parts of the game. Dallas did a good job of preventing much of any danger from Austin, with Austin’s most dangerous opportunity coming in second-half stoppage time off a deflected shot, but were unable to create much of any danger themselves, with the only really threatening chance coming in the second half when Stuver was forced into a nice save from a shot from Eugene Ansah that looked to be curling into the back post.
Ferreira’s replacement in the starting lineup, Jesus Jimenez, made his first appearance since early June and was able to do next to nothing, with a couple of badly missed volleys the only shots he was able to generate while displaying a frustratingly poor first touch at various moments. Paul Arriola made his first start since his return from injury but also struggled to impact the game. On the opposite wing, Bernard Kamungo struggled to make a major impact in the first half and was, surprisingly, substituted at halftime. I felt this was a poor decision. A halftime sub was sorely needed, but I’m unsure what Jimenez displayed compared to Bernie to keep him on the field to start the second half. Eugene Ansah, Kamungo’s replacement, had similar struggles to make a real impact. Jader Obrian did finally replaced Jimenez around the 60-minute mark.
Although he didn’t generate any major chances, he pestered and prodded the Austin backline and caused them issues, providing more in his short stint than Jimenez was able to with twice the time on the field. Dallas’ only real offensive thrust through the game came from Alan Velasco in midfield. This move continues to look good for him. He wasn’t able to impact the game in the same way he did in the Leagues Cup, but he’s clearly much more involved in the game, and it looked like if Dallas was going to generate anything in open play, Velasco would be involved.
Ultimately, the Burn were able to throw the kitchen sink at it and find just enough, but this game, once again, showed how vital Jesus Ferreira is to how this team plays going forward. Dallas will need him if they want to make any real playoff push in the last 10 games.
What are your thoughts following a big win over Austin?