With two games left to play, FC Dallas needs 3 points to clinch a playoff spot. But the Burn have found wins tough to come by lately, having drawn their last four games and nine of their last 14. This week, we’ll look at three things FC Dallas must improve upon to clinch a playoff spot in their final two games.

1) Start strong

Dallas has not necessarily made a habit in 2023 of starting games poorly, but they also have not made starting games strong a habit either. Most FCD games get off to a rather slow start from both teams, with teams generally feeling each other out. There was an exception to this on Saturday against San Jose as the Quakes came out with significantly more energy than the Burn and capitalized on Dallas’ sluggish start to score in the 3rd minute, forcing Dallas to play a possession heavy game that they do not excel at. Even after the 3rd minute goal, it took another 15 minutes or so for Dallas to really wake up and it wasn’t until the second half that Dallas really started imposing their will on the game and creating a significant number of chances (San Jose lead the shot count 8 to 2 at halftime).

With Dallas’ final two games coming against Colorado and the LA Galaxy, two teams that are already eliminated from playoff contention, starting strong will be important. These teams and players are ready for the offseason and are at a point where they can only play the spoiler. Allowing an early goal and giving them confidence could lead to disastrous results for Dallas. Get on top of them early and make the game an exercise for the Rapids and Galaxy in just getting it over with.

2) Get players in their most comfortable positions

Against both Houston and San Jose, Dallas played formations and tactics that went away from FCD and Nico Estevez’s typical 4-3-3 shape. Against Houston, this was a 3-4-3 and against San Jose, it was a 4-4-2. Dallas has certainly spent plenty of time over the course of the season playing out of these shapes and one of the things that Estevez has tried to instill in this team is a flexibility in tactics and shape. That being said, neither shape, at least as they were played in those games, seems to lend itself to the strengths of the team and the players. The 3-4-3 was a clear defensive setup intended to keep Houston, who are highly effective at home, off the scoreboard and try to play on the counter. It was successful defensively but resulted in one of the Dallas’ worst attacking performances of the season with the Burn only generating 4 shots over 90 minutes.

Against San Jose, the 4-4-2 looked to be a more attacking setup. When I saw the lineup, I actually assumed that the formation on the lineup was not how things would play out and it would look more like a 4-2-3-1, with Alan Velasco playing as a 10 behind Ferreira, Arriola and Obrian on the wings and Pomykal and Illarramendi playing in central midfield. But Dallas largely actually played the 4-4-2, with Velasco lining up on the left wing, Arriola way out wide right and Obrian playing more centrally as one of the two forwards with Ferreira. It resulted in a disjointed offensive performance. It simply seems to move players away from where they are most effective. Velasco wants to come inside on his right foot from the left no matter what formation the team is in. Arriola is not at his best playing way out wide right in a 4-4-2, he’s far more effective when he is able to come inside and combine in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Obrian is more suited to playing on the wing where he can utilize his speed, not being asked to body up with big center backs.

The 4-2-3-1, at this point, seems to be the best pathway forward for this team to get players into their best spots. Velasco at the 10 has seen a big improvement in his form and play since that trend started during Leagues Cup, the decision to move him back into the left wing is baffling to me. Obrian and Arriola are both more comfortable playing as wingers in the three man front line as opposed to playing striker in a 4-4-2 or as a very wide winger in the 4-4-2. Ferreira is certainly good while paired with another forward, but he seems more comfortable leading the line with two wingers either side of him. Dallas really should settle on this shape and tactical setup, at least to start, for the final two games of the season.

3) Don’t sit back with a lead

This hasn’t necessarily been an issue lately as Dallas has had to come back from 1-0 deficits in four of their last five games, but if Dallas does take a lead on Colorado or LA, which seems likely considering the state of those teams, they need to continue attacking as if the game was still tied. Dallas has an excellent defense, only two teams, Seattle and Nashville, have conceded fewer goals in 2023, but they don’t keep a lot of clean sheets (only 5 teams have fewer clean sheets and they are all among the worst defensive teams in the league). In any game Dallas plays in, the most likely outcome is that the opposition will get one goal on the scoresheet. If the Burn do take the lead, they need to continue to stay aggressive and press for more goals to extend their advantage, trying to desperately hold on to a single goal advantage for an extended period of time has largely not been very successful for the team in 2023 and it would be devastating mentally and emotionally to concede leads late in either of these games with the playoffs on the line.

How are you feeling about FCD’s playoff chances going into the final two games? Let me know in the comments below!

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