FC Dallas lost for the first time in the 2024 season, falling 2-1 at home to CF Montreal last Saturday. Last week, we overreacted to a positive result; this week, let’s flip the script and overreact negatively to the Burn’s first loss of the season.


Without Illarra, this team will struggle

To be clear, against Montreal, Dallas were outplayed for basically the entire game, including the first half, where Asier Illarramendi was on the pitch. But in the second half, when he went off with an injury, Dallas seemed to struggle to find any kind of identity. Illarra has a level of class on the ball and in reading the game that can cover up for some deficiencies in the team. His ability to find the right space on both sides of the ball both opens things up offensively and keeps things tight defensively. Illarramendi was largely responsible for one of the only real bright moments of the night for Dallas when he found Bernard Kamungo’s run from right wing back with a lovely floated ball that Kamungo was able to head across the box to give Petar Musa a goal on his debut (after a lengthy VAR review).

To be clear, this is not a knock on the other midfielders on the team. Liam Fraser was not necessarily fantastic but had a solid game in the holding role, and he at least attempted to provide some of the passing range Illarra provides in the second half. Patrickson Delgado had a solid MLS debut and looks like a rangy player. But both Fraser and Delgado are 6s, and they both lack the class on the ball that Illarra brings to the table. Paxton Pomykal is only just coming back from injury. Dallas will hope he can provide more of an offensive spark, but as always seems to be the case with Pomykal lately, it is still yet to be seen if he can stay healthy. Illarra’s health over the course of the season is absolutely vital to any success the Burn will have in 2024.

The wingback situation is a major problem

Playing the 3-4-3 (or 3-4-2-1 or 5-2-2-1 or whatever you want to call it) necessitates having players who are capable of playing the wingback positions. Wingback is an extremely demanding position, requiring players to get up and down the sideline, contributing both offensively and defensively. So far, through two games, the positions for Dallas are a huge question mark. Game 1 against San Jose saw Dante Sealy and Herbert Endeley get the start, with Ema Twumasi replacing Endeley in the second half. Sealy and Endeley both struggled with the demands of the position, with Sealy getting caught out defensively and Endeley struggling on the timing of runs and getting forward well. Twumasi brought some stability but he was able to come in later on as a substitute as Dallas controlled more of the game, making his job a bit simpler.

For game 2, Sealy kept his place, but Nico Estevez and staff elected to drop Endeley for Bernard Kamungo, who had played as one of the inside forwards underneath the striker against San Jose. It was a major struggle, and the struggle was illuminated by the wingback play from Montreal. Montreal lined up in a similar 3-4-3 (though theirs was more of a 3-4-1-2) that asked their wingbacks, Ruan and Ariel Lassiter, to perform similar duties as Sealy and Kamungo. To say that they performed better is a massive understatement. Ruan assisted both Montreal goals (and really should have had a hat trick of assists on an excellent cross to Josef Martinez that Martinez narrowly missed), and Lassiter was solid, if a bit unspectacular.

In comparison, Sealy and Kamungo looked relatively clueless, constantly getting caught out defensively while struggling to get meaningfully involved in things moving forward. Kamungo was badly caught out at midfield for an easy ball in behind on Montreal’s first goal, and he struggled all night with the position. Kamungo, who is left-footed, looked really uncomfortable in the position, and it caused Dallas problems all night long. Sealy has shown some promise there but still has a nasty tendency to switch off defensively, pulling the Dallas defense apart and opening up big gaps for teams to exploit. The hope is that with time and players coming back from injuries that, things will improve here, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later, or Dallas are going to see more goals conceded and more points dropped.

Dallas still doesn’t know how to deal with a mid/low-block

When Luchi Gonzalez took over the reins as the head coach of FC Dallas, there was a shift in tactical philosophy away from playing largely as a counter-attacking focused side under Oscar Pareja and even back to Schellas Hyndman into a team that wanted to control possession and control the field, particularly at home. Pareja didn’t spurn possession entirely, but he would happily allow a team to dominate the ball and hit them on the counter. Gonzalez’s efforts led to the moniker of Luchiball, which started off as a playful sort of jab but ended up being used almost as an insult, an example of how Dallas could control possession but be utterly toothless, endless cycling the ball around the box, recycling to the defenders, rinse and repeat. Teams came up with a pretty simple solution: let Dallas have the ball.

With Nico Estevez, there was a bit of a shift; Dallas still wanted to control the game but was less concerned about dominating possession to do so. But as time has gone on under Estevez, the same issues with dealing with low and mid-block defenses have come up, with Dallas seemingly incapable of unlocking a team that wasn’t interested in doing anything besides sitting back and countering.

Seemingly, part of the idea in switching to the 3-4-3 was to address this issue, to get more players into the attack and into attacking positions, but, with an admittedly small sample size, it doesn’t seem to have had the intended effect. Montreal were, for the most part, completely uninterested in pressing Dallas in Dallas’ half, setting up around midfield with very compact lines and daring Dallas to either play through them or over them. Dallas did try to play some balls over the Montreal backline but couldn’t find the right pass that would settle behind the backline but in front of the goalkeeper. Ultimately, Dallas was just unable to generate enough quality in the final third, a stark difference between what the team showed against San Jose.

It is all still a work in progress, this is just game 2 of the season, but Dallas definitely still has a lot of work to be done.


What are your thoughts following FCD’s first loss of 2024? Let me know in the comments below!


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