After a big home win against Austin FC, FC Dallas will travel down to Houston to finish out the Texas Derby for 2024.

Let’s examine what FC Dallas needs to do to retain El Capitan for a third straight season.

1) Stay Defensively Sound

Under Nico Estevez, this point seems like a given. After a horrid defensive season in 2021, Estevez was brought in with a mandate to shore up things defensively. He did so in both his first season and in 2023, with FCD among the league’s best in goals conceded. Things haven’t quite gone according to plan for 2024, with Dallas already shipping 16 goals through their first 11 games. On the road, in particular, and even more so in Texas Derby games, which can become quite chaotic and unpredictable, it is very important for the Burn to stay tight and compact defensively.

This point becomes even more significant with this week’s news that Dallas will be without both Asier Illarramendi and Liam Fraser in midfield, which, at this point, is the preferred midfield pairing. With Sebastian Lletget not yet ready to start, this will force a combination of young Patrickson Delgado and either Tsiki Ntsabeleng, Carl Sainte, or Nolan Norris into the center of midfield. Houston’s greatest strength is in their midfield, and Artur, Coco Carrasquilla, and especially Hector Herrera will be licking their chops at the prospect of testing Dallas’ inexperienced midfielders.

It will be important for those midfielders to stay disciplined positionally and behaviorally (no lunging two-footed jumping challenges in this one, Patrickson), but also equally important for the backline to be at their best. Sam Junqua, Nkosi Tafari, and Sebastien Ibeagha, along with Marco Farfan and, most likely, Ema Twumasi, will all need to collectively be strong and decisive in order to back up their inexperienced midfield.

Dallas will also need to defend from the front, bringing their forwards back to help out. Petar Musa and Jesus Ferreira have already shown a willingness to do so, and whoever joins them up front, whether that’s Ntsabeleng reprising his role from the Austin game or maybe Eugene Ansah, Logan Farrington or Bernie Kamungo, will need to be willing to do the unheralded defensive work as Dallas will likely play without the ball for a large chunk of the game.

Finally, if Dallas can play well enough defensively, they don’t even actually have to win the game (or even draw) to retain El Capitan. Because of their 2-0 win in Frisco, they just have to not lose by 3 or more goals to keep El Capitan in Toyota Stadium for another season. Obviously, no one will even be imagining that scenario; the priority has to be to get a result, but it would at least be a small consolation if Dallas can’t earn a result in Houston.

2) Early Pressure

The majority of MLS played a midweek game this week. Houston made the short trip over to Austin, where they were handed a 1-0 loss. Houston won’t be very tired from the travel. Still, the 90 minutes, played largely by their first-choice XI (Hector Herrera was the only notable rotation), could have an effect on Saturday if Dallas is able to put some early pressure on their fresh legs.

Houston, for their part, are a very defensively solid team, they don’t give up many chances and have conceded just 12 goals all season (only RSL and Cincy have conceded fewer). They also don’t score much, their 11 goals scored is only better than the lowly Revs. If Dallas can apply early pressure and get a goal, that will be a massive step towards securing a result.

3) Impact Subs

With these two teams’ stout defensive records and trouble-scoring goals, this game is almost certainly going to be a tight and close affair in the final 15-20 minutes. The substitutes that Dallas can make, especially keeping in mind that Houston are on shorter rest, could prove to be huge in whether or not they can get a result. Fresh legs in the form of Logan Farrington, Bernie Kamungo, Herbert Endeley, or even the veteran leadership of Omar Gonzalez could all prove to be hugely impactful in the last quarter of the game.

Sebastian Lletget also looks set to make his return from injury in this game, though it seems unlikely that he’ll start. Lletget’s injury was really unfortunate as he was one of the few bright spots in the poor start to the season, and his return and appearance in this game will be a positive step forward in FCD pushing past the injury woes that have plagued them throughout this season.

What are your thoughts on FCD’s big Texas Derby matchup in Houston this weekend?
Let me know in the comments below!

PHOTO: FC Dallas

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