FC Dallas has started off the season strong after two home matches in Major League Soccer. They defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-0 and drew with Montréal Impact 2-2. This positive start is welcomed by the Dallas faithful who had a difficult season last year.
The team from Texas finished in 7th place in the Western Conference, just sneaking into the first round of the playoffs where they lost to the Seattle Sounders in an exciting 4-3 overtime loss.
Luchi Gonzalez, FC Dallas’s manager, will be looking to build off of his side’s current run of form. While there has been a long break, the upcoming MLS tournament, which mirrors the format of the UEFA Champions League, gives the American coach an exciting opportunity to build off of his team’s play thus far. His tactics have been consistent in both matches, not changing his approach despite playing different opposition. The Philadelphia Union played much more condensed in the middle than Thierry Henry’s side (Montréal Impact manager and former Arsenal superstar), which preferred to direct play wide.
This scout report and tactical analysis will examine how FC Dallas’s tactics affect their play. FC Dallas and Gonzalez will be hoping there is more to come from this exciting team which has an incredibly strong identity.
Emphasis on possession with wing-backs
FC Dallas have a strong emphasis on the possession area of their play. Gonzalez likes to keep the ball and trusts his players to control the match through their time in possession. In both matches thus far, FC Dallas out-possessed the opposing side. They had 55 percent possession against the Montréal Impact and 58 percent possession against the Philadelphia Union. While possession stats are not always the key to winning a match, in the case of FC Dallas, it gives them a better opportunity to utilise their strengths.
These strengths include the ability of their outside-backs, Reggie Cannon and Ryan Hollingshead. Both of these players get up the pitch in order to support the midfield. This allows for FC Dallas to create channels of open space down the lines. In order to do this, the wide midfielders have to pinch in towards the middle of the pitch. This, in turn, allows for a numerical advantage in the midfield and open space.
In the image below, you can see the average positions of each player for FC Dallas against the Philadelphia Union. Numbers 12 and 2 are the wing-backs, while numbers 9 and 21 are the starting wingers. As explained earlier, 9 and 21 will pinch into the midfield to allow for space for 12 and 2 to go into. This tactic works well and is a trend thus far in the MLS. It is common for wingbacks to have more of an influence on the attack if the wingers are capable of playing intricate football in the middle of the pitch.
Furthermore, the intensity of the lines between each player indicates the frequency of passes. This image shows that the wingbacks received the ball very consistently.
An example of this shape to keep possession and attack the space created is seen in the analysis below. Hollingshead and Cannon are both extremely advanced up the pitch, even level with the two deep-lying central midfielders. This creates multiple different options for Reto Ziegler and Matt Hedges, the FC Dallas centre-backs. They can play wide or into the midfielder’s feet, which allows for many different passing options. This is one example of Gonzalez’s emphasis on possession by creating space and passing options for his players. It makes it difficult for the opposition to cover the lanes and leads to a lesser amount of possession for the defending team.
Another example of FC Dallas’s tactics to emphasize the wing-backs while in possession occurs as they try to build out of the back. While in possession, Gonzalez does not hold his wingbacks back from progressing up the pitch after they play a pass. While it would be more traditional for a full-back to play it forward and then check back for a safe return ball, Gonzalez gets his full-backs up the pitch.
In the analysis below, Cannon is on the ball and plays it forward to Michael Barrios. Despite there being many Union players around him to defend and press Barrios, Cannon sees space he can exploit. He elects to play a one-two with Barrios despite it being a risky option. In this case, Cannon actually ends up losing possession of the ball when he receives the return pass, but this does not stop Gonzalez from continuing to employ these instructions to his players.
Another part of FC Dallas’s success thus far in 2020 has been down to their defensive set up. Gonzalez emphasizes the shape of his side and it is very clear to anyone watching. While he enjoys possession of the ball, when defending, Gonzalez constructs areas of the pitch where he will allow the opposition to play into. This tactical set-up includes a deep average formation line and the opening of areas of the pitch that the defenders close in on. The latter could be viewed as a passive pressing trap.
In regards to the defensive shape of FC Dallas, they will defend deep. The chart below shows the average formation line of FC Dallas compared to the Philadelphia Union. While this does take into account time both with and without the ball, it is important to see the stark difference between the two sides. This indicates that the match will have been played closer towards the FC Dallas goal, leading to a deeper defensive shape. This is planned by Gonzalez, as he knows his team are capable of playing out of the back and can utilise their energy more while in possession. Clearly, despite giving up more areas of the pitch, this does not affect Dallas negatively. Their first goal came in a period of the match where they were playing very deep. FC Dallas will only have a high press when chasing a match, as seen against the Impact when they went down 2-0 in the second half.
In order to use their deep block to their advantage, Gonzalez sets up pressing traps. However, this is not the typical pressing trap. While a pressing trap usually starts with the press from a player who purposefully forces the opposition to a certain area of the pitch, FC Dallas does this much more passively. Instead of using energy, FC Dallas stays structured and invite the opposing defenders to bring the ball forward. Because their midfield three of the 4-2-3-1 are all in a line behind the lone striker, this covers a lot of space on the pitch. The defenders then have to try and breakthrough that line. The only way to do that effectively is to play into the passing lanes that become available. Obviously, the FC Dallas midfield three can not be everywhere. While this sounds like a flaw in Gonzalez’s system, this is all part of his trap.
The analysis below shows the passive pressing trap take into effect. The midfield three of Barrios, Jesus Ferriera, and Fafa Picault all stay level with each other covering the space around them. They intentionally leave the space in between them extremely open so the defenders of the Philadelphia Union play the ball into that space. Immediately, the deep-lying two (making up the rest of the midfield) or the centre-backs step in to press the player who receives the ball. From there the other three midfielders (or whoever is closest) will converge on the ball. This creates an effective trap that works well with their passive block.
Overall, FC Dallas have a strong identity in both the attacking and defending sides of their play. In attack, each player has a strong sense of their responsibilities and tactical instructions as Gonzalez looks to create possession-based soccer. As FC Dallas startup play in July, it will be important that they use the possession to their advantage and effectively break down teams who may be happy playing counter-attacking football against them. Defensively, FC Dallas have a strong shape and awareness around their style. As you can see, it is clear that FC Dallas are well-coached and are tactically aware. This is a good sign for any supporter of the club who is hoping for a better season than last year.
Even when they were tested in the match against the Montréal Impact, FC Dallas found a way to get back into the match and get the score to 2-2 by the full-time whistle. The ability to react from 2-0 down in less than 45 minutes of football is impressive, and one that FC Dallas clearly has. While there are big tests ahead with the MLS tournament in Orlando, FC Dallas had a good dress rehearsal earlier in the year. It will be exciting to see how Gonzalez’s side develop in a tournament-style fixture list against the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes.