Tactical Analysis: FC Dallas vs Houston Dynamo

FC Dallas faced off against Houston Dynamo on Saturday night in the 2nd leg of the Texas Derby, and for FC Dallas it was a night and day difference from the 1st. Gone was the tepid, lethargic, and pressure absorbing team that traveled to Houston. In its place was a team that had a plan of attack…and a new powder keg of offensive firepower that helped ignite everyone around him.

You write up tactics and every team’s going to have a lot of potential for execution of tactics but at the end of the day at some point the tactics are not the factor. It’s about winning more duels, about making more plays, and we did that tonight and we need to use that as a reference in the next opportunity.

Luchi Gonzalez

After the match, Coach Gonzalez was quick to deflect any praise to his players, but those players wouldn’t be in the positions to win duels and make (amazingly awesome volley goal) plays without a plan.

Let’s talk about that plan.

Getting Playmakers Involved

When you bring players like Andres Ricaurte and Franco Jara into your club, you have to find ways to get them involved. 

In previous matches, FC Dallas has relied on attacking the opponent’s fullbacks and crossing the ball in from deep in the opponent’s defense in an attempt to get the ball to Jara or Jesus Ferriera. Too often, however, that just led to turnovers and frustrated attacking players.

So how then can FC Dallas get the ball to the new guys? Well, against Houston the game plan started with the transition and proceeded to take advantage of some key weaknesses in the way Houston plays.

The first key weakness the FC Dallas offensive game plan attempted to exploit is that Houston’s midfield tends to play very narrow. This allows for moments where there is a lot of space on the sidelines between Houston’s forward and back lines. Luchi really tried to take advantage of that space in transition. As soon as they regained possession, FC Dallas would one-two the ball past the Houston forward line and then quickly play the ball to whichever sideline had the most space available.

Then the race would be on as the winger-fullback pairs would work the ball up the sidelines as fast as they could. At this point, the tactics split between the left side and right side, so I’ll start with the left (because I think it’s more interesting).

In previous matches, the FC Dallas attack would work the ball as close to the endline as possible before making a play towards thegoal. Against Houston, however, Hollingshead and the left winger would barely probe the defense. Instead, as soon as they met resistance by the Houston back line, they cut inside to find Jara or Ricaurte.

As an added bonus (and the second key weakness that Luchi Gonzalez’ game plan looked to be trying to exploit), Houston’s RB has a tendency to overcommit going forward. This leaves their back line exposed and vulnerable to being stretched thin and overrun.

When the attack went down the right, the speed of Barrios and Reynolds made things a bit more straightforward. The game plan: exploit that same space that’s available on the left, then use speed to attack the Houston defense.

Both ways proved to be very effective in getting the ball into the hands of the players that have been brought in to be difference makers.

Let’s Talk About D, Baby

The FC Dallas defense has overall been very good in 2020. It was shaky in the absence of Matt Hedges and there are certainly things to work on, but it’s evident that Coach Gonzalez means what he has said about creating a base on solid defense and building off of it.

That having been said, let’s take a quick look at a couple of things.

Firstly, the space left in front of the defense by Santos and his partners continues to be a problem. I’ve documented it in almost every edition of this article, so I won’t waste bytes doing it again. Just know that it has not gone away.

Secondly, the partnership between Matt Hedges and Bryan Reynolds on the right side of the defense is still growing. Better communication between the two would have prevented or lessened opportunities from Houston. Frequently players snuck in between the two on the back side of where the ball was. This means the Houston players were behind Hedges and in front of Reynolds. I want to see Reynolds be more proactive and communicative in letting Hedges know that the player is there.

Lastly, and this is something I touched on last week, the players have a tendency to “turn off” on occasion and stop checking their surroundings.

At the very beginning of this clip, you can see a Houston player run out of frame to the left. That’s Reynold’s marker. When they both come back into frame, there’s way too much space between them. But then Santos gets caught ball watching and loses Manotas, who gets into the box to receive a pass from Reynolds’ man.

Again, I don’t want to be unfair to a defensive unit that has been overall very stingy, but if these things aren’t improved, it’s entirely possible that future opponents will be able to turn these issues into goals.

Keeping It Up

Now we’ve gotten a taste of how effective FC Dallas can be. Knowing how Luchi likes to try to adapt his tactics to opponents and situations, I doubt the days of the 5-3-2 and the defensive posturing are completely behind us, but it’s good to know that this side of the team exists. Let’s see what version of the team turns out against Colorado on Wednesday and how Luchi puts the players in position to let their individual skills show.