Apr 21, 2018; Frisco, TX, USA; FC Dallas midfielder Jacori Hayes (15) and defender Matt Hedges (24) defend against Philadelphia Union forward David Accam (7) during the first half at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Now the only unbeaten team in Major League Soccer, FC Dallas defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-0 Saturday with goals from Maxi Urruti and Mauro Diaz to continue its run. Here are three takeaways from the victory:
Is 4-4-2 FC Dallas’ best starting system?
FC Dallas has used the 4-4-2 formation without Mauro Diaz for the last two matches, with each match ending in wins for the side. The team started with the formation 15 times last season, going 7-4-4, including a win over Liga MX side Pachuca in the Concacaf Champions League. The formation has changed the game Dallas plays, conceding possession in an attempt to hit teams on the counter. FCD had 37 and 46 percent of possession, respectively, in the last two matches and almost connected on some counterattacks, including a missed opportunity by Santiago Mosquera after a give-and-go with Cristian Colman and a missed one-on-one by Michael Barrios after a through ball from Roland Lamah.
Starting off in the 4-4-2 allowed for coach Óscar Pareja to make changes when needed and he did so, bringing on Diaz and Maxi Urruti to bring a spark to the team. They did. Both players scored. However, the change in formation is more a change of mentality. FC Dallas still will have its wingers and forwards push up to the back line of the opposing team, creating a 4-2-4 of sorts when in possession. Diaz would do that when the team was in the 4-2-3-1 and Pareja has even referenced the formation as a 4-2-4.
Eyes will be on the starting XI that Pareja puts out next week in the Bronx. After what Portland did to NYCFC this week, the 4-4-2 seems likely, especially on the road. Letting The Pigeons have possession and hitting them on the counter will be similar to the game plan against the Union, which resulted in a victory.
FC Dallas excels with a target forward
Cristian Colman has been getting starts and hasn’t scored. He had the least amount of touches on the team against Philadelphia with 17. For context, Maxi Urruti, who came on for him as a substitute in the 69th minute, had 15 touches. But still, Colman showed something important for the team — that target forward role has made a difference in the squad.
Urruti would drop too far deep into the midfield and chase the ball, pressing the midfield to make mistakes. That is great, but the effect it had on the final third was noticeable. Urruti would be almost gassed as he was running in on goal after making a key play in the midfield.
Colman didn’t score or threaten, really, but he won five aerial duels in the match. That was the most on FCD, even more than Reto Ziegler and Matt Hedges, who are going to be clearing the ball with their headers. Colman was winning long balls in the air and keeping chances alive in the final third. Having Lamah or Mosquera as the off-ball forward helped Colman focus on his true target, which is staying up the field.
So Colman may not be the target forward Dallas needs, but he has proved valuable in showing the importance of a target forward in Pareja’s system. And if it’s not Colman, someone else should be purchased in the transfer window.
The Huntsmen are quietly the best defense in MLS, allowing three goals in six matches. The backline features a total of one returning starter from the dismal 2017 season. The additions, Reto Ziegler and Anton Nedyalkov, and the homegrown, Reggie Cannon, have proved to be rock solid in the back. While former FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman (now with LAFC) had moments of brilliance for the club, even earning a United States men’s national team call-up, he had mental lapses throughout the season. Some of those were costly, including one in the 2016 MLS playoffs that cemented Seattle’s victory over Dallas.
Ziegler and Hedges have provided stability from the centerback position, each having the bulk of touches and passes with 58 and 61 passes, respectively. Both of them also look to complete long balls from the back, attempting 25 and completing 11 in this match. They’re almost acting like deep playmakers to launch counterattacks from the back. Ziegler played a ball to Roland Lamah from the back in the 24th minute, which led to a Mosquera shot that went over the bar. The ability to make a defensive play and then spring a counter is important, especially if Dallas continues the usage of the 4-4-2.