FC Dallas drew the Portland Timbers 0-0 Saturday at Providence Park. The result clinched a playoff berth for Dallas, which missed the playoffs last season.
The game plan Dallas had for the match was simple: frustrate Portland with its shape and look to not concede on the road. In Major League Soccer, a draw on the road is a positive result. A win, like FC Dallas’ 2-1 victory last weekend against Vancouver, is icing on the cake. The home teams went 8-0-3 this weekend, including wins by Chicago and Minnesota over favorites LAFC and NYCFC, respectively.
Knowing this, coach Óscar Pareja elected to go for the same lineup he went with at BC Place, starting forward Cristian Colman in over Dominique Badji and new playmaker Pablo Aranguiz on the bench.
Colman’s ability to win aerial duels is why he’s there. Dallas will often hoof the ball up the pitch, and allowing Colman to keep those balls alive is a massive plus, especially to relieve pressure. The Paraguayan won 14 aerial duels in the match, and although he missed a golden opportunity to provide Dallas the lead late in the match, he did what was asked of him.
Dallas also made the match boring, killing any momentum the home team had. It was a game plan that worked, and FCD even had an edge in possession (51.2 percent versus 48.8 percent). The key chances also fell to Dallas, such as Carlos Gruezo rattling the post in the 44th minute. Some called the result a playoff-like performance.
Obviously, the circumstances would be different in the playoffs and Pareja may do things differently. All Dallas needed was a draw to clinch a playoff berth; this wasn’t a playoff series with an aggregate.
Settling for a draw in a first leg of a series can be dangerous. The Timbers found that out last season, when they had a draw on the road against the Houston Dynamo and hoped to take advantage at home on the second leg. The result? A Dynamo team that hit the Timbers on the counter, defeating them 2-1 at home and moving onto the conference finals.
However, 2017 MLS Cup champion Toronto FC squeaked by the Columbus Crew 1-0 in the 2017 conference finals after drawing the first leg 0-0.
Still, settling for a draw can be dangerous since more weight is placed on away goals. All it takes is one counterattack, and the home team is needing two goals to advance.
So, although Saturday’s plan worked to perfection and gave Dallas a playoff spot, if it is the same strategy Pareja deploys for the playoffs, he may be playing a dangerous game.