FRISCO, Texas — When new FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez took the job in December, he came in with many new ideologies.
Rondos were emphasized. He wanted the team to play in tough positions. Goalkeepers were more involved in the field drills, getting used to playing with the ball at their feet. It was all apart of Gonzalez’s plan to build the team to play his philosophy.
Dominate possession. Press to win the ball back. Take risks and play in tight spaces.
The dividends of the work in preseason may pay off early. A clip in Dallas’ 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy went viral on Twitter, showing how Dallas dictated possession with 59 straight passes in order to see out the result. Gonzalez’s team leads the league in possession at 62 percent. . . . and the team still has elements of its game that may be overshadowed, such as the ability to counter quickly and to defend in a lower block, if needed.
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“It was a moment to be patient and to keep it, and the boys read it well and they did it,” Gonzalez said. “There’s also a moment right after that clip where in two passes, we’re trying to counter. It’s a part of the idea of football that we’re training. It’s a moment. So, I want to look at it in the right way, that not every moment needs to be like that. If there’s space to expose behind or between or a switch, then we need to do that with urgency. And if it takes 20 passes, or 59 passes or 2 passes, we have to do it with efficiency and urgency.
“What I also want us to never forget is: the objective is to win the game, and that means scoring goals So, we never want to discredit the vertical or penetrating part of the game.”
Midfielder Paxton Pomykal had an MLS team of the week performance in the win, notching an assist and providing on the defensive end. He also emphasized the aspect of penetrating a defense while having possession, but also being able to press an opponent with the comfort of having cover. This allows the team to continue and retain the ball only seconds after losing it.
“The way we play enables me and the rest of the team to be very aggressive in play,” Pomykal said. “We always know if we go and we press, that the guys behind us have our backs, so that makes it a lot easier when we’re playing defense and pressing.”
Part of being a possession-heavy team is being able to make the most of having the ball. As Gonzalez stated, verticality cannot be lost in a squad, or else it may be aimless. However, an area the team is growing still is playing in tighter spaces. The team leads the league in passes with 1,321.
“That’s changed since Luchi has been here,” fullback Ryan Hollingshead said when asked about the philosophy change. “He’s been clear from the very beginning that’s the style he wants to play. That’s the identity of the team he wants to have. We’ve been on working on it all preseason. There’s still things and ways that we can get better at it and continue to learn how to play out of tight spaces but no, there’s definitely a confidence with our guys in playing in those tight spaces, that we haven’t really had before and guys are willing to play balls in tighter spaces and be able to move off the ball for each other to get out of our final third.”
Gonzalez preached in the preseason that making mistakes was okay. Hollingshead said that has helped many players overcome not attempting passes in practice, allowing them to be comfortable during real games.
“Just having lots of trainings that are geared towards playing out of tight spaces and a coaching staff and an environment that is preaching being okay with mistakes,” Hollingshead said when asked why he thought the team improved in tight spaces. “Trying to learn and grow and adapt and finds these times to force it and times to be a little bit more safe but, rather than always being safe, they’re allowing us to take those moments and try to play out, even if it’s more difficult, and that’s how you learn and that’s how you grow. You make a mistake one time, and you’ll never make that mistake again because you know exactly what you did wrong.”