With the season winding down to a close, FC Dallas hosted New York City FC at the Toyota Stadium. After going down within the first minute of play, the hosts fought back claiming an important point in what is a congested Western Conference. For NYCFC, the draw allowed them to maintain the pace at the top of the table, emerging as favourites for the MLS Cup.
This tactical analysis will highlight how FC Dallas were able to fight back and find the equalizer in the second half.
NYCFC boss Domènec Torrent switched his shape from last week’s win against the San Jose Earthquakes and opted for his preferred 3-4-2-1 system. Eric Miller returned to the fold alongside Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot at the back while Keaton Parks and captain Alexander Ring rounded up the midfield ranks.
In attack, Maximiliano Moralez returned to the team as well and featured alongside Alexandru Mitriță behind Valentin Castellanos. As usual, Ronaldo Mataritta and Anton Tinnerholm got the nod out wide.
Luchi Gonzalez, by contrast, continued with his tried-and-tested 4-3-3 and fielded the veteran partnership of Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler at the back. Brandon Servania and Jesús Ferreira joined Bryan Acosta in the middle of the park, forming a youthful midfield three. Acosta, however, pushed up the pitch regularly in support of the main striker turning the 4-3-3 into a 4-2-3-1.
In attack, Michael Barrios and Dominique Badji flanked the imposing Zdeněk Ondrášek. This analysis will now show how these formations played out.
Strength in numbers
After resisting early pressure from the hosts, NYCFC settled into their possession-based game and began to create chances. Having scored their goal less than one minute into the game, NYCFC immediately pegged FC Dallas back. Despite having the comfort of Castellanos’ goal, Torrent’s men stuck to their game plan and pressed Gonzalez’s men high up the pitch.
With little time in possession, FC Dallas’ defenders turned the ball over regularly, preventing the home side from getting into a rhythm in the first half. Pictured below is NYCFC’s aggressive press in action.
The NYCFC forwards used Ziegler and Hedges as their pressing triggers. When either centre-back picked up possession, Torrent’s men committed many of their players forward negating all options, bar the long ball. This was a pattern that would recreate itself often in the last thirty minutes of the half. As a result, FC Dallas were often constrained when in possession.
Another sequence in which NYCFC regularly pressed the hosts was on throw-ins in their own zone. Whether it was on the left or right, New York City FC used deep throw-ins to corner FC Dallas in their own zone. Pictured below is an instance in which this occurs.
As you can see, NYCFC overloaded the left-hand side with eight of their players, including one of their three centre-backs. With their primary options blocked off, FC Dallas were forced to play back and send it long. This was one of NYCFC’s triggers to overload FC Dallas and press them high up the pitch.
Space between the lines
With FC Dallas pegged deep into their own zone, the visitors were able to keep possession for long periods of time and dictate play. Up a goal, Torrent’s men were in their element. While NYCFC’s intricate triangles helped facilitate passing, FC Dallas’ defensive setup left plenty of open space to exploit.
Initially, Servania and Ferreira were supposed to play alongside Acosta and close up the middle. Nothing of the sort took place in the first half as both stayed slightly too wide opening up the midfield for Parks and Ring. FC Dallas’ wingers were of no help defensively either, as Badji and Barrios remained on the same line as Ondrášek in possession.
After NYCFC broke through FC Dallas’ first line of pressing, playing through their midfield into their forwards was easy, especially with Tinnerholm and Mataritta overlapping. Pictured below is one sequence where FC Dallas failed to close down the space in the middle of the park.
With an abundance of space between Acosta and Servania, Ring was able to pass into Castellanos with ease. From there, the NYCFC forward had an option on either end and combined nicely. Playing through FC Dallas’ midfield was far too easy in the first half, prompting Gonzalez to alter his tactics immediately at the break.
FC Dallas on the front foot
With their post-season hopes in doubt, FC Dallas couldn’t afford to lose and altered their formation at half-time. Rather than defend in a standard 4-3-3, Gonzalez set up his men in a 4-1-4-1 out of possession. While this switch was defensive in nature, it made the hosts much more compact off the ball, allowing them to hit NYCFC on the counter.
As Acosta shielded the back four and the wingers dropped in support, NYCFC look flustered and began losing control of the game. Pictured below is FC Dallas’ 4-1-4-1 in action.
After restricting the visitors to possession in the peripheries of the pitch, FC Dallas sensed NYCFC’s vulnerability and began pressing them high up the pitch. The hosts hadn’t done so since the early goings of this clash and slowly grew into confidence as the game wore on. Much like NYCFC did in the first half, FC Dallas overloaded the ball carrier’s side and forced the opposition to play long.
With a high line in place, Hedges and Ziegler were able to win the aerial duels and reclaim possession. And like that, FC Dallas took control of the game and made NYCFC look a shade of themselves. With their possession taken away from them, Torrent’s men struggled and started making mistakes on the ball. Pictured below is a sequence in which FC Dallas’ pressure results in a turnover.
Once Miller gets possession, FC Dallas committed six of their men up the pitch, closing down all possible options. Rather than clearing long, Miller tried to force a ball into Mataritta’s path, which was easily intercepted by Reggie Cannon. While nothing came from this particular turnover it was a sign of things to come for FC Dallas.
With more and more of FC Dallas’ men forward in the final third, NYCFC’s passing triangles were completely negated and they started looking more vulnerable. For the first time in the game, NYCFC looked like the away side and it wouldn’t take long before FC Dallas found their breakthrough.
Sticking to their aggressive game plan, FC Dallas went man-to-man off NYCFC’s goal-kicks. Receiving the ball back to goal, Ring had nowhere to turn. With all of his options closed off, the NYCFC captain turned it over inside his eighteen-yard box. Ondrášek wouldn’t need a second invitation before pouncing on the mistake and firing one home past a helpless Sean Johson. Pictured below is the high press that lead to the turnover and subsequent goal.
Following the goal, NYCFC closed up completely and shifted into a 5-4-1 leaving the hosts little room to maneuver in the final third. Content with the point on the road, NYCFC sat in a deep block and invited FC Dallas to attack them. Below you can see how Torrent set up NYCFC to preserve the point.
This hybrid 5-4-1/3-4-3 is a formation NYCFC often switches between and is regularly seen in games Torrent’s side are looking to close out. While they are among the most dangerous sides in possession, their defensive discipline and ability to swap formations may just prove to be the difference in the post-season.
The draw keeps NYCFC four points ahead of Atlanta United in first place in the Eastern Conference, edging them closer to winning the Supporters’ Shield. For FC Dallas, by contrast, the point is a crucial one for their post-season hopes and puts them in sixth place, one point ahead of the San Jose Earthquakes and the Portland Timbers.
In many ways, this game was a tale of two halves with each side taking turns dictating play. At the end of the day, both managers’ boldness was repaid, however, they ended up nullifying each other. With the post-season around the corner, it’s clear both sides are readying themselves for a run.
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