I spent a good amount of time wondering how this article would turn out. So many emotions running through me last night wondering how on earth I could write my first real article about one of the most dramatic matches I had ever witnessed. The highs and deep lows all hit hard in the span of a grueling, and nearly endless, hour and a half match, leaving me speechless at multiple points throughout the night. Sleep wasn’t even a thought. I was left amazed and confused at the same time. How could FC Dallas waste away a man-advantage for 86 minutes? Let me step back for a second and provide a little more information first.
U.S. Open Cup: FC Dallas Possess and Lose
Last night’s U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal matchup between MLS powerhouses Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas was set up to be THE match to watch. Most people felt that the winner of this game would probably go on to win the tournament, either for a 4th time (SKC) or back-to-back (FC Dallas). Both teams were missing key players and gamechangers due to international call-ups, but both still came out with solid lineups. As an avid FC Dallas supporter, it has been a huge sigh of relief to see Mauro Diaz make his return to the lineup. The horrific injury he suffered towards the end of last season left us all wondering, “well what now?” We limped into the playoffs and were man-handled in Seattle. CONCACAF Champions League…well…let’s not even go there (just clear the ball!!). But I digress.
If you have not seen the highlights of last night’s game, go watch it right now – and then come back to finish reading this article. Words can only do so much to explain the madness that ensued in Missouri last night. As I watched the game, I kept making quick little notes about key plays in the game. But by about the 50th minute, I already knew what my main point would be for this article: Possession is FC Dallas’ Kryptonite.
Possession Means Nothing
Whenever we retain possession and “control” the game, it seems like we completely lose focus and direction. Last night was a perfect example. FC Dallas is a team that thrives on the counter-attack. We usually sit towards the bottom of the table in possession numbers. When we get the ball, it’s a quick and calculated attack that is extremely efficient. Barrios and Lamah are always ready to fly down the wings. Urruti lingers along the back line waiting for his time to pounce. But when teams sit back deep and clog the lanes, you can immediately see the result. Players look up in front of them, and see a sea of blue and white. There is too much thought and not enough movement. Everyone is caught ball-watching, and indecisiveness kicks in. That was when SKC kicked into high gear. A bad touch here and there, and Sporting stepped in and would have open field to run. Too many times Mauro Diaz stood in the midfield with ample time to find a pass – but there was nothing. Tesho was a horrible substitution decision and never seemed ready for the physicality of the match. All players were in the SKC half the vast majority of the time. FC Dallas struggled to make plays off the ball (checking in, opening wide, drawing players out) and it cost them dearly.
Give Credit When It’s Due
Credit to SKC and Vermes for completely shutting down the FC Dallas attack. Going down a man after 15 minutes is debilitating to say the least, especially in a game of this magnitude. But to have the mindset and composure that Sporting Kansas City did last night is why they were so successful on the counter-attack. They lured FCD into their half and allowed them plenty of time on the ball. By the time SKC would step towards a player and make a challenge, Dallas would only have 1 player left in the back (besides Jesse in goal).
For myself and FC Dallas supporters, this one will hurt for a while. Bringing up the U.S. Open Cup match from 2015 (6-2 drumming of FCD) just pours salt on the wounds. We have struggled to get results in Kansas City, and it looks like that will remain that way for the time being.
My final note is this: when an opposing team sits deep and holds their lines well, the attacking team has to move. Yes – sounds simple enough. When you are limited on the space to make an attack-minded pass, and are forced horizontal or backwards, players have to start finding ways to create new space. A left mid cannot just occupy the left sideline and cut in from time to time. He needs to find a way to draw opponents to him or away from him, and create space either for him or someone else on his team. You could tell that late in the 2nd half, FC Dallas struggled in off-the-ball movement. Passes were few and far between because players were stuck hugging the touchline or standing with the defenders, and had no thought beyond that. Skipping the first line of defense by lofting a ball into a forward, for example, now forces the opponent to turn and face their own goal. Then you can step in as they either fight to clear it, or you retain possession further up the field and create a chance. But there is nothing that can change what happened last night. Dallas fans will continue to sing the Kansas City Blues, and the game goes on.