FC Dallas has not lost for 15 games. In fact, in their 4-1-4-1 formation (as it has been named by FCD boss Schellas Hyndman) the men in red and white have only lost twice in 24 matches.
So I have to wonder about the change in tactics employed by New York Red Bulls Manager Hans Backe when they visited Pizza Hut Park last week. The Red Bulls have started every game in a 4-4-2 formation since the arrival of Thierry Henry, and who has been his partner up top? None other than Juan Pablo Angel, one of Major League Soccer’s very best at stretching a defense with his ability to push a backline towards their own goal. Backe's change in tactics saw Juan Pablo Angel move to the bench in favor of newly acquired Colorado Rapids midfielder Medhi Ballouchy. Ballouchy is a player that likes to sit in the middle, get the ball and pick out attackers -- similar to Thierry Henry.
What does that mean tactically? It means the New York Red Bulls had no forward that could stretch the FC Dallas defense and consistently occupy a center back. NYRB played in a 4-5-1 formation, completely contrary to their customary 4-4-2. That move allowed FCD rookie center defenders Zach Loyd and Jackson Goncalves to choose to step into the midfield rather than deciding to defend Juan Pablo Angel. The decision was made for them by the predictability of the New York first half attack.
Now don't get me wrong -- Hans Backe has been fantastic in recreating what was an abysmal Red Bull team in 2009. The Red Bulls of 2010 are a team that can methodically break a team down. I truly enjoy watching the Red Bulls, and leading into the match with FC Dallas the team had scored nine goals in four games before Thursday’s 2-2 draw. Rafa Marquez, Juan Pablo Angel, Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards and Henry seemed to have hit their attacking rhythm.
So was it really necessary to change tactics?
Real Salt Lake did the same thing when they came to Pizza Hut Park on July 17th. The result? A 2-0 FCD victory over the defending champion, previously unbeaten in 10 straight.
So why change what you’re doing for the opponent? During their 15-game unbeaten run, FC Dallas have proven to be a very difficult team to play against. They're also a team that has not changed their style of play, regardless of the opponent.
Some say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but for FCD opponents? You might want to think twice.
Bobby Rhine is the play-by-play voice of FC Dallas and a 10-year veteran of Major League Soccer. Rhine retired in 2008 after spending his entire career with FC Dallas, appearing in 212 games and notching 23 goals and 33 assists.