VANCOUVER - FC Dallas sits in a prime spot to secure a playoff berth in the coming days, but exactly how they earned a 2-1 win in Vancouver this weekend says a lot about exactly who this team is heading down the stretch.
Before we look ahead to Saturday’s match in Portland, let’s dive into a few quick lessons from #VANvFCD.
Oscar Pareja had a game plan to combat a sizable Vancouver Whitecaps FC back line and his name was Cristian Colman. Over the course of 77 minutes, the striker won 12 aerial duels - equaling both his and the team’s best mark on the year.
While Colman is often talked about in terms of glaring misses at the goal mouth, his ability in the air and as a big bodied hold-up man at the top of the attack is a good asset to have for games just like Sunday. Pareja and Co. made only that switch from their last two Starting XIs and it worked. Maybe not on the scoresheet, but in terms of creating space and chances for others on the field.
The Vancouver back line is nearly a 6-foot-1 average height, and much of that is brought down by 5-foot-8 Brett Levis. Colman and Dominique Badji are both 6-foot even, but the former excels in the aerial game, while the latter is more prone to use his speed in behind defenders. Since joining FCD, Badji’s single-game high for aerials won is four vs. Columbus.
This is maybe the most prime example of Pareja’s growth this season as a tactician. Colman hadn’t started an MLS match since May 25 and had played just 129 total minutes between starts. But Pareja knew the different skill sets each of his players possessed and knew exactly when to deploy it.
Maxi Urruti once again had a strong outing as an off-ball forward, sitting deeper in the No. 10 role for most of the match, but taking a team-high five shots. Much of his time and space comes as Colman presses the Whitecaps back line high, allowing Urruti to combine with the Colombian wingers on either side of him.
But where Urruti really made his impact was standing over the set plays for Dallas.
Urruti’s quality of service on the first goal and throughout the night could very well secure his name to that role going forward.
More importantly, FCD continues to be lethal at the most important moments from set plays. They have just 12 goals from them all season, but Matt Hedges’ header off a corner late was the team’s fifth game-winning goal from a set piece this season. Another two set piece goals have been equalizers en route to a draw.
That’s 12 added points that Dallas wouldn’t have without them - enough to drop the team right between Vancouver and the LA Galaxy in a Western Conference playoff hunt.
For much of the second half, Mr. Bayern Munich, Alphonso Davies, was the focal point in the Whitecaps’ attack. Everything was being filtered to the left side of their attack, the right side of the Dallas defense.
In the 77th minute, Pareja brought on Tesho Akindele specifically to set up a Canadian international showdown, and Vancouver was quickly unable to generate much on their favored side.
On first glance, there was some questioning of the move as it happened by those in Texas. But Akindele’s ability to shut down Davies, coupled with the addition of Maynor Figueroa to the back line four minutes later, shored up things defensively for a Dallas team caught on its heels in the minutes leading up to their subs.
Look no further than Vancouver’s production in the first 32 minutes of the second frame compared to the last 23:
VAN completed passes, 45'-77'
VAN completed passes, 77'-90'
Similarly to Colman being used for his aerial presence, we’ve seen Akindele’s role as a defensive-minded winger be used more frequently for FCD of late.
Having options is one thing, but knowing exactly when and where to use those options is a game-changer for Dallas as the head full steam ahead towards the postseason.