FRISCO - FC Dallas is picking up steam as the MLS season hits almost its third month, and they’re doing so with an opponent-driven tactical approach to each match.
“The ability for us to play in different in different formations, different roles, and different personnel is awesome for the team,” Victor Ulloa said this week. “Anybody can step up at any moment and it makes it harder on the opponent to know who’s playing week in week out so that’s an advantage for us for sure.”
In New England two weeks ago, we saw a defensive-minded 4-4-2 look, and then a 4-1-4-1, with a heavy emphasis on playing compact without possession, knowing the Revs like to play aggressive up front. This past weekend, it was a higher pressure 4-2-4 with an emphasis on letting Philadelphia maintain the ball deep, but also placing strain on their back line with a bolstered attacking four on the counter attack. The varied tactics resulted in consecutive clean sheets and six points.
“At this point we have early on the season had a proposal of mixing things up refresh and see if we can have different looks so we aren’t so predictable. The players are doing a great job on that part,” head coach Oscar Pareja said. “Those tactics are helping us just to see different ways to hurt teams and different ways to prepare the team, and in that equation the players [all] get evaluated and they all feel like they get a chance [to be part of the lineup] and that is helping us.”
Pareja doesn’t have to look far a recipe to dismantle NYCFC after their first loss of the year on Sunday in Portland. The Timbers played a compact 4-4-1-1 at home and took just 25.5 percent possession across 90 minutes, the second-lowest such total in an MLS match this season. In fact, three of the ten lowest possession totals on the year have come from teams playing NYCFC. They account for two of their three non-wins on the year. Against the Timbers, New York City took 13 shots, but eight of them came from at least 20 yards away.
“They definitely like to play a lot out of the back,” Ulloa said of NYCFC’s style. “Our team mentality is if we can keep the four in the back and the two [midfielders] in our shape at all times, especially in transition when we are defending. As long as we keep that zero and that formation we know that we’ve got strength in numbers.”
It’s a very similar tactic to the one Dallas deployed against New England, where they took just 36.7 percent of possession - the 12th lowest such number in 2018.
As FCD gets set to head to Yankee Stadium for its clash against the best in the east, their game plan for each opponent takes on a different dynamic, though - one also centered around much less space on a smaller field.
“The field is going to be really small, but [Oscar] drew lines on the training ground of the same size of the field, so we would get used to the distance,” defender Reto Ziegler said, noting his lone experience on a baseball-turned-soccer field at New York’s other MLB stadium while on preseason with Juventus in 2011. “It’s a strange feeling. On one hand, you have to run a bit less to score a goal but its also more dangerous to take a goal because, especially for long distance shots, it’s shorter so you have to be really compact and concentrate.”