FRISCO - It was a big win in Atlanta for FC Dallas on Saturday, but what can the team take from the match going forward?
Saturday was the first time we’ve seen Luchi Gonzalez move away from the 4-3-3 that he’s used in every match to date this season.
Instead going with someone from the rotation of players we’ve seen over the last month on the left wing without a true breakout performance (Santiago Mosquera and Pablo Aranguiz, along with the injured Dominique Badji and Thomas Roberts), the head coach decided to add Bressan to his back line and free up Ryan Hollingshead and Reggie Cannon on the flanks. In the past, Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler have covered a lot of ground and been the sole reason Dallas has able to play such an aggressive style with their full backs. Adding an extra center back to the mix against a talented Atlanta front line proved crucial.
For nearly the entire first half, Atlanta held over 70 percent of the ball, but Dallas’ ability to stay compact and take up the middle of the field kept Atlanta on the exterior and away from danger. Even as the home side started pushing the game a little more in the second half, they couldn’t crack FCD’s shape more than a handful of times. Just look at the island of space surrounding FCD's own 18-yard box. For a team with over 70 percent of possession, Atlanta had almost none of it in the final 25 yards of the field.
What FCD sacrificed in ability to hold the ball further up the field, they made up for in coverage defensively. The extra space up top for Dallas freed up Michael Barrios and Jesus Ferreira to run into space as they please, using their speed and movement to capitalize when the visitors did move the ball to them. With 243 passes total in the game - the fewest of any team in a match to date this season - Dallas was able to make the most of their infrequent chances.
Badji should be back and fit for the weekend’s home game against San Jose, and would figure to slot back into the left wing role where he saw perhaps his best game of the season against Colorado, but Saturday’s win showcased yet another layer of tactical versatility from Luchi Gonzalez to get a result against the reigning MLS Cup champs.
On both of Dallas’ goals this weekend, it was Michael Barrios with a long run and a perfect pass on the set up. With his third and fourth assists on the year, the speedy winger continues to be a quiet hero in the Dallas attack.
Of the 14 goals FCD has scored this season, Barrios has scored, assisted or played a direct role in the build up on eight of them. He’s been the one consistent player in the front half of the Dallas formation this season, starting every match among a slew of changes around him.
With 16 total passes, second to only Jesus Ferreira for the lowest of any starter in the match, Barrios registered a key pass on 25 percent of his chances - two assists and two passes leading directly to a scoring chance. Enduring long stretches without touching the ball, to be able to play passes effectively on the few touches he did get was vital for Dallas’ three-point performance.
Barrios' successful passes vs. Atlanta
In his last 22 games, Barrios has eight goals and nine assists to his name. As he goes, FC Dallas’ offense has usually followed.
BIG AT THE BACK
Jesse Gonzalez far and away played his best game of 2019 in Atlanta, making a season-high seven saves - the third-highest regular season mark of his career (9 at TOR - 5/25/18, 8 at ATL - 9/10/17).
The Homegrown’s ability as a pure shot stopper has been the biggest asset of his game since he burst onto the scene in 2015, and in big moments he can deliver a big performance just like he did on Saturday. It’s the type of game he thrives on.
“It was just the environment. I love playing in these types of environments,” he said after the match. “Not only me, but the team did a great job. We did what we trained throughout the whole week and I think it gave us the result.”
If not for a Josef Martinez PK in stoppage time, Gonzalez would’ve picked up his second shutout of the season and would’ve earned every ounce of it with his heroics late as the home side threw the kitchen sink at FCD in the final 10 minutes. It’s no surprise why he’s up for Player of the Week.
The area of his game that Dallas has been working on this season is in possession - both footwork that is so crucial to the possession-based style Luchi Gonzalez wants to play and in decision making, largely tied into the footwork aspect. If he can continue to make the progress there that we’ve seen this season, he can elevate his game to one of the best keepers in MLS on a consistent basis.