How a Tactical Shift and Three-Goal Comeback Helped FC Dallas Balance Attack with Defense

FRISCO, Texas – At the beginning of August, FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez was looking for a solution to his team’s scoring troubles; Dallas had been shutout in three of the last four games. Believing to have solved it, Gonzalez debuted a new-look lineup against Minnesota United. Jesús Ferreira, the club’s leading scorer, had been moved from his preferred center forward position into the midfield to accommodate an extra attacker.

Gonzalez also believed the 18-year-old Ferreira would add extra creativity in midfield, relieving an overburdened Paxton Pomykal of some of his playmaking duties.

“He’s very good at getting in pockets [of space] and helping us in build play,” Gonzalez said of Ferreira. “Him being in the midfield has helped in our build, getting in positions behind the opposition’s midfield, to help us either switch the ball, penetrate, combine, find a combination before the last line.”

The coach’s solution worked. The extra attacker – enabled by Ferreira’s move into midfield – helped Dallas to its best offensive showing since 2017, a 5-3 home win over Minnesota on Aug. 10.

“We wanted to be aggressive, we wanted to get numbers in the box, I felt we did that,” Gonzalez said after the game. “We also conceded more than we would like but it was great to see the boys refuse to lose and keep pushing until the end and win the game.”

Although the offense was ticking, there were signs that FCD’s typically air-tight defense was beginning to leak.

FC Dallas’ next opponent was Zlatan Ibahimovic’s LA Galaxy. And while Dallas out-shot the Galaxy 15 to 11, a counterattack goal and a penalty – both dispatched by Zlatan – condemned Dallas to defeat.

Despite the loss, it was clear that Gonzalez’s more attack-minded midfield was producing better chances, more opportunities and goals; but it did so at the cost of its stellar defensive record.

“I think it’s about finding a balance (between offense and defense) so we can be one of the more dangerous team in the league,” defender Reggie Cannon said. “We can be strong defensively but also be very dominant in the final third. I think it’s going to be very tough to find that balance, but I think this team is shifting in the right direction.”

Cannon’s prediction proved true. Dallas did find it tough to balance offense and defense, conceding three goals in 55 minutes to Montreal Impact in its next match – with the second goal stemming from a giveaway by Jesus Ferreira in his own defensive half.

It seemed Luchi Gonzalez’s midfield experiment had taken the team from one extreme to the other.

But something changed during the second half in Montreal. Three goals down with 30 minutes remaining, Dallas went all out, and managed to pull off an improbable three-goal comeback to salvage a point. It was only the 15th time in MLS history that a team had come back from a three-goal deficit.

Dallas carried that second half momentum into its biggest game of the season: A must-win Texas Derby with Houston Dynamo, played in front of a backdrop of intrastate rivalry mixed with playoff implication at Toyota Stadium.

Gonzalez stuck to his guns, keeping Ferreira in midfield to save room for an extra attacker—this time Czech forward Zdeněk Ondrášek. The coach’s faith in his team – and moreover his philosophy – was repaid in full. Dallas dominated the Dynamo, winning 5-1, and limiting them to four shots on goal over 90 minutes.

Ferreira, the symbol of Gonzalez’s late-season tactical change, was stellar on the night. The teenager repeatedly terrorized the Dynamo defense with quick, decisive forward runs from midfield—the highlight of which resulted in a brilliant solo goal and an MLS Team of the Week inclusion.

Seemingly, a combination of Gonzalez’s new midfield and the belief instilled by the Montreal comeback had enabled FC Dallas to balance offense with defense. Now, FC Dallas’ playoff hopes lie in their ability to maintain that delicate balance.

“We spoke about Montreal, the second half being a reference,” Gonzalez said after the Texas Derby. “It’s a reference for us. In this season, we are going to talk about the Montreal second half, we are going to remind ourselves to visualize what it took to get back into the game. The energy, the pressure, we needed to press, we needed to be together, we needed to commit numbers forward, we needed to have urgency. We can use it as a catalyst in this push at the end of the season.”