The headline’s a tad harsh, to be fair.
No one saw Portland’s goal coming. Not Schellas Hyndman. Certainly not John Spencer (he was giving a TV interview at that exact moment). Definitely not Darlington Nagbe, the eventual goalscorer, who found a gift-wrapped back pass via Daniel Hernandez (if we can even call it that) inside the Dallas 18 yard box in the 51st minute.
Was there much of a game beforehand? Absolutely. Dallas had the upper hand, controlling possession and creating more chances in the attacking third against a profligate Portland. Balls moved fluidly, even with the notable absences of Ferreira, Shea, and Castillo from the starting lineup, from side to side, into Blas Perez, and then back out wide. The patterns of play didn’t vary too much from Dallas in the first half, but they didn’t have to be: Portland simply had no defensive answer to FCD’s possession (aside from chopping down Ricardo Villar repeatedly. Timbers pun #1. You’re welcome). Zack Loyd and Jair Benitez played well on both sides of the ball, and really took away time and space for Portland’s wings. Ricardo Villar was very active, and pushed high often, almost becoming a second forward alongside Perez. He’s certainly stepped his game up this year; perhaps that has to do with the looming return of David Ferreira. Anyhow, Dallas attacked well and dominated possession in the first, and Portland simply wasn’t able to answer in a concrete manner.
Much of Portland’s attack was filtered wide, as the midfield triangle of Villar-Hernandez-Jacobson crowded Jewsbury and Chara out. This still played into Portland’s hands, as they’d proven in week one that attacking from the flanks and putting the ball into the more-than-capable feet and head of Kris Boyd could give Portland some type of competitive edge. That was not the case, however, during the first half in Frisco on Saturday night. Pertuz and Ihemelu were more than up to the task in neutralizing the SPL’s all-time leading goalscorer. Aside from a header that clanged off the far post midway through the first half, Portland’s quality chances were few and far between.
Portland’s center backs were exposed on Dallas’ goal, but let’s give a bit of credit to Rodriguez for the long, looping, positively-angled cross in the first place. This ball crossed the paths of BOTH of Portland’s center backs and outside back Wallace, into the path of FCD academy product Brian Leyva, who rifled a low, first-time volley to the near post. If Wallace had put merely an ear on that ball or nodded it out for a Dallas corner the situation could have been easily averted for Portland. However, Leyva’s volley was parried away by Troy Perkins and into the path of Blas Perez for an easy tap-in.
Perez’s goal took tons of steam out of the Portland attack, which lacked ambition going forward really up until the 51st minute. At half time Hyndman took off Leyva, who had a solid MLS debut, and replaced him with George John. You see where this is going? Dallas bunkered. Jair Benitez and Carlos Rodriguez, two defensively-minded players, held the wings, and George John was added to the back line alongside Loyd, Ihemelu, and Pertuz (who was pushed out to left back). Dallas was certainly hoping to ride the one goal lead out from this point on, as there wasn’t much intent to go forward from the start of the second half. It was a fairly conservative approach, especially with Hernandez holding very deep in front of the back line.
Oh, yeah: Portland’s goal. All that really needs to be said about the goal is that FOUR things had to happen to create it, and THREE of those were errors on Dallas’ behalf. One, Ihemelu had to drop the bouncing ball to Hartman. Two, Nagbe had to pressure the dropped ball. Three, Hartman had to blast it skyward to the top of the 18. Four, Hernandez had to take a horrific touch that put the ball back into the path of Nagbe, who tapped it in.
The goal gave Portland some confidence and willingness to move forward. Still, their attack in the second half was just as one dimensional as in the first, knocking the ball long into Perlaza and Boyd, the targets dropping the ball into the path of center midfielders Jewsbury and Chara, and then the ball spraying out wide to Alexander and Alhassan, only to be served back into the center. It also allowed Portland to bunker, as they packed the 18 yard box with numbers and tried to break on the counter intermittently.
Dallas did press onward, trying to nab a late go-ahead goal. Still, the overly-conservative approach from Hyndman was its Achilles’ heel in the end. This was a game that a Castillo, Shea, or Ferreira could’ve made all the difference in the world. I’m still in the dark as to why Andrew Wiedeman went unused, or even the newly-acquired Perea. In the final third the boys in red were simply unable to break Portland, due to a tightly-packed Timbers defense and lack of creativity. FCD seemed to only be attacking with four men by the end of the match, as Jacobson and Hernandez held deep even further. The conservative approach from both clubs during the second half, albeit they started at different times, proved to kill any notion of attacking soccer throughout most of the second half.
I’ll try to be a bit fair and put things in perspective. At this point last year, that being after the first two games (which were both at home), FCD only had a singular point. They now have four in 2012 against better competition than theyfaced last year (Chicago, San Jose). Nothing to despair about here. With the absences of Castillo, Shea, and Ferreira a 1-0 victory would have been superb, but FCD can be content with the draw. Simply put: it was a fluke goal.
Spots of trouble: FCD’s depth and national duty(-ies).
Brek Shea and Carlos Rodriguez (as of today, 3/19) will both be preoccupied with Olympic U-23 qualifying duties for the US and Panama, respectively, for the coming months. Fabian Castillo’s knee knock is hopefully nothing too serious, but will certainly be a pertinent issue as Dallas faces Sporting KC away next week. Hyndman will have to delve deeper into his bench to cover the gaps. I think it would be easy to guess that George John could start the next match, given the attacking prowess and formation (4-3-3) currently maintained at Sporting Kansas City. To sum it up: the coming two months could be very difficult for Dallas with key members out.
FCD will have to dig deep against a rampant Kansas City this weekend. A draw away would be very fair. I still think a 4-1-4-1 will be the way to go, as outnumbering the KC midfield may stunt any service to the front three, along with the presence of George John in the back line. Maybe we’ll see some last-gasp heroics as we did last season away at KC (you’re a legend, Bobby Warshaw).
(image courtesy of fcdallas.com)