Frisco may as well be in France’s Alsace-Lorraine, or the Somme for that matter (circa 1916), as Hyndman’s squad have yet to take or give any ground at home in two weeks. Wednesday night’s latest impasse wasn’t supposed to go as such; it was heralded as an auspicious, pivotal moment to reverse FCD’s fortunes in 2012. It did start off brilliantly, however.
Zach Loyd’s diving header in the 5th minute took the team to a reminiscent early lead, as the side had in the home opener against New York. Jackson started the play after collecting a poor clearance 35 yards from the Toronto net. His ball lobbed towards the back post met the head of Andrew Jacobson, who nodded it across the face of goal and into Zach Loyd, as he steamed through TFC’s back line. For a moment fans, the bench, and the starting 11 exuded confidence on the pitch, albeit shortlived.
Positively speaking, there were a few bright moments in the match, especially the first half hour. Despite the infrequency of successful take-ons in the second half, Fabian Castillo lit up former FCD right back Jeremy Hall on four occasions in the first half, two of those resulting in penetration inside the six-yard box. Brek Shea, played somewhat ineffectively out of position, had brief moments of brilliance. Dallas’ attack did not hold back against Toronto early on, even if it was a little stunted due to passing miscues and poor possession in the final third.
Toronto did respond, and did not back down, to their own credit. If nothing else, Koeverman’s equalizer displayed the fragility of Dallas’ confidence and current frustration. Castillo’s response a minute after Toronto’s goal clanged off the crossbar. The play building up to Castillo’s attempt was the best build and sequence of passing for Dallas in the match – and it came 33 minutes into the game.
An MVP Returns
The two chances Dallas created in the second half were its only. Both were blocked, but both were fairly promising sequences with Shea, Castillo, and Ferreira all involved. El Torito’s return in the second half was outstanding, if nothing else. Fans instantly stood in attention and applause, ringing in a man who has endured a lot of frustration and pain just to return to the pitch in Frisco.
Ferreira’s impact was the immediate and the brightest part of the second half. No one in a blue jersey had, or has, the ability to unlock a defense quite like him. Did he shy from a few tackles? Sure he did; it’s only natural after a leg injury, and defense has never been his strong suit. But his presence on the field brought confidence to a Dallas side that briefly looked like they wanted to put the ball on the floor and try to outplay the visiting Canadians.
Dallas struggled, in contrast, for the last 20 minutes to create anything dangerous. Ferreira’s impact still continued, as his forward passing and attacking mentality continued to be as refreshing as ever. Toronto had one last final chance in the 84th minute that was denied by a flying Kevin Hartman; it was arguably the best chance in the half for either side. At least Hartman could savor a game-saving stop if not a shutout, or victory for that matter, in his record-making 400th MLS appearance.
Dallas’ inefficacy in the scoring column (FCD haven’t scored two goals in a game since the Montreal match in late April) is due to a couple of factors. For one, the team builds too slowly out of the back. Once the ball is at the feet of Hedges and Pertuz there is a reluctance to flush the ball to the wings and get moving quickly. This was evermore a fact last night.
Secondly, once any type of attack has been mounted the chance of Dallas creating chances or keeping the ball is minimal: FCD only averaged a 50% pass completion rate in the final third last night, and only attempted 36 passes in the final third (this excludes balls lobbed into the final third). Most victorious sides over the past month in MLS attempt upwards of 80 or so passes in the final third with a completion rate in the mid sixties. Dallas hasn’t scratched that but on a few occasions: last night was certainly not one of them.
Go a step further. Dallas’ attempted 38 balls into the final third (only two more passes than those attempted within the final third). These would be balls coming from anywhere throughout the midfield and defense, which are typically areas of higher possession and less pressure than upon the back line and in the opposition penalty area. FCD attempted 38 and completed 19 of these passes – an identical percentage to the passes played within the final third – 50%.
The best performers in the final third are easy to spot: Brek Shea, David Ferreira (finally), Fabian Castillo, Jackson, etc. These are all players that should be: they play up the pitch. The rest of the cast and crew, who generally will attempt more passes from the middle and defensive thirds, into the final third, are easily as culpable. Ferreira, Jackson, Castillo, and Hernandez had the highest accuracy rates of balls sent into the final third. These are all attacking players coming back to further the attack forward, which is nothing out of the ordinary (save Hernandez). However, their percentages are far better than their defensive counterparts, save Carlos Rodriguez (accuracy of balls into final third: 66%). The rest of the defense, combined with Rodriguez, only managed a 38% rate of accuracy (6 completed out of 16 attempted).
Some Added Meaning
This brings us to a couple of conclusions. For one, a majority of FCD’s possession is along the back line and at midfield. That is not uncommon. However, a vast majority of its possession takes place in the less dangerous areas rather than the more dangerous areas on the pitch. FCD simply does not move the ball forward with any accuracy, or attempt to at a great rate. Again, most victorious sides over the past month in MLS attempt roughly 80 or so passes within the final third, completing on average 62% of those. It is evident that Dallas falls short of both of those marks.
Secondly, we can conclude that a lack of accuracy in the final third will minimize goal scoring opportunities, and offhandedly affect shots taken in terms of quality and quantity. Poor offensive performances like last night’s are easily comparable to better ones, or perhaps the best of the year: the game at Houston. Certainly, it was only 65 minutes of a real match due to Benitez’s sending off. Yet the team completed 72% of its passes in the final third that game, and its attacking was far superior to any that we’ve witnessed this year.
Frustration set in ages ago in Frisco – if victory remains elusive against San Jose on Saturday expect a very volatile situation. Twelve matches without a victory is enough to endure. Statistically speaking, Dallas is one of the worst performing teams in the league in terms of passes completed in the final third, passes attempted overall, and passing accuracy coming out of the back. Victory will still go unfound without an improvement in attacking play and sheer ball retention. Much of the poor passing and attacking displays have certainly been contingent upon personnel available, to be fair. But with important starters like Castillo, Jackson, Shea (who, yes, was out of position), and Ferreira finally taking the field an increase, if anything, should have been expected. For now Hyndman’s team will have to focus its efforts on a robust match against conference-leading San Jose this weekend.
(image courtesy of fcdallas.com)