Cowboys, Who Are the Cowboys?

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 14: David Ferreira  of FC Dallas celebrates with his teammates as he hoists the Western Conference Champion trophy after they defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals of the MLS playoffs at The Home Depot Center on November 14, 2010 in Carson, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Very few picked them to win, most gave them hope for a respectful fight, but none predicted the 3-0 rout FC Dallas would inflict on the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center Sunday night. A confluence of factors contributed to this remarkable win for the Dallas franchise. Let’s break down the key areas.

1st Half

In terms of formation, LA’s 4-4-2 vs. Dallas’ 4-1-3-1-1 (to be practical, let’s call it a 4-1-4-1 because Ferreira is so hard to place) gave Dallas numbers in the midfield. FFG warned in our match preview that if LA wingers Donovan and Beckham stayed wide and didn’t support Juninho and Kovalenko in the middle, Ferreira and the Dallas midfield could take control of that crucial zone. LA’s confident use of two strikers (Buddle and Magee) meant they were willing to concede midfield possession—either that or they completely underestimated just how quick and tenacious Ferreira, McCarty and Chavez can be, especially with support from Shea and Hernandez.

There were a few crucial “zones of contention” that turned out to be key. Although each is more complicated than a one vs. one description, we will use player matchups to highlight the tensions on those parts of the pitch.

A few matchups determined the course of the match (and Hartman - he was glorious).

Donovan vs. Jackson

Donovan came out pressing aggressively along the left flank, showing a willingness to take on the speedy and versatile right back Jackson. The battle was physical and nearly escalated in the opening minutes with a hard tackle in the corner after which Donovan performed some macho posturing and chesting into Jackson. Really, Landon? You haven’t been doing THAT many bench presses. For the most part, Jackson was able to contain Donovan, but Landon did succeed in getting behind him on a few occasions. When he did, however, he was thwarted by the remarkable hands of keeper Kevin Hartman.

Since Donovan did have a couple good looks, though, we’ll give that battle to LA.

Buddle vs. Hernandez

In reality, this battle was more like a brawl of Buddle/Magee vs Hernandez/John/Ihemulu, but these two make good focal points. Dallas plays Hernandez as a defensive holding midfielder just above the backline. If he were a little more mobile you might call him a sweeper or “centre half” in the vein of Sergio Busquets, Let’s call him the personal bouncer for the Dallas center backs. You wanna see them, you go through him. Like a bouncer, Hernandez uses physical presence as a tactical intimidation, and Buddle apparently hadn’t bribed the right people to pass. This one also nearly escalated when a frustrated Buddle sent a wild elbow into the face of Hernandez, but essentially Buddle was completely neutralized. He couldn’t get through, he couldn’t sneak behind. He probably should have dropped to do more linking with the stranded Juninho, but he didn’t.

This battle goes to Dallas.

Kovalenko vs. Ferreira

If Juninho is intended as LA’s silky playmaker, then Kovalenko must have been wearing the hat of destroyer—his job being to break up the antics of the elusive Ferreira. The problem was he was completely outnumbered. Ferreira always had a teammate in close proximity for outlets and triangles. Like his teammates from the other zones of contention, Kovalenko gave in to frustration and earned himself a yellow card. This, of course, made him an attractive target for the swirling “Hoops” (FC Dallas’ nickname) who could practically taste a forthcoming red card. Kovalenko was subbed out in the 2nd before that could happen, but the first goal—in which Harris, Chavez and Ferreira practically had time for a nap at the edge of the LA 18, clearly tells us the result of this one.

Point Dallas.

Beckham vs. Beckham

After a couple of aggressive runs forward early in the half, Beckham seemed to withdraw from the match, hanging out just above right back Franklin. ESPN commentators suggested a slight limp could be detected, and one almost expected him not to return after the interval. Whatever the case, he wasn’t on frequency with his forwards on his long balls and he hardly gave Shea much defending to do on that flank. Beckham’s set piece and long ball accuracy were a source of worry for Hyndman going into the match, but he didn’t have too many of the former and was completely off on the latter.

Gonzalez/DeLaGarza vs. Harris

An extremely interesting tactical decision by Schellas Hyndman was to play Atiba Harris as the lone striker in place of Cunningham. Frankly, I don’t think he was expected to score; rather, his job was to use his physical size to get in the hair of the LA center backs. His inexperience as a lone striker/target man was evident throughout, but by staying high and not dropping as a “false nine,” he kept Gonzalez and DeLaGarza back, leaving even more space for Ferreira and the rest of the midfield.

Considering the overall lackluster performance by the LA center backs, we’ll give this one to Dallas, too.

2nd Half

Each of these zones of contention evolved in the 2nd half as coaches made adjustments, but they still formed the basis for much of the dynamic. When Arena moved Donovan to the middle, he seemed to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle. Beckham seemed to overcome whatever had kept him back in the 1st half and push higher, and he did display one last glorious free kick that would have scored on a mortal keeper, but not on Hartman.

In Hollywood, the Good Guys Always Win

More than most MLS matches, this game was a chess-like battle of strategy between two intelligent managers. In the end, Arena’s failure to adapt his formation to account for the dangerous spark of Ferreira cost LA dearly—that very spark lit the Galaxy’s season into flames. Hyndman has proven that a long-term vision, some ingenuity, discipline, and a lot of heart can take you as far—or farther—than designated players and big budgets.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    Great breakdown, Ben.

    The only piece I’d add is that Magee added nothing when he dropped into the midfield. Hernandez would pick him up, one of the center backs would shift to Buddle, and McCarty would take on Juninho.

    I also can’t emphasize how terrible Donovan was in the middle. I think there was a 20 minute stretch where he didn’t touch the ball.

  2. bensten says:

    Nice point on Magee. An analysis on his game would be interesting. You also mention the Juninho/Mcarty dynamic, which would have been the next “zone of contention” with more time.

    I didn’t mention it in the writeup, but I was also surprised with how little the veteran Eddie Lewis was involved.

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