FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake – Game Summary

What do you do if you’re heading into the second leg of a match up against a team that is nearly undefeatable at home? Like a great general, a wise manager looks to the battles of history for guidance. In the case of Schellas Hyndman heading into Salt Lake, he didn’t have to look too far in to history to find a precedent—Inter Milan’s defeat of Barca in the Champions league last year (in which the second leg was played at the Camp Nou) was a perfect parallel, and lesson, for FC Dallas to take into the Rio Tinto. Mourinho’s Inter, just like Dallas, went into the second leg with a goal advantage, and that made all the difference. And we promise not to brag about our spot-on prediction of this game.

First Half

Hyndman didn’t quite “park the bus” in front of the net (that’s how Mourinho described his strategy against Barca last year), but he did institute what he calls a “level 2 defense.” I haven’t seen his playbook, but based on the first half, these seem to be the rules:

  • When not in possession, pack into a tight 4-5-1 (think Edu’s Rangers). Don’t pressure the opposition until they reach the half line—force the RSL backline and their play maker Beckerman to play into the crowded midfield where play is easier to break up and turnover.
  • Fullbacks are forbidden from their normal forays up the line. Play 110% defense. When you are challenged, either push extremely wide and force a cross into a crowded box, or push them into the traffic-jammed midfield for reasons described above.
  • In the case of a turnover in the midfield or a short string of possession, switch into a 4-1-2-3 and counter like your hair’s on fire, mainly from the wing.

FCD's "level 2" defense in the 1st half included an aggressive counter attack.

If indeed these are close to Hyndman’s instructions, Dallas executed them beautifully, both offensively (it was a 17th minute counter that produced the goal) and defensively. Fullbacks Jackson and Benitez hardly crossed the halfline, Shea played like a second fullback on the left wing (except when in counter mode) and even Ferreira stayed packed into his midfield—a huge contrast to his normal open range roaming. RSL’s 4-3-1-2 had trouble managing the packed midfield, and eventually resorted to searching—and occasionally very dangerous—crosses.

If there were any bright spots for RSL they were Beckerman’s vision in trying to overcome the midfield frustrations with some creativity and Olave’s (named defender of the year) complete shutdown of Cunningham.

Second Half

If the first half represented “level 2 defense” for Dallas then the second seemed to evolve (or should we say devolve) into “level 3.” The instructions for that one are simple: keep the ball in front of you, and when you get it, kick it as hard as you can. Sounds elementary, right? Hyndman will likely come under the same criticism Mourinho did. On the surface it’s easy to criticize a team for abandoning it’s entire philosophy—Barcelona is known to NEVER resort to kickball, for example, even in the most dire circumstances. On the other hand, can we not praise the vision of a manager who demonstrates the flexibility to adapt to the moment?

Before we get too philosophical, though, let’s talk about how RSL also abandoned their style somewhat in their desperate push for the 2 goals they needed to go even on aggregate. It wasn’t pretty play, but the raw speed of Findley (2nd half sub in) who began to breakdown the Dallas wall like a Tazmanian Devil. It was yet another case of a USMNT World Cupper finishing in a way we wish we would have seen in South Africa when he put RSL even with a nice tap past Hartman.

RSL pressed hard, crashed the Dallas 18, and did everything right. They DID break through the Dallas defenses repeatedly. The one thing they couldn’t get past more than once, however, were the angels sitting on Kevin Hartman’s shoulders. The FCD keeper had the game of his life, making save after miraculous save. It was the kind of performance a coach can’t plan for, and it won’t show up in formations or in strategy talks.

Every Goliath has its David…

…and in the case of defending champions RSL their David is a short Colombian with braces, a Messi-like center of gravity, an incredible touch, and a tremendous work rate. Did I forget to mention him above? Well, if you’d like just insert his name into every sentence, because he was the seen and unseen inspiration in Dallas’ performance and the key ingredient in Hyndman’s strategy. Midfielder David Ferreira is a difference-maker, and if FCD are to advance to the MLS final, they’ll need more intelligent managing, world class goal-keeping and a little David who keeps playing like a giant.

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    Yesterday’s match (and the Inter/Barca gam) reminded me of the USA/Brazil Confed Cup final. The main difference last night was that Salt Lake didn’t have Kaka and Luis Fabiano.

    My only beef with Ferreira last night was on Findley’s goal. He was the only defender not paying attention to the line and he ended up playing Findley onside.

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