Tactics Tuesday: FC Dallas’ 4-1-3-1-1

So this was going to be an article about how FC Dallas has adjusted to the loss of reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira. But in their first match without Ferreira, Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy, manager Schellas Hyndman didn’t make any major changes to his traditional formation, a 4-1-3-1-1. He simply stuck Eric Avila into Ferreira’s position and hoped his team would hold firm.

Consequently, we’re going to detail how Hyndman has crafted what may be MLS’ most unique attack.

A unique formation

While no club team replicates Barcelona’s intricate tiki-taka passing game, FC Dallas sometimes has personnel in relatively similar positions. Hyndman’s squad, like Pep Guardiola’s, makes use of adventurous fullbacks and a deep-lying holding midfielder.

A typical FC Dallas formation in 2011

The positioning of those three players (Daniel Hernandez, Jackson, and Jair Benitez) causes the formation to look like a 2-3-3-1-1 when the Hoops have possession. Holding midfielder Hernandez operates in the Busquets role, rarely venturing far afield of center backs George John and Ugo Ihemelu. He thus allows John and Ihemelu to cover for the fullbacks without compromising the entire backline.

Dallas, though, contrasts quite highly with Barcelona in terms of their directness of play. Barcelona passes to defend as well as to attack. They methodically, some might say boringly, spread the ball around as they slowly work their way towards goal. Dallas gets the ball to their playmakers’ feet and they go, go, go.

Dallas plays as direct as possible without resorting to unceasing long balls. The wingers – usually Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez – start on their natural flanks but switch sides throughout the match, forcing the opposition to defend against inverted wingers. Once they get the ball, they either push into the middle or fly towards the endline, with the fullbacks coming behind in support.

The vertical alignment of the central midfielders (black) allows FC Dallas to easily make passing triangles.

The outside midfielders couldn’t provide such a direct threat if the central midfielders weren’t pulling the strings. Unlike most formations that use 5 midfielders, Dallas plays 3 central midfielders in a vertical line, instead of a horizontal line of 3 (a traditional 4-5-1) or one line of two behind a more creative option (4-2-3-1).

Their vertical alignment can cause problems defensively – as LA proved on Sunday by moving Landon Donovan into the middle – but it does allow Dallas to quickly form triangles. Each midfielder always has at least one immediate outlet, and usually two, if he dribbles into trouble.

A couple concessions to Ferreira’s absence

Hyndman might not have made sweeping changes against LA, but he did reveal two new facets to his strategy. Without the composed Ferreira to help maintain possession, he instructed the fullbacks to be less adventurous with their runs. LA’s dangerous wingers Landon Donovan and Mike Magee probably had something to do with their reticence, so it will be intriguing to see if the fullbacks, without Ferreira’s calming influence, ever revert to their almost 100% attack-minded ways.

Additionally, teenage striker Fabian Castillo moved from flank to flank. Galaxy center backs AJ DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez were often left without anyone to directly mark. Castillo kept inching toward the touchline, forcing LA’s fullbacks to take their turn marking the dangerous youngster.

And when Brek Shea or Marvin Chavez moved into the middle, the Galaxy defenders had to perform Musical Chairs defending. The constant switching took its toll. Castillo created two scoring opportunities from wide positions. Unfortunately, his teammates failed to take advantage.

Both of these changes – hesitant fullbacks and a striker operating in wide positions – could easily have been implemented when Ferreira was on the pitch. So it’s still not clear what adjustments Hyndman will ultimately make. If Eric Avila continues to do a decent job in Ferreira’s place, Dallas’ esteemed manager might keep his formation as is.

Gringos, do you think Hyndman needs to shake things up? Or can he stay pat and trust his backups to replicate Ferreira’s productivity?

4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. AdamFromMich says:

    I only watched a little of the Dallas-LA game (50th to 80th minute), but I think the weather made it difficult to judge how successful Dallas were without Ferreira. I saw a lot of sloppy passing by both teams, which isn’t surprising considering the rain. Dallas got the win, and that’s the most important measure of success, but I’m not sure this was a ‘tactical’ victory. I think we’ll have a better idea of Hyndman’s plans after their next game.

    Great article by the way. I’m not trying to contradict anything you wrote, just pointing out that the weather was a factor.

  2. Dave says:

    Great article: MLS ratings would double if this was presented as well in the pre-geam show, and developed throughout the telecast.

    Know more about the game; enjoy more about the game.

    • AdamFromMich says:

      I missed the start of the game, so I need to ask: Did they present Dallas’ formation accurately when they introduced the line-ups? I’m assuming they showed some kind of formation diagram for each team when they introduced the starting line-ups.

  3. buelerfromDallas says:

    At was at the game and Dallas was playing well with the flanks, however, Avila was missing on the correct pass and held on to the ball. Ultimately for Dallas to succeed they need Avila to play faster and I am not sure he can. That is why is better as a supersub because when he comes in the players are already tired.

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