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.
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 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?