Image: Melanie G. Isbell (El Matador's March to the Stadium)
After a disappointing trip to San Jose, FC Dallas returned to the pitch hungry for a win. The home opener against Colorado ended with a 0-0 draw, the San Jose saw a single goal from Pepi to get Dallas on the scoreboard in a 1-3 loss, in this game, the flood gates opened and Dallas scored 4 very impressive goals. Ricaurte led the offense in their best performance of the season so far, Phelipe got a stat that is rarely seen in goalkeepers, Vargas made a corner meaningful, and a young homegrown finally scored his first MLS goal.
The Return of Smoke-
Not only did the offense return, another staple of Toyota Stadium made its appearance as well. For the first time in several years, diehard supporter group, El Matador, was allowed to bring smoke around and in the stadium. The red and blue flares, alongside the familiar chants that echoed throughout Toyota Stadium, made it a special night for both players and fans.
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (The Rhine, FC Dallas Supporter's Section)
El Matador president Luis Dollar was ecstatic about the return of smoke in the March to the Stadium and the new supporter's section, the Rhine.
"Smoke returning to the March is bringing back one of the core elements of our group. It's been about four years (since smoke was seen in stadium)." -Luis Dollar
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (El Matador marches on)
Return of the 4-3-3-
Last night's win saw the return of Dallas' traditional 4-3-3. The addition of a third midfielder gave Dallas a fourth attacker to help push the Portland defense and open up space for Pepi, Obrian, and Vargas. Tessman and Acosta were able defend by keeping play in the midfield. Hollingshead and Munjoma once again had the freedom to run up the field and flood Portland's box with the Dallas attack.
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (FC Dallas celebrates after Ricaurte's goal)
(The lineup used in the FCDvsPor game 05/01/21)
In addition to a return of the 4-3-3, there were four key changes in the starting 11. Due to Jimmy Maurer suffering an injury at San Jose, young goalie Phelipe had his first start of the year. The absence of a third defender opened up a third midfield spot, which was taken up by Ricaurte. Munjoma replaced Johnny Nelson, allowing Ryan Hollingshead to slot over to the left. Jara was regulated to the bench in favor of an in-form Ricardo Pepi.
Luchi used the current maximum of 5 subs. Johnny Nelson, Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo, Franco Jara, and Dante Sealy all came into the game with Eddie Munjoma, Freddy Vargas, Tanner Tessman, Ricardo Pepi, and Jader Obrian coming off.
Dallas now have 5 goals in the season, which gives them a plus 2 in goal difference. Ricaurte opened his account in just the 2nd minute, showing supporters why he's called El Mago. Obrian and Phelipe earned their first goal and assist respectively, Bressan coverted a Vargas corner giving supporters hope that Dallas will once again be deadly in deadball situations, and young Dante Sealy scored his first MLS goal in front of El Matador and the Dallas Beer Guardians.
Ricaurte was first to score. A long pass to Ryan Hollingshead and passing between him and another player, allowed Hollingshead to find Ricaurte and cross it into his path. It showed a real connection between everyone on the team and showed a return to the enjoyable to watch "Luchi ball". The goal was the result of at least four different players, all in unison with each other.
The second came from both goalkeeper Phelipe and newcomer Jader Obrian.
Phelipe booted the ball towards the midfield. Obrian, alone at the top, takes off sprinting after the ball, outrunning three Portland defenders. A fourth defender tries to chase him to no avail. Nearing the Portland keeper in a one-on-one situation, Obrian chips it just above the goalie and it hit the back of the net!
Obrian's joy was immediately apparent. He ran over to the supporters, pointing to them to thank them for the support he's been given so far in Dallas. His celebration pumped up an already ecstatic crowd. Quickly Obrian is enduring himself to the supporters, in a fashion similar to Michael Barrios, Maxi Urruti, and Fabian Castillo before him.
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (Jader Obrian celebrating his 1st goal for FC Dallas)
After a spectacular preseason that saw newcomer Freddy Vargas being a dangerous set piece taker, it was a surprise to to him not be the designated corner and free kick taker. Towards the end of the first half Vargas asked for the corner and showed once again how dangerous he can be. He floats the ball over to a towering Martinez. The shot is absorbed by a Portland defender. Unable to keep the ball, it falls to the ground and Bressan is there to clean it up, adding a 3rd goal to the scoreline.
The clock ticked down. Portland brought one goal back but Dallas still had a 2 goal lead, making a comeback unlikely. After two disappointing performances and criticism of his speed and commitment to the club, Jara charged up the field. As a Portland defender closes in on him, Jara spots Dante Sealy darting towards the goal. Just as the defender goes to challenge him, Jara played a ground cross to the feet of Sealy. Two defenders chased Sealy up the field, one stops play to protest, believing Dante to be offside, the other continues the chase but is unable to catch him. Seal faces the keeper one-on-one and calmly slots a low ball under the keeper for his first career goal!
Image: Benjamin Peacock (Dante Sealy celebrating his first goal and the first win of 2021 with El Matador)
Before heading to the locker room after the game, Sealy made his way to the Rhine to celebrate the win with the supporters. Luis Dollar has said that he hopes to made it a tradition to have a player come over to the Rhine after games and play a song.
The Top 3 Players-
The entire team played as a collective unit. It was hard to pick just 3 players to highlight, but in an effort to give them recognition here the top 3 players from the win:
(This is opinion based, feel free to comment your top 3 below)
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (Bryan Acosta having a discussion with the Ref)
Bryan Acosta- The 2020 was not Acosta's year. He was injured for most of it and outplayed by Tanner Tessman. Many supporters were ready to see him go. This season, however, Acosta has been fighting to show that he belongs on the field.
Originally brought in as an 8, the transfer of Carlo Gruezo forced Luchi to convert him to a 6. The acquisition of Thiago Santos allowed Acosta to move back to his natural 8 spot, but he no longer looked sharp in that role. After just one season, Santos returned to Brazil to play with Gremio, which meant that Acosta or Tessman would need to play as the 6 from time to time. Edwin Cerrillo, although a natural 6, is still very inexperienced and has yet to start for Dallas, his first appearance this season came off the bench against Portland.
Acosta seemed to take on the 6 role in the Portland game. He was active in the midfield, chasing down the ball anytime it wasn't in Dallas' possession. He wasn't afraid to go in for a tackle and when he won the ball back, he would play it to another Dallas player to help get it up the field.
Currently, through the first 3 games of the season, Acosta is 3rd in the club for interceptions with 5. Bressn leads with 10 and Martinez is second with 8. In dual percentage he isn't very high, he is listed at 52.38, some other players are in the 60. His passing percentage is among the higher end of the team at 87.29. If Dallas continues to use the 4-3-3, however, with Acosta playing the 6, those numbers could grow immensely over the course of the season. Full defensive stats for the entire team can be found on MLS' official website. The following link will take you to the page in the following: (https://www.mlssoccer.com/stats/players/)
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (Ricardo Pepi and Tanner Tessman)
Ricardo Pepi- Even though he didn't score, Pepi was still very active in the attack. He pressured Portland constantly, running into the box for nearly every ball, even if it was unlikely he would win it. His pestering of the defense gave his teammates the space and freedom they needed to create chances. It was unfortunate that he didn't add in his own goal but sometimes just being a constant threat to the other team can be enough to help impact a game.
Phelipe- In his first start of the year, Phelipe performed quite well. He didn't keep the cleansheet, but his ability to boot the ball to the players further up the field gave Dallas more chances to create something in the attack. One of these far kicks resulted in a goal for Obrian. He was only credited with one save but with the attack performing as well as they did and Bressan and Martinez bossing the defensive side of the field, Phelipe didn't seem to get called upon too much.
At 22 he's still pretty young but so far he seems to be adjusting to MLS well. His ability to play the ball in the attack could make Dallas more dangerous and allow "Luchi ball" to be played anywhere on the pitch.
The Captaincy- The absence of Hedges meant that someone else would have to lead Dallas on the field and hold everyone accountable. Ryan Hollingshead seemed likely choice for the role. He's vocal, a 7th year veteran of the club, and has the qualities of leadership. Many were surprised, however, to see Bressan take on the arm band.
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (Bressan and teammates protesting call)
Bressan was given the armband in San Jose after Hedges was subbed out and in his first full 90 minutes of captaincy, did a very good job of keeping everyone organized. He was ready and willing to stand up for his teammates, which included objecting calls against the club in a way that was reminiscent of Daniel Hernandez.
In addition to the leadership he's brought this season, Bressan is also having a strong year defensively. He currently leads the team in inceptions with 10. He is listed at 64.29 in duels, which is behind Matt Hedges and Martinez. (Dante Sealy is listed at 66.67 but with him playing less minutes, his numbers are skewed.) *Stats can be found in link above*
Image: Melanie G. Isbell (Andres Ricaurte, Freddy Vargas, and unidentified FCD player)
Although he is not an official captain, El Mago was also very vocal on the field. He could be heard giving out instructions to his fellow attackers, positioning them when the ball was out of play. Ricaurte is currently tied with Obrian for key passes with 4. He is credited with 108 passes which puts him fourth overall in the roster, Bressan, Martinez, and Acosta are currently above him. *Stats can found in link above*
At 29, Ricaurte is a veteran. The attackers he had during the Portland game had an average age of 22. Pepi, Vargas, and Obrian are all skilled but Ricaurte's guidance helped to keep them organized and move as a unit.
*New section I will try to include every game is a fan reaction. Fans are free to message me about their thoughts on the most recent game and I'll add some to the section. Since I usually write the morning after the game, reactions will be accepted until the next afternoon*
"Last nights game was great though. I was excited to see more of our homegrown guys get the start. Pepi's movement around the pitch really seemed to open up space and create chances for Obrian and Ricarte coming forward behind him. Sealy seemed to move with more purpose in his runs than last season when he got in the mix. but this was Portlands B team, so we will see if this carries over to Houston next week or not," -Jordan Hoffnagle
"What fun game with El Mago opening the scoring, Bressan really stepping it up on defense and then scoring. The crowd's energy really stayed high throughout the game! And then for Dante Sealy to sub in and score late to seal the win - good game, good crowd, and great scoreline," - Charlynn Helms (Day 1 Season Ticket Holder)
"I thought the game was great! Granted it was against a weaker Portland team, but happy to see the team take advantage of the moment and get some goals in at home. I think everyone did a great job out there. However, Bressan stood out to me the most. Seeing him with the arm band and taking initiative of the back field was great to see. The goal he scored was a plus! Overall, happy with the result and overall team performance!" -Edgar Osorio (El Matador member)
" I was really impressed with Tanner Tessmann and Bryan Acosta, especially in the first 45’. Acosta was really playing the ball well in the midfield and helped keep possession in our favor. Obrian continues to look great at RW but he did better finishing tonight as well. Overall I know it was against a Portland squad resting a bunch of starters but the switch back to a 4-3-3 formation and some seemingly better motivated players made the difference to me. Great W in front of the home crowd," - Theo Melillo (Dallas Beer Guardian member)
The win, even if it was against a Portland B team, should give the team confidence going forward. The attack was finally connecting with each other and making chance after chance. The players had a noticeable hunger to add more goals even when the score was already up. Obrian in particular was frustrated anytime he missed the goal or was unable to keep the ball in play in Portland's half. He continued to give his all though, trying time and time again to add another goal to the board.
This week begins Rivalry Week. Dallas will face their orange clad rivals, Houston Dynamo. If the attack can continue to play together as they did tonight and remain hungry for goals, the Houston defense will have no hope to stop them. The biggest worry about the upcoming game will be the absence of Bressan, who is reported to be leaving to attain his green card. Hedges should be available allowing for a straight swap in Bressan's spot. The main worry with him is whether his injury still lingers, hopefully resting the Portland game allowed him time to recover.
The main threat when Houston comes to town will be former players Maxi Urruti and Fafa Picault. Last year Urruti scored a brace against Dallas when he was with the Montrael Impact, leaving many fans weary of seeing him in Toyota Stadium again. Fafa, due to being traded after just a year with the club, will no doubt look for revenge against Luchi and staff. He'll want to show that it was a mistake to trade him.
Also mentioned with the Bressan green card news, was the arrival of Szabolcs Schon. FC Dallas tweeted out a picture of him in the stadium supporting his new teammates.
It's anyone's guess on when Schon will make his first MLS appearance. Since he was at the game, it's safe to assume that he's either finished the quarantine or due to Covid antibodies was not required to. He'll need to make an immediate impact in training to degrade either Obrian or Vargas to the bench. Paxton is also in consideration for the left wing spot, so Schon will have to beat him out to get minutes off the bench.
Any thoughts on the result? The arrival of Schon? Or just want to talk about those sweet goals? Comment below or tweet @MLSNowthePodcast or @M_Isbell95!
By Melanie G. Isbell