How to replace David Ferreiria will remain Schellas Hyndman's biggest headache for the remainder of the season, but last night it was the absence of Jair Benitez that had the bigger tactical import. Benitez's injury forced a reshuffling along the left flank, with Brek Shea dropping back to cover for Benitez and Fabian Castillo moving wide. Milton Rodriguez replaced Castillo up top.
Given that Jackson was also unavailable (Zach Loyd was his replacement), Dallas again had to adjust to a new backline. It didn't take long for Benitez's absence to be felt. In the 8th minute, Shea appeared to be in position to easily clear a cross-field pass intended for Charlie Davies, but Shea inexplicably headed the ball right into Davies' path. Fortunately for Shea, Kevin Hartman, Ugo Ihemelu, and Andrew Jacobson managed to thwart what should have been a United goal.
While that perplexing attempt at a clearance may have been Shea's worst mistake on the day, it certainly wasn't his only one. He placed more than one teammate under undue pressure with poor passes, and he was fortunate not to give up a penalty in the 51st when he bumped Joseph Ngwenya in the box.
Shea wasn't quite as awkward going forward, though much of his ineffectiveness in attack can be blamed on Castillo. The young Colombian reveled as the lone striker last week. Yesterday, in his return to the wing, he didn't cause very many problems for the United defense. Shea clearly wanted to overlap with Castillo, but the winger rarely picked his head up when he had possession, an odd decision considering how well he distributed the ball against Los Angeles. Marvin Chavez and Loyd, in contrast, worked well together, with Chavez cutting inside as Loyd moved up. Most of Dallas' best chances came through their feet.
But for the most part, Dallas provided little threat. Eric Avila had another chance to replicate Ferreira's unique skillset but he rarely looked capable of breaking down the United defense. To United's credit, Ben Olsen's side maintained excellent defensive positioning for the entire 90 minutes. An impressive feat considering they A) played a match in midweek and B) were outnumbered in central midfield.
United's 4-4-2 didn't allow any room for error in defense. They maintained two compact lines of four, rarely venturing forward in numbers. And when they did move into the Dallas half, they didn't lose sight of their defensive responsibilities. As a result, the Dallas attack, without Ferreira to pull the strings, was toothless.
Though Avila was but a pale imitation of Ferreira, the Hoops' offense suffered after he went off in the 75th (Ruben Luna). Earlier, Erica Alexander had come on for Rodriguez, allowing Castillo to move up top and Avila to swing wide.
Rodriguez made a number of excellent off the ball runs in the first half. For the most part, though, he was a non-factor. When Castillo took over in the middle, he promptly moved to the flank, as he had so effectively against LA. The United center backs were then drawn out of position, but the fullbacks provided excellent cover.
While a road draw is rarely a poor result - particularly when the opposition possesses the league's scoring leader - Schellas Hyndman won't be pleased that his squad's attack was so ineffective.
Blake Owen is the editor and publisher of futbolforgringos.com.