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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Talking tactics: San Jose Earthquakes vs FC Dallas

By Blake Owen

For the second time in two matches, FC Dallas controlled the pace of a game but came out feeling second-best. Last Saturday against San Jose, Schellas Hyndman deployed the same 4-1-3-1-1 he used against Chicago, excepting two personnel changes. Eric Avila was dropped in favor of Ricardo Villar and Jair Benitez came on for the suspended Brek Shea, with Zach Loyd assuming Shea's center back spot.

The changes didn't alter Hyndman's commitment to fluid, attacking soccer. As with the season opener, Dallas controlled the tempo of the match. Both fullbacks spent a considerable amount of time in San Jose's half. Benitez, in particular, offered a consistent threat. Both Villar and Marvin Chavez - the two wingers often switched flanks - found more joy linking with Benitez than Jackson.

San Jose's 4-4-1-1 did little to prevent the Hoops from grasping the majority of possession. Withdrawn forward Chris Wondolowski was even forced to drop into his own half to help his beleaguered teammates.

More silly mistakes

But in another echo of the 1-1 draw with Chicago, Dallas, despite dominating possession, still found themselves up against an early deficit.

Given Zach Loyd's successful 2010 at both center back and fullback, it was a bit surprising the young defender made a mental error on both San Jose goals. In each instance, Loyd failed to tightly mark Chris Wondolowski. Additionally, Loyd also gave up the free kick that led to the second goal.

Loyd, though, wasn't alone in making mistakes during the goal-scoring sequences. Neither Daniel Hernandez nor Eric Alexander tracked Wondo's run from midfield on the first, and prior to the second, George John failed to clear a cross, allowing Joey Gjertsen to find Wondolowski in the box.

Still, had Marvin Chavez not made a mess of a 21st-minute scoring opportunity (he was left unmarked as he received a cross), Dallas would have had a lot less work to do in the 2nd half. With the two-goal lead, San Jose was content to sit back even deeper than they had in the opening forty-five minutes.

2nd half adjustments

Dallas, in contrast, continued to attack, almost quadrupling San Jose's shots on goal total (10 to 3). If not for the heroics of goalkeeper Jon Busch, the home side would have at least drawn level. Due to Busch's outstanding performance, Hyndman was eventually forced to go for broke, ending the match with just one center back on the pitch.

After bringing on Fabian Castillo for Villar, Avila for Eric Alexander,  and Ruben Luna for Jackson, the Red Stripes desperately sought the back of the net with what could best be described as a 1-3-4-2. While that sounds like a made-up formation, it was actually somewhat reminiscent of the early Catenaccio formations in Italy.

Of course, Catenaccio systems are defense-first strategies (the '1' was a sweeper positioned deeper than three other defenders), while Hyndman was clearly seeking extra offense. Hyndman could get away with only playing one center back because A) San Jose rarely pushed forward and B) on the few occasions they did Hernandez calmly joined John at the back.

The changes almost paid off. But, again, Busch got the better of the Dallas attack, saving 4 shots over the final 16 minutes.

While the season's early results have been discouraging, Dallas fans shouldn't get too downhearted. The squad is producing very attack-minded soccer despite fielding a patchwork backline (Dallas has now used 4 center backs in 2 games). Once the backline settles, and opposing keepers stop playing lights-out, goals, and wins, will be sure to follow.

Blake Owen is the editor and publisher of futbolforgringos.com.