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Saturday, April 2, 2011
Talking tactics: FC Dallas-Columbus

By Blake Owen

The uneven results from the first two matches -- in which Dallas outplayed its opponents but still lost or drew -- were partially to explain for Schellas Hyndman shaking up his personnel. Gone were Eric Alexander, Zach Loyd and Milton Rodriguez, with Jackson, Ugo Ihemulu and Ruben Luna filling their respective positions.

New players, same shape, similar defensive errors

While the less-than-flattering opening matches certainly influenced Hyndman's personnel decisions, the Columbus Crew and their 4-2-3-1 certainly had something to do with the changes.

For the first time this season, one of Dallas' fullbacks was pinned back. Jair Benitez provided consistent threat on the left, but Ihemulu, excepting an eighth-minute burst toward the endline, rarely ventured past Crew winger Robbie Rogers.

Hyndman clearly respected the threat offered by Rogers and his counterpart on the right, Eddie Gaven. But Ihemulu's deep positioning compounded Dallas' problems in the middle. With the silkier Alexander on the bench, Jackson was called upon to link Hernandez with the front four. Columbus, though, equaled Dallas' numbers in midfield, negating a man-advantage the Hoops enjoyed in the first two matches. The additional opposing central midfielder, and Jackson's unimpressive distribution, forced Dallas to the wings. Since Ihemulu was sitting back, almost all of the threat came from the left flank.

And a predictable team is a defensible team. Other than a few half-chances for Luna created from Castillo crosses, Dallas rarely bothered keeper William Hesmer. As the squad got frustrated, the fouls began to pick up and Jackson eventually earned two yellows in quick succession.

Shea shows inexperience

The Jackson dismissal naturally changed the match. Intriguingly, Columbus needed a formation change to find the back of the net. As the second half opened, manager Robert Warzycha brought on a striker (Emilio Renteria) for a midfielder (Dejan Rusmir) and switched his shape to a 4-4-2. Without an attacking midfielder, Columbus' strikers took turns dropping into midfield, changing the interplay between Hernandez and Shea/John.

Earlier, Hernandez tracked the runs of attacking midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo as he advanced toward the center backs. Shea or John would then pick up Ekpo when he moved into the final third. Now that the strikers provided the linking play, Shea and John followed a forward into midfield before Hernandez took up the marking.

On the sequence that led to the penalty, Shea needlessly tracked striker Mendoza all the way to Hernandez. Ekpo subsequently had space to run into and John was forced to chase down the midfielder on the edge of the box. Castillo didn't help matters. He failed to note that Gaven had tucked inside, giving the midfielder plenty of time to pick out a pass to Ekpo.

Hyndman, though, can't escape blame for the defensive foibles. His commitment to attacking play is commendable, but after the red card, he refused to compromise his style for a chance at a draw. Playing a man down with 3 attack-minded players made a Columbus goal all but inevitable.

Hyndman didn't even make any changes until late (Rodriguez and Loyd came on for Castillo and Chavez in the 77th). Down a goal, he was forced into another retroactive formation change. Dallas switched to a 3-4-2 and gamely tried to find the net. Columbus was rarely troubled, and the new formation gave the home side plenty of room to push into on the counter. Gaven took advantage to tally in extra time.

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