Just over four months ago, a counter-attacking Dallas squad was eliminated from the 2011 playoffs by the New York Red Bulls. The two sides kicked off the 2012 season on the same pitch using the same tactics and formations, but the 2-1 Dallas victory was quite a different result.
Manager Schellas Hyndman employed a comparable formation to the 4-2-3-1 he used last season, though naturally some of the personnel changed. Gone were Jackson and Marvin Chavez, replaced by Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo. Also, a recently-returned George John was benched in favor of newcomer Hernan Pertuz.
Perez, Castillo, and Pertuz all made vital contributions to the victory. Perez garnered assists on both goals (more on Perez in the diagram below); Castillo's speed was instrumental in earning the free kick that led to the first tally; and the young Pertuz made a veteran's canny tackle to prevent Thierry Henry from getting a shot in the 13th minute.
As noted, Hyndman's main strategy was to counter at pace, which is how the goal was partially created. Castillo powered into New York's half following a Red Bulls corner, and though he was dispossessed, Ricardo Villar was able to earn a free kick on the ensuing scrum for possession. New York made a mess of a pair of clearances following the free kick. Zach Loyd then latched onto the loose ball and beat keeper Andrew Meara.
But, like the playoff encounter, New York controlled much of the match. Despite New York's high percentage of possession (63% to 37%), the Red Bulls' earliest scoring opportunities were courtesy of misplaced Dallas passes. In the third minute, Jair Benitez even sent a free kick straight to an unmarked Juan Agudelo. Ihemelu, though, was able to clean up the mistake
The second half played out much life the first. Dallas picked up a goal off a counter and had to do some desperate defending to garner the full three points. Oddly, New York left back Roy Miller started the second Dallas scoring sequence with a pass remarkably similar to Benitez's third minute gaffe. Under no pressure whatsoever, the Red Bulls' fullback casually sent a pass to Perez. The striker made an intelligent pass to find Ricardo Villar in space, and the Brazilian chipped Meara to put Dallas up 2-0.
New York manager Hans Backe responded by bringing on former Dallas striker Kenny Cooper and switching from a 4-4-1-1 to a lopsided 4-4-2 (forward Juan Agudelo was stationed at right midfield but was essentially a third striker). An exhausted Dallas began to retreat deeper and deeper into their own half, a problem compounded by the removal of Villar.
As the attacking midfielder in the 4-2-3-1, Villar's intelligent passes had ensured Dallas retained possession long enough to relieve pressure on the back four. When holding midfielder Bobby Warshaw came on for the Brazilian in the 74th, Andrew Jacobson moved up to Villar's position but failed to replicate his intelligent outlet passes. As a result, over the final 16 minutes New York completed 84 more passes than Dallas.
Under that much pressure, it was likely that a single mistake would lead to a goal. When Benitez and Pertuz failed to mark Cooper, the striker was easily able to chip Kevin Hartman, but New York was otherwise unable to ripple Hartman's net.
While the end result couldn't be better, Hyndman needs to find a way to relieve pressure late in games without the use of Villar.
Blake Owen is the editor and publisher of futbolforgringos.com.