Talking tactics: Chicago Fire at FC Dallas

The following is a new feature we at 3rd Degree are trying out by Blake Owen of futbolforgringos.com. The idea is to break down some tactics and advances adjustments by FC Dallas and their opponents in various game situations. We'd love to get some feedback, so let us know what you think. - Buzz

Schellas Hyndman decided to stick with a good thing. Despite losing a handful of key players from last season's runners-up squad, Hyndman still rolled out an attack-minded formation in Dallas' 2011 home opener.

On paper, the setup resembled a 4-2-3-1, with two central midfielders behind four attackers. In practice, though, Hyndman's formation was a 4-1-3-1-1.

While Hyndman didn't change his formation during the offseason, Chicago Fire manager Carlos de los Cobos couldn't resist tinkering. Throughout the preseason, de los Cobos instructed his squad on how to play a 3-5-2, a strategy that should pay off over the course of the season.

Formations with 3 center backs have a distinct advantage against formations with 2 forwards. With a spare man in the backline, there's always plenty of defensive cover. And when in possession, one of the center backs can move into the midfield, creating yet another man advantage.

However, Dallas, as a team that uses only one forward, presented a stern test for de los Cobos. The Fire gaffer attempted to rectify the situation by changing his 3-5-2 to a 3-4-3, hoping to pin back the Dallas fullbacks with his wingers.

The tactic fell wanting.

Early Goals

Despite Chicago fielding one striker and two wingers, Dallas fullbacks Zach Loyd and Jackson pushed forward from the get-go. Eventually, it was one of the fullbacks that helped create Dallas' first goal of 2011.

Shortly after Chicago went on top (Diego Chaves pounced on a poor Daniel Hernandez clearance to beat Kevin Hartman), Dallas promptly exploited their tactical advantage to equalize. Loyd, in a dizzying display of skill, burst past two defenders before finding Milton Rodriguez on the edge of the 6-yard box. Rodriguez - who befuddled keeper Sean Johnson with a perfectly executed backheel - scored just a minute after Chavez broke the deadlock.

The goal was a just reward for the home side's early dominance. For long stretches in the opening half, Chicago was unable to string together more than a few passes. And when de los Cobos refused to make any changes after halftime, Dallas appeared on their way to controlling play after the restart.

One error prevented the Hoops from placing a stranglehold on the match.

2nd Half Adjustments

In the 55th, Brek Shea was awarded a straight red for a challenge on striker Gaston Puerari. While the call may have been a bit harsh (Shea, the last man, barely touch the Chicago forward), Shea only had himself to blame for being in a difficult position. Seconds before being carded, Shea received a pass from Hernandez and, instead of playing a quick pass to one of his midfielders, tried to buy time by turning into the middle of the pitch. Unfortunately, the neophyte center back failed to notice the charging Puerari.

To Hyndman's credit, Dallas didn't stop attacking after the red card. But the manager did make one concession to Shea's dismissal: the fullbacks were much more circumspect in their forays forward. They always made sure that only one of them pushed forward at a time.

And de los Cobos didn't fail to exploit his advantage. While he kept all three center backs on the pitch, Jalil Aniba pushed forward when Chicago had possession, essentially turning their formation into a 4-4-2. The Fire's new formation, coupled with the less adventurous Dallas fullbacks, allowed the visitors to control much of the game's final half-hour. Indeed, if not for some outstanding saves from Hartman, Chicago would have turned the man advantage into a victory.

Chicago's late pressure will leave Hyndman somewhat pleased to escape with a draw. But he'll be convinced that Dallas' strong early showing means there will be plenty of 3 point performances to come.