FC Dallas v AIK - Portland Timbers Tournament

New setup leaves FC Dallas looking for answers in midfield


PORTLAND, Ore. — It reminded me of a conversation almost three years old. There was FC Dallas, at Jeld-Wen Field playing out a 0-0 draw with Sweden’s AIK, and David Ferreira’s positioning was taking me back to a Skype conversation I had with a colleague in the wake of the 2010 World Cup.

Reductionism, lack of perspective, formation primacy – we were going through our litany of quibbles when we came upon Uruguay. Oh, here was a great example, my friend noted. For all the love of Spain (adoration which was at its apex at the time) and the growing fallacy that formation A always bests formation B, here was La Celeste making an unexpected run to the tournament finals. And they were doing it with a “broken” formation.

Óscar Tábarez had Diego Forlán, Luis Suárez, and Edinson Cavani — as enviable a striking trio as you’d find in the world — and a bunch of players who were better suited to play more defensive roles. Attempts to leverage Nicolas Lodiero or Álvaro Fernandez as a means of connecting to the trio hadn’t worked, so as the tournament went on, Uruguay’s best setup saw Diego Pérez, Arévalo Rios and Álvaro Perreira sit deep in midfield with Forlán tasked with bridging the gap. With a huge space between forwards and midfielders, Uruguay’s midfield was broken. And successfully so.

SUNDAY VS. AIKDallas’s setup against AIK on Sunday was only one possible XI we’ll see on March 2 when FCD opens their season against Colorado, yet it highlighted the problems Schellas Hyndman faces fitting David Ferreira into a two-striker system.

It’s rare that you see teams willing to leave such a gaping space in midfield, but there I was on Sunday, witnessing FC Dallas do the same thing. Schellas Hyndman’s team had Kenny Cooper and Blas Pérez up front, David Ferreira right behind them, and a huge gap back to their defensive midfielder. Neither Fabian Castillo nor Jackson (the wide midfielders) were coming in to help.

Dallas was broken, and Hyndman knew it.

“We haven’t spent enough (time working) in the attacking third,” the Dallas head coach said after Sunday’s game. “I thought we had, but today’s performance showed us we need to put more into our attacking third and developing that structure.”

But what is “that structure”? When you have the likes to Forlán, Suárez, and Cavani in your team, you might be able to get away with playing like that – vacating an important area of the field. Suárez is a bulldog, capable of dropping and winning balls sent from the back. Cavani’s industry and size gave Tábarez an outlet wide. Forlán, playing as a No. 10, was the tournament’s best player. If there’s a trio that could fix a broken setup, that’s it.

Dallas, however, has problems. Ferreira isn’t somebody that’s strong or willing enough to win physical battles with an opposition defensive midfielder over the course of 90 minutes. Neither Cooper nor Pérez are great ball-winners in the air, meaning Dallas can’t rely on more direct play. The duo also lack the speed, industry, and versatility to mimic Cavani or Suárez. Against AIK, Dallas’s broken formation needed fixing.

One solution would be to abandon the setup entirely, something that’s unlikely given Dallas’s talent. After years of being a 4-5-1 team, Dallas is making a shift to a two-striker setup, one that’s been facilitated by acquiring two high profile No. 9s this offseason. While previous teams would rely on left winger Brek Shea to augment the threat sacrificed by choosing five midfielders, now FC Dallas is turning to Cooper, Pérez, and Eric Hassli.

FC DALLAS, LATE 2012The goal scoring threat of Shea and the playmaking of Ferreira allowed Dallas to go 4-5-1 in the past. Though Jackson and Ricardo Villar regularly got time, here is how the team’s choice starting XI looked at the end of last season.

“When we brought Kenny in, when we brought in Eric Hassli, we put a lot of our salary cap into those three players, with Blas,” Hyndman explained. “It’s kind of putting ourselves in position where we have to find ways of being successful with two strikers.”

The alarming part of Dallas’s Sunday sacrifices were how easily they were revealed. Take the action along their left side through fullback Jair Benítez, the most obvious of a few examples where Dallas’s problems were easily exposed.

The Colombian veteran is a proven Major League Soccer defender, one that’s been a part of an MLS Cup finalist, but on Sunday basic pressure from AIK right midfielder Daniel Gustavsson repeatedly forced him into negative balls. The connection between Benítez and Chris Seitz was Dallas’s most successful in the first half, though because Benítez is so left foot dominant, the backpasses to his keeper provided small moments of drama. As Benítez turned away from pressure, his want to play everything with his left foot exposed the ball to the middle of the field. As Gustavsson started to pick up on this, he became more daring, trying to pick the ball off Benítez’s boot before it was released to Seitz.

Why Benítez was forced into the passes was more important than how the passes were executed. Mickael Tavares, starting in defensive midfield, was often marked by right forward Viktor Lundberg and was unable to create an outlet through the middle. With Benítez in a slightly more advanced position than his central defenders, his angle to left-center half Matt Hedges allowed Lundberg to simultaneously cut off that lane. With AIK’s pressure turning Benítez away from left midfielder Fabian Castillo, one of his other potential options, Seitz was both his logical and only choice.

In a normal 4-4-2 – one that isn’t broken – Benítez would usually have one more outlet, but after years of playing as a No. 10 in front of two midfielders, David Ferreira isn’t accustomed to coming from his position to show for the ball. His best seasons in MLS, including his 2010 MVP campaign, cast him as the most advanced player in a five-man midfield, a role that allowed him to stay high and receive the ball without dropping into the heart of midfield. Though Dallas is no longer playing that system, Ferreira has yet to adjust to a more conventional midfielder’s role. On Sunday, it showed, with his positioning leaving Dallas reliant on long balls down the right and combination play down the left to get into the final third.

Those avenues would be welcome choices for Dallas’s opponents. They reduce the influence of Cooper, Pérez, and Ferreira – not what Hyndman wants.

“When we were at our best was when we were able to win the ball and go quickly in transition,” Hyndman noted, tacitly acknowledging the team’s regular buildup was lacking. He also acknowledged the struggles could breed discontent:

“We had a few players that it’s going to be very quick for them to be pointing fingers at people, saying ‘You weren’t here. Or you turned the ball over.’ I think that’s a normal thing you go through, some frustrations.”

DALLAS 2013?FCD is set on playing two strikers, but not all 4-4-2s are created equal. On Sunday, Dallas’s shape played more 4-1-3-2 – their defensive shape often forming a line of three at the top of midfield. Moving to a 4-3-1-2 – with three deeper midfielders – may be Hyndman’s direction.

As Hyndman reiterated throughout his post-match comments, “it’s why we call it preseason,” but with two weeks until Dallas hosts Colorado to kick off the season, the team needs answers.

Assuming they intend to keep playing two forwards, the most obvious one is to change Ferreira’s role, though that would mean taking your best player and putting him in a less comfortable position. If that’s not a recipe for outright failure, it at least represents a potential step backward. Given the 33-year-old’s skills, it’s unlikely he’d be effective in a deeper role.

A better option for Dallas is to bring the wide midfielders in, changing from the approach that saw Castillo and Jackson deployed very wide against AIK. Instead of playing close to a 4-1-3-2 (a line of three in front of a defensive midfielder in the defensive phase), Dallas could employ a 4-3-1-2 that’s closer to what we’ve seen from Real Salt Lake.

It’s a formation in which Jackson would be a good fit, and with Benítez and right back Zach Loyd, Dallas has fullbacks capable of providing width. When defensive midfielder Peter Luccin’s in the team, the pieces come together, though the move would require sacrificing Castillo from Sunday’s team in favor of Andrew Jacobson.

But as Hyndman noted on Sunday, “Any system you play, anywhere you play it, you’re bound to give up something.” Sacrificing Castillo may be the lesser of a list of evils that includes dropping a striker or asking David Ferriera to be something he’s not.

And read between the lines of Hyndman’s Sunday thoughts, and you can see he may already be headed in that direction.

“I’m think maybe about 80 percent,” the Dallas boss said when asked how close Sunday’s team was to the one that would face Colorado. Explaing the setup would stay basically the same, Hyndman noted “different players” would likely get the nod at FC Dallas Stadium.

“We still got trialists that we’re looking at. That and we’ve got a couple of guys who aren’t here right now.”

The guys who were there were very much in preseason mode. And because of it, Sunday turned into a great learning experience for Hyndman. Now he knows his team needs some significant tweaks. He has two weeks to make the right ones.

Premier League preview: Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur (video)

Leave a comment
  • Spurs won both matches in 15-16
  • Cherries unbeaten in three overall
  • Spurs 2W-2D on road this season

Tottenham’s treatment of new boys Bournemouth was downright disrespectful last season, and the improved Cherries would love a measure of payback (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports).

Spurs handled Bournemouth 3-0 at home last season after belting the Cherries 5-1 at Vitality Stadium in October.

[ MORE: USWNT’s Holiday has tumor removed ]

Almost exactly one year later, Bournemouth sits 11th with 11 points and is closer to the top of the table than the bottom.

Meanwhile, Spurs are again in a title race despite the continued absence of striker Harry Kane, who is back training but won’t be available for Saturday’s contest.

What they’re saying

Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe on facing Tottenham“I think we’re better prepared for these kind of games. We’re more hardened to Premier League football and our belief and confidence levels are better than what they previously were, but we have to prove it on the pitch. It’s going to be a real test for us. They have an outstanding manager who in my opinion is up there with the very best. The intensity at which his sides play makes them difficult opponents. They are general title contenders.”

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino on Vincent Janssen“Always we need to give time. He’s young, he’s come in from the Netherlands and always the players that come from outside need time. He’s a striker that brings to the team different characteristics but I am happy with his behavior, his professionalism and how he is playing.”


It’ll be far from easy, and Howe certainly has a motivated team in form. Spurs’ quality will be on display as well, and both managers like to see their teams play free. Call it 2-2.


WATCH, STREAM: Premier League TV schedule – Week 9

Leave a comment

Week 9 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

It all kicks off with Bournemouth hosting Tottenham Hotspur (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN andonline via NBC Sports.com) at the Vitality Stadium with two teams full of young English players to go head-to-head.

Then Arsenal welcome Middlesbrough (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) to the Emirates with Arsene Wenger‘s side searching for a seventh-straight win in the PL, while Boro have won just one of their opening eight games.

Rounding things off on Saturday, Liverpool and West Brom clash at Anfield (12:30 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) in a battle between two different styles. Can Tony Pulis‘ pragmatic approach shut down Jurgen Klopp‘s fluid offensive machine?

On Sunday Manchester City host Southampton at the Etihad (8:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with both teams coming off the back of disappointing defeats away in European action. Then comes the big one: Chelsea vs. Manchester United at Stamford Bridge (11 a.m. ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com). Jose Mourinho is returning to the Bridge for the first time since he was fired last December and he’ll likely get a very warm reception from the home fans. Will his United side again frustrate a big-name opponent away from home?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.



7:30 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Tottenham – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Stoke City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford  – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Everton – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Brom – NBC [STREAM]


8:30 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]

Wenger on Arsenal: “We are all in that jungle together”

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal training session on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group A match against Ludogorets Razgrad at London Colney on October 18, 2016 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maybe he just got sick of the criticism, and of (relatively) keeping his cool.

Maybe he just doesn’t care anymore.

Regardless of the “why”, there’s a lot to love about this season’s Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]

Wenger has slowly built up his hope and expectations for the club. The Gunners “have a better chance” to win in the Champions League. They’re “stronger with every win“, and need humility.

And Wenger is taking it to the jungle to explain that last part.

From Arsenal.com:

“I believe that humility is to understand that you start again from zero and that you are in a jungle. We live in a jungle where everybody wants to eat you, and you have to survive by keeping your vigilance. That’s what competition is about. Every day you have to fight again to survive.

“The love to win and the competitiveness of the Premier League is very exciting. We are all in that [jungle] together.”


Arsenal hosts Middlesbrough on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool-West Brom (video)

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Darren Fletcher of West Brom closes down Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool at The Hawthorns on April 25, 2015 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Liverpool leads all-time: 59W-37D-32L
  • Teams drew both matches last season
  • WBA last won at Anfield in 2013

West Brom has hope for a big Anfield upset when it visits Liverpool this weekend (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBC Sports).

The Baggies are have picked up points in three of their last five trips to Anfield, and have a 4-4-4 league record against the Reds since returning to the Premier League in 2010.

[ MORE: USWNT’s Holiday has tumor removed ]

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp refused to rule anyone out for Saturday’s match, and the in-form Reds will have to break down a side that’s unbeaten in four.

What they’re saying

Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren“Every game is a ‘win’ game for us – we have the quality to beat everyone, when you look at the teams we have played already. It’s just about a winning mentality. If we can keep that, at the end of the season we can be proud.”

West Brom boss Tony Pulis“We know Liverpool is going to be a really tough game. Their front five are exceptional. Jurgen Klopp is passionate and that is important in the game and important for Liverpool. They’ve got a good chance this year. The games that are coming up are difficult but ones we should embrace. Anfield is wonderful.”


Pulis has done a fine job setting his team up to defend, and his counterattack will think well of breaking down Liverpool. But this one’s at Anfield, with the Reds in the international spotlight to end Saturday’s Premier League slate.

It doesn’t feel like an upset is in the cards, especially with the Reds still seething from last week’s scoreless draw vs. Manchester United. Call it Liverpool, 3-0.