When Issey Nakajima-Farran scored early in Frisco, Tex., the Reds’ visit to Toyota Stadium was shaping up to be another Ryan Nelsen Special: Score first; slowly retreat, destroying anything that approaches; bunker late and hold on for dear life. Thanks to Dallas’s continued mastery of set pieces, however, Óscar Pereja’s team was able to comeback, lengthening its lead at the top of the Western Conference. With a 2-1 win on Saturday night, FCD handed Toronto its third loss of the season, extending its lead over second place Colorado to five in the process.
Toronto went up in the 21st minute through some set piece magic of its own, the chaos off the second ball into the box giving Nakajima-Farran two cracks from the left of the area. Chris Seitz did well no the first, his save punched wide of the crowd in the middle. Unfortunately, the ball went back to Nakajima-Farran, whose second crack got help from a deflection at the edge of the six-yard box.
Eight minutes before halftime, Dallas was back even, with Matt Hedges’ finish off a near-post corner cueing the home side’s second half control. With the exception of the second half’s opening moments, Dallas dictated the rest of the game, building up a 61-39 possession advantage in the process. But chances for Fabian Castillo and David Texeira couldn’t capitalize on that advantage, with Toronto nearly claiming its own lead against the run of play through Jackson in the 54th minute.
As the game approached full-time, the Nelsen Plan was about to earn a point, yet the same type of set piece chaos that helped Toronto take an early lead eventually led to their downfall. After a restart from just inside the Reds’ half was lofted into the area by Michel, headers from Stephen Keel and Hedges eventually found Blas Pérez, whose lunging poke at a ball in the six-yard box beat César for the game’s final goal.
Though Toronto is still without Jermain Defoe and Doneil Henry, this may have been Dallas’s best performance of the season – overcoming a strong team after conceding an early goal. The team seems a bit too dependent on set piece execution (only five of the team’s 17 goals have come from open play), but there’s a resourcefulness to its play that’s encouraging. Though Seattle showed lifting Dallas to the heights of the league’s 2014 elite is premature, they continue to win games a variety of days. Tonight, after Toronto went full Nelsen, they proved capable of beating a team they couldn’t run through.
Toronto, however, has got to start getting a little less risk averse. On a night where teams are reminding us how tenuous a one-goal lead can be (here, here), Nelsen was far too content to relying on the slimmest of margins. TFC wasn’t ahead when it conceded int he 88th minute, but the team was close to a road point that would have satisfied Nelsen.
While beating Seattle and Columbus, the Reds showed they’re not only able to play with some of the league’s better sides but capable of getting a second goal. Against D.C. United and Dallas, however, they’ve proved less willing to leverage their talent. At home, against an inferior opponent, they got a 1-0 win last month. On the road, against a team that’s shown some vulnerabilities at the back, they could have used a more balanced approach.