Sporting Kansas City welcomed FC Dallas to Children’s Mercy Park, as they try to recover from a poor first half of the season. The struggles in Kansas City have resulted in them one point behind Dallas for the final playoff spot in the MLS Western Conference. A victory for the home side would put them back in the middle of the playoff race, and leave the side from north Texas on the outside.

In this tactical analysis, we will provide an analysis of the tactics to look at how FC Dallas were able to steal a 2-0 victory in Kansas City. One of the keys to the match was how successful Sporting Kansas City were attacking down the left side. We will also examine how FC Dallas were able to play around Sporting Kansas City’s pressure. Finally, we will see how the production of the strikers was a big difference between the sides.

Background

Much has been written about Sporting Kansas City’s problems this season, with two of the key issues being their defensive frailty and a shortage of goals from the strikers. These problems would be made worse in this match with a couple of key players missing from their starting XI, through suspensions for yellow card accumulation. With three wins in their last six league games, their form has improved from the dire state it was in the first couple months of the season.

FC Dallas have performed well this season under a new manager, largely as a result of Paxton Pomykal. The U-20 American international has been the creative fulcrum of this team, creating 1.8 key passes a match in the league. Unfortunately for Dallas, he went out injured in a mid-season friendly against Sevilla on Wednesday.

The home side was able to control possession throughout the match, as FC Dallas were forced to defend deep throughout the match. Gerso Fernandes and Gianluca Busio were very effective at opening up the FC Dallas right side, but Sporting Kansas City’s problems at striker plagued them again as they were unable to convert good positions into decent chances. FC Dallas created very little but took advantage of mistakes by Sporting Kansas City’s backline. The dividing line in this match was clinical finishing, allowing FC Dallas to run out with a 2-0 victory.

Lineup

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Starting Lineup

Peter Vermes made two changes for Sporting Kansas City from the side that won away 3-0 at Vancouver Whitecaps a week earlier. Ilie Sánchez missed the match through suspension, being replaced at the base of the midfield three by former Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem. Gianluca Busio came into the midfield, making his first league start 1 June. Johnny Russell also returned to the starting lineup for the first time since 29 May, with Dániel Sallói dropping to the substitutes bench.

Luchi Gonzalez only made one change to the side that lost 1-0 at Minnesota United the previous weekend. Paxton Pomykal is due to miss at least two weeks with a hamstring injury, Jesús Ferreira came into the midfield for FC Dallas.

Gerso Fernandes excels against an isolated Reggie Cannon

From the first whistle, Sporting Kansas City were able to dominate possession and force FC Dallas to defend in a deep block. Most of their success came from attacking down the left side, where Gerso Fernandes and Gianluca Busio were able to consistently combine to bypass Reggie Cannon. This was a bit surprising as Reggie Cannon has developed into one of the best right-backs in MLS this season, and just returned from making six appearances with the United States at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, where Gregg Berhalter decided upon him as the national side’s starting right back.

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
The passing map for Sporting Kansas City.

Unfortunately for Cannon, he got very little defensive help in the opening thirty minutes of this match. Michael Barrios did a poor job tracking back, and this was evident throughout the first half. As we can see on the images below, Barrios tracks the run by Seth Sinovic. He shoulder charges him to the ground but then stops. Sinovic is allowed to get back to his feet and continue his run. Gerso can easily slip the ball wide to him. This allows Sinovic to drive to the end line, but his cut-back is blocked before it can reach an unmarked Gerso.

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Barrios (red) charges Sethovic and knocks him down after he plays a pass into Gerso.
MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Sinovic gets up and continues his run, with Gerso playing the ball back out to him.
MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Sinovic gets into the box with no defender close to him, and Barrios (21) stops defending.

Gianluca Busio was also available attacking option on the left side. With Gerso staying wide, near the touchline, Busio would exploit the channel between the left-back and the centre-backs. As we can see in the image below, Yohan Croizet comes short for the ball, and Busio makes a run forward from the midfield into the space vacated by Croizet. This was an effective run as Cannon was reluctant to leave Gerso unmarked.

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Croizet (yellow) comes short to receive the ball, with Busio (blue) moving into the space vacated.

Jesse González helps FCD play out of the back.

Sporting Kansas City looked to press FC Dallas high up the pitch, trying to create recoveries in their attacking third to disorganise FCD’s deep block. Unfortunately for Vermes side, Dallas was accurate and quick with their passing. One of their key weapons was their goalkeeper, Jesse González, who was able to ping the ball forward.

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Passing map for FCD goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.

A good example of this can be seen in the images below. In the first, Sporting Kansas City have all the short options well marked, and the ball is forced back to the goalkeeper. In the second image, we can see that González plays a direct lofted ball to Ryan Hollingshead on the left touchline. The pass has enough pace on it that SKC isn’t able to shift their press face enough, and FC Dallas are allowed up the pitch.

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
The ball is passed back to Gonzalez, as SKC has all the short passing options well marked.
MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Gonzalez plays a low driven pass to the left-back, bypassing SKC’s press.

A tale of two strikers.

Sporting Kansas City had 55% possession and got into dangerous positions, but they had problems creating clear scoring chances, while FC Dallas were able to convert their smaller share of possession into better chances. This was down to difference performances each side had at striker.

SKC came into this season with only two strikers, Krisztián Németh and Erik Hurtado. Hurtado has missed most of the season with injury, and Németh has only two goals since the end of March. As a result, Peter Vermes is playing winger Yohan Croizet up front, but he is not a striker. Too often in this match he dropping deep to get on the ball, leaving nobody to cause problems for the Dallas centre-backs.

Croizet was also slow to make runs to get into good scoring positions. Too often he was stationary in the penalty area, which allowed him to be marked out of the attack. In the images below, we can see that Johnny Russell has gotten past Reto Ziegler, and is looking to cut the ball back from the end line. Instead of making a run towards Russell to meet the pass, he stays still near the penalty spot and allows Matt Hedges to clear the pass before it can reach Croizet.

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Johnny Russell gets past Reto Ziegler.
MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Russell cuts a pass back to Croizet, who doesn’t continue his run (blue). This allows Matt Hedges (red) to intercept the pass.

FC Dallas haven’t had much better play from their strikers this season, but they performed on this night. Dominique Badji started the match up front. However, after the first hydration break, he was moved to the right-wing, and Michael Barrios played upfront. The main purpose of this move was to give Reggie Cannon some additional help defensively, and Badji did a better job tracking back than Barrios.

FC Dallas weren’t able to build any sustained attack during the match, but they were effective at converting Sporting Kansas City mistakes into chances. The main difference between FCD and SKC was that Dallas’ strikers were able to take their chances. In the images below, FC Dallas move the ball out wide to Hárold Mosquera after a misplaced Kansas City pass. He’s able to pick out Jesús Ferreira in the middle of the pitch. He takes a touch past the defender and slots the ball home for FCD’s second goal.

MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
After a sloppy pass by SKC, Mosquera crosses the ball in from the left flank.
MLS 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs FC Dallas - tactical analysis tactics
Ferreira receives the ball in space (purple), before taking a touch past the defender to slot the ball in for the second goal.

Conclusions

This was a key battle in the Western Conference for the final few playoff spots. The issues that have plagued Sporting Kansas City throughout the season struck again to see them lose. The defensive errors and inconsistency at striker has cost them points all season, and they now sit five points behind Real Salt Lake for the final playoff spot. The visitors will be happy with the outcome, but there should be concern at their inability to control the ball without their young American midfielder. FC Dallas will need more in the future, as they can’t count on all opponents being as error-prone as Kansas City was in this match.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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