The first rematch of MLS Cup 2010 saw F.C. Dallas blank Colorado 3-0, as MVP David Ferreira opened his 2011 account with two tallies at Pizza Hut Park.
Dallas, struggling to find their form in the early part of this season, at least temporarily halted the experiment that moved Brek Shea to central defense. Schellas Hyndman fielded a 4-4-2 formation, with Shea playing as the left fullback. Dallas switched from the single forward system they used for the first three matches of the season. Marvin Chavez moved to the front line to directly help with the attack, pairing with Milton Rodriguez. Andrew Jacobson got the start in central midfield, in lieu of Jackson who was on a red card suspension.
Colorado also used the 4-4-2. Caleb Folan continued to start in Conor Casey’s absence, with Omar Cummings in the front line. Pablo Mastroeni was also out (calf injury), so Joseph Nane took his place in the central midfield. Sanna Nyassi earned his first start of the 2011 MLS season at right midfielder.
The move of Shea directly influenced the early going. He became the entry point for the Dallas attack, accepting the ball from the center half, and then funneling it forward and joining the attack confidently. Additionally, Dallas applied pressure upfield with a second striker. This may have been because of the lack of Mastroeni protecting the defensive line, so Hyndman thought a second striker could pressure Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor. Most of all, it appeared that Dallas wanted to end their offensive woes (1 goal in 3 matches) in a proactive fashion.
Colorado probably expected to see Dallas attack, but not with the force and width that came at them. The Rapids have dominated each of their matches thus far, and they seemed willing to weather a storm. Dallas simply outplayed the Rapids. David Ferreira started slowly, mostly because he was relegated to left midfield in the formation. As Shea became comfortable joining the attack as the left back, drawing the attention of Colorado’s defense, it allowed Ferreira to slide into the center of the pitch and find space to operate in the absence of Mastroeni.
Dallas controlled the first half as a result. The Texan club were prevented from scoring on two high-quality opportunities from inside the eighteen, a 16 yard blast by Ferreira, the other from Andrew Jacobsen 8 yards out. Nonetheless, the Rapids succumbed to the near constant pressure in the 26th minute, as center back Ugo Ihemelu volleyed home a shot off a caroming corner to beat Matt Pickens. Chavez got the assist as he headed the ball to Ihemelu; unfortunately, he took a knock from a Colorado defender and was subbed out for Eric Avila.
Dallas didn’t let up, and at the 42nd minute, Ferreira was played through by Fabien Castillo to the Pickens’ right. The reigning MVP chipped it past the keeper for 2-0. With the two goal margin, Avila moved back into the right midfield, and Dallas played the remainder of the match in a 4-4-1-1 with Ferreira at the head of the midfield formation. The half ended at 2-0.
Any ideas of a Colorado renaissance were put on hold in the opening minute of the second half, as Avila worked a beautiful wall pass with Daniel Hernandez, and instead of taking the shot he crossed to let Ferreira tap home his 2nd of the night for the 3-0 lead.
Gary Smith made all of his changes by the 65th minute, but none of them were particularly positive in nature. Brian Mullan came on for Nyassi on a yellow card, while Quincy Amarikwa and Tyrone Marshall entered for Folan and Anthony Wallace, respectively. If anything improved their attack, it was Mullan. He was much better at attacking the weakest side of the new look Dallas defense. He was able to find space on Shea’s side and cross balls into the area. Eventually though, frustration set in for Colorado, and Dallas always looked more capable of getting their fourth goal instead of any gap being narrowed by the Rapids. Dallas finished the match as the victors by 3.
This match was indicative of the element of surprise, and what it can do to a club who has coasted through their first three matches. The rearrangement of the backline was a huge factor in rejuvenating the Dallas attack. It also allowed a more comfortable center back to improve the proficiency on defense (and he also picked up the first goal). You can’t blame Colorado though. They hadn’t let their foot off the accelerator to begin this season, and with a huge match coming up against Real Salt Lake they might have looked past a struggling Dallas squad. Hyndman may have even sensed this weakness, playing two forwards and forcing the play on a side willing to absorb and counter.
For Dallas, this was the shot in the arm they needed. I doubt that Hyndman will completely abandon the idea of Brek Shea as a central defender. The reality was that the team’s early failures necessitated a step back. The changes allowed Dallas to find their comfort zone on the pitch. Getting Shea involved in the attack contributed to its rejuvenation, and David Ferreira made his statement with two goals and a major presence throughout the match.