FC Dallas 3:2 Toronto FC. Same Tactics, Same Problems, Same Results.

Aaaaaaw. Life's not working out the way you thought is it?

Aaaaaaw. Life’s not working out the way you thought is it?

So then. You’re on a 3 game losing streak, playing away from home, against a team with a point to prove after they just got hammered last week, with a very makeshift defence. Do you maybe try and play it safe to start the game, take the sting out of the energy the opposition starts with, maybe let your out of position defenders find themselves a comfort zone, have the midfielders provide a supportive shield to make it a bit easier for them? Not if you’re Greg Vanney you don’t! You stick with the plan and go with an aggressive high press right from the start.

Here’s where we are 20 seconds into the game. TFC kicked off, passed it around a bit before hoofing a long ball, and chasing it. Chasing it hard!

Dallas won the header and got the ball forward, but let’s look where everyone is at this moment. The blurry guy on the right? That’s Michael Bradley, you can also see Collen Warner (first start of the season), Jonathan Osorio and Jackson (first start of the season), all on the wrong side of the ball, the midfield’s very high up and already been bypassed.   The defence? Well, Justin Morrow (left back playing centre back) hung back a bit and is barely in the picture, just inside his own half, but that’s Perquis pressuring the ball well into Dallas’ half, and Hagglund (centre back playing right back) and Morgan are right up there with him, with a loooooot of empty space behind them.  Already so vulnerable, and after a bye week and 2 weeks to work on things like that, that’s all on Vanney.  In itself, in isolation, it’s not a terrible tactic at all, the sort of thing you’ll see many teams do, but this early in the game, with this disjointed and unfamiliar of a lineup? Suicidal stuff.

Vanney’s often been described, mainly in fluffy pre season profiles when optimism abounds as ‘a student of the game’ and that’s exactly what he looks like here. A student, who’s studied and got himself some good ideas and strode cockily out into the real world and is having a very hard time adapting to real life where things happen, where players (MLS players remember, a lot of them out of their natural positions) have to make split second decisions that can quickly send plans awry. Where there are other coaches working against you, who are also smart, and generally more experienced and can figure out not only how to survive your ideas, but also turn them against you. Where theory and nice ideas don’t count for anything.

In this instance the main problem, where it all breaks down is with Jackson. Right sided midfielder, but he very aggressively pinched in, and in that first screen shot he’s in the middle, practically stepping on Warner’s toes. The ball eventually gets played back into the space where he would ideally be, relieving the pressure. 2 seconds later here we are.

Here’s the danger with the high pressing thing if everyone doesn’t do their job in a co-ordinated fashion, which is asking a lot of any team, never mind an unfamiliar one relying on below average MLS depth. A lot of players are now much further up than you’d like, there’s a lot of space behind them and the Dallas player has all sorts of time to pick out his pass. That orange boot in the bottom left is Fabian Castillo, who’s already running his fastest into all that space. Nick Hagglund’s aware of what’s about to happen and is also running back into that space, he’s not really out of position at all, he’s just up against Fabian Castillo. That’s tough for even the most right backy of right backs, never mind a kind of slow converted centre back, and he’s not going to get help. In the previous shot, Perquis was doing his bit and helping the high press, and because of that he’s way too high, he’s the guy at the bottom of the centre circle, running back, but still in Dallas’ half at this point, and thus no help at all to Hagglund.  From there it just required a great pass, some fast running and Castillo’s through on goal (If you want to point out further individual errors, Perquis was lazy getting back, leaving Blas Perez wide open if Castillo had passed, or there’d been a rebound, and I think Joe Bendik would really like a do-over on that one).

It’s all so so predictable. Anyone watching tape of TFC so far this year would have been working on just this sort of thing, to use Toronto’s tactics against them. When they press high, if you can keep the ball and pass your way to an open man, there’ll be a lot of wide open space behind the defence if you’re ready with an accurate long ball and a fast runner, guaranteed Oscar Pareja had his team working on just that kind of tactic.  It’s extra predictable, because much like Vancouver and Kekuta Manneh, long balls for Castillo to chase down are a big big part of what Dallas do all the time. This was always going to happen. I talked about it in this week’s podcast, James’ Know your enemy over at waking the red, it was the very first thing he focused on, here’s Big D Soccer practically wetting themselves at the thought of Castillo versus TFC’s vulnerable defence.

Everyone knew it would happen and Vanney sent them out there to do that anyway. In the very first minute, with a lineup full of out of position players unfamiliar with each other. After the game Vanney again blamed individual mistakes, choosing to throw Hagglund under the bus for a bad decision to step up and put himself out of position on this particular goal. Well guess what Greg, with that type of lineup, mistakes will be made, breakdowns in the plan will happen. For the love of god, give your players a chance and stop putting them in situations where mistakes are so bloody critical and counter attacks are so bloody easy.

As for the 2nd goal, Vanney again blamed Hagglund for stepping up when he should have dropped back, a valid point, here’s the moment where Hagglund makes that decision, he’s moving to where Castillo is, not where Castillo’s going to be. (edit: looking at this again, maybe he’s stepping up to try and get in line with the rest of the defenders for the sake of a possible offside call if Dallas try go through the middle, either way, bad choice, exploited very well by Dallas)

But blaming Hagglund is incredibly unfair because a) he’s not a right back and b) that looks awfully familiar. The defence sucked over to one side of the pitch, (Perquis Morrow and Warner all right on top of each other) and leaving the right back isolated against a dangerous opponent, we’ve seen that many times before. Think Creavalle against Justin Meram again and again, eventually conceding a goal against Columbus, think Jackson against 2 or 3 players against Real Salt Lake for Jordan Allen’s winner, think Creavalle against David Accam against Chicago leading to the foul that got his second yellow, Now Hagglund against Castillo, who to be fair still had a lot of work to do and did that work very very well. Right backs who aren’t right backs getting no support and being asked to do too much. Again and again and again. Set up to fail, then thrown under the bus post game. Lovely.

THE two ways that TFC have been killed repeatedly this season, the quick counter attack, and the patient build up followed by a quick switch of play to where you’ve created a mismatch. Both of them happening again, both of them causing goals. Within the first ten minutes.

The 3rd goal, yeah, that was all about individual mistakes. Everyone was glad that Perquis was back for this one, after all agreeing it was a great signing before we’d seen him play (just look at that pedigree!)  but he isn’t exactly covering himself in glory so far this season is he? Never mind the predictable ‘injury prone player gets an injury’ problem, when he plays high profile mistakes just keep on happening from him. I’m very unconvinced.

Yes, TFC have had a lot of injuries and all the playing away from home hasn’t helped. It’s far from an ideal situation currently and it would be very unfair to judge Vanney on all this. But as students fresh out of university with their fancy degrees can often find out, life isn’t fair. A large part of coaching is going to come down to reacting to adversity, adapting to injuries and a weakened lineup, or to opposition strengths. Vanney has talked about how he doesn’t want TFC to be a reactive team, but instead to go out there, play their own style and dominate the opposition rather than reacting to the opposition’s game. And that’s apparently going to be his coaching style as well. Injuries? Players playing out of position? An opposition that matches up perfectly with your style and would just love for you to play that way?  Who cares? Greg Vanney does not react!

We saw all these defensive problems last year under Vanney, but going into this season I wanted to be fair and to give him a chance with a rebuilt team and a full pre season. 5 games in and I’m getting close to jumping on any ‘Vanney out’ bandwagon. Sure the team looks quite good going forward, partly due to the chequebook, Giovinco has proven he’s more than good enough to thrive here, his 2 goals in this game were gorgeous, but also often down to team play, the tactics, the high pressing, the full backs getting forward to help out. You can certainly see what Vanney’s going for, when it works it undeniably looks good. But the defence, ugh.

11 goals now in 5 games is shockingly bad, but the main problem is how they’re happening. The same predictable tactics leaving the defence massively exposed, continued predictable success for the opposition from predictable players in very predictable ways. There seems to be very little attempt to adapt, to try and stop these predictable things from happening, to try and ensure that mistakes, which will happen, don’t cause such giant problems. Vanney instead seems to be waiting for his team to play a perfect mistake free game, and more than happy to blame them when they don’t. Stubborn, arrogant, naive, seemingly still convinced of his own smartness. Pick your own adjective really, I’m thinking ‘Winter-esque’ is starting to fit very nicely.


Author: Duncan Fletcher

Blogging journeyman formerly of Cruel Geography and Waking the Red, also briefly with Sportsnet and every now and then with the Guardian. As a supporter of Darlington, TFC, England and Canada, football's been unfair and poking fun at Duncan for decades now, so it's only fair he does the same right back at it. Follow him on twitter @duncandfletcher

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  1. Yes to all the above. I’m just going to paste my comments from last night here:

    I’ve never welcomed a power outage more in my life. Although the team doesn’t deserve any breaks. Actually let me clarify that – the team does to a degree – you cannot expect multiple players to be out of their normal positions, (with at least one just back from injury) that have barely played together to boot to hold off an experienced team like Dallas. That is something that the coach is supposed to prevent from happening. There were better options positionally than what Vanney put out there tonight. At least two of those goals are on him.

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  2. I can accept that they’re going to struggle to start the year. I can accept that they’ve had an unusual amount of injuries (although training staff I’m looking at you more and more) to start the year. What I cannot accept is the other players on the pitch not talking to one another, not attacking when given the chance. And above all I cannot accept a coach that REFUSES to change the system he’s using even in the face of terrible performance after terrible performance and knowing that he’s undermanned and does not have the ideal players for this system. Good coaches adapt.

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  3. The sentiment is right but the aggressive style comes from the puppetmaster rather than the puppet

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    • Bradley? you’d hope he’s not determining style of play as well as having a big say in who gets signed and who doesn’t, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The general of the players council or whatever they call it.

      Talking of him, he is of course the one saying everyone should be men, which presumably means trying harder and competing properly, his effort on the 2nd goal is particularly lazy. A good pass means we’re a little stretched, Warner goes back to help the defence out, and the ball comes backwards into the hole he’s left. Thus Jackson, rather than staying wide and maybe being able to help hagglund out, goes inside to put some pressure on the guy who passes to castillo. necessary, cos Bradley’s just jogging back and not in any way trying to pressure that guy.
      Seems to happen a lot really. he’s a good defensive presence when the ball’s ahead of him and he can anticipate and intercept and tackle, but once that ball’s behind him, he’s not big on hustling back to pressure the midfielders, so instead the defenders will have to deal with them as well as the forwards. think Chicago’s first goal as another example from this season.

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      • There is no hoping on my part, I know he is elbow-deep in all of this. The fanboy GM wouldn’t have it any other way. I’d feel sorry for Vanney if he wasn’t in on the coup last year that has set this club back years in terms of stability and depth (and cost us a playoff experience IMO). Allocation money has been pissed away to the extent they had to jettison depth to top up the salaries of the new players they brought in. Remember when we were dead set that they had to build MLS depth and not waste it on overpriced Brits?! Now because it’s passports from the continent nobody is saying anything or questioning why the way that was we were finally adopting what has worked for every other club has been abandoned. It’s bullshit and no different from the way some American passports have gotten people huge pay rises or starts that have been ill-deserved

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  4. Didn’t see large sections of this game as Burlington bush fires threw my household back into the 1850’s. However, Vanney did promise better defense 2 weeks ago. Thank goodness for that as this game could very well have been 10-0.

    The second FCD goal would be a tough defense for anyone. Castillio on the wing ready to ignite and Hollingshead sitting offside (as he did thru a good chunk of this game) and leading the run to Bendik. If Haggland drops back the ball goes to Hollingshead.

    Here is hoping Vanney listens to his interviews and put the de in dense or the fence in de, but I agree we can’t go on like this. As the Reds can score and should be winning games.

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    • yep. focus the tactics on the defence, then hope the stars up front can figure out the goalscoring. Not that the more attacking play so far has led to an absolute cavalcade of chances at all. take giovinco out and we’d be really struggling in that direction as well. In that regard, altidore got 2 shots off last night, that’s double his usual totals! one on target as well! Jackson 5! but 0 on goal.

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  5. The thing is there is no real big rebuild with this team. Merely some simple, common sense with managing the wingbacks. So really Bez and Vanney have done well (some may debate that statement). Save your job Vanney and do what you are saying in the post game interviews.

    This team can convert on a low number of chances. I expect those shames will increase aa the personnel gel.

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