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article imageFC Dallas' set-piece efficiency trumps TFC at Toyota Stadium

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 20, 2014 in Sports
Ryan Nelsen’s persistence on aligning Toronto FC in a 4-4-2 has been a major talking point throughout his second year at the Canadian club.
With the Reds aiming to earn their first league victory at Toyota Stadium, and Gilberto as the sole experienced striker available, Nelsen altered his formation.
Nelsen’s obsession with the formation is quite peculiar considering the various flaws it provides, but his decision to align his side in a 4-5-1 displayed a pinch of tactical flexibility. Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley returned to the starting XI and Osorio was the link between midfield and attack behind Gilberto.
The 21-year-old played his dual role exceptionally well; he dropped deep to help TFC build attacks from deep positions, along with pressing Michel to ensure Dallas struggled in central areas. Likewise, Osorio launched swift TFC counters from deep positions, but poor finishing and decision-making prevented the away side from regaining the lead.
On three separate occasions, Osorio guided TFC into key positions. First, Bekker found Osorio in a pocket of space, and the 21-year-old played a clever ball into Issey Nakajima-Farran, who then ran towards goal but the Calgary native hesitated and his pass towards Gilberto was rightly ruled offside. In the second half, Osorio dispossessed Michel and surged into Dallas’ third before spotting Bradley, and the American squeezed a scintillating ball into Jackson, but Chris Seitz saved the TFC winger’s tame effort. Finally, Osorio's sensational ball over the Dallas back-line fell to Gilberto, and the Brazilian was free on goal before Kellyn Acosta shoved the forward to the ground, but the referee waved play on.
Besides Osorio’s influence from deep positions, Nelsen’s side failed to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities from open play. The main issue TFC encountered was their inability to sustain possession. The Reds constantly conceded the ball throughout the pitch, which ultimately pegged them deeper into their zone. Also, Bradley’s influence on the match was scarce; the American lacked the dynamism and mobility he’s been lauded for on his return from injury.
“We were a little timid at times,” Kyle Bekker said. “We gave the ball away too cheaply. We just have to have the confidence to play. Too many times I think we’re afraid to play out. We just need to grow and get a little more confidence, but I think that will come as we keep playing together.”
TFC, however, coped well without the ball, as they forced Mauro Diaz into wide areas and deep positions. The Argentine creator rarely found spaces between the lines to exploit, yet his ball into the isolated David Texeira nearly handed Dallas the lead, but Justin Morrow’s well-timed last-ditch tackle kept the score line leveled. Farran and Jackson’s energy levels decreased in the latter stages of the match and Dallas’ full-backs became more proactive with their positioning; in the opening half TFC’s wingers quickly closed down Jair Benitez and Acosta. Both full-backs created chances in the second half when they pushed into advanced positions but Oscar Pareja’s men failed to convert their opportunities.
Still, Dallas’ best chances were created from set-pieces. The home side earned 16 corner kicks –– 10 in the first half –– and surprisingly, TFC failed to translate their defensive organization from open play to set-pieces. Michel’s corner evaded Kyle Bekker, and fell to Matt Hedges who out jumped Mark Bloom and nodded the ball past Julio Cesar. Minutes later, Michel’s corner saw Texeira’s far post header force Cesar to make a tremendous save from six-yards out. Similarly, Dallas’ equalizer stemmed from another defensive set-piece lapse, as Michel’s free-kick from the halfway line was headed by Stephen Keel and Hedges, and substitute Blas Perez tucked the ball into net.
“The service from Mauro [Diaz] and Michel is world class,” Keel said. “You see the quality we have going forward, so teams are going to sit back. It is a 90 minute game, I think we’ve shown that given our quality we can score. We stay patient and get our chances when we get them.”
From a tactical perspective this was a tedious match in which TFC admirably clogged central areas, but their inability to keep the ball saw their wingers tire, and Dallas’ full-backs improve.
"With these six games, I would have taken [nine points] straight away,” Nelsen said. “With the injury crisis that we’ve had, that we didn’t even think was going to happen, I’d take it.”
TFC’s minimal attacking threat came through Osorio’s distribution from deep, but their susceptibility to Dallas’ threat from set-pieces handed the Reds their third loss in four games.
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