FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman knew he had to highlight some sliver of hope and reinforce its importance to his players as the club adjusted to the loss of David Ferreira.
He didn't have to search particularly hard to find the right example. FCD conjured up a stunning comeback to secure a 2-1 victory in Vancouver last Saturday after Ferreira exited the contest with a fractured right ankle. The second-half revival marked the perfect starting point for a squad that needed to come to terms with Ferreira's extended absence.
“We used all of that to be positive for this week,” Hyndman said after Sunday night's 2-1 victory over Los Angeles. “We were leaning into guys, saying that this is the first time we've won a game without David and we're a good enough team to win without David, but you have to believe it and you have to raise your level of play individually and, hopefully, collectively.”
The words may have struck the right tone, but they didn't erase the uncertainty created by Ferreira's absence. Everything FC Dallas wants to do in the attacking third runs through Ferreira. He is both the conduit and the orchestrator. FCD couldn't be certain of its identity without Ferreira to link play and pose the principal threat to the opposition.
“I think guys were maybe not worried, but wondering how things would go without David,” FCD captain Daniel Hernandez said. “Not only that, but he's an important player to this team and to our attack. I think guys were just kind of hoping somebody would step up.”
Hyndman spent much of the week attempting to figure out how to compensate for his missing playmaker. There is no like-for-like replacement for Ferreira on any MLS roster at the moment, but Hyndman possessed Eric Avila and Ricardo Villar as potential options to engineer a straight swap within the 4-1-4-1 formation tailored to suit the strengths of Ferreira and Hernandez. Hyndman also pondered moving to a 4-4-2 setup and removing the designated playmaking component entirely.
“This whole week was really about trying to find the right guy to go into that position,” Hyndman said. “The two thought processes were: one, do we change the formation from what we usually do with the 4-1-4-1 to a 4-4-2 and two, do we stay the way we are and try to find somebody to fill into that spot?”
Both choices possessed their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. Retaining the same formation permitted Hyndman to minimize the alterations during a tumultuous week, but there were concerns about whether Avila or Villar could step into Ferreira's shoes and pull the strings under such obvious duress. Switching to a 4-4-2 provided more natural support for Fabian Castillo up front and shifted the focus to FCD's pace in the wide areas, but it would have also presumably adjusted Hernandez's vital deep-lying role and saddled him with a more intensive brief that probably doesn't suit his strengths at this juncture of his career.
(Note: There are, of course, many flavors to playing four in midfield and selecting Hernandez as one of the two central midfield players. Nearly all of them – even the double holding midfielder setup sometimes preferred in MLS circles – would likely mandate that Hernandez's partner – likely Andrew Jacobson based on Hyndman's current preferences – would have to cover a significant amount of ground to allow the FCD captain to focus on his primary tasks of breaking up attacks and distributing long diagonal balls into promising areas without conceding ground in central midfield.
Chivas USA offers up a potential way forward should FCD eventually switch to a four-man midfield: Simon Elliott plays at the base of a diamond and operates in a manner not strikingly dissimilar to Hernandez's current role, while Nick LaBrocca lines up in an attacking midfield role and runs all over the place to provide box-to-box support. The Red-and-White, however, receives far more defensive help and far more crosses from its wide players than FCD presumably would from Marvin Chavez and Brek Shea (both players prefer to cut and slash to use their speed and create space for overlapping fullbacks) and possesses a true target man in Alejandro Moreno to hold up play and invite service. Without the necessary support out wide and up front, FCD would likely face problems at both ends of the park in a 4-4-2 setup.)
Hyndman tinkered with both options during the week, but he decided to keep the same formation (with the option to switch into a 4-4-2 if things went awry) and insert Avila into Ferreira's role after his promising work as a substitute against the Whitecaps.
It's hard to assess how Avila operated during his 69 minutes in Ferreira's role given the terrible conditions at Pizza Hut Park. Torrential rain turned the match into a slog, but Avila showed some flashes of his quality without noticeably influencing the match much from the run of play. All in all, the night provided little evidence either for or against Avila's suitability for the job.
Both Hyndman and Hernandez were quick to praise Avila's contribution despite the dearth of evidence, particularly given the circumstances in which the frequent sub ascended to his spot in the team.
“I thought Avila did a great job – and I know he can do a lot better – with the pressure on him of trying to be that outlet,” Hernandez said. “I was proud of him that he came in and did a good job for us. He helped us out defensively as well.”
The lingering question remains whether FCD can rely on Avila to provide a consistent linking presence in the short- and medium term. Avila has made just six starts in his three-plus years with the club, but he now must show that he merits regular selection while also replacing one of the most integral players in the league.
It won't be easy for Avila to prove his worth or for FCD to snare results consistently without Ferreira in the starting XI. In order to foster the right conditions to meet both objectives, FCD must continue to accentuate the positives and extract better performances from all of its players to somehow hang around long enough to make a concerted playoff push when Ferreira returns in late summer.
“You just have to try to work with what you have,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully, guys will step up. We have plenty of (talented players) in this locker room who are capable of being starters in this league. It's a great opportunity for them to step up and help out this team until we get David back.”
Five Points – Week 7
1. D.C. United crumbles again at the back: For the third time in as many matches in all competitions, D.C. submitted a wretched defensive display in Friday's 4-1 defeat in Houston.
United knew exactly how the Dynamo planned to attack – give Brad Davis plenty of the ball, provide good service into Will Bruin and Cam Weaver and threaten on set pieces – and struggled to thwart those supply lines. Davis did as he pleased all night, while United allowed Bruin to steamroller through its back four to score a hat trick and handed Houston plenty of opportunities to wound them from inviting areas.
The most galling part for United involves the persistence of mental mistakes in the second half. Charlie Davies gave away a needless free kick to allow Davis to curl in an inviting free kick for Bruin's third goal, while the entire back four somehow conspired to fall asleep and permit Cam Weaver to sneak well behind the line to score off a throw-in from midfield.
It isn't at all certain that United possesses the necessary tools in-house to fix the defensive issues – the back four badly needs a take-charge organizer and hasn't found one yet – but United coach Ben Olsen must somehow find a way address these pervasive concerns in order to improve results.
2. Puzzling second half leaves Earthquakes with more questions: San Jose entered the second half of Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Philadelphia with every opportunity to clinch a point and perhaps escape with all three. The Union's enforced halftime changes provided cause for optimism. After a first half in which the Earthquakes – complete with five changes after a poor performance in a 2-1 home defeat to Chivas USA last saturday – looked particularly susceptible on the counter, the Union had to withdraw Danny Mwanga and Roger Torres at the interval to compensate for Jordan Harvey's suspect dismissal four minutes before the break.
The events should have encouraged San Jose to push on and secure a result, but the Earthquakes lost the plot. Instead of continuing the high pressure employed in the first half, San Jose dropped off and permitted the Union to carry the play and stay in the match. San Jose's inability to conjure up anything of substance came back to kill them with a quarter of an hour remaining when referee Mark Geiger harshly awarded a penalty after Jason Hernandez handled Amobi Okugo's attempted cross along the end line.
Sebastien Le Toux's first goal of the campaign followed from the spot to condemn the Earthquakes to yet another week of introspection. Frank Yallop's charges displayed the requisite effort after disappointing defeats over the past two weekends, but a disturbing lack of conviction and quality at PPL Park shows there are more significant problems for the stumbling Earthquakes to address.
3. Surging Chivas USA rip apart Revolution with attacking movement: The Red-and-White extended its unbeaten run to fix matches by brushing aside New England 3-0 on Saturday night. While the visitors offered far too little and suffered from a series of crippling defensive mistakes, Chivas USA showed the type of confidence and endeavor required to push further up the table.
Alejandro Moreno garnered man-of-the-match honors for his night (one goal, two assists) and provided a symbol of why Chivas USA has started to find its attacking footing. By committing numbers forward at opportune times and interchanging at will to create chances to provide quality service into the penalty area, the Red-and-White gives opposing defenses headaches by varying its approach play.
“When we do that, it makes it very attractive for us going forward and very dynamic,” Moreno after the match. “When you're dynamic, you create a lot of chances. Tonight, we were able to get on the end of things and finish things off.”
4. Another weekend, another frivolous David Beckham kerfuffle: Beckham raised the hackles of many Stateside observers by jetting to London to attend the Royal Wedding on Friday morning and then scampering to Texas to prepare for Sunday's soggy 2-1 defeat at FC Dallas.
It isn't the first time Beckham prioritized some other event over a MLS match, but his decision – probably the correct one given the importance of the day to the English people and his status as a national icon, all things considered – didn't impact his performance against FCD. Beckham served up a couple of inviting balls into dangerous areas and toiled through the awful conditions like the rest of his Galaxy teammates before departing after a lengthy lightning delay.
Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan said the technical staff expected Beckham would probably want to start despite the extensive travel itinerary and figured he would offer up a solid performance if he did.
“We knew when he got back,” Sarachan said. “He's done this so many times – not royal weddings, but travel like this – that we thought he was going to be ready and up for it. I thought he gave us a great shift of 82 minutes. With the delay, it just didn't make sense to throw him back out there.”
5. Touching displays show injured stars were missed: In the final throes of a difficult week, FC Dallas and Seattle took time out of their crucial victories to show respect for a pair of injured stars.
FCD forward Fabian Castillo celebrated his first MLS goal by rushing over to the touchline after opening the scoring at Pizza Hut Park and displaying a David Ferreira kit to the sell-out crowd.
While Castillo's gesture hit the mark, Seattle's gesture inspired awe. In the 11th minute, Seattle fans held up placards with Steve Zakuani's number on them and chanted his name for a full minute.
Sounders FC produced perhaps its best display of the season in response to the absences of Zakuani and O'Brian White (blood clot) by dispatching Toronto FC 3-0 at Qwest Field. After the match, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid called the performance a tribute to White and Zakuani and shared his feelings on the heartfelt gesture by the Sounders FC faithful.
“(It was) pretty emotional,” Schmid told reporters after the match. “I sort of caught myself looking around and almost forgetting about the game for a moment. I'd been texting Steve back and forth last night -- nowadays you text guys, you don't talk to them -- and the one thing he kept reiterating is he didn't want the focus to be on him. He wanted the focus to be on the team. That's the kind of guy he is and so I was thinking, 'Steve, don't be angry right now because we are focused on the game and on the win.'”
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.