MLS Closeup: FC Dallas looks East to halt skid

On a night in which its attack woke up, FC Dallas fell prey to its snoozy defense.

Another worrisome display Wednesday went into the books at 3-3; a disquieting scoreline at home, especially against in-state rival Houston, and worsened by FCD’s squandering of a 3-1 lead.

FCD responded forcefully after conceding a goal in the first minute to score twice in the final minutes of the first half and again early in the second. But its puzzling propensity for collapse recurred in the final 20 minutes and instead of a momentum-building win, a tie extended its winless streak to five games, the longest such run this season.

“It is one of those nights that we come out disappointed,” said head coach Oscar Pareja in his postgame comments. “We had the three points, at home, points that we needed. But, we have to keep moving. There is just work – nothing else.”

In the first minute, a bad touch by Matt Hedges triggered a swift Dynamo attack and sharp finish by Vicente Sanchez. Golazos by Tesho Akindele and Maynor Figueroa overturned the deficit and the lead grew to 3-1 on a fine shot by Max Urruti seven minutes into the second half. FCD had the game at its mercy.

But when Hernan Grana missed a tackle and Hedges left a lane open by stepping for a ball he had no chance of winning, Erick Torres scored. When a shot bounced off the bar 15 minutes later, Torres scored again. Those errors betrayed an attack revived by a change in formation.

After a run of four games had yielded just one goal (and two disallowed by VAR decisions), head coach Oscar Pareja changed to a 4-1-4-1 formation that put forward Max Urruti alone up top, with Roland Lamah shifted centrally alongside Kellyn Acosta. Michael Barrios kept his spot at right mid and Akindele, who’s not been starting many games in 2017, took over for Lamah on the left.

“Yea, the coaches had a great game plan,” said midfielder Victor Ulloa, who replaced Lamah in the 77th minute. “The team was able to find Kellyn and Lamah a little higher in those open spaces. They were able to create opportunities at the end of the first half, after we made that mistake. We just have to maintain that lead.”

Midfielder Mauro Diaz sat out the game with a sore hamstring and defender Walker Zimmerman stayed on the bench after suffering through some rough times since coming back from a strained knee. Barrios earned assists on the first and third FCD goals and is second in the league with 12, yet the steadiness and reliability of his performances has not been matched by those of many teammates.

Hedges, Zimmerman and Acosta haven’t been as sharp as in the past two seasons and one of the offseason signings, Cristian Colman, is scrambling for playing time.

As other Western Conference teams, particularly Seattle, have surged in the past month, FCD has stagnated. It is fifth in a tightly bunched sextet of playoff teams, though its points-per-game figure of 1.5 is third-best. The Sounders are first in the standings but second in PPG at 1.58, behind Sporting Kansas City (1.6).

The skid followed a three-game winning streak, which seems a bit strange, but all three of those victories -- Toronto FC (3-1), D.C. United (4-2), at Montreal (2-1) -- came against Eastern Conference teams. Though overall the Eastern group is considered stronger than the Western contingent, FCD has compiled a 4-2-1 record in its crossover games. It has not beaten a conference foe since crushing Real Salt Lake, 6-2, in early June.

Four of its remaining 10 games are against the East, so its opportunities to take points away from conference rivals are relatively few. Missing the playoffs is unlikely, but also unlikely is a finish in the top two and avoidance of the single-game Knockout Round.

A run of three straight games against Eastern teams starts with Columbus on Saturday and maybe in this unusual season it can be a turning point.

“Soccer always gives you another opportunity,” said Ulloa. “We regret the one we gave up tonight but it’s a quick turnaround and we need to get ready. We have to keep the group together mentally and be strong, keep fighting and keep pushing forward.”

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