Stats Zone: The tactics that delivered victory for FC Dallas against Seattle

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Oscar Pareja's team has had to discover more ways to win this season. Paul Tenorio breaks down Saturday's formula:

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There is no better way to learn than through experience.

It is an idea by which FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja clearly operates.

Want a 19-year-old goalkeeper to develop? No problem. Throw him into the starting lineup and trust him through your playoff run. Want to improve your team for the short- and long-term? Believe in your academy prospects, and when you look outside of MLS, bring in players like 21-year-old Carlos Gruezo.

It will take time. There will be tough lessons along the way – a penalty-kick playoff loss to Seattle in 2014; a 5-3 aggregate loss to Portland in the Western Conference finals last season – but the team will grow as a result of those challenging moments.

This is still a young FC Dallas team. Eight players in the starting lineup against Seattle on Saturday night were aged 25 or younger. But FC Dallas is learning how to win games in different ways.

After going through a troublesome three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 8-0, Dallas came home in desperate need of some wins. It had a tough home swing with games against Portland and Seattle in a three-day stretch, but points were at a premium. Even if it wasn’t pretty.

Dallas got it done.

In neither game this week did FC Dallas look like a dominant side. In both games, it was happy to concede possession for stretches. In both contests, it gave teams space to work the middle of the field. Yet FC Dallas came out with a crucial six points: 2-1 over Portland, and 2-0 over Seattle.

The lesson on Saturday night against the Sounders: Play smart tactically and you can win a game, even if you don’t dominate.

Don’t press high; keep your shape

Dallas took an early 1-0 lead on Mauro Diaz’s penalty kick, and from that moment it was in control of the game, even as Seattle started to take more of the ball. Never did it feel like the Sounders were overly dangerous.

Seattle would finish the game with a healthy share of possession, 57 percent, but in the second half Dallas was content to sit back. It started to pressure only when the ball crossed midfield. Dallas allowed Seattle to push the ball to its wings, but defensively, FCD stayed compact, and the Sounders had trouble doing anything effectively in the penalty area. Seattle completed just 5 of 21 passes in the Dallas 18-yard-box, and its best looks came via crosses.

The thought, Pareja would say postgame, was to look to beat the Sounders through transition. And it did exactly that. Victor Ulloa and Mauro Diaz were constantly looking for a quick ball that would beat the Seattle backline. After watching Seattle hold the ball for much of the second half, FC Dallas sprung for the game-clinching goal on a beautiful chip by Mauro Rosales and nifty finish from Michael Barrios.

Seattle’s big guns were absent

With FC Dallas dropping deeper in the second half, Clint Dempsey was looking for ways to find the game. The problem is Dempsey struggled to get much working with his teammates on the front line.

Dempsey led Seattle in passes in the final third on Saturday, but his top passing combinations in the game were to Osvaldo Alonso and Joevin Jones. Jordan Morris, who moved back out to the wing after scoring in four straight games as a center forward, was almost invisible. He made just 10 passes in the final third in the entire contest and registered just one shot, in the 20th minute.

Dempsey had two shots in the game, one on either side of halftime. Morris’ shot and Dempsey’s 50th minute effort represented two of Seattle’s three shots on goal for the night.

The lack of impact by both Dempsey and Morris speaks to how well Dallas maintained its shape and poise in its defensive end. The result might also have Sigi Schmid rethinking whether or not Morris should move back to the center forward spot, where he clearly is more comfortable and finds the game better.

Surviving the break

After going into the halftime break up a goal, it would have been easy to let the visitors take the game. Seattle came out looking for the kill, and it absolutely bossed the early goings after the break.

But credit to FC Dallas, which not only didn’t fold defensively, but stuck to its game plan of trying to spring through Seattle’s back line in transition. It didn’t pay off until late in the game, but you can see how often Dallas looked for those diagonal through balls to find runners as Seattle tried to push the game.

With the passing abilities of Diaz and Ulloa and the speed of players like Barrios and Fabian Castillo, it’s a dangerous proposition to push too high up the field against this FC Dallas team, even when you’re holding the vast majority of the possession.

This FC Dallas squad is so dynamic, and like Portland a year ago, it is showing it knows how to beat you in different ways – both by building in possession and also with smart, transition soccer.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.