When an MLS team next does the deed of knocking a Liga MX team out of the CONCACAF Champions League in the knockout round, my guess is that the game will look something like Tuesday night's affair between Pachuca and FC Dallas. The teams were very evenly matched, with cagey veterans and special young talents on both sides. The attacks were pacy and opportunistic rather than sustained and relentless. The backlines were solid and risk-free.
The difference will be that on that night in the future, the MLS team will finish their big chances, and the Liga MX team will flub theirs. The MLS team will avoid costly mental mistakes, and the Liga MX team will black out at the wrong moment.
Such was not the case on Tuesday as Pachuca won 3-1, and ran out as 4-3 victors as FC Dallas snatched defeat from the jaws of... well, at least from the jaws of 30 more minutes of soccer. The visitors conceded a goal – the series-decider, because duh – 91:50 into a game the referee had slated for 92:00.
It was a shross. Hirving Lozano was aiming for the run of Victor Guzman on the back post.
Maynor Figueroa, the Honduran World Cup veteran and Dallas's left back, kept Guzman onside when it would have been the natural thing to just step up and spring the trap:
Just prior to that, Dallas had decided to play the ball out of the back instead of booting it long and simply getting to the break. Given the scoreline (2-1 at the time, which would have sent the series to extra time) and the fact that Pachuca were really pressing for the first time all night... I just don't get that decision.
These are the "winning time" moments that Liga MX clubs have consistently gotten right over the past decade in this tournament, and where MLS teams have come up short. Whether it's Vancouver on Wednesday night against Tigres UANL (10pm ET | UDN, TSN1, facebook.com/concacafcom) or FC Dallas next year, or anyone else from this league, that's the gap. There has to be a way to stay switched on in those game-changing moments.
Here are some more bullet points:
• Cristian Colman got the Dallas goal, but his failed breakaway early-ish in the first half continues a worrying trend. His movement continues to be wonderful, his pace and power are obvious and he has very good feet. But he's been on about 10 of those breakaways so far in his short FCD career, and found the net on just one of them.
That miss really did change the game.
• Another miss that changed the game? I think Pachuca's first goal came on a missed offside call, though obviously it was very close.
Regardless, right back Hernan Grana has to do a better job of communicating Franco Jara's run to Walker Zimmerman, who was caught unawares. And Chris Seitz – who really did have a nightmare of an evening – has to be more decisive off his line.
It was a back-breaker of a goal to concede:
• Jara's movement is so, so good. He's one of those center forwards who profoundly influences the game even when he's not getting a ton of the ball.
If you're a young, aspiring goalscorer, make sure you watch a bunch of his clips. He's clever and ruthless and maximizes his abilities.
• Grana and Figueroa will both likely come in for some blame in the days to come, and both deserve their fair share because of those moments. That said, both were asked to defend against Lozano and Urreta out on an island, which is just about as hard a job as there is in CONCACAF.
That clearly took a toll. It's not a surprise to see a team fade down the stretch when playing at nearly 8,000 feet, and Pachuca took advantage of the altitude by punishing the Dallas fullbacks.
• Michael Barrios had an even more flagrant miss than Colman's breakaway. In the 62nd minute Kellyn Acosta skinned a defender in the box then fired a low cross across the face of the goal, but Barrios couldn't redirect it into the net from about two yards out.
Dallas were down 1-0 in the game, tied 2-2 on aggregate but losing on away goals at that point. If Barrios is able to turn the ball into the net the tenor of the whole series would've changed.
If, if, if.
• Lozano – who is a legitimate star – had the strangest night I've seen in a while. He didn't complete a pass after the 67th minute, but two of his five touches turned into goals.
Dallas did a very, very good job of preventing him and the rest of the Pachuca front line from combining together in the final third. Zimmerman's ability to step off the line and defend in space against attackers like that, to win his 1-v-1 battles, is a big reason why. Matt Hedges (who is not as gifted athletically as Zimmerman) also performed well in those moments, specifically against Urreta. Carlos Gruezo, meanwhile, did yeoman's work tracking back to plug gaps and keep the lines tight.
It was a really organized performance. Nontheless, teams don't need to combine to beat you if you're going to concede twice from outside the box.
So the story, once again, is heartbreak. It officially won't be FC Dallas who make the MLS breakthrough in the CCL – at least not this year. Perhaps in the next edition they can put tonight's painful lesson to use and avoid the mistakes that spelled their doom this time around.