Set-piece defense potentially dooming FC Dallas playoff run: "We were not strong enough"

Defending a set piece in the 90th minute has become quite the bug-a-boo for FC Dallas.

Just two weeks after the Seattle Sounders nearly eliminated FC Dallas in their Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal by scoring on a 90th-minute corner kick, the Portland Timbers followed suit. Nat Borchers' goal put FC Dallas in a 3-1 bind heading back to Frisco, Texas for the second leg.

“In the second half, we went out there and completely dominated,” said FC Dallas ‘keeper Jesse Gonzalez. “It was just two goals that killed us that were set pieces.”

Portland generated eight corner kick attempts on the night and were able to cash in on two of them, forcing FC Dallas' hand in the second leg despite having an away goal in hand (David Texeira, 62nd minute).

On the first goal, Dairon Asprilla received the Darlington Nagbe corner and headed it right to the feet of an unaccounted-for Liam Ridgewell. The veteran Englishman was able to get within feet of the net after FC Dallas defender Zach-Loyd, who stayed with him through the entirety of the set piece, overzealously chased the ball in the box rather than sticking with Ridgewell.

The second goal from the corner was the potential dagger. In the 91st minute, after Dallas seemed to have gained momentum by grabbing the away goal after falling behind 2-0, Nagbe sent another corner kick, this time to the far post. The ball eventually landed on the ground in front of 20-year-old ‘keeper Gonzalez, who was unable to corral the ball in the scrum.

Between four FC Dallas and two Portland players, Borchers did just enough to expose Dallas yet again.

“It was a corner kick that they put on goal, and I had it in my hands," Gonzalez said. "But Tesho took it away. I tried to clear it, but it deflected and [Borchers] arrived and put it in.”

Dallas allowed 10 goals from either corners or free kicks in the regular season, which does not include a poor showing against Sporting Kansas City in the US Open Cup. They have already allowed three goals from the corner in this year's playoffs.

The Timbers, meanwhile, scored only nine regular-season goals on set pieces, which tied for the fourth-lowest in the league. But Dallas didn’t underestimate the hosts, even with a low regular-season total.

“We know that they’re very strong on dead balls – you saw that today and in all games, and we had studied that,” Texeira said. “They’re players that are very good in the air and in the area. We have to be concentrated to try to correct the small errors and those details.”

Said head coach Oscar Pareja: “They’re good at set plays, I have to say that. But we were not strong enough in that part.”

Gonzalez echoed Texeira’s sentiments, revealing that he expects set-piece defense will prove a main area of concentration heading to Frisco for the second leg next Sunday.

With the season on the line, FC Dallas cannot afford anything less.

“It’s playoff time. It’s a final. Every single detail can make the difference,” Texeira said. “So today we made a few mistakes, but we can correct them and make them better in the week and on Sunday.”