The latest installment of the Texas Derby on Saturday went all FC Dallas' way, as they scored two goals within the first 27 minutes for a 3-0 win over Houston. The match left the two Texas teams pointed in distinctly different directions. While FCD prepare for a playoff run, possibly facing teams they have history with, the Dynamo now know they've missed the playoffs for a third straight year.
Here are three observations from Saturday's derby.
FC Dallas show resilience just to make the playoffs
It's been a long, strange season — made even tougher for Dallas by the rash of COVID-19 cases that struck their clubhouse and kept them from participating in the MLS Is Back Tournament. Just over three weeks ago, they'd dropped a 2-0 match to this same Houston squad — a fourth straight winless match at an inopportune time. But they responded with some key results when they needed them.
"I have to give so much credit to these guys, their character and their resilience," Gonzalez said. "In the last two and a half weeks, they've shown and fight and desire and not making excuses and showing up to still complete the objectives, so I'm very proud of them, and I'm just enjoying being their coach."
Highlights: FC Dallas 3, Houston Dynamo 0
Yet Gonzalez indicated there would be little time to savor the achievement of making the playoffs ahead of a Wednesday matchup against playoff-bound Nashville.
"It's been that kind of season, not too much time to reflect, and you need to be efficient in that reflection and move on and face the next step," he said. "They're still within reach of a top-four finish, which would allow them to host a home match. "Making the playoffs was the first and primary objective, and then the second one after that is, 'Can we earn a home playoff game?' Our sights are set on that now."
Gonzalez noted that while finishing in the top four is certainly possible for the team, it starts with an opponent they've struggled with — and one they've grown more familiar with than they'd expected to when the season started. As a result of both being forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back Tournament, the two teams faced off in back-to-back matches in Frisco in August, with Nashville winning one and drawing the other before triumphing 3-0 when they met again in Nashville 10 days ago.
"Obviously, we haven't had had good results in that series, but this is all about how you finish," the Dallas head coach said. "They've done well in their first year in the league, congrats to them, but we're looking forward to playing them again and doing it with a motivation to earn a home playoff game. I want to play in front of these fans, and our players want to play in front of our fans again. And the only way we can accomplish that is to try to finish these last two games in a very positive way."
Dallas can be a real threat in the postseason
"They've just continued to have joy and fun with moving the ball," Gonzalez said of his team's play on Saturday — and the offensive fluidity they displayed will certainly concern other West teams if they can keep at it.
Fafa Picault, who registered a pair of goals on the day, sees an esprit de corps among the team that can propel them.
"We're gelling," he noted. "I feel like there's a lot of joy in the group. With that said, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves and get too high. We have to keep a certain level and equilibrium, because the moment you get too excited or too high, you're gonna let down your guard."
Matt Doyle breaks down how Dallas decimated Houston
"We have to continue to stay hungry," he added. "We haven't done anything special yet, and I think that's what keeps our team who we are, recognizing that we want more. We're not going to stay content with a win against Houston today."
While the chemistry between the team manifested in a trio of highlight-reel goals on Saturday, Picault notes that FCD is prepared to play more than one way.
"I think the most important thing is to play for each other," Picault said of the team's mindset heading into November. "If you want to go far, it's going to take not just good football, but understanding different moments in a game. There are moments for good football, there are moments for grit, and that's how the team wins. Look at the highest level of all games and across the world. It's not always pretty football. In some of these games, there are moments where you have to touch, there are moments where you have to play long, there are moments where you have to just bite it out with [winning] 50-50s and aerial balls ... I think if we fight for each other — obviously, we want to play beautiful football because we have very good players for it — but it's going to take a total effort and complete football for us to win and make a deep run."
Houston, we have a problem
For Dynamo head coach Tab Ramos, looking at why his team has missed out on the playoffs in his debut season, he attributed it largely to picking up only draws when they needed wins. Houston now has just four wins vs. nine losses and nine draws on the year with their postseason hopes ended ahead of their final game on Decision Day presented by AT&T.
"I felt like seven of those should have been wins," Ramos said of the draws. "And once we didn't get those wins, eventually there are going to be games where you're not up to par, and the ones [in which] you're not up to par, you're normally going to lose. And we couldn't get over the hump in the games that we were really competitive in, and that could have been another 8, 10 points from where we are now. That would have made it a completely different season. Unfortunately, that didn't happen."
Ramos did not hesitate in already starting to cast his eyes beyond 2020 by making clear he will be taking a hard look at which players will continue on in orange for the 2021 campaign.
"Now we have to start looking into the future, and maybe fitting in some pieces that we feel for the way we want to play that fit in a little bit better ... this is a conversation we'll have to have in the offseason, and see how many changes we can make and how we can start building the team a little bit differently."
Defender Adam Lundkvist echoed Ramos' disappointment in how the match went and where the season has ended up but retained confidence that brighter times lie ahead.
"We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and don't blame anyone else but ourselves," he observed. "I think what we can take away from this game is that we can do better. The fans deserve better. I mean, the club deserves better. We're not about this. We want to come here, we want to impose ourselves. That's what we want to be. And today is a huge letdown.
"We just have to grind," he added. "There's no other way to put it. The night is darkest before the dawn, so I mean, we just have to push through it as a group, as a team, as a club and as a city. I know that we always have the support, and we feel it. We just want to make the guys, the fans and everyone proud."