Delayed 24 hours by icemageddon 2011, pre-season training finally gets underway at an indoor training facility near PHP on Wednesday morning and while there aren't nearly as many starting and roster spots up for grabs as some teams, there's plenty of storylines to look into as FCD works towards a stretch of three pre-season games in a week(Feb 8 vs Houston Baptist, Feb 12 vs Houston, Feb 15 vs SMU).
Earning playing time against Houston in Corpus Christi. As Schellas said in our interview with him last week, the best way for a player to make an impression on the gaffer is to play well against MLS teams in pre-season. With Ugo and Davies out, players like Bobby Warshaw and Scott Gordon could earn a golden chance to get an early leg up on the rest of their competition by earning time playing well next Saturday.
Who will pair up with George John? As I mentioned earlier, with Ugo and Davies out there is a huge opening for someone to step in right away and contribute at center back. While Ugo is scheduled to only be out 4-6 weeks, the coaching staff has seen what rushing a sports hernia injury can do to a player so I'd be very surprised if Ihemelu is healthy on opening day.
That leaves an open spot at center back which could be filled by Jackson, Zach Loyd, Bobby Warshaw or even an unknown like Scott Gordon or Alexis Pradie. It will be very interesting to track the lineups and center back combinations in the pre-season games.
Locking down the right sided midfield spot. Arguably the most gaping hole left in the FCD roster from 2010 is the right sided midfield spot that Atiba Harris had locked down for the entire season. Marvin Chavez is the leader in the clubhouse with his speed and work rate that Schellas absolutely loves, but he hasn't proved he can remain consistent for a season yet.
We could see a right midfield by-committee this season with versatile players like Jackson, Pearce and Loyd spending some time on the right side while young bucks like Avila and Wiedeman will look to make their mark in the pre-season and stake their claim on the right side. Don't sleep on draft picks Charlie Campbell or Brayan Martinez either.
Tempering expectations. Schellas has mentioned in multiple spots that keeping expectations realistic is one of his biggest challenges heading into 2011 as the Western Conference Champions head into a new season without three huge contributors from last season and with just two forwards with any meaningful MLS playing time.
Fans will not want to hear this, however, as there's only one place to go after making MLS Cup the previous season and that's winning MLS Cup the next year. It'll be interesting to track how those expectations from the fans evolve as the pre-season goes on and the team takes shape.
The one area that’s going to be different this year and an area that we have to be cautious with is expectations. I think we’ll be very realistic in what the demands and expectations we have on our players. I think from afar whether it’s the fans or the media whatever it is, I think expectations for FC Dallas will be higher and that can bring a lot of pressure.
There are, of course, many more storylines to track as we head into the 2011 pre-season, but for the first couple of weeks follow these ones I've mentioned above. The early pre-season is a key time for players to really make a good first impression on the coaches and these three games before the team heads to Orlando are just around the corner.