It wasn't always pretty, things didn't always go the right way, but in the end FC Dallas came away with three solid points to open the season on Saturday with a 1-0 win over conference rivals San Jose Earthquakes.
FC Dallas got a stoppage-time goal from Blas Perez to earn the three points on a night that saw chance after chance go to waste. Oscar Pareja allowed his side to fight through a physical game to push their way towards goal in the second half.
Right in the midfield
Judging by the lineup card, you have to give Pareja some credit for going out of his way to use a lineup that would have likely struggled against a better side. San Jose didn't have the quality in the midfield to really handle the speed and pressure that Dallas had.
The 4-4-2 was a move that I thought would work going into this game. In the preseason Pareja got a look at what his midfield could do with just Mauro Diaz and Victor Ulloa manning the middle portion of the field. While Diaz didn't get a ton of great looks on the ball in the first half, the moves on the wings would allow Diaz to open up his game a bit in the second half.
Pareja was wise to switch things up in the second half by moving Fabian Castillo and Tesho Akindele between the wings and up top. That constant change kept the San Jose defense on their toes and really caused a lot of problems in the late stages of the game.
The big thing to note is that FCD now has a pretty solid grouping on the wings with Ryan Hollingshead, Akindele, Castillo and Michael Barrios. All four played very well on the wings in this one and proved that the wide area may not be something to get overly concerned about this season.
Atiba Harris is a work in progress
We cannot stress this enough on this space. I totally get and understand what Pareja is attempting to do here with Harris. He wants that extra bit of depth in the back and considering the fact that Kellyn Acosta isn't completely fit from his preseason injury and Je-Vaughn Watson hasn't re-signed with the club (more on that hopefully later this week), having Harris in the back isn't a terrible idea.
I know the stats from the weekend. Overall, Harris wasn't great in the back in his first regular season game in the position. He was out of place in spots, gave the ball away in others and largely didn't look comfortable enough. But I give Pareja the credit here for going for this kind of move. He wants Zach Loyd and Matt Hedges in the middle. He wants Walker Zimmerman as a depth piece (right now). This all means that Harris, for the time being at least, has to start in this spot whether we like it or not.
The only thing I worry about with Harris is that it will continue to take him a while to get comfortable in this spot. I know Watson took a few games to really make this position his own and it will be the same way for Harris. A good team like a LA or Seattle will make FCD pay for his mistakes though.
Vic in the middle
I touched on it briefly above but I felt Ulloa had another strong game in the center of the midfield for FC Dallas on Saturday night. It is still rather remarkable how far this guy has come in the last year alone. Not playing a lick under Schellas Hyndman, to being cut at the end of the 2013 season, to being picked back up in 2014 by Pareja, now to a guy that looks like a future star in this league.
There were still moments like I said that Diaz wasn't allowed the space to do his magic, but Ulloa time and time again pulled a lot of pressure off Diaz and off the defensive line behind him. He gets into spots that you don't see on the scoresheet either, which may be the best compliment to give a guy in a defensive midfield position.
I know that may be bold to say but Ulloa truly looks like the Homegrown star that MLS wants to have out of their academy system. Guys that work hard to earn the paycheck, make a massive impact on the field for their club and ones that give loads of hope to every young player out there that they can do the same.
Lastly, as the 3rdDegree twitter handle pointed out last night, Ulloa now possesses Pareja's old number on his jersey. How fitting is that?
Beer Garden looked great. The new stands in the north end add even more energy to that area. Also, the first try at doing Deep in the Heart of Texas was good. It can only improve from here folks.
Barrios looks the part. Just the brief moments out of the Dallas newcomer shows why Pareja was keen to bring him in.
More moves on the way. We'll dive into this soon but expect some signings in the near future as FCD has the roster space to do some work. Steve Davis pointed out on his radio broadcast that they have a South American center midfield lined up too.
Pareja pleads to fans to attend. Only 15k were on hand for the season opener. You could blame the weather this week leading up to it, or the marketing in place, or whatever. But Pareja had a simple message that he stated after the game:
I would like to send the message to our community and our fans that we just want them to come and see (the boys) play. Seeing the stadium today, as it was, generated a lot of passion in the players, and for those (fans) who couldn't attend tonight, I would like to personally invite (them) to come and see the boys play.
What all did you take away from Saturday's win?