We know who they are, but let’s talk about what to expect out of Dallas’ midfield and attacking players in for the 2017 season.
Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo return for another season. This defensive duo played well last year as Acosta would take box to box duties and Gruezo would sit back and contribute hard nosed defensive play. They complement each other very well, but in the absence of playmaker Mauro Diaz, the defensive midfield will have to make some changes.
Last year, upon winning the ball, Acosta would look to play a simple pass to Diaz and then provide him with an open back pass if Diaz couldn’t find another option. This year he will be expected to contribute more in the attack and create chances for others. This is true for both the speculated 4-4-2 and Pareja’s customary 4-2-3-1 because Javier Morales cannot be expected to carry the entire attack like Diaz did.
Gruezo’s role will not be altered much. While Dallas wants to have a potent attack, Gruezo really should not be asked to contribute much outside of his defensive duties. It’s crucial that Dallas does not sacrifice offense for defense by sending Gruezo forward. Not only is he not very effective, but that also leaves the defense exposed on a counterattack. So again this year expect Gruezo to stay back and play simple passes laterally or to one of his defenders despite his increasing tendency to venture forward near the end of last season.
The most obvious departure from FC Dallas this offseason was young designated player Fabian Castillo to Turkey. While he may have left on poor terms, he was an electrifying player whose constant counterattacking threat from the left side will be missed. Fortunately, the front office acted quickly in replacing him with Roland Lamah. The ex-Swansea City player and Belgian international was signed to a senior salary from Hungarian club Ferencváros. Let’s take a moment appreciate that the FO signed a Belgian international with Premier League and La Liga experience, and did so without using a designated player spot.
Lamah should slot in nicely for Castillo due to their similar builds and speeds. What we have yet to see is if Lamah is more clinical in the final third than Castillo was. Being able to get past defenders doesn’t mean much if the final product is a ball into the stands. The only worry I have for Lamah is that he will fail adapt to the high pressing, workhorse culture. It’s a lot to ask players like Michael Barrios and Maxi Urruti to sprint for 90 minutes straight, and Lamah may have trouble adjusting to it. A Welsh Newspaper said of his time at Swansea “He was often wasteful and clumsy on the ball and had little appetite for the defensive side of the game.” I can only hope that he doesn’t disrupt our pressing and finds new motivation in America.
Barrios, Lamah’s complement on the right, will try to build upon a commendable 2016 season in which he recorded nine goals and two assists. In his third year with FC Dallas he will at least have more consistent usage then he did last season. Before Castillo’s departure he was able to make plays off of him, but without Castillo he was often asked to create chances himself. He performed well as more of a focal point of attack, but he should be able to create opportunities for Lamah like Castillo did for him, which strengthens the entire attack. Barrios has a tendency to have a heavy touch and hesitate with making the lethal final pass. If he can improve upon those, which is a tall order, then he will be one of the MLS’s best wingers because the work rate is certainly there.
We still really aren’t sure if Oscar Pareja intends to field a 4-4-2, in which there would be no attacking midfielders, or a 4-2-3-1. If Dallas does run out a 4-2-3-1 then expect Javier Morales to feature.
I wrote this previously on Morales:
“The former Real Salt Lake player was signed to be a like-for-like substitution for Mauro Diaz. While he may fill the hole tactically, it’s doubtful that we will see Diaz level production out of him in the number ten role. Additionally, he’s 37 years old and will have to be rested often and may even sit out for games on turf. He may be an adequate Band-Aid solution, but I don’t expect him to be the answer to all of FC Dallas’ problems.
Morales also showed signs of a decline last season. Despite appearing in 29 games in 2016, he only tallied four assists. The 2015 season he recorded twelve assists even though he played nearly identical minutes. If this trajectory is any indication of how he will play this season, it's hard to be optimistic about Dallas' record through the spring. If Morales struggles early look for Pareja to begin to give Paxton Pomykal minutes to see what the young homegrown can bring to the table.”
This position will be a weakness until Diaz returns unless Morales lights it up in unexpected ways.
Again, we really aren’t sure if Pareja will use a two striker formation or stick with one. We do know that Cristian Colman should be expected to start after Dallas dropped a record transfer fee on him. Hopefully he can live up to expectations that come with a two-million-dollar fee. He didn’t light up the scoresheet during the Argentina trip, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t contribute. Much like Urruti, he excels in skills that aren’t represented in statistics; he holds up play and lays the ball off whereas Urruti presses the backline and wins the ball high up the pitch.
Urruti lacked a lethal touch and confidence last year. He showed that he will probably never be a prolific goal scorer, but he can contribute with his work ethic. He wasn’t great as a poacher as he struggled to sniff out pockets of space in dangerous positions, and when he did find himself in front of goal, he struggled to convert. The Colman partnership should take some pressure off of him, but I don’t expect Urruti to reinvent himself, although I can’t help but cheer for him.
It’s hard to talk about a player that hasn’t played his first MLS game yet, but Pareja and Clavijo saw something in Colman that they felt like they had to have, hopefully it’s a 20-goal-a-season goalscorer. He and Urruti should be compatible partners. Colman probably lining up as the deeper of the two and looking to create chances for his partner, while Urruti sits on shoulder of the defender and looks to make runs in behind. Colman adds even more blazing speed in attack and should make for a formidable goal scoring threat.
Will the loss of Fabian Castillo show? Possibly, although Lamah will look to make the fans move on. What will show is the loss of Mauro Diaz, his absence puts Dallas into a sort of tactical limbo. There will have to be some experimentation and crawling before this FC Dallas attack can fly without him. If Diaz returns healthy and Colman thrives, then Dallas will finally have the elite attacking unit needed to bring home the MLS Cup.