When the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals get’s underway tonight, many of us don’t really know what to expect from the Panamanian opponent. Those of us who have seen or attended CCL matches, have expectations that will likely be met. We can expect lax refereeing (“Getting CONCACAfed”), chippy play, stall tactics, on-the-field dramatics, and all other sorts of things associated with CCL play. But once we clear all the CCL debris, what can we actually expect to see from Arabe Unido?
As Oscar Pareja and FC Dallas prepare for tonight’s home game against Panamanian side Deportivo Arabe Unido (or DAU), Papi and the team will find a “mirror image” staring back at them.
So let’s take a closer look at this “Mirror Image”, an opponent so similar to your favorite team, that at times, you will swear you have seen Arabe Unido play before.
Foundation - Most teams that MLS sides encounter in International competitions, tend to have a storied history, and many legends of the past. Unlike those teams, Arabe Unido was founded in 1994, by Arab immigrants, only 2 years earlier than any MLS team.
Squad Size - Arabe Unido has 26 players on its senior roster, while FC Dallas has 28. Like FCD, DAU will go deep into it’s bench, as already this Clausura, 24 players have seen time on the field in only 7 games.
Player Acquisition and Squad Make Up - DAU prefers to promote from within it’s academy and youth ranks. When bringing in reinforcements from outside the club, DAU prefers to sign players on free transfers, preferably younger players that it can then sell should their value rise. Former FCD player “Super Raton” Blaz Perez, was signed this season on a free transfer, and after only 2 games, was quickly sold following their biggest win of the Clausura, where Super Raton scored a brace.
Coaching - Juan Sergio Guzman or “Jeringa” as he is known, is only 2 years younger than Oscar Pareja, and just like “Papi”, is a former Colombian soccer league player. Like Papi, Jeringa formerly played for the team he now coaches (Arabe Unido, 2008), and like Papi, Jeringa also played for Colombian powerhouse Independiente Medellin (1996, 1998-99, 2003). While both coaches never played together at Independiente Medellin, missing playing with each other by 2 years, they both know of each other, and of each other’s tactics. Not surprisingly, they both have a deep respect for each other.
Play the Youth - Jeringa, much like Papi, became a youth coach once his playing career was over. That same shared youth coaching experience, is the reason why both coaches are not afraid to play the younger players. Both squads are filled with young players (24.2yrs avg for DAU/23.9yr avg for FCD) and both coaches will give those young players significant minutes. 18 year old Chamell Asprilla, came off the bench in the first 4 matches of the Clausura, before he was called up to the Panama U20 team (currently in the same group as Coy Craft’s U20 USMNT).
Tactics - With both coaches hailing from the same league, and having similar experiences during their careers, it’s no coincidence that both will employ very similar tactics. Jeringa likes to move his attacking players all over the attacking 3rd, so pay attention to where those players are on the field, and not where they started. Jeringa also believes in solid fundamentals on defense, and he loves to have his fullbacks overlap with the wings and join the attack. Let’s take a closer look at their formation, and what you can expect.
DAU uses the 4-4-2 formation, with a “Flat Four”
This is a very strong defensive formation, building a “Double Wall” whenever the midfield collapses to assist the backline. This formation allows the defense to swarm to the ball on the sidelines, and close out the center, thus making the opponents passing lanes easy to predict. Both their Forwards will also harass and hound opposing players on the ball, just imagine them having not 1, but 2 Maxi Urrutis on the field.
Don’t be fooled, this is not strictly a “Defensive” formation. In the attack, the strengths lie clearly in the wing positions. Not surprisingly, #80 Renan Addles is currently their most dangerous attacker, and the other wing player, #10 J. Gonzalez, lead the CCL group stage in scoring (5 goals). The 2 fullbacks #29 Ortiz and #2 Nino, as well as the 2 midfielders #5 Heraldez and #25 Macea, provide a lot of pressure on the wings (sidelines). This allows the Fullbacks (Ortiz, Nino) to attack down the sideline, and the nearest midfielder responds by taking up the defensive duties vacated by the attacking defenders.
Of the 2 Central Midfielders (Heraldez, Macea), one takes the offensive role, and the other takes the defensive role. Just like in FCD, Acosta is likely to join the attack, and Gruezo is likely to stay back on defense.
Arabe Unido has speed to burn, and loves to catch teams on the counter.
Since FC Dallas will likely employ the very same formation, and both coaches have similar tactical backgrounds, expect this to become a very strategic game, where both teams will look to punish the other for it’s mistakes
Bench Player Characteristics - Much like Papi, Jeringa loves players capable of playing multiple positions. Most of his bench players are Midfielders capable of playing both Defenders and Attackers.
Set Piece Defending - Much like FCD, DAU has struggled with Set Piece Defending. This may actually be a bigger weakness for DAU, as their league rivals seem to game plan around this very weakness.
Now that I’ve shown you both reflections in the mirror, I hope you come to understand, just how close this series will be.