Welcome back ladies and gents! A new day has dawned and with it, the start of the 2019 MLS season. A new season is a new opportunity for FC Dallas, as the do every season, to try and take over the world…erm…league. After an off season of change, the Hoops will try to push onward and upward with a new coach, some new players, and new outlook.
Ok, enough with the lame tropes about “new” things. Yes, Dallas has a new coach in Luchi Gonzalez who’s tactics and coaching philosophy with be a different from Oscar Pareja’s. No duh. Of course adding new signings like Bryan Acosta and playing the “young professionals” like Paxton Pomykal and such will make things different and exciting. That’s the point. Obviously, a new season IS a new opportunity, just like every season before and after. Face – Palm. So with all of that out of the way, lets get straight to the reason we are all here today – to take a look at our first opponent of the new season (sorry), New England Revolution.
Last season, New England coach Brad Friedel (no longer new coach) had the team flying high right out of the gates. New England played a high press system that had the opposition bewildered for the first few months of the season. They had only lost 4 games through the middle of July (one L courtesy of Dallas) and had some nice wins over New York Red Bull and Sporting KC, and draws with NYCFC, Columbus and Atlanta. Dallas fans know first hand how the second half of a season can get away from you, and that’s what happened to the Revs, who finished with only three more wins after July 7 and included a brutal, almost two-month winless streak (July 14 – Sept 5). To sum it up quickly, poor defending at truly awful times pulled the season apart. Multiple games and points were given away at the very end of regulation through one hapless incident or another. In the end, New England finished with 41 points, nine back of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and 16 overall in the league.
History lesson now over, what can we expect from New England in this game? Well, let’s start with some new faces that NE is hoping will help keep the ship afloat and help them sail into the postseason. The big new signing is Carles Gil. Gil comes over from Spain where he developed in Valencia’s academy and was playing for Deportivo La Coruna before being sold to New England. He’s being plopped down directly in the number 10 spot but can also play as a winger. Look for him to move all over the attacking third as the game and season goes along. News England’s other big signing of the offseason thus far probably won’t be taking the field for this game due to injury. Juan Fernando Caicedo, a Columbian striker on loan from IIndependiente Medellín, will be sidelined but over the course of the season will be in direct competition for the starting forward spot. Edgar Castillo was brought in from a trade with Colorado to shore up the backline and will slot in at left back for probably most of the season.
As for style of play – I expect the Revs to continue with the high press. With Gil coming in to run the midfield and a trio of solid attacking options surrounding him, the main question is if the defense can hold up. The key to a good pressing system is having everyone connected from front to back. The striker must press the oppositions back line, the midfielders have to mark and press the next line, looking to intercept passes or trap the player in possession. Defenders must find the next line of outlet options and taking them out of the play. Once possession is turned over, everyone must attack at once and at speed. If you need visual reference, think of Liverpool. With Castillo overlapping last season’s team MVP Cristian Penilla - and Gil, Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo all clicking together – this attack could create problems for the FC Dallas backline and new look midfield. But will the defense be able to hold or will New England be burned once again by poor play at the back.
Dallas, on the other hand will have its own set of new surprises and additions ready for New England. Dom Badji has been a boss up top all preseason and looks to be developing nicely for Luchi. Michel Barrios and Santiago Mosquera (also killing in the preseason) will surround him on the wings while homegrown super stud Pomykal will play in an attacking midfield spot. New addition Bryan Acosta will have to prove his mettle next to Carlos Gruezo. Acosta can be a real difference maker for the team this season. He’s much more box to box than Victor Ulloa was and has a nasty outside shot. His distribution is phenomenal as well. I expect him to take most corner kicks and long-distance free kicks, but it’s yet to be determined if he can get ahead of Ziegler and Mosquera on the shot taking for close free kicks. The back line should stay the same as the end of last season with Pedroso, Ziegler, Hedges, and Cannon forming a solid foundation. Our mercurial young keeper, Jesse Gonzalez, will carry on as starter. The bench options on this team are going to be a lot of fun. Quite a few Homegrowns occupy roster spots (Jesus Ferreira, Bryan Reynolds, Thomas Roberts, Brandon Servania…. the list is too long) as well as some high quality vets like Jacori Hayes, Ryan Hollingshead, Moises Hernandez, “Crown Prince” Aranguiz, and off season signing Bressan. I honestly don’t know how Luchi is going to pick a consistent 18 this season.
Key Matchup: Bryan Acosta vs Carles Gil
It’s only fitting to pit the two big signings from each team this offseason against each other for the first game of the season. It helps they should have plenty of opportunity to match up on the field as well. Who will be the bigger difference maker? Gil has the pedigree to “win” this matchup, with his time in Spain and England. But Acosta is a rising talent and former Spanish league vet as well. Gil will be farther upfield and be the main creative hub for New England. His impact could, and should, be more obvious and easier to see. If Gruezo can shut Gil down and allow Acosta the freedom to join the attack though, we might see Acosta play the more decisive game.
Three Keys to the Game
1. New Fluidity to the Attack – This game is all about establishing an identity and style of play to build upon for the remainder of the season – and even the remainder of the Luchi Era. So far, preseason results have been promising, with both Badji and Mosquera appearing to reach a new level. If those two can be the main drivers of the attack, thus lifting some responsibility of Paxton, we could see the rest of the team play with more freedom and creativity than last season.
2. Refocus the Defense – Last season started so well for the Dallas D. They were as solid as Reto’s gelled hair, and often because of it. But as the season puttered along, so did this solidity. That’s not to say they were Minnesota (or New England) bad, but just not up to the requisite standard. Hopefully another year together and quality backups pushing for playing time behind them will keep this group on their toes, both on field and training ground.
3. Find the new Star – With Diaz sold last year, Maxi sold in the off season, and Coach Pareja moving on, this team has a sort of on-pitch personality void. Not that the players aren’t talented and creative or whatever, but that, no one yet has asserted themselves as the driving force for success or failure. All teams have one, the best teams have multiples. Who steps up and take the “Face of the Franchise” mantle for this team? Who steps up and drives results when we need them and creates plays when called upon? Who fills the void? That’s what we will find out, starting this Saturday. My money’s on Mosquera – and hopefully Paxton develops into the second in charge and Acosta or Badji makes it a triumvirate.
Season openers can be tricky matches. On the one hand, confidence and homer-ism are overflowing from both the team and fan base. Preseason results are tinting our lenses. The other hand holds the bag with which to pull over our face. To hide from sloppy play and rust. To hold in desperation when we’ve oversold our opinions and beg for a second chance. This dawning of a new era for FC Dallas holds a lot of promise and has been talked up by everyone, owner included. This spring time renewal – oh shut up! Sorry, got carried away. Give me the three points in a 2-0 win for FC Dallas.