Buck up, buttercup – another weekend of MLS action is here as FC Dallas host Colorado. The Rapids come in with no wins, two draws, and a loss – two points – good for 9th place in the West. After the loss up in Columbus, Dallas is now 1-1-1 tied on four points for 6th through 8th (I prefer 6th) in the conference.
Formation 4-4-2; 4-4-2 (Diamond)
Colorado basically remade their starting XI in the offseason. In came Keegan Rosenberry to take over right back. In came Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio to pair up top. Along came Benny Feilhaber and Nicolas Mezquida to shore up the midfield - that’s five new starters in the offseason. Add in Dillon Serna taking over the left back role from 2018 team MVP Edgar Castillo, who was traded to New England, and thats six new starters. With Kofi Opare brought in from DC United but currently injured, that number jumps up to seven.
Talk about a make over.
According to head coach Anthony Hudson and General Manager Padraig Smith (and last season’s results) the team needed one. After taking over last season, coach Hudson said he wanted the team to put pressure on opponents and play attacking soccer. They did neither, being simultaneously one of the worst scoring teams in the league and one of the worst defensive teams. So two handfuls of players were let go to remake the roster. Instead of looking for foreign players, the FO made a point to find meaningful contributor from MLS rosters. They wanted the turn around to be quick, with little time taken to acclimate new players to the league.
The results so far…well, same as before, but with more of a fighting spirit. They drew 3-3 against Portland on week one, in the middle of a snow storm and back when we thought that was impressive. They lost 2-0 to Seattle in Seattle and then drew 1-1 with Sporting KC. What hasn’t changed this go round is that the defense is still mostly bad. The offense has been better (it can’t have been worse) so the eye test says Colorado is better. But here’s the rub, the team has been missing its three or four top center backs. Imagine being down Matt Hedges, Reto Ziegler, and Bressan (who we haven’t seen yet). Now name the next two CBs on the roster, I’ll wait. (You Googled it, cheater). Could this Colorado team be, gulp, good? Well, goods a strong word, but could they be better? Better than Dallas?
Colorado would like to come out playing a 4-4-2, with a diamond in the midfield. Kellyn Acosta and Jack Price shuttling up and down as the left and right midfielders, with the fullbacks overlapping on the wings. Feilhaber playing a deep lying playmaker role and Mezquida the tip of the spear to create chances. Kamara, as he has always been, is the dangerous aerial threat and poacher waiting in the box for crosses and put backs. And whoever his partner is, this weekend being rookie Andre Shinyashiki, will be drifting into the half spaces and room created by Kamara’s orbit. As noted by Burgundy Wave, the Rapids will shape shift this formation, using an almost flat 4-4-2 when in defense, and transforming into the diamond/parallelogram when in possession. This puts Acosta and Mezquida out wide to hold down the flanks, a dicey proposition if you ask me. Not because Acosta isn’t a fine defender, but because 34 year old Feilhaber is left in the middle of the field to control that area. Seems like an…interesting choice. Either way though, the real goal of that setup is that, when the ball is turned over, Feilhaber can release either Rosenberry, Serna or secondary striker whomever down a wing while Kellyn and Mezquida pinch in to the middle. This creates a numbers problem for the opposing team if their defensive midfielders are out of position. If the ball gets out wide, it stretches the defense apart, leaving space for the rushing midfielders to fill. If a team is really caught out, a center back might get pushed outside leaving only one defender to deal with Kamara and striker 2 in the middle of the field. That’s a bad, bad situation.
FC Dallas will have to find a way to deal with that situation above, while also creating chances of their own. With Carlos Gruezo and Bryan Acosta out, it’s going to be an interesting decision on who steps into the midfield for Luchi. The youth vs experience battle will decide the game. My preference would be a more sturdy (experienced) foundation, granted, I’m not absolutely sure how that happens with the talent available. But Dallas has to be able to attack down the middle of the field. Mosquera needs to cut-inside and put pressure on Benny and the center backs (awkward band name!). As an aside, I would like for the Preseason Santiago Mosquera to please show up (please show up, please show up…). Paxton Pomykal and Mo can feast on the center backs in this situation and Dominque Badji should have plenty of opportunities because of it.
Key Matchup: Paxton Pomykal vs Kellyn Acosta
The two most celebrated homegrown’s in FCD history. A few years ago this would have been considered the future of the FCD midfield. (Sigh) What might have been. This game should see the two meet up plenty as both will be working box to box. If Kellyn is back to his old self, he is a more complete player, both because of his physical maturity and because of his vast experience. But lets give Paxton a bit of love too (like that’s hard). He’s a more creative player than Kellyn was, even at this early stage. He appears as calm as any veteran, and absolutely has a technical ability above most other players on the field, for either team. Kellyn might have some extra motivation, coming back here and all, but I’ve never been one to put much stock in that. Everyones a professional now, everyone’s getting paid to beat the other team. Paxton might have just as much motivation to show FCD’s decision in him was right.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Jumpstart the Offense - Or maybe, jumpstart Mosquera and Badji. Everyone here at Big D expected a big jump in production from Mosquera, especially after preseason. Both players have been underwhelming thus far. For Dallas to reach its normal heights, both players need to start earning their keep.
- Youth Movement – Again, with Gruezo and Acosta out, it’s going to be a young group of players at the heart of the formation. That’s a dangerous game to play, especially against vets like Acosta and Feilhaber. But it’s also an opportunity to prove you belong. We’ve seen without a doubt Paxton belongs. Who else joins him?
- Communication at the Back – Along with previously spoken about internationals being absent, Dallas will also be missing Jesse Gonzalez. That means Jimmy Maurer will be backstop this week. Maurer was a solid addition last season and had a brief spell where we all wondered if he was the best keeper on the team. It didn’t last, but that’s still a good sign for a backup up. But in his first start of the season, the backline communication between him and the defenders must be terrific to keep the clean sheet.
I’ve seen lots of opinions about this game from a lot of people. And quite a few believe Colorado is the favorite. Maybe it’s because all of the new, proven faces they brought in. Maybe it’s because of the changes in Dallas. Probably all of the above. But from this homer’s prospective, it’s a bit early to declare this team worse than Colorado. Kamara is the kind of striker that always causes Hedges and Co. problems, but everyone else is manageable. I’ve somehow managed to get this far without mentioning the Tim Howard Goodbye Tour, but that shouldn’t change the results. Put me down for a 2-1 win in this one.