How does one even mark the passage of time without FC Dallas games each week? Somehow, probably through pheromones, we’ve managed to awake from our offeasonal hibernation to migrate back to Toyota Stadium, our TVs, or laptops to watch FCD kick off another campaign.
It doesn’t feel like it’s here, but the fact that Mark Followill and Steve Davis’ voices are filling my room means that the season has arrived. However, this year promises new wrinkles to make it easier to wipe the sleep from our eyes; MLS is celebrating its 25th year and Dallas has made some new additions that deserve your attention. Winning makes for an easier transition into the season. So let’s crawl out of bed as a fan base, grab our cups of joe, dawn our bearclaw slippers, and take to our keyboards in true FC Dallas fan fashion.
New faces in midfield
Two-thirds of Dallas’ midfield on opening day were new acquisitions and both impressed. Thiago Santos was brought in with TAM to replace Carlos Gruezo, which is not an easy task. As FCD’s late season slide showed, he was indispensable to Dallas’ tactics and success. However, he blamelessly headed for greener pastures in the Bundesliga and left Luchi Gonzalez and Andre Zanotta with a good deal of cash to spend on a replacement. They brought in Santos, who seems to fit Luchi’s system a bit better. While still a relentless defender, Santos’ passing range is greater than Gruezo’s (not to discredit the improvements he made in contributing to the attack during his tenure). He sits deep and can spray the ball out wide. With the speed Dallas has on the wings in Michael Barrios and Fafa Picault, they look especially potent on the counter and Santos is going to be a big part of that. He also showed he wasn’t afraid of taking advantage of space and pushing forward. He drove into Philly’s box several times and while his end product was lacking, by mid-season I expect that it won’t. However, it’s uncertain how he’ll pair with Bryan Acosta, who is likely to be his partner for most of the season. They should form a prototypical 6/8 midfield, but that still begs the question of what to do with the third midfield spot.
Tanner Tessman’s performance complicates that even further. Dallas has no shortage of options to plug-in alongside Santos and Acosta. Tessman’s physicality and athleticism makes him a strong candidate to plug-in for more defensive set-ups. However, Servania showed remarkably chemistry with Acosta by the end of last season and offers more going forward than Tessman. For all that, you can’t leave out Paxton Pomykal, who has the ability to singlehandedly change a game. It’s an exciting conundrum that we can’t speculate too much on at this point, but it’s the story to watch so far this season.
All eyes off me
When Dallas’ attack looks particularly destitute, tactics can quickly devolve into asking Barrios to work a miracle. While his legs never stop churning, by tightly marking him during transitional periods, he can be neutralized. When he’s only Dallas route of attack, his magic dries up pretty quickly. But the additions of Cobra and Picault have decentered him. Picault offers an partner on the opposite wing that is equally speedy and therefore dangerous on the counter. While Picault is still settling in, his physical skills means that he makes Dallas’ counterattacks much more effective than Santiago Mosquera, who is less of an out and out winger, or Pomykal, who really isn’t a winger at all.
For now, it looks like Picault is what Luchi wants on the wing, but that could easily change as the season progresses. I’ve called for Dallas to balance their attack by adding another player like Barrios and it looks like they’ve got one. Dallas’ new attack is already stretching back lines and looking threatening, but will opponents figure out how to stop it? Philly has some great speed in the defense and they were consistently under pressure from out wide, but Barrios and Picault are going to have to make the most of their opportunities if the partnership is going to live up to expectations.
Being a fan from afar and watching opponents’ broadcasts has made me recognize the importance of commentary to the game experience. Commentary can be good for so many different reasons. The hosts can have great chemistry and be enjoyably chummy, they can offer informative tactical insight, or they use their insider access to the team to elucidate personnel changes or share anecdotes about the players. But they can also detract from the watching experience by being blindly partisan, awkward, unemotive, or just plain boring. Luckily, we have a pretty great crew on TXA-21, but it seems like they have orders from up top to switch things around for the league’s 25th season.
This week, they brought in Dave Dir, the first coach of the Dallas Burn for a 15 minute long interview during the game and promised to feature more voices from FCD’s history in the succeeding weeks. For a significant chunk of the first half, play by play stopped while old friends caught up on air. It felt like I was sitting in the stadium listening to the conversation of the folks in front of me. It was heartwarming and educational. As a younger fan, I’m looking forward to hearing more from players and coaches whose name’s I may have heard, but am not intimately familiar with. I appreciate the shift in paradigm that prioritizes acknowledging FCD’s history instead of relying on the tired tradition of rigid play-by-play and color commentary pairings.
What’s your ideal midfield? Did the front three impress you? What’s your game watching ceremony? Please share your thoughts with your fellow fans in the comments. Thanks for reading and welcome back.