If you haven’t noticed here on the site, my new thing has been to jump on media calls with FC Dallas and be one of Big D Soccer’s voices for coaches and players.
It’s been a learning experience and more than anything else, it has helped me to humanize these players and the pressure they feel week in and out to get results.
This past week, for instance, I asked a recurring question to FC Dallas Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez, one that comes to my mind in my personal life as a leader. Often, in a moment after an event or activity, I can judge myself pretty harshly but get a little distance and what might have been an uneven execution looks a bit better. Comparing Luchi from the post-game media calls to the mid-week media calls, you come to understand a head coach who is incredibly cerebral, thoughtful, and focused. He's unafraid to critique what the team can do better, but he’s also able to recognize where the team is doing well.
I don’t think he is doing that to give himself or the team a pass. I think he is doing it because he believes in the style of soccer and the project they are in. He wants the best for these players and believes in them. Of course, while that passion is a gift and likely makes Luchi fun to work with, at some point it needs to translate into consistent results.
Against Real Salt Lake, Luchi’s demeanor and energy were night and day from the post-game to the midweek call, so I asked him what he found in the Real Salt Lake game that gave him some hope that the team was improving.
“We did improve things that we set as objectives of the game,” Luchi said in response to my question. “We talked about, apart from keep improving possession, having the purpose with it to have more touches in the last third. Increase our volume of possession. Creative players getting touches in the last third. I think that was good progress. We made it a goal to get more shots on target. More crosses. I felt we did that.”
The repeated theme that Luchi has wanted from his team has been a focus on second half energy. He’s felt that the team has generally played strong first halves in most of their matches, but something changes in the second. Sometimes, it’s a passiveness when your opponent begins to bunker or defend on a low block. Sometimes, it’s the inability to adjust to your opponent’s defensive switches and seize the moment.
“We made an objective the second half maintaining urgency and maintaining concepts. We keep trying to play, turning them with the ball, pushing the team up. I thought we did that with good energy and good concept in the second half, which wasn’t always the case in the last games,” Luchi said.
But soccer is a chaotic sport. Little things can change the game. Luchi was frustrated by an inability to get substitutes at a key moment in the game after FC Dallas went ahead in the 83rd minute. He pointed to some specific challenges with the 4th official that delayed those subs getting on the field, which he thinks could have helped the team.
“You score two goals at home should be enough to win. Then to concede literally in the kickoff after,” Luchi said. “It was a huge disappointment. Now after processing it and looking at the video, there were some things there - we were ready to make our subs. We didn’t get to make the subs we wanted in the time we wanted.”
While you could argue that Real Salt Lake was a bit lucky, Luchi doesn’t buy into it.
“At the end of the day, we enabled that luck,” he said.
Franco Jara is a lightning rod subject in the FC Dallas fanbase. While he did score his first goal of the season from a penalty kick, fans want more from the veteran Argentinian. With Jesus Ferreira still about two weeks out from getting on the field again, Jara will likely continue to be the key force in attack.
I asked Luchi what he is trying to do to get more out of Jara.
“Little things. We tried some things in the week that we thought were good for him and the team. In terms of his ability to press higher. He doesn’t need to drop in the midfield. He needs to be a reference higher up the field where we want to recover the ball. Stay around the center backs,” Luchi said. “He has done well to try to learn and help us between lines.”
I may be in the minority here, but I did like the improved energy we saw from Jara, his hold up play, some of his passing to kickstart the attacks, and his turns. But there were still moments where your star striker needs to bury the ball in the back of the net after a great attacking sequence.
And ultimately, I think Luchi agrees.
“The best way he can help us is scoring goals. He knows that. We know that,” Luchi said.
Be sure to watch the full video of responses from Luchi to my questions and give me your feedback. Does Luchi’s response give you some patience as this team keeps working and tweaking to get where it needs to be? Do you think Jara can emerge as a force with the right placement and formation around him? Has this team improved despite the disappointing draw at home?