On Saturday, the newest in-state rivalry for FC Dallas kicks off as Austin FC travel north to Frisco. As with any new potential rivalry, things are uncertain. What are the emotions going to be like? Will the players feel the extra incentive, or is this so new that it’s going to just feel like two teams battling for precious points as the MLS playoff picture starts shaping up?
Austin FC hasn’t been great this season, which is typical for a lot of expansion sides, but FC Dallas has had their fair share of struggles too.
It’s anyone’s game, and that is what FC Dallas Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez reminded me of during today’s media call.
“In this league, anybody can beat anybody,” Gonzalez said. “Austin is a new club but in a quick time, they’ve built a beautiful stadium, a proud fanbase. They play good football, they press, they play with possession and with purpose. They are well-coached. Congrats to them.”
“We certainly have to respect that. It’s a new derby for us. We need to represent that and take pride in that, and the way we can do that is to be very present in ourselves and on ourselves,” Gonzalez offered.
FC Dallas has been playing better over the past three games with two wins and one draw after a dismal start to the season that has exasperated lots of die-hard fans. It seemed like the team, despite high-profile sales and fresh faces in the offseason, was a bit stagnant during the slump. The issues were often harder to pinpoint than just player quality, scheme, or bad luck.
How many times in this run did we see Dallas players make an individual mistake - a bad pass, a missed clearance, a sloppy tackle - that opened the door for their opponent?
Add those on top of each other and you lose confidence bit by bit. You hesitate on the pitch. You play a little too cautious.
Gonzalez acknowledged how the team has improved and the new confidence they have enjoyed.
“We are showing consistency - not trying to play perfect games but always show a mental strength in the next moment, the next play, the next duel,” Gonzalez opened with. “It has helped our confidence and helped things bounce our way.”
What I find fascinating about the way Gonzalez talks about soccer and his team is that he always frames the challenge as being one that players must decide to embrace. Soccer doesn’t just happen with a bunch of good players and a decent tactic. It takes decision-making. It takes will.
(Sometimes, the way Luchi talks makes it sound like he is a huge fan of Tedd Lasso.)
So this new confidence, Gonzalez suggested, didn’t just happen and won’t just stick around.
“We must keep grabbing our confidence with the ball in play. Keep confidence with the things we are doing now, especially with these transitions and responses,” he said. “We need to stay focused and calm, and we need to show fire with what we are going to do.”
Rumors are swirling that Austin FC has sold over 700+ tickets to this match to try to turn Frisco green. The fans, in some way, will make this rivalry as much as the players. What can the fans do to support FC Dallas and send Austin FC away in defeat?
Gonzalez offered, “Do what they always do. Be relentless with their support for us from the first to the last minute. And helping us believe. We want to show them that we believe in them with our actions and our energy and share that mutual passion together tomorrow.”
We believe in you, coach.
Thanks for believing in us.