The first couple of weeks of FC Dallas preseason are already complete, but February is when things really start to ramp up with FCD traveling and starting their preseason friendly schedule in earnest.
Let’s take a look at 5 things to watch throughout the month of February as FCD prepares for the 2020 MLS season.
In Luchi Gonzalez’s first season in charge, Dallas was very consistent in their formation, almost always lining up in a 4-3-3. Most of the variation came in the form of how the midfield 3 were set up, but other than a notable exception in the win against Atlanta United in April, FCD was very consistent in lining up in their preferred 4-3-3.
The 4-3-3 is likely to still be the default for Dallas in 2020 but flexibility with how the team lines up will be something to watch for during preseason. Introducing a 3 (or 5, depending on how you view things) man backline is an attractive option with the quality depth the team has at center back, with three starting quality center backs in Matt Hedges, Reto Ziegler and Bressan, and the talent available to play wing-back in Ryan Hollingshead and Reggie Cannon. We have already seen a bit of a 3 man backline teased in FCD’s first closed-door scrimmage against OKC Energy FC in which Matt Hedges, Callum Montgomery and 2020 first-round SuperDraft pick Nkosi Burgess manned the backline. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues throughout the preseason and, in turn, if it survives into the regular season itself.
Tweaks to Luchi-ball
Similar to Luchi Gonzalez’s consistency information in his first season in charge, FC Dallas was also very consistent in their general style of play throughout the season, only making major changes on a few occasions. Generally, Dallas attempted to dominate possession, build out from the back and create opportunities to get crosses into the box and overload the box with numbers. At times during the 2019 season, particularly at home, this style was wildly effective at creating goal-scoring opportunities. However, as the season went on and teams acquired more and more film on Dallas, the team struggled to break down opposing defenses, who largely sat numbers behind the ball and forced Dallas to break them down in the final third, which was a major struggle all season.
Even as the 2019 season went on, fans saw an increase in long passes played, as Dallas continually looked for opportunities to get out in transition, something they’ve excelled at for most of the past decade. 2020 looks set to continue that tactic as Luchi makes tweaks to his “Luchi-ball” system. Early reports out of the first couple weeks of training camp from our friends at 3rdDegree.net indicate that Dallas, and Bryan Acosta in particular, were consistently and constantly looking to play diagonal switches to the wings. It will be fun to watch Dallas (when they actually play open-door friendlies!) continue to develop this tactic and use it against outside opposition throughout the preseason.
Draft Picks Battling for Roster Spots
As is always the case in MLS preseason, the SuperDraft picks will be fighting tooth and nail to earn roster spots on the MLS squad. In 2020, FCD has five draft picks battling for these spots: Nkosi Burgess, Cal Jennings, Manuel Ferriol, Derek Waldeck and Anders Engebretsen (the other draft pick, Aiden Megally, never ended up in training camp). As first-round draft picks, Burgess and Jennings are most likely to earn a first-team contract, though both will likely spend large amounts of time playing for North Texas SC in 2020.
For later round picks Ferriol, Waldeck, and Engebretsen, they face a major challenge to make the first team roster and are likely looking at a North Texas SC roster spot at best. What will be interesting to see is if Burgess or Jennings, in particular, can force the issue in the preseason with their play and make a push for minutes with the first team or if the long shots from the later rounds can make a push to actually earn a first-team roster spot.
New Additions to the Roster
Obviously, right? One of the most exciting things about any preseason is watching how the team’s new signings integrate with the team. Other than the draft picks, this preseason only offers two new additions in Fafa Picault and Thiago Santos. Picault comes in as another entry in a long line of players attempting to replicate the incredible production the club got out of Fabian Castillo. Santos, who has only just joined up with the team, will look to replace the defensive intensity and ball-winning abilities of the departed Carlos Gruezo in defensive midfield, allowing Bryan Acosta to move back up the field into his more comfortable box-to-box position.
Barring any injury, Santos seems set to slot right into the first team and will serve as a great role model for young homegrown Edwin Cerrillo. Picault, however, will face a battle with Santiago Mosquera for the starting left wing job. For me, that will be the most fun position battle to watch throughout the preseason and, hopefully, both players will be able to push each other to their absolute best and that battle will continue throughout the regular season.
Fringe Players Fighting for Playing Time
In between the squad regulars and the draft picks fighting for their roster spots are the fringe players, guys who are already part of the senior roster but have found playing time hard to find in the last couple of seasons. Players like Ema Twumasi and Francis Atuahene, who spent most of the 2019 season on loan to Austin Bold in the USL Championship, are likely looking at their last opportunity to break into a defined role with the first team and this preseason will be a huge opportunity for them to stake their claim. Similarly, players like John Nelson, Bryan Reynolds, Callum Montgomery, and even Ricardo Pepi, all of whom who spent most of, if not all of, the season playing for North Texas SC, will be fighting for time with the first team.
Some of these players may spend more time with North Texas SC or may end up getting loans down to the USL Championship, or even overseas, to get them more regular playing time. Seeing who can emerge from that group and establish themselves with the first team will be fun to watch throughout February.
What are you keeping an eye on during FC Dallas preseason?
Will anyone take advantage of the opportunity and make a surprise push for playing time in 2020?
Featured Image: Michael Ramirez/FC Dallas