MLS is finally back for the 25th season and that means the match previews are back, starting with the FC Dallas 2020 season opener against the Philadelphia Union.
Date: February 29th, 2020
Time: 5:00 PM CST
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
How to Watch: TXA21 (DFW), ESPN+ (outside DFW)
The 2020 MLS season opener match-up for FC Dallas against Philadelphia will come only a week and a half after the two teams met in a preseason match in Florida with FCD coming away with a 3-2 win. Historically, Dallas has come out on top of the Union more often than not. In fact, it wasn’t until the 2017 season that the Union actually managed to defeat Dallas in an MLS match-up, with the previous 8 match-ups resulting in 5 Dallas victories and 3 draws. In the past three seasons, the home team has come out on top with Philly taking the 3 points in 2017 and 2019 and Dallas winning in 2018.
Dallas and Philadelphia both occupy similar positions in MLS. Both clubs are coming off on playoff berths in 2019, with Philadelphia recording their first-ever playoff win against the New York Red Bulls in dramatic fashion before falling to Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and Dallas falling in the first round to eventual 2019 MLS Cup champions Seattle. Both clubs boast some of the best academies and homegrown players in the league and both clubs suffer some similar pitfalls in regards to spending on players, marketing and less than ideal stadium locations.
Both clubs employ young, idealistic head coaches who are concerned with playing an attractive style of soccer and emphasizing youth development. Both clubs also seem to be on the potential cusp of something special in MLS if they can pull all the pieces together in terms of playing style, youth development and selling players abroad and this season opener will be a fun match-up between two clubs that seem to be headed in similar directions on and off the pitch.
Lots of familiar faces in FCD’s opening day lineup for 2020. The entire starting backline from 2019 makes their return after Dallas managed to hold on to Reggie Cannon through one more transfer window. Upfront, Michael Barrios takes his typical right-wing spot while Zdenek Ondrasek will look to pick up where he left off in 2019. Offseason signing Fafa Picault comes in at left wing to make his FCD debut against his former club.
The biggest shakeup is in midfield. While Jesus Ferreira maintains his spot as the most forward-thinking of the midfield three, Bryan Acosta and Brandon Servania are both recovering from injuries while Paxton Pomykal is almost certainly not yet 90 minutes fit. This makes room for two new faces, Thiago Santos, FCD’s big offseason signing from Palmeiras in Brazil at the 6, and, perhaps surprisingly, newly signed homegrown Tanner Tessmann makes his professional debut on opening day after starting last weekend’s friendly against Inter Miami. Edwin Cerrillo also saw time at the 8-spot during the preseason but Tessmann fits the Acosta/Servania mold better, so I think he’ll get the start.
This lineup is the same that started against DC United in Philadelphia’s final preseason match. Much of this lineup is largely unchanged from last season’s regular lineup, though center back Auston Trusty has departed for Colorado, Haris Medunjanin has moved on to FC Cincinnati and Kai Wagner, the regular starting left-back, is out with an injury, bringing young homegrown Matthew Real into the starting eleven for opening day.
The Union are unique in their use of the 4-4-2 diamond, something that became their staple over the course of last season and helped drive them to one of their best ever seasons and their first-ever playoff win as a club.
Regularly featuring off the bench in 2019, the Brazilian winger/forward Ilsinho is almost certain to make an appearance in the second half. Midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, on loan in 2019, was one of the biggest signings of the offseason for the Union, and he will be a key player for the FC Dallas midfield and defense to stop. If he and young homegrown Brendan Aaronson can get into a rhythm offensively, FCD will have a tough time handling the Union.
Keys to the Match
1) Control the Midfield
As mentioned, the Union are unique in MLS in their team shape as the only team to use the 4-4-2 diamond. Their set up essentially has four players in the middle of the park as the “shuttlers” Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro stay quite tucked inoffensively.
This means that FCD’s midfield trio will have to be on the top of their game to overcome the difference in numbers in midfield. Jesus Ferreira, playing as the “free 8” or as the “10” will likely have more defensive responsibility than he typically would and this will serve as a huge initial test for new signing Thiago Santos as the deepest lying defensive midfielder. If FCD can’t consistently control the midfield, they may be in for a long evening.
2) Exploit Wide Areas
With Philadelphia’s narrow shape in midfield, their wide areas are typically occupied by their full-backs. When this works for the Union, they’re able to create overloads in the final third and generate goal-scoring opportunities but it leaves them extremely vulnerable on counter-attacks if they turn the ball over in midfield. In many ways, this key to the match goes hand in hand with controlling the midfield. If FCD can force turnovers in midfield and catch Matt Real and Ray Gaddis high up the pitch, Michael Barrios and former Union player Fafa Picault should be licking their lips at the space they will have on the counter-attack.
3) Start Fast
This key to the match will be no surprise to see if you were a reader of last season’s match previews. It is the start of a new season, playing at home, FCD needs to start off quickly. Get the fans out of their seats early on, get the crowd involved and do whatever you can to come out in the first 10-15 minutes and put a lot of pressure on Philadelphia and ideally, of course, get an opening goal.
Starting slowly and, God forbid, conceding in those early moments, could put the team into a hole that they will struggle to climb out of, not an ideal way to kick off a new season.
Who do you think will get the start for the season opener? Will FCD get an opening day win for the first time since 2016?
What is the biggest thing Dallas needs to do to come away with the three points?
Featured Image: FC Dallas