Wednesday night’s victory over the Colorado Rapids ended Phase 1 of the MLS return to play for FC Dallas.

This week, we’ll look at 5 takeaways from the 8 matches played during phase 1.

1) Farewells to Fan Favorites

In a development that only really come to full fruition in the last week of the first phase of return to play, FC Dallas and fans said goodbye to two of the club’s biggest fan favorites in homegrown defender Reggie Cannon and Czech striker Zdenek Ondrasek.

Cannon’s farewell was building for a long period of time, with a summer departure being mentioned since the end of the 2019 season and he was ultimately sold on to Portuguese club Boavista FC on September 9th.

Reggie’s departure was certainly a bittersweet moment for the club and fans as Reggie has always shown his love for the club but has also never been scared to talk about his ambitions to make a move abroad.

On the other hand, the departure of Ondrasek, aka Kobra, came on suddenly. Ondrasek had seen his playing time take a sharp downturn since the introduction of Franco Jara to the team but still seemed to be part of Luchi Gonzalez’s plans for the remainder of the season, at least in a substitute role. That came to a sudden, screeching halt when Ondrasek was not even included on the bench for the September 9th match away to Minnesota United, with “personal reasons” noted as the reason for his exclusion.

For anyone familiar with this kind of coded language in the sports world, red flags were immediately thrown up and questions were asked about Kobra’s future with the team. It quickly became public knowledge that Ondrasek was dealing with a family situation and was looking to make a move back home to Czechia.

This move that quickly became official on September 13th as FC Dallas sold Ondrasek to Czech club Viktoria Pilzen, just a few days after he was not included in the squad against Minnesota.

Ondrasek is one of the biggest fan favorites the club has ever seen, as fans almost instantly fell in love with his positive attitude, his easygoing and fun antics off the pitch and his tenacious, never say die approach on the pitch. Unsurprisingly, news of his departure was not particularly well received by FC Dallas fans, with many questioning the decision to drop Ondrasek to the bench in favor of Franco Jara.

In line with his character, Ondrasek was incredibly gracious in his departure, thanking the club and the fans for the support and emphasizing that his departure was due to his personal situation and he held no ill will towards the club. Still, Kobra’s departure was certainly a sad moment for everyone around the club.

2) Impact of New Arrivals

Photo: Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports Images

With two players leaving, phase 1 of the return to play also saw the debut of two new arrivals for FC Dallas in Argentinean striker Franco Jara and Colombian midfielder Andres Ricaurte. Jara of course was signed way back before the start of the 2020 season and had been scheduled to join up with the team at the start of July following the expiration of his contract with Liga MX side Pachuca. Those plans were, of course, derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Jara made his debut in the first game back for FC Dallas against Nashville SC and has appeared in every game since, with most appearances being starts. Jara certainly got off to a bit of a slow start but has since scored 3 goals in his last 4 games and looks to be settling into some of the form that had FC Dallas owner Dan Hunt so enamored after the 2017 CONCACAF Champions League in which Jara was instrumental in knocking FCD out of the competition.

Ricaurte, on the other hand, was actually signed after the return to play had already begun, with his signing made official on August 14th and his debut coming as a second-half sub against Minnesota on September 9th.

Ricaurte has made an instant impact, registering an assist in his first appearance and scoring an absolute rocket against Houston in his first start for the club.

For a team that spent the first part of the return to play struggling for quality chance creation and creativity in the attack, Ricaurte looks to be just what the doctor ordered for Dallas and the attack has sprung to life since his arrival.

It should also be mentioned that there was a third arrival during the first phase of return to play in young Brazilian goalkeeper Phelipe Megiolaro. Phelipe has not yet made his debut but did make his first appearance on the bench against Colorado on September 16th. With FCD’s goalkeeping situation a bit up in the air at the moment, it seems like only a matter of time before the third new arrival in 2020 makes his debut for the club.

3) Tactical Flexibility

In the 2019 season, one of the hallmarks of FC Dallas under Luchi Gonzalez was the use of the 4-3-3 formation with a virtual insistence on possessing the ball and playing a large number of passes to unbalance opposing defenses and create scoring opportunities.

The 2020 season has seen Gonzalez make a clear attempt to diversify his team’s tactics with the team utilizing the 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 at various times during phase 1 of the return to play. In fact, right from the start of the return to play, the team came out utilizing a 3-5-2, with Gonzalez later saying that he hoped to establish a strong defensive spine within the team early on in the return to play.

This led to some less than desirable results early on as in the two home games against Nashville, Dallas was only able to muster a single point through a 0-0 draw and failed to score against the expansion side. However, the benefits of establishing the formation within the side have been seen more recently as Dallas has been able to use the more defensive back 3 formations to help hold on to leads and grind out results.

It may not be what everyone is thinking of when the term “Luchi-ball” is mentioned, but there seems to have been a clear evolution in what that term means based on what we have seen thus far from FCD in 2020.

4) Testing the Depth

It was almost inevitable with so much fixture congestion, but Dallas has been forced to deal with a rash of injuries during phase 1 of the return to play. Most notable is the ultimate season-ending injury to homegrown midfielder Paxton Pomykal that won’t see him return until near the start of the 2021 season. Paxton was able to make a couple of sub appearances early on in the return to play, but ultimately the decision was made to shut him down for the season so he could get a needed surgery to help him recover. In addition, winger Fafa Picault, midfielder Bryan Acosta, defenders Ryan Hollingshead, and Matt Hedges, and goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer have all been forced to miss time due to injury or personal reasons.

With so many starting quality players missing, Dallas has been forced to rely on their depth and has seen players such as Johnny Nelson, Bryan Reynolds, Tanner Tessmann, Kyle Zobeck and even Santiago Mosquera (who saw that hat trick coming?) step up in their absence.

With such a tight window for the remainder of the season, there is no doubt that Dallas will need to continue to rely on their depth, even if they do not pick up any injuries if they hope to stay competitive in a tightly contested western conference and finish within the top 8 to reach the playoffs.

5) Defensive Strength

At the time of writing, FC Dallas are currently tied with Seattle for the best defensive record in the Western Conference, having only conceded 10 goals in 10 games, with 8 goals coming in the 8 games since the resumption of play. Only Columbus with a frankly ridiculous 4 goals conceded and NYCFC with 9 goals conceded can count themselves as better than Dallas when looking across the league. Some of this defensive strength certainly goes back to #3 on our list and the additional tactical flexibility, most of which has been focused on establishing a defensive framework for the team to build on. Since the restart of play, Dallas has only conceded more than one goal in a game on one occasion, allowing 3 away to Minnesota on September 9th.

Dallas has struggled a bit to keep clean sheets, only 2 since the restart, both coming in 0-0 draws, but in other matches have only conceded once, with quite a few of the goals conceded being high-quality goals, such as Hassani Dotson’s rocket or Memo Rodriguez’s exquisitely placed free-kick. There’s certainly still room for improvement as Dallas tends to concede a high quantity of shots, but this kind of defensive record certainly bodes well for the remainder of the MLS season.

What are your biggest takeaways from the first phase of the MLS return to play for FC Dallas?

Featured Image: Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports Images
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