The 2021 MLS season is finally upon us and FC Dallas will kick off their season against the Colorado Rapids. This week, we’ll take a look at projected lineups for each time and three big things to watch for on the opening day of FCD’s 2021 campaign.
Luchi Gonzalez has used both a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3 during preseason with the 3-4-3 being used most recently in the 3-0 victory in the final preseason game against the Houston Dynamo. With Thiago Santos heading back to Brazil the team lacks an experienced pure defensive midfielder, so bringing in an extra center back helps cover defensively while allowing Andres Ricaurte a bit more freedom in midfield. This also allows fullbacks John Nelson and Ryan Hollingshead to operate more as midfielders and puts less pressure on them to cover defensively while affording them more opportunities to get forward. I would not be shocked at all to see FCD utilize the 4-3-3, as they have done extensively since Luchi took over as head coach, but considering the success of the 3-4-3 against Houston and the benefits defensively, I suspect they’ll lineup with an unchanged lineup from the group that started and played most of the match against Houston. This will mark MLS debuts for newcomers Jose Martinez, Freddy Vargas and Jader Obrian.
The 2021 Colorado Rapids look very similar to the 2020 Colorado Rapids. Head coach Robin Fraser will work with almost an identical group of players, especially in his starting group. The big new addition is a very familiar face for FC Dallas fans in Michael Barrios, who is likely to start opposite US international Jonathan Lewis. Younes Namli, on loan from FC Krasnodar, pulls the strings as the number 10 and will be a player FC Dallas will need to keep under wraps. Kellyn Acosta, another familiar face, is likely to partner with English defensive midfielder Jack Price, who is a real jack-of-all trades midfielder with an absolute peach of a free kick delivery. The back line is unchanged from last season with Lalas Abubakar, one of the best signings across MLS in 2020, partnering with former Philadelphia Union homegrown Auston Trusty, and Keegan Rosenberry and Sam Vines, now on the US National Team radar, on the fullback spots. William Yarbrough, a former US international who played most of his career in Mexico, returns as their starting goalkeeper. Many fans might look at Colorado historically and think this will be an easy first game for FC Dallas, but this is a strong Colorado side who finished 2020 extremely well, just barely missing the playoffs. They are going to look to make a big statement in game number one and FCD needs to be ready.
Things to watch
1) New player impact
FCD’s three biggest offseason acquisitions: center back Jose Martinez and wingers Jader Obrian and Freddy Vargas have featured heavily in preseason thus far, with Obrian and Vargas scoring and assisting multiple goals and Martinez showing his high level pedigree at the back. The performance of these three players is not only going to be key to how the team performs against Colorado but also key to how the team performs throughout the season. All three performed well in preseason, but the regular season in another story and seeing how these three players handle the rigors of the MLS regular season will be one of the most interesting and intriguing storylines surrounding the team in 2021. They have the opportunity to start the season off with a bang in front of their (limited capacity sell out) home crowd. After multiple seasons of disappointing play from the attack in particular, Vargas and Obrian have the chance to make a massive impression on the fans at Toyota Stadium. Colorado won’t be an easy first test for them but if they can get off to a hot start and find their form early on, FCD could be in for a great start to the season.
2) Barrios is back
As soon as FC Dallas announced the trade of Michael Barrios to Colorado, I knew that the home game against Colorado would be one to watch for, not only for the reception Barrios is likely to get, but for the potential for him to have a big game against his former club. I didn’t expect the literal first game of the season to be the one where Barrios would make his return. Colorado is only the second MLS club Barrios has been a part of and, after being traded, he will certainly want to remind his former team and the fans in Toyota Stadium of what they are now missing out on. The matchup should be a fascinating one to watch as FCD’s defenders will obviously be well aware of what Barrios can bring to the pitch and Barrios in turn will be well aware of how to potentially exploit the Dallas defense. Normally with Colorado, I would say a player like Younes Namli is the one that the defense really needs to focus on stopping to be successful, but considering the situation, I think Barrios may be the real danger man for Colorado in this one.
3) Set pieces
Since Jack Price joined the Rapids back in 2018, the Rapids have been a consistent threat on set pieces. Price has one of the best set piece deliveries in the league, with almost all of his 20 assists in MLS coming from dead ball situations. Dallas is going to need to be switched on for every set piece opportunity and also do their best to minimize the opportunities given to Colorado on set pieces in general by not giving away poor fouls in good areas. With a decent number of new players out there defending those set pieces, FCD’s communication in these situations is going to be massively important. When that goes wrong, as it did in the friendly against Austin FC in which a lack of communication in dealing with a ball put into the box led to a John Nelson handball and a penalty conceded, it can lead directly to a goal scoring opportunity for Colorado. The Dallas defense will get a great test on their ability to defend set plays on Saturday, if they can pass that test, then they should be able to deal with set pieces from anyone in MLS.
What are you watching for as FC Dallas starts their season against Colorado? What is your score prediction? Sound off in the comments below!
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