The first edition of the 2021 Texas Derby is on the docket this weekend for FC Dallas.
Let’s take a look at three things to watch for as FCD gets set to host their in-state rivals for the first and only time in 2021.
1) Midfield Trio
After experimenting with the 3-4-3 and a two-man center midfield in the first two games of the season, head coach Luchi Gonzalez reverted to the more typical 4-3-3 and a three-man center midfield for last weekend’s win over Portland. The effect was obvious from the first minute as the entire team instantly looked far more comfortable and confident than they had at any point in the first two games of the season against Colorado and San Jose. With that in mind, I would be shocked if Luchi did not stick with the 4-3-3 and midfield trio against Houston, with the personnel Bryan Acosta, Tanner Tessmann, and Andres Ricaurte remaining the same as well.
Under Tab Ramos, Houston has almost exclusively used a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with either formation also featuring a midfield trio with a similar setup to FCD’s midfield. The battle within the midfield is likely to decide who wins the match. Both teams want to build through their midfield offensively and rely on their midfield to do a good deal of defensive work. If Acosta, Tessmann, and Ricaurte can get the better of their Houston counterparts at Toyota Stadium, FCD has a great chance of drawing first blood in this year’s edition of the Texas Derby and taking a big step towards retaining El Capitan for another season.
2) Each Team’s Press
The press ties into the previous point regarding the midfield and how similarly each team is likely to set up on Saturday. With temperatures looking to be pushing towards 90 degrees and still being in the early part of the season, it will be interesting to see how each team utilizes the high press in the game. Through three games, Dallas has often started games pressing quite highly before moving into more of a mid-block as the game wears on, picking their moments and spots to press higher.
Under Tab Ramos, Houston has also started to play a more high pressing game, with the signings of Fafa Picault and Maxi Urruti (more to come on those two) indicating how Ramos wants his side to approach the game. With both teams also having a preference to play out of the back instead of playing long from goal kicks, the opportunities for each team to press will be there; it will be interesting to see how often and how high each side presses on Saturday.
3) Former FC Dallas players
Houston currently has three former FC Dallas players on their roster: the aforementioned Fafa Picault and Maxi Urruti, along with veteran defender Maynor Figueroa.
Figueroa is unlikely to make the start, having not yet made his first appearance of 2021, but Urruti and Picault are virtually locked in the starting lineup. As is the case any time a former player makes a return to their old stomping grounds, both players are going to have a real desire to show their old team what they’re missing, especially so in the case of Fafa Picault, who only had a single season with FC Dallas in 2020 before being traded to Houston in the offseason.
Urruti is also no stranger to grabbing goals back in Toyota Stadium, having scored twice for Montreal in his last visit to Frisco. Picault is still looking for his first regular-season goal for his new club, and there’s no doubt he’d be delighted to do so against the team that decided to trade him after a single season.
Fans, and the FC Dallas defense, will want to watch out for Urruti and Picault on Saturday.
Throughout his time as FC Dallas head coach, Luchi Gonzalez has rarely made many, if any, changes after his team comes away with a victory, especially a 3 goal victory. With that in mind, this lineup is unchanged from the team that started the 4-1 win over Portland last weekend. Although Jimmy Maurer and Matt Hedges have both returned to training this week, Brazilians Phelipe and Bressan retain their spots in goal and defense, respectively, after excellent performances against Portland.
After starting the first two games on the right, Ryan Hollingshead starts on the left for the second game, with homegrown Eddie Munjoma making his second straight start at right. The unchanged midfield trio is likely to see Bryan Acosta dropping deepest most often, and Ricardo Pepi gets another start over Franco Jara after an active, if unproductive, game against Portland.
Much like Luchi Gonzalez and FC Dallas, I suspect Tab Ramos and the Houston Dynamo will roll out an unchanged starting lineup from the team that drew 1-1 with LAFC last weekend, which is the same lineup Ramos has used in every game thus far. The seemingly ageless Boniek Garcia, who came into the league back in the early 2010s as an electric, pacey winger, has been transformed into a center back by Ramos, pairing with the new arrival and MLS veteran Tim Parker.
So far, Houston’s often porous defense in 2020 seems to be holding together far better than before. Memo Rodriguez, Houston’s only real homegrown player success story, seems to have finally locked down his spot in midfield, forming the focal point of a trio including Matias Vera and former USMNT player and new arrival Joe Corona.
The aforementioned Urruti and Picault combine with yet another new arrival, Tyler Pasher, one of the biggest surprises in the early part of the MLS season after moving from Indy Eleven in the USL Championship to make up the Houston attack. Watch for the electric Darwin Quintero, who has yet to make a start in 2021, to come off the bench in the second half.
Will FC Dallas pull off the victory in the first edition of the 2021 Texas Derby?
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