FC Dallas travels to Colorado for a rematch against their season-opening opponent and will hope to enter the three-week international break off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Let’s take a look at three things to watch for in Commerce City.
1) Sam Vines Back in the Lineup
About a week ago, a blog called “Holding the High Line” published an article written by “Soccer Rabbi” about Colorado Rapids and USMNT left-back Sam Vines. The article, titled There’s Center Back. There’s Right Back. And then there are Vines Back. detailed the positional flexibility that Rapids head coach Robin Fraser has given Sam Vines thus far this season. Although he is nominally the Rapids’ left-back, with the Rapids typically lining up in a back four, Vines is given a remarkable amount of freedom in his positioning, often taking up spaces that would typically be reserved for strikers and attacking players rather than full-backs. Vines general play and positioning remind me of a more extreme version of how FC Dallas likes to utilize Ryan Hollingshead at left-back as well.
Much like Hollingshead, Vines is a crucial part of the Rapids attack. More crucially for FC Dallas going into the weekend, Vines did not play in the season opener at Toyota Stadium, with former FC Dallas homegrown Kellyn Acosta taking his spot at left-back. Acosta is certainly a more than capable left-back. Still, he does not play the position the same way as Vines, and it was clear that the Rapids attack and tactics were limited against Dallas, as they generally failed to generate chances outside of the relentless attacking of Michael Barrios.
With Vines presumably back in the lineup this weekend, Dallas will need to take a very different approach to defend the Rapids and account for the extremely flexible position of Vines. Keep an eye out for Vines and how Dallas goes about dealing with him on Saturday.
2) Be the Protagonist
It is no secret that FC Dallas has struggled to pick up points on the road since Luchi Gonzalez took over as head coach. The team’s away record in the Luchi era is not pretty, with 5 wins, 7 draws, and 18 losses dating back to the 2019 season. With that in mind, it is not particularly surprising that Gonzalez has looked to play a more pragmatic game, especially since last season, focusing on defending well and attacking on the counter. In both of FCD’s away games to this point, the team set up in their more defensive back 3 formations, got numbers behind the ball, and tried to attack when they had the opportunity. It has resulted in two losses to this point.
With the lack of success in playing more defensive, which is in sharp contrast to how Dallas tries to play at Toyota Stadium, look for FCD to set up in a more attacking posture against Colorado. Don’t expect to see the kinds of possession numbers that the team displayed in last week’s draw against RSL, but also do not expect to see FCD concede huge amounts of possession and space to Colorado. Part of this is enforced, Dallas is low on center backs and can not properly line up in their back 3 formations, but the other part should also be a natural reaction to how much better Dallas has looked when taking up that more offensive and attacking stance.
Playing away from home in MLS is always a challenge, and Dallas is certainly going to have to be solid and alert defensively against a very good Rapids team. Still, Dallas also needs to take their opportunities to play “their” game, get on the ball, possess and play some of what “Luchi-ball” is supposed to be.
3) Pomykal’s Impact Off the Bench
Since the start of the season, the FCD homegrown has been exclusively coming off the bench as he returns to full fitness following his season-ending surgery in 2020. In his first few appearances of the season, Pomykal looked a bit off the pace for his standards, not quite engaging with the game in the way that fans have come to expect. But as the appearances have tallied up thus far in 2021, Pomykal has looked better and better each week, culminating in his most recent substitute appearance against RSL in which he notched his first assist of the season, setting up Ryan Hollingshead’s (at the time) go-ahead goal.
I would not expect Pomykal to get the start against Colorado, the most minutes he has played in a game thus far in 2021 was 33 against Houston, but I would certainly expect him to play a major role coming off the bench in the second half. Especially in his more recent appearances, Pomykal’s introduction to games has made an immediate impact on FCD’s play, with his direct, attacking mindset and his creative flair sticking out.
I suspect that Saturday’s game against Colorado will be a tough, close game, and Pomykal’s play off the bench may end up being the deciding factor. Look out for when Pomykal subs in and who he subs in for as well; his appearances this season have often been on the wing, but he may be due for some time spent in central midfield. Either way, when you see number 19 go up on the subboard, watch out.
After experimenting with a 5-3-2 last weekend in a 2-1 loss away to LAFC, I think Robin Fraser will return to the same lineup that played in the Rapids’ last home game, a 3-1 win over Houston. Once again, FCD will see a couple of familiar faces in former homegrown midfielder Kellyn Acosta and more recently departed winger Michael Barrios, both of whom will love to get on the score sheet against their former club. Jack Price, an ever-present in the starting lineup, is always dangerous on set pieces; Dallas will need to limit those opportunities as much as possible.
Young homegrown Cole Bassett is nominally the number 10 here but will get up and down the pitch and play much more like a box-to-box midfielder than a traditional number 10. The Rapids also have many attacking options on the bench, such as Nicolas Benezet and Jonathan Lewis (who may well start in place of Andre Shinyashiki), that FCD will need to be prepared to deal with.
Just a single change from the team that started the 2-2 draw against RSL last weekend, with Bressan getting the start over the injured Matt Hedges, who seems to have picked up some kind of back injury according to 3rd Degree. This lineup would mark the first time that Luchi Gonzalez goes with the back 4 and the “standard” 4-3-3 away from home in 2021. Truthfully, Luchi doesn’t have much choice considering his injury situation at center back, with Nkosi Tafari also only just returning from his own injury. Against RSL, Tanner Tessmann played as the single 6, allowing Bryan Acosta to move higher into the attack.
I suspect that Tessmann will again be the 6 against Colorado, but look for Acosta to have a slightly more conservative role away from home. Freddie Vargas, who has yet to show his potential in MLS, keeps his spot at left wing with Szabolcs Schon already away on international duty with Hungary. In goal, Jimmy Maurer gets another start with Phelipe and Kyle Zobeck still out injured. After notching his first goal of the season, Franco Jara will look to make it back-to-back scoring games starting up top.
Will FC Dallas get their first away points of the season against Colorado?
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