Another edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup is on the horizon and FC Dallas will be without Honduran midfielder Bryan Acosta for most of July. This week, we’ll take a look at how Dallas will handle the absence of their Designated Player.
Prior to looking at how Acosta’s absence will be handled by the club, let’s look at the schedule for Honduras and try to parse out which MLS games Acosta is most likely to miss. Honduras’ group stage games begin on July 13th against Grenada, followed by a matchup against Panama on July 17th with a match against Qatar to close out the group stage on July 20th. FC Dallas has not disclosed when exactly Acosta will be departing for the Honduran camp, but we do know that for the US Men’s National Team, camp begins on July 5th, so it seems reasonable that Honduras is likely to begin their camp around the same time. This means that, at the bare minimum, Acosta will miss the following matches:
- July 7th – LA Galaxy (A)
- July 17th – Portland Timbers (A)
- July 21st – Colorado Rapids (A)
Considering Honduras’ level of play as a national team compared to their group stage opponents, it seems highly likely that Honduras will be one of the top two finishers in the group stage and move on to the quarter-finals, which are set to be played on July 24th and 25th. Based on past results in the Gold Cup, it also seems likely that Honduras will advance to the semi-finals, which will be played on July 29th. With that in mind, along with the possibility that they could make it to the final on August 1st, Acosta seems likely to also miss these games:
- July 24th – LA Galaxy (H)
- July 31st – Sporting KC (A)
So, adding all this up, in a best case scenario (for the club of course), Acosta only misses three away games, with a worst case scenario being that he misses a total of 4 away games and a single home game. The situation is not ideal in general, with FCD set to go on an extended streak of away games against some of the heavy hitters in the Western Conference, a run of defeats in these games (keep in mind that FCD has not yet earned a single point on the road in 2021) could spell disaster for FCD’s playoff hopes.
But what is it exactly that Acosta brings to the team that head coach Luchi Gonzalez will need to try to replace in his lineup. From my point of view, there are two big pieces that Acosta brings to the team, one offensive piece that is not extremely difficult to replace and one defensive piece that Gonzalez will have a hard time replacing. On the offensive side, Acosta is adept at ball retention, his passing accuracy is typically one of the highest among the team and he is skilled at moving the ball from defense to attack in transition moments for Dallas. On the defensive side of the ball, Acosta is what can best be described as a bulldog. He is relentless in terms of hunting down the ball to try to win it back and has been instrumental in 2021 in breaking up opponent counter attacks with his pace and tackling ability.
As mentioned, I believe Acosta’s offensive abilities should be relatively easy for Luchi Gonzalez to replace, simply because he has a glut of talented box-to-box midfielders at his disposal. Tanner Tessmann, Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania are all natural fits at the position and, in a push, players like Andres Ricaurte or even Ema Twumasi could potentially do a job in midfield without a massive drop off going forward. Tessmann seems the most likely replacement as he was starting for FCD prior to Facundo Quignon’s arrival and he also seems the most similar player to Acosta in terms of what he does on the offensive end. This may, however, be an opportunity for Paxton Pomykal to continue to get increased minutes as he works back from injury towards full fitness. Pomykal has largely played on the wing thus far in 2021, but with the return of Szabolcs Schön imminent, central midfield may be Pomykal’s home, at least while Acosta is away. Servania, who spent the first part of the season on loan in Austria, has yet to even make the bench since returning to Frisco, but if there’s any time where he is likely to earn minutes, it would be during this period with Acosta absent.
All that being said, I do not think the offensive side of things is what will ultimately determine how FCD goes about replacing Acosta during the month of July. Although Acosta’s offensive production should not be massively difficult to replace, his defensive work will be more of a challenge. Of the players listed above, Tessmann, is likely the best option defensively, although due to his play style, he would likely play in a double pivot with Quignon, as opposed to the higher box-to-box position that Acosta typically occupies. As mentioned previously, Acosta’s absence lines up with a high number of away games. To this point in the season, Luchi Gonzalez has repeatedly tried to play a 3 center back formation that typically ends up looking like a back 5 with the wing backs pulled into the back line as well. But with Matt Hedges still sidelined with his hip injury and Jose Martinez picking up an injury prior to last weekend’s match against the Revolution, Luchi will likely be forced to stick with his 4-4-1-1 that he has played in recent matches against Minnesota and New England.
Tessmann is likely going to get the first crack at the spot, he has played the most this season already and is the closest to a straight swap as Luchi can get in the spot. But over the course of this (potentially) 5 game stretch, do not be surprised at all if some of the players mentioned previously get their opportunities, whether as starters or as substitutes. This will likely be a big opportunity not only for Tessmann but also for Brandon Servania to try to grab hold of a defined spot with the first team once again, like he was able to do back in Luchi’s first season in 2019. Expect to also see Luchi try to chop and change things within games, as he did against the Revolution when he switched the team into a 5-4-1 shape to try to close out the game. Overall, it will be a fascinating storyline to watch over the next month or so.
Who do you think is most likely to deputize for Bryan Acosta while he is away for the Gold Cup? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured Image: MLSSoccer.com