It wasn’t a night to remember as FC Dallas returned to play from the international break, losing 2-0 to the Whitecaps. As FCD gears up for a huge trip down I-35 to Austin next weekend, let’s look at three questions the team needs to answer if they want to bounce back against their Copa Tejas rivals.
1) Who gets the start in a few key positions?
The team as a whole was not anywhere near their best on Saturday against the Whitecaps, but there were a few positions that seemed to stick out more than others in terms of spots that may see some rotation for the trip to Austin.
In terms of who seems to be a lock in the lineup, I think it is safe to say that Maarten Paes, Matt Hedges (assuming he is back from his last minute injury), Marco Farfan, Paxton Pomykal, Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira are locks to start in Austin. That leaves the other center back spot, right back, the other 8 spot and left wing as positions I see as open. I suspect that Alan Velasco, though he played poorly against Vancouver, will maintain his spot on left wing and Brandon Servania, although he was taken off at halftime, will maintain his spot opposite Pomykal at the 8. That leaves the starting center back opposite Matt Hedges, the defensive midfield spot and right back to be contested.
Ema Twumasi did not have a particularly poor game at right back but he also has not really done enough, either against Vancouver or in some other recent games, to definitively make that spot his own. This may be a chance for Nanu to stake his claim for the right back spot if Nico and his staff think that the team needs to a change there. Additionally, Jose Martinez had to come off against Vancouver with an injury (it did not look severe but it can be hard to tell) and didn’t exactly have a stellar performance to boot. If Hedges is healthy, he is basically a lock at one of the spots but the spot next to him is a bit up in the air between Martinez and Nkosi Tafari. Finally, Facundo Quignon had what was probably his worst performance of the season on Saturday, contributing to both goals conceded. Edwin Cerrillo was a second half sub for him and, with his experience starting the Austin game last year, may be called upon to make a rare start away from home. Some of these choices may be informed by what we discuss with question number 3 here, so more on that in a bit, but I think there are certainly some lineup questions to ask here.
2) How do you get the best out of Alan Velasco?
The young DP winger has been a hot topic among FC Dallas circles since joining in the winter. Excitement around the record breaking transfer reached a peak when he scored an electric goal on his debut but, since then, things have gotten a bit dicey and up and down, with Velasco’s performances not meeting that standard and questions arising about how homesick he might be as a 19 year old in a brand new country away from his friends and family. The hope around the fanbase was that the international break would be a great opportunity for Velasco to get home for a bit, spend some quality time with friends and family and recharge and re-energize for the season. That may yet be the case, but those signs were not there on Saturday against Vancouver. To be blunt, Velasco had a bad game. He was downright awful in the first half, regularly conceding possession in poor areas before not jumping in the wall (why was he even in the wall?) on Deiber Caicedo’s free kick goal before half time. Velasco was better in the second half but was still unable to really get into the game and create any big chances.
To this point, Velasco has had a very free role offensively. He is nominally a left or right winger but operates almost as a free roaming 10, free to drop deep to pick up the ball and operate just about anywhere along the forward line, commonly coming in centrally. With the soccer IQ of Paxton Pomykal on the field, this has not caused defensive issues, but it does beg the question of whether or not FCD is getting the most out of the players on the field when Pomykal is regularly forced wide by Velasco’s roaming. Pomykal is a fine player on the wing but his strongest qualities are certainly in the middle of the park. I’ll be interested to see if Estevez and his staff try to rein Velasco in a bit and get him more in a standard wing position. I think it would be a mistake to totally restrain him to one side or the other, but it almost feels like he has a little bit too much freedom to roam when FCD has the ball.
3) How do you approach Austin tactically?
This is a fascinating question to me as Austin and FCD strike up two very similar poses on the field. Both Nico Estevez and Josh Wolff have spent time as assistants to Gregg Berhalter, with the two actually working on the same coaching staff when Berhalter was the manager in Columbus. Both teams typically line up in a 4-3-3 with a single pivot and look to possess the ball more than their opponents and use the ball and ball movement to disorganize the opposition and create goal scoring opportunities.
With that in mind, and with this game at Austin’s home stadium, it seems likely that Austin will look to have more of the ball, setting FCD up to play in a similar way as they did in last season’s lone trip to Austin, playing against the ball and looking to quickly counter when they have the opportunity. Setting up that way last season saw FCD rip through the Austin defense who simply couldn’t keep up with the likes of Jesus Ferreira, Ricardo Pepi and Jader Obrian.
But Austin, like Dallas, are a much improved team in 2022 and are conceding far less of these kinds of transition goals that plagued them throughout 2021. Dallas has also not consistently been a team that wants to play on the counter exclusively on the road. Against Orlando before the international break, possession was pretty much even and in the prior away game in Vancouver, FCD outpossessed the Whitecaps 57-43. It would not shock me at all to see both teams try to play their possession games and this game end in a stalemate possession wise.
The lineup deployed by the FCD staff will be telling here. If FCD, for example, elects to start the pacey Jader Obrian over Alan Velasco, that would be a major indication of a plan to sit a bit deeper to try to hit on the counter. But if they roll out a very similar lineup to the team that played Vancouver on Saturday, we are not likely to see a significant departure from the “standard” setup. Look for how each team sets up their lines on Saturday, it should be a fun matchup.
How do you think Nico Estevez and his team will try to answer these questions ahead of the game against Austin? What other questions do you think the team needs to answer at this point in the season? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: MLSSoccer.com