The MLS-wide Leagues Cup debuts in 2023, with MLS and Liga MX taking a month off to complete the World Cup-style tournament.
Let’s look at three different approaches Dallas may take to the new competition.
1) Treat Every Game Like a Cup Final
Honestly, based on what Nico Estevez has said and the current state of the FCD roster, this is pretty unlikely, but Dallas could choose to take the competition very seriously. There would be decent reason and justification to do so. With their finish in 2022, Dallas has been afforded two home games in the group stage against Charlotte and Liga MX’s Necaxa, two opponents that Dallas should feel pretty good about playing at home. Getting through the group in the first place would give Dallas a good chance to host subsequent knockout stage games, giving them a good chance not only to bring Lionel Messi to Frisco, which the front office would love to see happen but also to get deep into the competition.
With only three trophies in the club’s trophy cabinet, it would feel pretty good to win the first rendition of this version of the Leagues Cup, which looks set to only get bigger in the future.
But what would really going for it actually look like? First and foremost, it would involve a lot of Jesus Ferreira. Ferreira last played for Dallas on June 11th in Portland before starring for the USMNT at the Gold Cup. Ferreira is set to play in the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday, June 19th, just two days before the Burn’s first Leagues Cup game against Charlotte, so it seems like a challenge to get him into the starting lineup for that first game, but he could certainly be involved.
Obviously, from there, moving forward, Ferreira would be heavily involved, likely starting and playing full 90s throughout Dallas’ time in the competition. Behind Ferreira, Estevez would likely continue playing the group that has played most recently, with Velasco and Obrian flanking Ferreira, the double pivot of Edwin Cerrillo, and Facundo Quignon continuing, and the common defensive group of Marco Farfan, Nkosi Tafari, Sebastien Ibeagha and Geovane Jesus in front of Maarten Paes being deployed.
Some of the younger players like Bernard Kamungo, Herbert Endeley, and Dante Sealy, who have seen recent playing time, would move back to smaller roles off the bench in favor of veterans, which seems to be Estevez’s go-to when he absolutely must win a game.
2) Get Injured Guys Back to Fitness
But what about the Burn’s laundry list of injured players? The time off will certainly be a boon to getting them back, but some players are closer to returning than others and could really use some actual match time to get more fitness and form before the MLS season resumes. Sebastian Lletget has been back for 5 games but has yet to really find his form; getting him more time in the Leagues Cup could help him get back to what Dallas got out of him in the second half of the 2022 season. Paul Arriola finally returned against Seattle over the weekend but didn’t get off the bench. The Leagues Cup is a great opportunity to get him some much-needed minutes to get him closer to match fitness and get his form back. Paxton Pomykal’s health has been up in the air lately. Can he pick up a few minutes here and there, or is this month-long break an opportunity to get him back to 100% health for the MLS season?
Jose Martinez has been missing recently as well; this could be a chance to get him some minutes that he has not seen lately and get Sebastien Ibeagha and Nkosi Tafari some much-needed rest. Ema Twumasi is another who has been missing lately; getting him back would help Dallas on the defensive side of the ball as Geovane Jesus has struggled a bit recently defensively, but Twumasi has been out for some time, so he may need some substitute appearances to get back to action. Finally, Tsiki Ntsabeleng has made some appearances off the bench in the last few weeks, but he could really use a start and some more minutes to help him get back to the strong form he was in pre-injury. Regardless of how Dallas approaches the Leagues Cup, this looks to be an opportunity to both get injured guys some more rest and time to recover before the MLS regular season resumes, as well as get guys who have seen limited minutes in their returns to injury some additional time to find their form before MLS picks back up in late August.
3) Experiment; These Might as Well Be Mid-Season Friendlies
What seems most likely is that Estevez and his coaching staff will do a bit of integration of recently injured players but also use these games as a chance to do a bit of tactical experimentation while also getting young players some more playing time. New signing Eugene Ansah, who made his debut as a sub against Seattle, seems likely to get a significant number of minutes, along with the likes of Dante Sealy, Herbert Endeley, Bernard Kamungo, Jose Mulato, and potentially even Nolan Norris in midfield to give Edwin Cerrillo and Facundo Quignon, who have played a ton of minutes in the last couple months, some time off.
Amet Korca, who suffered a concussion against the Rapids, may factor into the equation if he is able to return quickly enough, and it may even be an opportunity to recall Collin Smith and Isaiah Parker from their USL loans to get them some MLS minutes.
Estevez has played with formations and shapes a bit in MLS, and this may be another opportunity for him to try to make some tweaks and try some other tactics, such as the 3-4-3 that FCD rolled out against Colorado. On the other hand, Estevez may try to focus on what his team is most comfortable with while getting players that have played less some additional time to give him additional options regarding lineups and substitutions in the back half of the season.
In all likelihood, FCD will probably do a bit of all three of these options.
The early stages of the competition will likely see a lot of experimentation, but if Dallas can successfully get out of the group stage, look for the Burn to go for it and try to add a fourth trophy to the club’s trophy cabinet.
How do you think FC Dallas should approach the Leagues Cup?
Let me know in the comments below!
Photo: Field Level Media