FC Dallas finished their Leagues Cup group stage games on Tuesday night with a resounding 3-0 win over Liga MX foe Necaxa.
Let’s look at four positive signs for the team coming out of the group stage and heading into the round of 32.
1) Bernard Kamungo’s Emergence
The young Tanzanian forward with the best story in MLS had certainly emerged in MLS play to an extent before the Leagues Cup. Going into the competition, he was FCD’s second-leading scorer with 3 goals, with the most recent coming in the 1-1 draw against Seattle that immediately preceded the cup. A lot of Kamungo’s playing time had come in recent weeks due to an onslaught of injuries, and a majority of that playing time had come with mix-and-match lineups that saw Dallas doing their best to hang on in games.
The difference in Leagues Cup play is that Dallas is finally getting healthy (more on that later), and Kamungo is retaining a spot in the lineup. Not only is he not looking out of place, he is excelling and offering Dallas something up front that they have not had throughout the season. Kamungo is left-footed and has regularly had defenders on their heels, cutting inside, taking shots, and making plays. Against Charlotte, the danger of his left foot allowed him to slip in Sebastian Lletget for FCD’s second goal, and his playmaking ability found Lletget for Dallas’ opener against Necaxa. His instincts and finishing ability as a forward have also been on display, with Kamungo expertly dispatching Jesus Ferreira’s intelligent layoff for the opener against Charlotte. At this point, there is little reasoning that anyone could provide to remove Kamungo from the starting eleven moving forward.
2) Lletget Getting Back in Form
Da Boy has had a tumultuous 2023, to say the least; between unprecedented (for FC Dallas) off-field drama and struggles with injuries and inconsistent play on the field; this season has not come close to living up to the promise of 2022. Even after returning from his injury absence, Lletget seemed to struggle to impact games, notably going almost completely absent in Dallas’ brutal loss in Colorado.
That has changed dramatically in the Leagues Cup (though it should be noted this was prefaced by a promising performance in Seattle) with Lletget sitting at 2 goals and 1 assist through the group stage with a man of the match performance against Necaxa in which he scored the opening goal and put a lovely cross on a platter for Eugene Ansah’s first goal for Dallas.
Beyond the stat sheet, Lletget is finding ways to impact the game with his characteristically tidy play while also providing a good deal of energy and endeavor on both sides of the ball in midfield. He’s gotten back to what was really expected of him after his first-half solid season for the club in 2022 and the big contract extension that came in the offseason. If he can keep up this form, Dallas has a real shot at doing something in both the Leagues Cup and in MLS play.
3) Velasco in Midfield
An interesting tactical wrinkle has shown up in the first two Leagues Cup games here, and that’s a shift to midfield for Alan Velasco. After a lot of time this season spent in various formations, Nico Estevez has returned to his trusty 4-3-3 for Leagues Cup, shifting the Argentinean into central midfield alongside Sebastian Lletget and Facundo Quignon (against Charlotte) or Edwin Cerrillo (against Necaxa). This hasn’t seen Velasco get on the scoresheet, something that has largely eluded him thus far in 2023, but it has seen him get more involved in the game, allowing him to pick up the ball in deeper positions and run at defenders and create from midfield, instead of being asked to help lead the line. This task often seemed a bit much for the 20-year-old.
Moving Velasco into midfield has had a knock-on effect of allowing Dallas to play with two wingers whose first priority is to get in behind defenses. Dallas is at their best when they play forward rapidly, taking advantage of unbalanced defenses, and having two wingers able to do this, whether those players are Jader Obrian, Bernard Kamungo, Eugene Ansah, Paul Arriola, or Dante Sealy, is a boon for a Dallas offense that has struggled for large parts of 2023. Velasco is a player who wants to drop in and find the ball regardless of where he plays, so moving him back into midfield has looked to make a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues through the rest of the season and beyond.
4) Getting Healthy
Finally, after what feels like an eternity, the Burn are returning to full health. After making the bench against Charlotte, Paul Arriola, and Paxton Pomykal returned to the pitch against Necaxa. Jose Martinez was a late sub against Charlotte and made his first start since early June against Necaxa, helping to keep a clean sheet against the Liga MX side. Ema Twumasi has also returned to the bench and seems poised to make his return to the pitch in the near future.
Jesus Jimenez is the last player who needs to make his return to the team, and he has made his return to at least a bit of training with the first team. After months of lineup nightmares with Nico Estevez forced to get creative with his lineups and tactics, he finally has a wealth of players at his disposal.
But now he is going to have a new sort of lineup issue, being forced to choose between multiple potential starting options at positions like the wing, midfield, and right back. It will be interesting to see what he and his staff end up landing on for FCD’s preferred starting lineup.
How are you feeling about FCD following the Leagues Cup group stage games?
Let me know in the comments below!
Photo: FC Dallas