To get everyone ready for Atlanta's first match against FC Dallas and their first ever at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we spoke with Big D Soccer's Drew Epperley to get his takes on Dallas' recent struggles, Mauro Diaz, and the consequences of building a club through an academy.
DSS: Dallas have struggled as of late. What have you seen from them that needs to change?
BDS: If you had asked me this before last week's game against New York I would have said a simple answer, Mauro Diaz. Before last week's draw, Diaz was noticeably absent for a few games during this current dry spell for FC Dallas and even when he was present on the field, he didn't look like himself. Oscar Pareja opted to give him a couple weeks of rest to recharge his batteries and it did a world of wonder as he was instrumental in the 2-2 draw against New York.
Now outside of Diaz, the defense has still been an issue. What was once a stiff, hard-nosed group has been punched in the gut so-to-speak over the last two months. Teams cracked their code and have been able to find plenty of ways around them. They've had a couple bright moments as of late in some of the draws but they still need to return to form from top to bottom in order to push for a good playoff spot. If the defense continues to be leaky, the playoff chances may disappear as well.
DSS: Mauro Diaz's achilles injury came at the most inopportune time for Dallas last season. How has he looked since coming back?
BDS: To go along with what I mentioned above, he has had his moments so far. There have been times that he has looked the part like he did last week and then there have been plenty of games where he has disappeared. Part of that disappearance may have been due to a hamstring issue that he was carrying for part of the summer. But when he's been on, the Dallas attack has been as good as it ever has been. Between his flair for finding players out of nowhere, his general craftiness, and just his way of dictating the game, Dallas really does go where Diaz goes.
DSS: Atlanta United's front office have emphasized their desire to build the club from within their academy for years to come. Dallas has been one of the best in MLS at doing that. What are the benefits, and perhaps any weaknesses, that you've seen from this philosophy?
BDS: In my mind the benefits far outweigh any weaknesses when you go young in this league. Dallas has built the right way in terms of finding the right players to promote up with Homegrown contracts and mixing them in with veteran players. The biggest key though is having a coach like Pareja that is willing to play these younger players. I look at a guy like Victor Ulloa, who was one of the first HGPs signed to the team back in the days of Schellas Hyndman. He saw maybe a total of nine minutes in a span of two years before getting cut. But when Pareja came back to Dallas to coach, he gave Ulloa another chance and from there Ulloa has been one of the most steady guys for him on the field either in a starting role or off the bench.
I would say the one biggest weakness we do have in the HGP route, which may be true to most teams, is that we tend to get really excited about these young players and over hype them to a degree. I know here in Dallas we have been frustrated to a point with how some of the ones signed haven't seen the field all that much this season. It is a patience thing that some aren't willing to have and on the other side it is a lack of understanding in how the team is trying to develop some of these guys. For instance, we have one young guy name Bryan Reynolds, who was signed over the winter. So far he hasn't even sniffed a FCD starting spot, let alone even a game day roster spot. Is he a bust? Absolutely not. He's been busy getting minutes still with our U-16s and U-18s, as well as countless youth national team calls this season. He's gotten far more playing time in those areas than he would with the first team. It is a slow development kind of thing but one that should pay off in the long term.