Unlike another MLS side that made a coaching change in the offseason, FC Dallas has started the 2019 campaign on the right foot. It might be argued that comparing Atlanta United to Dallas in this case is a bit of an apples to oranges situation - considering new coach Luchi Gonzalez simply slid over from his old role as academy director when Oscar Pareja was hired away by Xolos - but the move has looked pretty good, at least early on.
Drew Epperley, the managing editor of Big D Soccer, was kind enough to give us a moment of his time to break down FC Dallas’s new staff, what to expect from them on Saturday and how the club continues to be a model for youth development across the league.
FC Dallas has been one of the teams on the #PlayTheKids forefront for years, and we’re seeing the benefit of that in the play of Paxton Pomykal, for one. How will we continue to see the FC Dallas youth system develop, especially given Luchi Gonzalez’s experience leading the academy before taking Oscar Pareja’s role as first team manager?
The youth movement is nothing new in Dallas like you said - we’ve been seeing it for years. The big difference now and going forward is how the club finally has a bridge between the academy sides and the first team with their USL team in North Texas SC. We’re already seeing the likes of Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy (former MLS forward Scott Sealy’s son) and a slew of other young players getting meaningful minutes to help prepare them for an eventual run with the first team. Along with that, it comes down to Luchi and his coaching staff being willing to give players more chances. He’s stated several times since taking over as manager that he wants to have competition everywhere on the roster and that a player’s age really doesn’t impact how he picks who is going to be playing week in and week out.
What does FC Dallas do right, and what concerns you even with the club off to such a great start to the 2019 season?
Seven games in and we’re already seeing some trends with this club. The two biggest that worry me are set-piece defending and closing out games. Dallas has given up a lot of bad goals this year off corner kicks or set pieces that a team like this with Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler should not be doing. But the bigger worry may really come down to closing out games. This group has really been a first half team, but for whatever reason, whether it’s Luchi’s subs not being impactful, teams figuring them out with halftime adjustments or just the team running out of steam, it appears that once this group hits that 60 minute mark in a game, they’re allowing teams to battle back more than they should. The last couple of weeks are good examples of how Luchi has had to figure this sort of thing out on the fly with a late loss in Philadelphia two weeks ago, followed by a very iffy win at home last week against Portland.
In what ways does Gonzalez’s management style mirror/differ from Pareja’s? In other words, what should Atlanta United fans expect to see from Dallas on Saturday from a tactical standpoint?
Luchi brings a pretty different approach to the game than Pareja did. One big example is how when FCD would gain a lead under Pareja, the team would almost immediately bunker a bit and try to close out games with their defending and he would bring on defensive type subs more times than not when the team had the lead. Under Luchi, we’re seeing less of that when the team has the lead in a game and more of how they can possess the ball. What we’ve already dubbed as Luchi Ball here in town is really a high possession style attack that starts from the back and works its way forward. Instead of the old lob the ball over the top style under Pareja to the wings, we’re seeing a more direct approach through the midfield and wings to get the attack going.