After five long months, FC Dallas made its return to action on Wednesday with a disappointing loss to Nashville SC. While fans will soon forget being the answer to the trivia question of who the expansion side’s first MLS win was over, the performance itself will be one that is looked back on with some chagrin as the season tightens up late on.
Luchi Gonzalez’s side was expected to adopt a 3-5-2 formation that had been used several times over the preseason and even in the opening game against Philadelphia, however, the formation carried negativity that hadn’t been seen previously. While the typical Luchi-ball numbers for passing and possession were achieved, much of that was attained through lateral passes in the defensive half as the team struggled in its build-out phase.
Coach Gonzalez likened his team’s performance to what was on display in the early days of the MLS is Back Tournament as teams grew into form.
“There was criticism about it being maybe lethargic, and this and that,” said Gonzalez. “Honestly that’s natural rust from not playing for almost six months. You’re not ready for a game until you play games, and so we can have all the intra-squad scrimmages and training in the world, but you saw that in Orlando each game developed within the event. And so we’re going to grow, we’re going to develop with time.”
It is certainly true the quality of games in Orlando did progress and the tourney went on and FC Dallas will undoubtedly follow suit.
The bigger issue raised by fans, and on our podcast, was that FC Dallas failed to put its stamp on the game at home against a team two games into its new MLS form. Rather than the high press and energetic build we usually see, Dallas adopted a low block and held the ball deeper as they struggled to find space.
Jimmy Maurer explained that the style adopted wasn’t the result of anything they saw or expected from Nashville, but that they couldn’t just focus on the opposition.
“I think the biggest priority right now is just solving the problems we found ourselves and trying to be more proactive instead of reactive,” said Maurer.
“Not trying to react to what they’re doing, but proactive in terms of really forcing the game to go more the way we want it to go,” Maurer continued. “Putting them in difficult situations where they make decisions and putting them on the back foot with some more proactive play. I think that’s really what these next couple days are about leading up to the next game.”
FC Dallas looked closer to its usual self as substitutes factored in. Two in particular who were expected to be key to Dallas’ attacking hopes: Zdenek Ondrasek and Paxton Pomykal.
Ondrasek had been on a rich vein of form at home prior to the long lay off, having scored in each of the previous seven home games.
Paxton Pomykal had told us just a few days ago that he was in a far better place with his recurring groin issue.
Gonzalez confirmed that both players are fit again – as is Brandon Servania – after having suffered setbacks in training that reduced their roles in the Nashville game.
“I think it’s always important to be clear,” explained Gonzalez. “The health status of players – even though it’s a player on the roster – it doesn’t mean they’re 100% healthy. They’re able to contribute but [not necessarily for the full 90 minutes].”
Pomykal has a hip issue that Gonzalez said took the playmaker out of the starting role in the past two intra-squad scrimmages. The coaching staff is managing their young talisman’s workload carefully. It is unclear whether this is related to the sports hernia that plagued Pomykal for much of 2019.
Ondrasek was out for two and a half weeks with an undisclosed injury that only saw the Czech forward return over the weekend.
Servania had been dealing with an adductor strain that kept him out of the roster for the first Nashville game, but his return to practice on Friday morning places the 21-year-old in contention for a place in Sunday’s rematch.
The need for momentum grows greater with FC Dallas heading back to playing in conference rivals, starting with an away trip to the Houston Dynamo on Friday, August 21.